Philosophy

Do Vaccines Cause Autism? It Doesn’t Matter. Vaccinate Anyway.

Vaccines have been on the news a lot lately, primarily because people don’t want to be giving their children shots that would result in a neurological disorder (like autism) or something else. Now, while I regard this position as ultimately unsound and not informed on the scientific issue of vaccines as a whole, I believe that even if we grant this fundamental premise of the anti-vax crowd, there is still a very good reason to be pro-vaccine.

Put simply, even if vaccines did cause autism, it would still be irresponsible for parents to not vaccinate their children.

vacine_poison123Vaccines are great at doing what they were intended to do. Namely, prevent certain diseases. It is virtually impossible to deny that the vaccines do their job. Unless, of course, you think that the scientific community is some kind of conspiracy organization, then you can deny it all you want. But you’d be wrong about vaccines and vaccines would still work.

Throw a conspiracy theory at something and you can deny or embrace anything, including decades of research.
And the moon landing.
Tell you what. If you’re a fan of conspiracy theories, I suggest you take a little time out of your day to study epistemology. Start here, on my blog! ❤ (more…)

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Brains in Vats & All That – An Analysis of Epistemological Skepticism

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 8.14.35 AMDuring the course of our life, we (as humans) take for granted that we know some things about the external world. In fact, we often assume that we know a lot about the external world. We know some things about what happened yesterday, and we certainly know that the yesterday existed. We know that other minds, other than our own exist; we know that tables and chairs exist. We often assume that most knowledge is something that the regular, everyday person can know; it is not specialized for philosophers, historians or scientists. However, there are some things that we simply cannot know. Some future events, for example, are not knowable to us. And if someone claims to know these things, we are justifiably skeptical of that claim.

“While almost all of us are skeptical about some knowledge claims, skeptical arguments in philosophy typically purport to show that we do not know or are not justified in believing many of the things we originality assume we know or reasonably believe.” (quote from Lemos, 2007) Many arguments for skepticism conclude that we are unable to know anything about the external world, or that we are not justified in believing anything about the external world.

There are a variety of skeptical arguments. One of the more common versions is known as human, external world, knowledge skepticism. This kind of skepticism denies that people are able to have certain types of knowledge concerning the external world. However, knowledge skepticism does not automatically entail skepticism for justification. It is possible to hold the position that we are justified in believing certain things, but the evidence is not great enough to count as knowledge. Many of the arguments for external world knowledge skepticism come from various skeptical scenarios that epistemologists refer to as bad case scenarios. There are several arguments for human, external world knowledge skepticism, and three of them are (1) the certainty argument, (2) the infallibility argument and (3) the argument from ignorance.

matrix One of the most important aspects of a proper understanding of  external world knowledge skepticism is a proper understanding  of skeptical scenarios. While they come in a variety of different  forms, the popular movie, “The Matrix”, is a perfect example of a  classic skeptical scenario. In the movie, the characters are all in a  computer simulation run by machines, and that the humans are  actually connected to a complex network of computers that create what they see as the external world. The humans in the program are deceived into thinking that what they see is real, when in reality, it is nothing more than a computer program. When the main character, Neo, is “awakened” by another person, his real body wakes up out of the computer simulation and he sees the truth for the first time. While “The Matrix” is meant to be a fictional story inspired by a classical skeptical “brain in a vat” scenario, external world knowledge skeptics take these types of situations as not only possible, but actual. But, because of our limitations as human beings, we are unable to truly know anything about the external world. Philosophers refer to these skeptical scenarios as bad case scenarios, where pervasive error reigns. These bad case scenarios are not only philosophical possibilities, but they seem to be something that may, in fact, be reality. And because of this, our proper response should be to suspend judgment on what we actually know about the external world.

When we reflect on these examples, it seems clear that our sensory experience does not guarantee that our beliefs about the external world are necessarily true. And initially, that does not really seem to matter. Lots of things are possible, but the real question should be about what is reasonable. Sure, we might be a person in a vat, and our “external world” might be generated by computers. But just asserting the possibility doesn’t give us good reasons to think that we should embrace epistemological skepticism. And that is where philosophers have posited arguments for skepticism.

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Resource Recommendation: “Should America Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies?”

Hi! A lot of things have been changing in my life lately, which caused this blog to take ‘back-burner’ status, unfortunately. However, I am giving myself a more strict posting schedule so that I can post stuff more consistently.
We’ll see whether or not my goals for this blog pan out!

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.49.55 PMAs some of you may know, I did an independent research project on genetic engineering and human children while attending Buff State. Before I started my research, I was under the impression that I would be arguing for a limited freedom perspective; where we should use genetic engineering for treatment and not for enhancement. However, as my research continued, I changed my mind to my ultimate conclusion: That we should have the moral (and likely legal) freedom to safely genetically engineer our children for both treatment and for enhancement. Not many people are comfortable with that conclusion due, at least in part, because genetic engineering (as a science) is relatively new. I can sympathize with that concern.
You can find that paper here: Genetic Engineering and Human Children

That being said, I strongly suggest anyone interested in the discussion of genetic engineering to check out this debate, hosted by Intelligence Squared Debates.

Should America Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies?

The debaters are:
For the motion (we should prohibit genetically engineered babies):
Sheldon Krimsky & Robert Winston
Against the motion (we should not prohibit genetically engineered babies):
Nita A. Farahany & Lee M. Silver

For more information on the debaters and the event, NPR has a really good overview of everything, here: Should We Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies? (debate audio included)

This discussion is really good, on both sides of the issue. If this is your first introduction to the topic, you may feel like you’re drinking from a firehose… but don’t worry. Its interesting enough for you to want to Google things afterwards (or likely during).

If this is the first time you’ve heard/seen Intelligence Squared Debates, you should definitely check out the other stuff they put out. It’s always incredibly interesting. You can find that here: Intelligence Squared Debates; Top Thinkers Debate Today’s Most Important Issues

Thanks for reading!
Feel free to leave a comment or question below 🙂

Genetic Engineering and Human Children

regulate-designer-babies_1Most of us would do anything to help our children have the best future possible. We would make sure they had the best prenatal environment, the best diet and be sent to the best schools, all so that they could have the best possible future opportunities. But what would we do if we could, before they were born, alter our child’s genes in order to guarantee that advantage? The choice of genetically engineering our children is rapidly becoming a scientific reality, and we are faced with the question: If we are able to safely engineer a child at the genetic level… should we?

Genetic engineering is a topic that is greeted with a combination of curiosity, skepticism and apprehension. Those in favor of genetic engineering have been accused of “playing God”, whereas those opposed have been characterized as being against scientific progress. Many people view genetic engineering as something confined to the domain of science fiction; something so far in the future that it needn’t be worried about. However, with the advance of modern technology, this attitude towards genetic engineering is not only misguided, but can be dangerous.

Nearly every advance in technology comes with unanswered questions, and genetic engineering is no different. What should we do? What will happen if we make certain decisions? How will our decisions affect society? If we have the ability to do it safely, is it ethically permissible to genetically engineer our children? Is there an ethical difference between genetic enhancement and genetic  therapy? As people living in the time where genetic engineering is a real possibility, it is vital that we address the bioethical issues surrounding this controversial topic. If we procrastinate in this area and do not address these issues before they  come up, we will inevitably make poor decisions that could have been avoided. Like  many advancements in science and technology, genetics provides us with an  opportunity to be good stewards with what we have. But it also offers us a unique  opportunity as well; “… we can begin to determine not simply who will live and who will die, but what all those who live in the future will be like” (Harris & Burley, 2004)

p016q9gp This article is designed as a form of philosophical preventative maintenance,  with very real ramifications for the near future. Because it is meant to address  issues of genetic engineering specifically, other issues will be avoided. I will  assume that genetic engineering will not destroy human embryos and will not  result in any unintended changes. These issues need to be addressed by  scientists, doctors and ethicists today, but will likely be circumvented with the  advance of technology. The purpose of this paper is to ask, “What philosophical  issues arise from genetic engineering itself?”

Many moral philosophers and ethicists, when approaching complex ethical issues, have attempted to lay out a principle of moral reasoning that is designed to answer the question, “what ought I to do?” It seems reasonable, therefore, to follow a basic principle of moral reasoning, and philosopher Kurt Baier explores a fairly simple one in his book, “The Moral Point of View”. According to Baier, “The best course of action is… the course of action which is supported by the best reasons. And the best reasons may require us to abandon the aim we actually have set our heart on.” Baier’s two-step approach involves looking at the relevant facts surrounding an issue and determining the relative weight of those considerations “to decide which course of action has the full weight of reason behind it”. (Baier, 1969) Following this approach, it is our job to critically examine the arguments for and against genetic engineering and to support the most reasonable conclusion, given the strongest available arguments on both sides. (more…)

The Classical View of Reason


Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 8.45.34 PMHuman beings have several different ways of coming to believe what we believe. While the idea that our senses and even our own introspection may be fallible is surprising to many, it is a relatively common topic considered for philosophical musing that many have considered. Stranger yet is the idea of reason itself, the very rules of common sense that govern our assessment of this data, may too be flawed. But what is really involved in the process of reasoning? Can we trust reason? Can we really know anything by using our ability to reason? Are there some things that can be known without resorting to reason? Philosophers who advocate the classical view of reason have given answers to these questions, and careful examination of the truths of reason reveals that much of what we take for granted in our everyday reasoning may not be as simple as we so often suppose.

Some propositions, upon reflection, seem true simply by definition. Take, for example, the sentence, “All bachelors are unmarried”. Once we understand the terms being discussed, can anyone reasonably doubt the truth of this proposition? It is simply a tautology, substantiated. This sort of proposition is a self-evident proposition. Self-evident truths have two distinct properties. First, they can be known independently of sensory experience. For example, you can conclude all dogs have hair or fur if you adequately understand that all dogs are mammals and that all mammals have either hair or fur. Secondly, self-evident truths are necessary. This is to say that it is not possible for the proposition to be false; it is true on pain of contradiction. For example, to say that you know a married bachelor is contradictory, and shows a lack of adequate understanding of the term bachelor.

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The reason we can know these self-evident truths apart from any deeper  analysis, according to the classicist, is because we can analyze the conceptual  containment relationships within the terms. For the statement, all bachelors  are unmarried, when one refers to a “bachelor”, they are using a term that  (when properly understood) automatically entails unmarried as necessarily  contained within the term. Thus, one can be justified in believing that all  bachelors are unmarried by mere reflection of the containment relationships between concepts. If one adequately understands it, then he knows it and cannot deny it. Analytic truths are immediate and intuitive, and do not require any additional logical inferences to be accepted. As Immanuel Kant established, truths known by an adequate understanding of the containment relationships of concepts are known as analytic truths. (more…)

You Can’t Bring Them with You – Virtue Ethics & Organ Donation

           Biomedical technology is one of the fastest growing areas of research in modern society. Whether it is reproductive technologies, cloning, genetic engineering or any other topic, people generally approach these with an attitude of both awe and hesitation. Most of us recognize the seemingly limitless potential of new technologies when it comes to curing diseases, elongating lifespans or increasing quality of life. At the same time, we also recognize that these new technologies bring difficult (and seemingly unanswerable) ethical questions. It seems that the reason many people find these questions so hard to answer is that they don’t have a well-established ethical framework from which to answer them. Once we establish an ethical framework, we can explore the answers to the difficult questions. In this paper, I am going to take a virtue ethics perspective on the topic of post-mortem organ donation. I don’t plan on defending virtue ethics as a theory, but I will clarify some of the important issues as they relate to the donation of organs after death.

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A brief look at the medical statistics reveals a significant problem; there is ahuge disparity between those who are waiting for organs and the number of organs available. “According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) 83,472 people were waiting for an organ transplant in the United States as of January 2004. From January to October of 2003, 19,101 transplants were performed” (Glannon, 2005). As of today (December 3, 2013), there are 120,845 people waiting for organs in the United States (www.unos.org). The number has increased by approximately 37,000 people in only 9 years, and doesn’t show any signs of decreasing. It is obvious that the human body is a valuable resource, and until medical technology researchers develop fully functional artificial organs, the human body is the primary source for the ‘spare parts’ used in organ transplants. It is also clear that “… we are being prodigally wasteful in our funerary practices and stupidly selfish in our use of vital organs while we live and even more so when we die”. (Fletcher, 1979) So what should we do? Should we donate our organs after we die? When approached from a virtue ethics perspective, we may have a moral obligation to donate our organs after our death. Donating our organs may be how we could continue behaving virtuously even after our life is over.
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Rethinking Aristotle: The Unwarranted Rejection of ‘Final Causation’ in Modern Evolutionary Biology

Why is the polar bear’s fur white? Why does the snake have the ability to unhinge its jaw? At first consideration, the answers to these questions are fairly straightforward. A polar bear has white fur for camouflage and the snake can unhinge its jaws to eat large prey. However, behind these questions lies a larger question, a question that is not directly answerable by describing the function of a certain feature. This question is of final causation, purpose or teleology. Does the polar bear have white fur because camouflage was the purpose of white fur? Is the snake’s unique unhinging jaw a result of a purposed process, with eating as a goal? Or are these features just the accidental by-products of the purposeless mechanism of evolution? Aristotle was under the impression that you do not fully understand an object unless you understand all of its explanations, including teleology, which Aristotle referred to as ‘the final cause’. Is that standard of explanation accepted today? And if we don’t embrace a teleological explanation today, is that rejection justified?

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“Aristotle was one of the greatest philosophers and scientists the world has ever seen”. (Dunn, 2005) He was one of the first people to propose a formal logical system, a functioning ethical system, a methodology concerning causality and a systematic way of studying the natural world. During his study of the natural world, he spent a large portion of his time studying life; a field that we now know of as biology. “Aristotle’s studies encompassed the entire world of living things. Many of his descriptions and classifications remain sound today” (Dunn, 2005)

In addition to his study and classification of organisms in the natural world, Aristotle had a very specific way of looking at natural and man-made objects. In Metaphysics, Aristotle explains the 4 different types of aition, often translated as ‘explanations’ or causes’. He believed that in order to fully understand something, you have to understand it in light of the four causes. If you didn’t understand all four of the causes, you didn’t actually understand the object in question.
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