Ask the Right Questions

Aristotle taught us to ask the right questions, and I fear that many advocates for Terri, of whom I am one, have been asking entirely the wrong questions. The May 2005 issue of First Things has an excellent article by Robert T. Miller called "The Legal Death of Terri Schiavo". In the introduction, he states:

"Despite all the public outrage at the horror of an innocent woman being starved to death, despite the desperate and pathetic pleas of her parents, despite even a special act of Congress requiring the federal courts to intervene, those courts have let stand an order that Terri Schiavo die – or so many usually informed commentators have said. Once again, judges have ignored the plain meaning of democratically enacted laws in order to enforce their own moral values – or so we have been told."

"Unfortunately,it isn’t true. The simple fact is that Terri Schiavo’s legal rights were never once violated. The result in the case was so unjust not because the courts ignored the law but because they followed it. The laws of Florida, like those of most states, specifically allow that, in cases like Schiavo’s, some people may decide that others ought to die."

Prof. Miller goes on to demonstrate how Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, were fighting a battle regarding federal law, which held no water, and that while what Mr. Schiavo and Judge Greer did was immoral, it was not illegal.

While I’m often asked about medical and bioethical issues by friends, I often steered clear of Terri Schiavo’s medical status. It’s a mess, with "he said, she said" finger-pointing, shifting opinions, and convenient "memories" about what Terri thought about end-of-life issues. She evidently had a rough marriage, and the whole nation got to see a family train wreck with bad judgment on both sides.

In avoiding the morass of Terri’s diagnoses, one clear issue remains: due process. Mr. Schiavo did promise to provide a certain level of medical care to Terri upon getting the malpractice awards, but did not follow up on that promise, which included neurological diagnostics that may have shed light on what exactly was going wrong with her and what her odds of rehabilitation would be. Much ink and webpage-space has been expended on this, but we still don’t know much because Mr. Schiavo stonewalled us.

Perhaps Terri was incurable, but the media did quote some dissenters in the neurology community, and without the modicum of care that Mr. Schiavo should have provided but did not, we cannot say whether those dissenters were right or not.

If there was a convicted serial rapist on death row, and some experts disputed that some forensic tests were not performed, and could bear on the convict’s guilt, would that not raise a stink in the media? I do not want to say what Terri or Mr. Schiavo really thought or meant to do, I just want an assurance of due process, and while I’d see the ACLU fighting for the right of a serial killer to live, a sick woman who cannot speak for herself is starved out of hand when her caretaker did not do the things he promised to do for her, and in the face of dissent amongst experts in the field.

I’m not saying that those dissenters, had they examined her, would have found any hope for Terri’s recovery, but that gap in care worries me.

I hope that the debate will shift from finger-pointing and chattering about autopsies to the more fundamental issues of protecting the rights and lives of patients. This debate as been cast in the media’s favorite "red vs. blue" die, but what about the disability rights advocates who argued for Terri, like Not Dead Yet?

What of the voices from Judaism that opposed pulling Terri’s feeding tube (e.g., here)? I attended a lecture last semester by a professor at Duquesne University who wrote a book comparing Catholic and Jewish bioethical tradition (he’s Jewish, by the way), and he cited Judaism’s very strict protection of dying patients, an interest that has been only intensified by experiences such as the Holocaust and the preceding T4 Program.

In short, there are many voices that objected to Terri’s treatment. In part, these voices have been silenced by the usualbiases of many reporters (as soon as Santorum and Bush weighed in on the issue, it became another right-vs.-left story).

However, much of the problem has been with Terri’s advocates, who have not hit the real issues of due process and protections of rights while muddying the waters with contradictory medical evidence, accounts of what Terri "would have wanted", and so forth. In doing so, we have also snuffed out perspectives from the disabled, the vulnerable ones in our country, and also from Jewish leaders, who are anything but Republican Christians, and who have very acute memories about where "quality of life" discussions may take us if we do not look out for our most vulnerable brethren.

Comments 22

  1. theomorph wrote:

    Because they are still human.

    Because if we start defining what’s ‘human enough,’ where do we draw the line?

    . . .

    It has always seemed to me that drawing a line like that to define “humanity” makes artificial distinctions and would cause far more problems

    But you have just drawn the line (“Because they are still human”) without offering any rationalization, which is equivalent to an “artificial distinction.” All you have done is hide your criteria for defining “human” and claimed that the definition can be made without presenting those criteria. That technique, used in the public discourse or in policy decisions, has certainly failed the “[don’t] cause far more problems” test.

    So in answer to my question, you have effectively answered:

    “Every person, no matter how profoundly disabled, is still human.”

    But unless you define “person” and “human” in significantly different ways, that is a circular definition which begs the question of how you define “person” and “human” at all. Thus I return to the question, What is human?

    (Even if you do define “person” and “human” in significantly different ways, it still remains to be seen what those definitions are and how you arrive at them.)

    Furthermore, I will suggest for discussion that a major problem in this ongoing public debate is the entrance of arguments like yours which are stridently unreflective about the definitions of their own terms, and sometimes go so far as making that lack of reflection an integral part of the argument itself—for example, by claiming that merely reflecting on the terms and trying to rationalize a definition corrupts the argument (e.g., “drawing a line . . . to define ‘humanity’ makes artificial distinctions” where “artificial distinctions” are presumably the result of defining terms rationally and the evil to be avoided).

    Posted 22 Jun 2005 at 5:22 pm
  2. theomorph wrote:

    Every person, no matter how profoundly disabled, deserves to be treated as human.

    Why?

    Posted 22 Jun 2005 at 7:27 am
  3. theomorph wrote:

    No, but I also don’t know what’s inside their head (or what will become their distinguishable head) either. We all have the ‘active potential’ to be the ideal human but not all of us do, yet, just as you and I are human, so are they (whatever that is).

    Then why bother with a definition at all? You’re effectively doing exactly what I criticized in an earlier comment, which is simply operating under an assumed definition without providing any rationalization for it whatsoever, without bothering to say why if “you and I are human” (whatever that is—and you don’t say), then so should “they” be.

    While your mystical, theological ruminations are certainly poetic and attractive, they offer nothing to the one who prefers to dig deeper into the big things at stake. Your perspective is essentially conservative in that it ultimately boils down to putting the brakes on further research and experimentation in particular kinds of science and medicine, but it fails to elucidate exactly what it is conserving, or why putting on those brakes will conserve it. There is some talk of humanity, and some kind of mystery, and a vague “action potential,” but those terms are presented as answers when they are really more like questions.

    When you provided a definition of humanity, and I criticized it, you avoided a direct response or rebuttal and simply insisted that it is only one definition, that there might be others, and then descended into slippery poeticism without suggesting what those others might be, why they might be there, or anything else, really. Which, ultimately, is all I have ever encountered with theology—vague, slippery, evasive, indecisive obscurantism that lurks under an umbrella of “mystery.”

    What is “mystery” anyway? Where you see a beautiful mystery, I see conceptual duct tape for ideas that don’t fit with each other, or with anything else for that matter, propagated by people who are either unable or unwilling to confront the rational difficulties in the claims they make.

    Yes, the RCC has ‘killed people for allegedly not seeking the correct truth or living by the correct belief.’ We (JP2 did this explicitly at one point for some of it) ask forgiveness as sinners. Will you forgive us?

    It’s more complicated than that. Will I forgive you personally? No, because I don’t need to; you did not commit the atrocities. On the other hand, the world has seen what ideological fanaticism can do (and still sees it today), the violent lengths to which people will go when they believe their own beliefs to be so absolutely correct that other people can be killed in good conscience for them. Any ideology that has the potential to develop into this kind of thing, be it theological, nationalistic, racist, or otherwise, is dangerous and cannot be given free reign to do what it likes. People must be able to account for their beliefs, and must be able to do so with something better than the excuse of “mystery.”

    Christianity has more than once turned lethal, just as have Marxism, socialism, Nazism, and plenty of other ideologies, both religious and “secular.” If a neo-Nazi showed up and started spouting Nazi ideology, but promising never again to commit genocide or take over the world, would you let him speak unchallenged? Or would you worry that his ideology, even accompanied by the promise of peace, would “get into the wrong hands,” as they say in the movies, and end up tragically again?

    This is how most atheists feel about Christianity. You are mostly nice people, and we don’t mind at all having you around, living next door to you, working with you, being friends with you, and so on. But you carry with you this belief system which has so often turned horribly ugly. Then when you start saying things like, “My beliefs require me to push them into the public sphere” and so on, things get tense. You are welcome to think and believe whatever you want, but turning that into public policy is not necessarily a good thing.

    Let me illustrate from my own perspective: I have some idiosyncratic views of my own and, like most people, I tend to think that the world would be better if more people thought the way I do. That, I think, is only natural. (Despite our achievements, we are a pretty stupid species.) But I also know in my mind, abstractly and rationally, that this just isn’t true, that the world would not be a better place if everyone thought like I do, because the only way to achieve that would be to force a bunch of unique individuals to change their natural mode of understanding. I could say, “My views require me to push them into the public sphere,” and you would probably get pretty nervous.

    Let’s see…if I decided to get politically active analogous to the way many Christians do, what would be my core issues?

    How about a strict licensing program for reproduction? Then let’s make it a crime for parents to abuse their parental authority to inculcate religious or political ideologies in their children. After that, we’ll make logical, critical thinking the core, required subject in public schools, and require students to evaluate religious claims as rigorously as they evaluate all other claims, and disallow recourse to “mystery” or “it makes me feel good.”

    Starts to sound pretty scary, doesn’t it? But that’s what happens when personal, idiosyncratic views are turned into ideology. Rest assured, I am not going to start pushing those things, because I recognize that even decent ideas codified into political force become great evils. Maybe some people really shouldn’t be reproducing, but should we make that illegal? Maybe parents do have too much influence over the way their children think and believe, but would it better to change that? Maybe critical thinking is good, but when it’s enforced?

    Similarly, for many individual people, Christian views (or Buddhist views, or Islamic views, etc.) are perfectly adequate. But when they are turned into public policy? Not necessarily.

    Ultimately, the only way to keep ourselves from slipping into a political or social nightmare is to maintain a rational discourse at all times, to continually call each other into account. We may have conflicting views, but we must be able to provide an explanation for them that does not require them to first be adopted. That means that if Christians want to define “humanity,” they need to do so in terms that don’t require people to become Christians before they can understand them. Too often, that’s what happens, though. It is especially problematic, I think, with the RCC because there so much depends on tradition and appeals to an authority that those outside the RCC do not recognize, and should not be expected to recognize.

    Perhaps it is too much to ask for the RCC to provide rationalization that does not require one to be Catholic in order to understand its terms. If that is the case, then the rest of us have all the more reason to be wary of the RCC and its doctrines, individual forgiveness aside.

    Finally, why do I put so much emphasis on rational explanations? Because reason is available to everyone, regardless of race, creed, sex, national origin, etc. Once people can get past language barriers (and that is difficult sometimes), everyone can understand a rational argument. Even little children, I have learned. It is a powerful equalizer, this rational stuff.

    Posted 25 Jun 2005 at 2:15 am
  4. theomorph wrote:

    There is no problem. My definition is exempt from this dilemma. It’s only a dilemma in your definition.

    Huh? I guess you can declare yourself exempt, but I’m not convinced.

    You originally said that (my paraphrase): (1) your idea of being human centers on your own experience of being human, and (2) that the product of a sexual union is automatically human (which presumably includes things like fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses).

    But if a “human” is someone like you, or someone who can reproduce sexually, there is still the problem that you are moving between a functional definition (you know you’re human because you have consciousness) and a biological definition (you’re a human because you are the offspring of two human parents) whose connection is circular. Why are you conscious? Because you are human. How do you know you are human? Because you are the offspring of two human parents, and because you are conscious. But if you are conscious because you are human while consciousness is not required for humanity, then you’ve created a situation where it’s possible to be human without knowing you’re human while at the same time you have pinned your whole definition of what it means to be human on your own experience of being human, which requires consciousness.

    As well, I never questioned “absolute morality.” Rather, I questioned which entities are included in that group to which morality applies. That is, there is a human group that is accepted by nearly everyone, and there are peripheral, questionable members. I am arguing that the decision to widen (or constrict) inclusion is not a moral one, because it deals with bodies not capable of morality.

    Posted 02 Jul 2005 at 4:23 am
  5. gbm3 wrote:

    “If you start with yourself as a definition of human, but then extend humanity across a biological continuum, how do you deal with the problem that your sense of self does not reach beyond that developmental process from your childhood back to your parents?

    “In other words, it may seem reasonable to speak of a biological connection from adult back to newborn back to fetus back to fertilized egg, back to parents, etc., but your sense of self has no analogous continuity. That’s why I think it’s necessary to add the functional component.” theomorph 06.29.05 – 5:16 pm

    There is no problem. My definition is exempt from this dilemma. It’s only a dilemma in your definition.

    “As for Peter Singer’s dilemma with his mother, that fits just fine with the definition I gave, because I allowed for humans to extend their circle of human inclusion according to their own wishes. The philosophical definition of humanity need not elucidate every possible case. Rather, it need only encompass those beings that are universally affirmed as human and then allow for those humans to expand the definition by preference as each new case arises. Some people will decide differently than others, and I don’t think that should bring down any moral judgment on them, unless they had previously agreed to live in a community where the definition had been explicitly and permanently expanded for that community.” theomorph 06.29.05 – 5:16 pm

    Yes, this is not a dilemma in your definition. However, according to your above explanation, one can equally decide that Singer’s mother with Alzheimer?s disease is not human and eliminate her by starvation and dehydration. The latter decision is a problem in my definition.

    Within my definition, Singer’s mom is saved regardless of the son’s or “community’s” decision.

    This idea that community should decide what is morality (derived from their logic) is extremely troubling to me. Morality is not dependent on who decides it.

    However, I can see why you may say that there is no absolute morality since you believe that there is no final authority to decide on an underlying logic. On the other side, I do. Ultimately it comes to us from the ultimate authority in some God who created the “rules” and was revealed by someone/thing. I believe the Truth was/is revealed by God through Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy Spirit.

    In fact my definition of humanness starts with the fact that the human race is made in the image and likeness of God. From there, I have confidence that any definition of human that reaches for this ultimate definition is approaching the truth. If it does not, the logic has some flaw. (Probably all human logic will have some apparent flaw for another human.)

    Further, within my definition, caveats exist:

    a. Anyone disabled mentally and/or physically (even one not within your definition) is human.
    b. Anyone that cannot use their “unit components” to create another human is still human since they were created by human “unit components”. (Ex: someone with Downs Syndrome.)

    Posted 30 Jun 2005 at 5:07 pm
  6. gbm3 wrote:

    “We can begin by analyzing our search (assuming we are humans) and making careful observations of human behavior (vis ourselves and others).”

    “One observable truth that I see, which many others deny for their own convenience or say is too simplistic, is that a human being if at once human, was human before and will be after.”
    gbm3 | 06.23.05 – 3:39 pm

    My answers to 1. to 3.:

    3. I use myself as a human example.

    2. In order to make me the way I am now, 2 humans were necessary to create me from unit components. I had to form from the combination of the aforementioned components.

    1. Anyone that was created by 2 humans with unit components from them can be considered human.

    In final conclusion, anyone that fits 1. is due all rights of the human family. (Note: there is no requirement for personhood in my logic, only a human condition.)

    Where you use a functional axiom, I use a biological one.
    Your axiom requires another “human” with whom to interact. My axiom requires two human building blocks to be joined to form a whole human.

    In reality, as you say:

    “What is human? We may never know. But far better that we attempt to derive a definition rationally (in pursuit of convincingness)?even if that definition is never sufficient and if it continues to change?than that we simply make a decision to settle an argument that will simply go underground and resurface again in the future.” theomorph 06.22.05 – 2:54 pm

    In the end, who is more valid? We have to agree on the axiom in order to form a “truthful” conclusion. Since this can change logically, no one can come to a conclusion about what is really human this way. To come to a decisive conclusion, there is innately a need for other methods.

    Further, haven’t we both started with defining ourselves as human. If we do this, don’t we fall into your so called “slippery” situation?

    (Have you heard of the “SLED” criteria for personhood?)

    Posted 28 Jun 2005 at 5:54 pm
  7. gbm3 wrote:

    “You originally said that (my paraphrase): (1) your idea of being human centers on your own experience of being human, and (2) that the product of a sexual union is automatically human (which presumably includes things like fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses).”
    theomorph 07.01.05 – 11:28 pm

    On (1):
    The argument started only on the assumption that I am human. There is no assumption of consciousness nor connections between the sum total of my experiences.

    (3. I use myself as a human example. 06.28.05 – 12:59 pm)

    I can likewise say that I assume a squirrel is a squirrel without having to have the experiences of a squirrel. Even if I don’t say it’s a squirrel, it is still the same.

    On (2):
    Correct (including the presumption).

    “But if a “human” is someone like you, or someone who can reproduce sexually, there is still the problem that you are moving between a functional definition (you know you’re human because you have consciousness) and a biological definition (you’re a human because you are the offspring of two human parents) whose connection is circular.”

    It is not a circular connection since there is no stated connection between my definition and consciousness.

    Actually, my definition is purely biological which is derived from a purely biological axiom which uses myself as an example.

    When we get down to it, consciousness is something that has stages/levels. I contend that someone who has lower/less consciousness is no less human than someone who has higher/more of the same.

    In fact, biologically, from the time of conception/fertilization, we have the same human makeup as anytime before death.

    Further caveats exist:

    c. Anyone that can naturally create another human from their “unit components” is human (case for racial equality).

    Posted 05 Jul 2005 at 6:57 pm
  8. theomorph wrote:

    (1) As I said elsewhere, “When an individual can first consider its own condition, consciously or unconsciously, and act upon that consideration, it becomes a person. That is, when an individual possesses those attributes which are absent in ‘brain death.'” As well, I would add, to further define a human person, the ability to use language. (That is, one can be a body without being a person, and a person without being a human. However, that does not preclude the possibility of humans bestowing, case-by-case, the benefits of humanity on persons or bodies. In other words, different communities can expand their circle of “humanity” as far as they like, but I am only making a minimum definition.)

    (2) The human with which I am most familiar, and from whom I derive my criteria (above) for detecting other humans, is myself. Therefore, if I encounter another entity with whom I can interact in consideration of my condition and by the use of language, I see another human.

    (3) If I cannot use myself as an example of a human, then I have nothing else to use; if I am not human, I cannot enter the debate.

    Posted 28 Jun 2005 at 4:23 pm
  9. theomorph wrote:

    “One may define the human being, therefore, as the one who seeks the truth.”
    “…[The] human being?the one who seeks the truth?is also the one who lives by belief.”

    Have you ever seen a fertilized egg, embryo, fetus, newborn, brain-dead patient, or anyone in a “persistent vegetative state” seeking the truth or living by belief?

    That “definition” is so vague and slippery that its wielder could easily wipe out a great deal of people now considered human by most simply because they are not “seeking the truth” or “living by belief.” And which “belief” will that be, by the way? If you ask me, that’s a pretty scary definition coming from the Church that has actually killed people for allegedly not seeking the correct truth or living by the correct belief.

    If you make the definition of humanity the ability to carry out an ideology (i.e., “live by belief”), then you write a blank check to all sorts of lethal folk, including people with whom you might otherwise ally yourself.

    Posted 24 Jun 2005 at 12:16 am
  10. Funky Dung wrote:

    “These definitions are part of a great mystery, one that can never be
    fully understood.”

    I prefer a more positive definition of “mystery”. A mystery is that which is so full of meaning, no breadth or depth of understanding can exhaust it.

    Posted 23 Jun 2005 at 10:52 pm
  11. Emily wrote:

    Because they are still human.

    Because if we start defining what’s “human enough,” where do we draw the line? What is human enough? Are the paralyzed and mute — such as my friend’s cousin with Rett Syndrome — human enough? What about those who are profoundly mentally retarded? Or those who are seriously mentally ill (who, like a relative of mine, can never be lucid even on strong medication)?

    It has always seemed to me that drawing a line like that to define “humanity” makes artificial distinctions and would cause far more problems. The group “Not Dead Yet”
    (which, incidentally, draws its name from the famous plague scene in Monty Python) is fascinating for their advocacy on this very point.

    Posted 22 Jun 2005 at 3:29 pm
  12. gbm3 wrote:

    Food for thought:

    [SLED] Test of from Scott Klusendorf

    The unborn differs from the newborn in four ways: size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. One can use the acronym SLED to easily remember these four categories. http://www.brainshavings.com/mt/archives/001754.html
    (This argument can be used for those at the end of life or the disabled also.)

    “But [Prof. Peter Singer (Princeton)] is spending good money to treat his mother of Alzheimer?s disease!
    Singer confesses: ‘Perhaps it is more difficult than I thought before, because it is different when it?s your mother.'”
    http://www.absk.org/davis/powerpoint/What_Makes_Us_Human.ppt

    Posted 29 Jun 2005 at 3:44 pm
  13. gbm3 wrote:

    Have you ever seen a fertilized egg, embryo, fetus, newborn, brain-dead patient, or anyone in a “persistent vegetative state” seeking the truth or living by belief? -theomorph 06.23.05 – 7:21 pm

    No, but I also don’t know what’s inside their head (or what will become their distinguishable head) either. We all have the “active potential” to be the ideal human but not all of us do, yet, just as you and I are human, so are they (whatever that is). As I mentioned, the metaphysical definition can be approached, but until we get to it in totale (which will most likely never happen here) we should treat each human being as an individual of the human family.

    Further, the quote given was only one possible definition of a human being (“One *may* define the human being….”).

    “And which “belief” will that be, by the way?” -theomorph

    Everyone acts on what they believe. Yes, I agree when you stated that “the definition of humanity [as] the ability to carry out an ideology (i.e., “live by belief”), [that I wrote] a blank check to all sorts of lethal folk, including people with whom you might [not] otherwise ally yourself.” This is one of the consequences of the human condition.

    In addition, we have the “active potential” to seek the Truth, even if it’s to learn how to lift your own pinky finger: whether that’s a hope before one has the finger or if it might again move.

    Yes, the RCC has “killed people for allegedly not seeking the correct truth or living by the correct belief.” We (JP2 did this explicitly at one point for some of it) ask forgiveness as sinners. Will you forgive us?

    (Unless you reply today (and maybe not then), I’ll probably respond to your follow-up (if you do) on Monday. Have a good weekend (whether I reply or not)).

    Posted 24 Jun 2005 at 7:52 pm
  14. EmilyE wrote:

    I agree.

    Have you by chance read Nat Henthoff’s columns on the Schiavo case? Henthoff has been very vocal about it being a case of disability rights, not a case of “what Terri would have wanted.”

    Every person, no matter how profoundly disabled, deserves to be treated as human. They shouldn’t be killed just because they don’t “measure up.”

    Posted 22 Jun 2005 at 4:08 am
  15. gbm3 wrote:

    I am implying that we require an ultimate decision, quite often for ourself alone. This is where belief comes in. We have to choose which logic we attach ourselves.

    I choose the logic of the RCC. In the end, I believe their consistent logic is most just. However, they rely on the wisdom of God revealed by Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Pure logic is not enough… at least for me.

    Posted 29 Jun 2005 at 9:06 pm
  16. gbm3 wrote:

    I’m still looking. Please comment (theomorph) if you wish.

    Posted 08 Jul 2005 at 4:33 pm
  17. theomorph wrote:

    If you start with yourself as a definition of human, but then extend humanity across a biological continuum, how do you deal with the problem that your sense of self does not reach beyond that developmental process from your childhood back to your parents?

    In other words, it may seem reasonable to speak of a biological connection from adult back to newborn back to fetus back to fertilized egg, back to parents, etc., but your sense of self has no analogous continuity. That’s why I think it’s necessary to add the functional component.

    As for Peter Singer’s dilemma with his mother, that fits just fine with the definition I gave, because I allowed for humans to extend their circle of human inclusion according to their own wishes. The philosophical definition of humanity need not elucidate every possible case. Rather, it need only encompass those beings that are universally affirmed as human and then allow for those humans to expand the definition by preference as each new case arises. Some people will decide differently than others, and I don’t think that should bring down any moral judgment on them, unless they had previously agreed to live in a community where the definition had been explicitly and permanently expanded for that community.

    Posted 29 Jun 2005 at 10:11 pm
  18. gbm3 wrote:

    In order to fully understand the Truth (that exists), as Spock said (or will say?), “Logic is only the beginning.” One also needs emotion and faith to guide them.

    Here are some rational definitions of the human person:

    http://www.vatican.va/edocs/ENG0216/__P8.HTM
    http://www.vatican.va/edocs/ENG0216/__P7.HTM (also)
    http://www.vatican.va/edocs/ENG0141/_INDEX.HTM (also)
    “One may define the human being, therefore, as the one who seeks the truth.”
    “…[The] human being?the one who seeks the truth?is also the one who lives by belief.”
    I also heard of another beautiful definition (paraphrase) from JP2: a human being is one created to love and to be loved. (sense: agape love)

    These definitions are part of a great mystery, one that can never be fully understood. However, we can begin by analyzing our search (assuming we are humans) and making careful observations of human behavior (vis ourselves and others). Can there be anything more rational to find a rational derivation?

    Even though we are defining the line (of human beings) differently, the line is still there and remains the same.

    My healthy concern of where the line is drawn comes from the past fruit of misfortune on the whole of humanity. Those different than our self were seen as inhuman (or even less human) and thus treated as such. Without creating a consistent line of the clearly observable truths, one can fall back on misfortune.

    One observable truth that I see, which many others deny for their own convenience or say is too simplistic, is that a human being if at once human, was human before and will be after. Yes, one can talk about the metaphysical dimension of the human person (shells and the like), but the fact of the matter is that a human in society at large must be protected, only if not to perpetuate injustice (without justice, there is no peace).

    Posted 23 Jun 2005 at 8:34 pm
  19. theomorph wrote:

    The problem is not whether the definition is rational, but whether it has been derived rationally. To suggest that a “rational definition” exists is to suggest that there can be of necessity only one correct definition of “human.” But that is a much more difficult problem than the one I am wondering about, which is: How do you rationalize the definition of “human” as you use the word?

    In other words, I am not asking “What is the correct definition of ‘human’?” Rather, I am asking, “How do you define human?”

    It is quite possible that different people can, by unique rationalizations, come to different definitions for difficult words like “human.” In casual conversation, most people are willing to classify particular acts or individuals with words like inhuman, subhuman, superhuman, humane, and inhumane, often with little reflection on what they mean. As well, people frequently use the words “monster” or “animal” to designate some quality, or the lack of some quality, in particular acts or individuals. I think this is significant.

    The fact that people are willing to casually assign differing values of humanity to various acts and individuals, even just temporarily or in jest, indicates that most people, despite their unease at being asked to supply specific reasoning to justify what they consider to be human, are still operating according to the assumption that humanity is variable and that the definition of this quality is narrow—narrower, at least, than the range of acts and individuals made possible by nature.

    In other words, people are constantly “drawing a line” around acts and individuals with the understanding that what’s inside the line is “human” and what’s outside the line is something else. The line is clearly permeable, and it’s clearly moveable, and it’s always there, but these attributes of the line cause problems when someone comes along and says either that trying to draw such a line will cause lots of problems, or that such a line can’t be drawn at all: The line can’t be avoided (because there is clearly much in our sphere of reality that is not human, and there must be a place where humanness ends and that other stuff begins), the line is constantly being moved (because a lot of times we are just not sure what humanity entails), and people are constantly bickering over where the line goes and why, probably because what is human and what we love are not the same thing but still we confuse and conflate them. (That is, there are already “far more problems,” made evident, in part, by the fact that this discussion is taking place at all.)

    Do you love something because it is human? Can you love something inhuman? Is something human because you love it? Does your love bestow humanity upon something? Is humanity equal to love? Poets and philosophers have been asking these kinds of questions for thousands of years. Frustratingly, no one has come to a decisive, convincing answer. Meanwhile, the Church has apparently decided to sacrifice convincingness for decisiveness, and that ruffles a lot of feathers among people who put a high value on convincingness.

    What is human? We may never know. But far better that we attempt to derive a definition rationally (in pursuit of convincingness)—even if that definition is never sufficient and if it continues to change—than that we simply make a decision to settle an argument that will simply go underground and resurface again in the future.

    Unfortunately, favoring convincingness over decisiveness makes policy decisions highly contentious. But so long as all contenders understand that the contention is rational rather than ideological (i.e., the participants have come to the table with the foremost goal of elucidating a convincing position, rather than with the foremost goal of producing a particular policy decision), then reasonable decisions can be made.

    Posted 22 Jun 2005 at 7:49 pm
  20. EmilyE wrote:

    Well, then, what would be a “rational” definition of the term human?

    Posted 22 Jun 2005 at 6:08 pm
  21. gbm3 wrote:

    Will hopefully reply soon…

    But quickly:

    theomorph, questions:

    1. What explicitly is your conclusion regarding the definition of a human (person)?)

    2. What axioms are you working under to come to your conclusion?

    3. How did you assume these axioms?

    Posted 28 Jun 2005 at 3:30 pm
  22. kadamson wrote:

    I found your piece interesting.

    I have felt that Terri Schiavo’s death augers dark days for the disabled who are unable to communicate their wishes. It is now fully legal to prohibit food and water so that an individual dies of starvation of dehydration.

    What America cannot tolerate and makes illegal for animals, it finds justifiable for humans.

    Posted 10 Apr 2007 at 9:43 pm

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *