Monday, April 24, 2017

Philosophy and Language: An Address to Phil Sigma Iota Honor Society

Dear Honorees,

You are here because you have been selected to be a part of a society, Phi Sigma Iota, that recognizes outstanding accomplishments in the study of foreign languages. I have to confess that my encounter with learning foreign languages during my college years, unfortunately, can be described as anything but outstanding. As a native speaker of Spanish, I enrolled in French, thinking that learning another Romance language would be a breeze. To my surprise, I discovered a sad truth about my abilities; Language learning is not my forte. I ended up taking about five semesters of French over my lifetime and never getting past French II (you can do the math). 

Given my experience, it is with great humility, admiration, and appreciation that I recognize what you have been able to accomplish today as an inductee of this Society. You should be proud of yourselves, and I take this moment to congratulate each and every one of you.

As a philosopher, and one who studies ultimate and fundamental questions about reality, truth and knowledge, I have a very special appreciation for both language and culture; two elements that are intimately intertwined, possibly inextricable intertwined, and that are essential in the philosophical inquiry. Today, I want to focus on language.

How important is language for philosophical investigation?

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Third Way

The most popular established views on the morality of abortion are the extreme liberal and conservative views. The conservative pro-life view argues that a fetus at conception has a right to life equivalent to that of a full-fledged human adult. The moral status of the fetus is uniformly assigned throughout its entire developmental stages and no consideration is given to the important developmental events that occur throughout out the fetus’s gestational life. The liberal pro-choice position also assigns the moral status of a fetus as occurring abruptly at some point close to birth. This position also assigns uniformly a moral status to the fetus throughout its entire developmental stages, ignoring important physiological and psychological developments that occur as part of the natural developmental process of the fetus’s prenatal life. Both of these views, therefore, fail to account for the common sense understanding that the moral standing of a developing human should be attributed to it in a gradual manner, in some form of proportional with its human development. In this essay, I analyze L. W. Sumner’s “third way,” a moral theory on abortion that avoids the defects of the extreme views and allows full moral standing to be acquired gradually.

Monday, February 13, 2017

On The Sanctity of Life and Abortion

 Is human life sacred? Many religious people make this claim. Their argument is straightforward. God is the creator of all things, and thus God is the creator of human life. In addition, most theists believe that human beings are the most precious part of God’s creation. As a consequence, theists view every human life as a gift from God, In fact, human existence is the greatest gift God has given creation, and it is a gift that only God can take away. The logical conclusion of these theological beliefs is that the life of every human being is sacred, and that no person has a right to extinguish or terminate the life of another person. However, this religious argument has one major flaw: it relies on theological claims that many non-religious people do not believe. Therefore, the argument is unsound since the premises (more than one) are false for many non-religious people. Is there a way to speak about the sacredness of human life without explicitly invoking religious beliefs? Ronald Dworkin has developed a theory that attempts to do this. In this blog entry we will examine Dworkin’s conception of the sacredness of human life.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Drawing Some Distinctions: Human Being versus Human Person

The concept human being is vague and has been vehemently disputed among pro-choice and pro-life supporters. Some philosophers use the term “human being” to imply the notion of personhood. However, other philosophers have argued that the concept of personhood should be distinguished from the concept of human being. Should we distinguish between a human being and a human person? Are not all human beings human persons?

Personhood Criteria

          Historically, there have been a plethora views on when a human organism becomes a person. For instance, some philosophers, such as Plato, believed that our personhood pre-existed birth and even conception.  Our personhood was identical to our invisible soul and did not die with the death of the body. Instead, the soul was immortal and would reincarnate in another body. Therefore, a person did not come into being at conception since the person already existed even before conception. In other cultures of antiquity, it was a commonly held belief that personhood was not achieved until some time after birth, and therefore infanticide was not considered morally wrong. Even Christian religions throughout history did not have a consistent view as to when personhood began. Customarily, only when a fetus had a soul could it be attributed the moral status of being a person. A human being acquired a soul sometime after conception and before birth.  So, when does a human organism become a person?

The Personhood Question and Criterion

            In their search for a definition of personhood, some philosophers have examined the question: When does life begin? Some might argue that if we can determine when life begins, then we can know at what point a person comes into being. This line of questioning assumes that, if it can be shown that life begins at conception, then it can also be shown that terminating a pregnancy entails killing a living human thing and abortion is equivalent to murder. However, it is not clear that all living things have a right to life, which is, as we have seen above, the justification for why killing is wrong. This has provoked some philosophers to reframe the question.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Why is Personhood Important for the Abortion Issue?

           An important issue in the abortion debate is determining the metaphysical and moral status of a fetus.[i] One way to resolve this issue is by determining at what point in the gestation period does a fetus become a person. This issue is crucial because it can tell us when a human organism acquires the moral status and legal rights attributed to adult persons. Some philosophers believe that, if it can be demonstrated that a fetus is a person at a certain point in its development, then it can also be demonstrated that abortion, from that moment on, is equivalent to murder. Given this conclusion, they argue that, from the time the fetus becomes a person, abortion is always morally wrong. The argument in its most basic form goes as follows: