Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why Animals Have Rights

Last week, Blake Hereth of Drake University came to Bethel and defended veganism.  Blake is a long-time vegetarian, but he recently graduated to veganism, so that he neither eats animals nor uses any animal-related products.  The reason is that, in his view, animals have rights.  An abridged version of his argument for this conclusion follows.

But first, a picture of me and Blake standing by a poster in the stairwell...

And now Blake.  P.S.  Citations have been removed from this paper.  If you want to see them, let me know.

Why Animals Have Rights

Animals have rights, and for the same reason we do: because they’re proper members of the social contract, members to whom we have direct (as opposed to indirect) duties.

John Rawls, in A Theory of Justice, argued that the true principles of justice (and, by extension, the true principles of morality) are the ones that fully rational beings would agree to behind a veil of ignorance.

What is a veil of ignorance? In brief, it’s what it sounds like: it’s being in a state where you don’t know who or how you’ll be in the world. You don’t know if you’ll be male or female, bisexual or heterosexual, rich or poor, South American or European.

Being in this state matters because it removes the possibility of bias. Thus, when you choose what principles everyone will live by, you choose ones that favor not only who and how you will in fact turn out to be, but who and how you might turn out to be. Because you might turn out to be anyone, the principles you would choose would protect everyone equally.

Who can be a direct party to the social contract? The answer is: anyone who stands to gain or lose anything from the terms of that contract.

Who has something to lose or gain from the terms of the contract? Certainly, anyone from the perspective of whose life it would be better or worse to live as a result of employing the terms of that contract.

Suppose someone defended the sexist view that females aren’t members of the social contract. Against this, we could plausibly argue that because adopting such a view would entail a lack of (direct) obligations to females, which might drastically alter the quality of their lives from their point of view, they could reasonably reject such treatment. Additionally, each of us, if we were perfectly rational, would reject such treatment for ourselves if we believed that we might turn out to be females. Given these considerations, females are of course members of the social contract.

The same is true of many non-human animals. If, behind the veil of ignorance, we ask ourselves, “What if I turn out to be a dog? How would I agree to be treated?” we will discover that the terms of the social contract can affect the lives of animals. We will discover that there are better and worse animal lives from the animal’s point of view, just as there are better and worse lives from the point of view of human animals.

Being a member of the social contract has its perks. For one, it gives you rights. Here’s an example of how that works. Suppose someone beats you bloody for no good reason. This is an action that you could reasonably reject, assuming you had the opportunity for a prior say in the matter. (That’s what the veil of ignorance is for: having a hypothetically prior say.) Because you could reasonably reject being beaten bloody for no good reason, it’s wrong to do that to you. The only permissible acts are the ones that no one could reasonably reject. As T.M. Scanlon puts the matter,

When I ask myself what reason the fact that an action would be wrong provides me with a reason not to do it, my answer is that such an action would be one that I could not justify to others on grounds I could expect them to accept. ... In particular, an act is wrong if and only if any principle that permitted it would be one that could reasonably be rejected by people with the motivation just described (or, equivalently, if and only if it would be disallowed by any principle that such people could not reasonably accept).

The mere fact that non-human animals are direct members of the social contract tells us very little about what rights they have. So, what rights do non-human animals have?

One such right is the right not to be killed (recreationally or otherwise) for food. After all, it’s difficult to imagine how someone couldn’t reasonably reject being killed for food. Certainly I could reasonably reject such treatment, but then it’s also true that I would reject this behind a veil of ignorance, not knowing who I might become. If I were a dog, being killed and eaten would make my life worse from my perspective; it’s therefore a harm to me, and I can reasonably reject harm. Thus, I can reasonably reject this treatment whether I imagine myself as a rat or a pig or a dog or a boy.

This takes us further, all the way to ethical vegetarianism and even ethical veganism. Behind the veil of ignorance, we can reasonably reject principles such as these: “Others should be permitted to take from us, by force, our property”; “others should be permitted to imprison us without our consent for the sole purpose of harvesting valuable items from our bodies”; “others should be permitted to obtain, keep, and enjoy products which were obtained from us immorally.”

As examples, consider that we could reasonably reject being forced to surrender our kidneys, or being imprisoned without our consent merely to harvest our blood. We could also reasonably reject having our organs or blood used by others if they were obtained from us immorally.

The same is true of non-human animals: they could reasonably reject being forced to surrender their flesh, or being imprisoned without their consent merely to have their eggs or milk harvested. They could also reasonably reject having their meat, milk, or eggs used by others if they were obtained immorally. Thus, we ought to be vegans (at least in the majority of cases).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In Defense of Purgatory

Today's post is courtesy of Scott Wheeler, philosophy major, Bethel University Class of 2007.  Scott is the guy on the right in the picture below.  (The guy on the left is Dr. Alvin Plantinga.  This picture captures one of the finer moments in Scott's life.)  He is writing in defense of purgatory. 

Over the last couple years I've come to terms with the fact that doctrinally I'm not as Evangelical as I previously suspected.  This has caused me to start thinking more seriously about doctrines that are atypical within Evangelicalism. To this end, I recently came to a startling revelation: some great Christian thinkers take the doctrine of Purgatory seriously, so perhaps I should too.

I want to give an argument I've been thinking about that makes me think it fairly likely that Purgatory exists.  I'm still just experimenting with the doctrine, so I won't be too shocked if it turns out I'm wrong.  I'll give it my best shot anyway.

Here are some controversial beliefs assumed in my argument that I won't attempt to defend:

Christian orthodoxy, some sort of mind/body dualism, inclusivism, progressive sanctification, theosis.  There are probably some others as well, but these are the ones that come to mind for now.

I'm taking my understanding of Purgatory from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1030 "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven."

1031 “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned."

I want to try to reason through why I believe Purgatory may be exactly the kind of place we would expect an omni-benevolent God to create.

If God is omni-benevolent, He would provide a possibility for the salvation of the unchurched. Otherwise, He creates certain people (a great many people, in fact) without any possibility of avoiding damnation, then holds them accountable for it. I doubt this can be reconciled with a loving creator. The great theologian Karl Rahner spoke of “anonymous Christians.” This term refers to non-professing-Christians who are saved by the grace of Christ. This is to say that many who have never heard the gospel, have only heard a distorted version of it, lack the mental capacity to grasp it, etc. may nevertheless be saved by in some way appropriating God's grace.

Under the assumption that anonymous Christians exist, here is my argument.

As a first premise, I'll simply state what we know about anonymous Christians: they will have had no opportunity to undergo any real process of sanctification in their earthly lives. After all, how can one undergo a process of becoming more Christlike or of conforming her will to Christ's if she has neither heard of Christ nor been introduced to His teachings? So my first premise is just that anonymous Christians will end this earthly life without having undergone sanctification.

Second premise: some degree of sanctification is required to be in communion with God. “Communion with God” can be a pretty loaded term. When I use this term I'm thinking about remaining in the presence of God post-judgment. This belief is firmly entrenched in the history of Christian thought, and is a part of any version of the ordo salutis. I don't have room for exegesis here, so if anyone wants to dispute this interpretation of the verses that follow she is welcome to do so. Here's a little rundown of texts that I think support this claim: Lev. 11:44, Rom. 6:22, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 Thess. 5:23, Heb. 12:14, and Rev. 3:15-20.

The argument thus far is this:

1.  Anonymous Christians will end this earthly life without having undergone sanctification.

2.  Sanctification is required to be in communion with God.

Now let's add one more:

3.  Anonymous Christians will eventually be in communion with God. I take this to be obvious. The definition of an “anonymous Christian” is just someone who is not a “Christian” by creed, but who is, in fact, saved. If one is saved, she will eventually be in communion with God.


4.  Anonymous Christians will end this life without having undergone that which is  required to be in communion with God. (1,2)

5.  Those who will eventually be in communion with God will end this life without having undergone that which is required to be in communion with God. (3,4)

The conclusion must be that that which is required for communion with God (sanctification) will happen at some point other than this earthly life. Continued sanctification, especially in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, is the primary purpose of Purgatory. It also meets the qualification of not being part of this earthly life. I think, then, that if one shares my intuitions about anonymous Christians/inclusivism and the benevolence of God, she should very seriously consider the doctrine of Purgatory to be a live option in her theology.

Though my argument above is specific to inclusivists like me, please don't make the mistake of thinking Purgatory is only an option for inclusivists. It isn't. The example that comes to mind is the thief on the cross with Jesus. Surely the thief will have no time to undergo sanctification prior to his death. Should we say he will never undergo sanctification and will thereby skip an important step in the ordo?  Perhaps purgation is a simple theological solution even for exclusivists who want to retain strong notions of the necessity of sanctification for communion with God.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Animal Rights Lecture Tuesday, October 24, at 4 p.m. in AC246

You are all welcome to attend a lecture Tuesday afternoon by Blake Hereth of Drake University.  Blake will be speaking about animal rights.  As the poster says, it's at 4 p.m. in AC 246.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dear Prudence: Virtue and Vice on the Internet

There's no better place to find intellectual vice than on the internet.  Ridiculous claims come from all sides.  For example, in the comments section of my friend Kelly Clark's blog post about whether science rules out belief in God (you can find that fine post here), we get the following gems:

There is not one piece of compelling evidence of the existence of a god. There is not even one miniscule piece of evidence. Its all just superstition.
and on the other side . . .

I love all the atheists here thinking it's okay to teach about God in the classroom, so long as the conclusion is "no". Hypocrisy from anti theists, what a shocker.
It's hard to know what good either comment does, whether either one encourages dialogue, changes minds, or promotes any kind of virtue.  I'm going to guess they don't.

I recently wrote an article about this problem, posted on the Biola University Center for Christian Thought webpage.  It's called, "Following Jesus on the Internet:  Two Intellectual Virtues for Online Discourse."  You can find it here.  In it I recommend some virtues that Christians might try to acquire that can result in more Christ-like and fruitful interaction on the internet.

The two virtues I talk about in the essay are prudence and openness.  I was particularly pleased that the editors labeled one of the sections "Dear Prudence," because that is the name of one of the great and underrated Beatles songs.  And here it is. 

Rebooting the blog

And we're back!  The Bethel philosophy department has decided to revive this blog and bring back short essays, musings with some connection to philosophy, and other news and information relevant to our department.  Current students and alumni are very welcome to contact me if they want to contribute to the blog in some way.  And of course comments are welcome as well.  Thanks.