We will gradually, but better and better, be able to inference not only the brain, but consciousness itself. Neurotechnology will slowly blend into consciousness technology, and we will be able to control states of subjective experience in ever more fine-grained and reliable manners in the future. And there is no way around old-fashioned philosophical questions.
We have to ask, not only what is a good action, but we have to ask what is a good state of consciousness. What states of consciousness do we want to show our children? What states of consciousness should be illegal in our societies, if any? What states of consciousness can we force upon animals, for instance, in research? What states of consciousness do we want to foster and cultivate in our societies. And, perhaps, what is the state of consciousness I want to eventually die in?
So, there are not only scientific questions, there are also normative questions. And they are not just what is a good action in applying new technology to the brain. In the end it is also the question, what is a good life, given all this new knowledge about ourselves, and all these new potentials for action.
Einer der interessantesten Rechtsfälle in letzter Zeit:
Eine Mutter und ihre schwerbehinderte Tochter verlangten Schmerzensgeld für die Tatsache, dass die Mutter nicht über eine mögliche Abtreibung im Falle einer Behinderung informiert wurde. Das Berner Obergericht hat die Klage abgewiesen. Es gebe keinen Anspruch des Kindes darauf, nicht geboren zu werden, heisst es in der Begründung.
Das Gericht hatte die Frage zu beantworten, ob ein schwerbehinderter Mensch Anrecht auf Schmerzensgeld hat, weil er geboren wurde statt abgetrieben.
Die damals zuständige Ärztin wusste gemäss Anklage, dass für das ungeborene Mädchen ein erhöhtes Risiko einer erblichen Stoffwechselkrankheit bestand. Trotzdem hat sie es unterlassen, die Mutter über weitere pränatale Diagnostiken aufzuklären und ihr damit eine Abtreibung auch nach Ablauf der 12-Wochen-Frist zu ermöglichen. Die Mutter konnte vor dem Gericht glaubhaft machen, dass sie abgetrieben hätte, wenn sie über diesen Sachverhalt in Kenntnis gesetzt worden wäre. Bereits in erster Instanz wurde der Mutter wegen der verletzten Sorgfaltspflicht der Ärztin eine Genugtuung von 30.000 Franken zugesprochen, nicht aber dem Kind.
Das Berner Obergericht schreibt dazu in seinem Urteil: “Fraglich ist mithin, ob das Persönlichkeitsrecht des ungeborenen Kindes das Recht umfasst, nicht mit schwersten Schädigungen geboren zu werden.” Ein Anspruch des Kindes darauf, “nicht geboren zu werden”, sei dem Gericht unbekannt. Die Entstehung des Lebens als solches könne nach der schweizerischen Rechtsordnung nie widerrechtlich sein.1
Nur zwei kurze Anmerkungen dazu: Einerseits sollte der Staat nicht in die Fortpflanzung und in die Fortpflanzungsentscheidungen eingreifen und Leute nicht bestrafen, wenn sie behinderte Kinder zur Welt bringen. Andererseits ist es keine moralisch unschuldige Tat, intelligente, empfindsame, sich ihrer selbst bewusste Wesen zu kreieren, die grosses Leid erfahren werden.
The Thatcher accomplishments [...] are [...] very much of a mixed-bag. On the positive side, there was a considerable amount of denationalization and privatization, including the sale of public housing units to the tenants, thereby converting former Labour voters to staunchly Conservative property owners. Another of her successes was breaking the massive power of the British trade unions.
Unfortunately, the pluses of the Thatcher economic record are more than offset by the stark fact that the State ends the Thatcher era more of a parasitic burden on the British economy and society than it was when she took office. For example, she never dared touch the sacred cow of socialized medicine, the National Health Service. For that and many other reasons, British government spending and revenues are more generous than ever.
Furthermore, despite Mrs. Thatcher’s lip-service to monetarism, her early successes against inflation have been reversed, and monetary expansion, inflation, government deficits, and accompanying unemployment are higher than ever. Mrs. Thatcher left office, after eleven years, in the midst of a disgraceful inflationary recession: with inflation at 11%, and unemployment at 9%. In short, Mrs. Thatcher’s macroeconomic record was abysmal.
To top it off, her decisive blunder was the replacement of local property taxes by an equal tax per person (a “poll tax”). In England, in contrast to the United States, the central government has control over the local governments, many of which are ruled by wild-spending left Labourites. The equal tax was designed to curb the free-spending local governments.
Instead, what should have been predictable happened. The local governments generally increased their spending and taxes, the higher equal tax biting fiercely upon the poor and middle-class, and then effectively placed the blame for the higher taxes upon the Thatcher regime. Moreover, in all this maneuvering, the Thatcherites forgot that the great point about an equal tax is precisely that taxes have to be drastically lowered so that the poorest can pay them; to raise equal tax rates above the old property tax, or to allow them to be raised, is a species of economic and political insanity, and Mrs. Thatcher reaped the proper punishment for egregious error.
In one area of the macro-economy we must regret the exit of Mrs. Thatcher: hers was the only voice raising a cry against the creation of the European Central Bank, issuing a new European currency unit.1
- Murray Rothbard – Making Economic Sense: Chapter 63: Exit The Iron Lady [↩]
So what is metaethics? Many people break the field of ethics into three sub-fields: applied ethics, normative ethics, and metaethics.
Applied ethics: Is abortion morally right? How should we treat animals? What political and economic systems are most moral? What are the moral responsibilities of businesses? How should doctors respond to complex and uncertain situations? When is lying acceptable? What kinds of sex are right or wrong? Is euthanasia acceptable?
Normative ethics: What moral principles should we use in order to decide how to treat animals, when lying is acceptable, and so on? Is morality decided by what produces the greatest good for the greatest number? Is it decided by a list of unbreakable rules? Is it decided by a list of character virtues? Is it decided by a hypothetical social contract drafted under ideal circumstances?
Metaethics: What does moral language mean? Do moral facts exist? If so, what are they like, and are they reducible to natural facts? How can we know whether moral judgments are true or false? Is there a connection between making a moral judgment and being motivated to abide by it? Are moral judgments objective or subjective, relative or absolute? Does it make sense to talk about moral progress?1
The great crisis of Protestantism in the Anglo-Saxon as well as in the Scandinavian world is intrinsically connected with the breakdown and shrinkage of the average man’s power of imagination; this is after all the loss of a faculty which is as serious as the loss of a limb or sense, or perhaps even more so. One of the most important differences between “modern” society and preindustrial society consists largely in the great antithesis between phantasism and realism, between man and machine. All fictional heroes in Europe, from Parzifal and Don Quixote to Peer Gynt and Dostoyevsky’s “Idiot,” are fantasist dreamers. The “traditional” European, and especially the nonprogressive easterner and southerner, has almost always an “inner realm” of which he is king. This is the reason why he does not feel the grim realities so keenly (as we outsiders imagine he does) and manages to retire into his realm of dreams like a tortoise into her shell. The total materialists (who are called “realists” without justification because their nonrecognition of metaphysics as well as lack of imagination makes them anything else but realists in a higher sense) have always led uncomfortable and drab lives, hurting themselves continuously, while the dreamer might live in all luxury among the creations of his phantasy. The dreamer and fantasist is in a way invincible while the “realistic” materialist is exposed to danger by more than one Achilles heel. The fantasist and dreamer has moreover the added advantage of a greater dexterity in the interpretation of the visible world, thanks to his well-cultivated artistic vision. With transcendental perception his eye sees through things and happenings, and he thus uncovers and senses the deeper causalities and reasons which remain hidden to the cold and expressionless fishy eye of the “realist.” Protestantism as well as technicism has contributed a great deal toward the firm entrenchment of “realism” in the modern world. The former preached an unnatural “soberness” while the latter actuated a real “desiccation” of the human mind.
~ Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn – The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large, 1943
To begin with, the legendary wealth of the Vatican is to some extent more myth than reality. The Vatican has an annual operating budget of under $300 million, while Harvard University, arguably the Vatican of elite secular opinion, has a budget of $3.7 billion, meaning it’s 10 times greater. The Vatican’s “patrimony,” what other institutions would call an endowment, is around $1 billion. In this case, Harvard’s ahead by a robust factor of 30, with an endowment of $30.7 billion.
Of course, these figures don’t include the value of masterpieces of Western art housed in the Vatican, such as Michelangelo’s “Pietà.” The Vatican considers itself custodians of these items, not their owners, and it’s a matter of Vatican law that they can never be sold or borrowed against. As a result, they have no practical value and are listed on the Vatican books at a value of 1 euro each.1
- John L. Allen Jr. – Challenges to vision of a ‘Poor Church for the Poor’ / via Alan Jacobs / more than 95 theses / via Michael B Dougherty @michaelbd / via Konkvistador @SamoBurja [↩]
It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.
People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.1
Omotenashi bedeutet «Willkommen, fürsorgliche Behandlung, Unterhaltung» – Inbegriff japanischer Gastlichkeit. Die Zufriedenheit des Besuchers ist das oberste Gebot, weswegen spezielle Regeln kaum formuliert werden können, denn jeder Gast ist anders und muss gemäss seinen individuellen Neigungen behandelt werden. Es geht darum, die Bedürfnisse des Kunden zu antizipieren. Es soll ihm an nichts fehlen, und er soll gar nicht erst fragen müssen.
Bedienen ist nichts Niedriges, sondern wie jede andere Profession etwas, was man gut oder weniger gut machen kann. Das Verhältnis zwischen dem, der die Dienstleistung erbringt, und dem, der sie empfängt, beruht nicht auf Ungleichheit, sondern auf Reziprozität. Dass die Dienstleistung von guter Qualität ist, kann der Kunde erwarten. Japanische Kunden sind diesbezüglich anspruchsvoll. Sie bezahlen dafür. Während der Mahlzeit in der Herberge des Badeorts ist die Bedienerin stets zugegen, wenn sie gebraucht wird, schenkt Getränke ein, ist zum Gespräch bereit und holt aus der Küche den nächsten Gang herbei.
Nach dem Essen im Restaurant, der Übernachtung in der Herberge, der Behandlung beim Coiffeur oder der Taxifahrt zahlt der Kunde seine Rechnung. Ein Trinkgeld wird nicht gegeben, ebenso wenig, wie man ein solches einem Tischler, einem Redaktor oder einem Professor geben würde. Das Verhältnis zwischen Dienendem und Bedienten geriete durch eine monetäre Prämie unweigerlich aus der Balance: Hast’s gut gemacht, hier hast du was extra.
Gut zu dienen, ist eine Frage der Berufsehre. Machen Sie es sich bequem, würde man in Japan nicht sagen. Nur eine Floskel ist das, aber doch bezeichnend. Nicht Sie sollen es sich bequem machen, wir machen es Ihnen bequem, ist die Devise – ohne Trinkgeld.1
Vielleicht sollte die Schweiz etwas japanischer werden?
(Mir persönlich ist das Trinkgeldsystem etwas ungeheuer und unangenehm und das Trinkgeld kommt mir bisweilen wie eine Trennlinie zwischen höheren und niedrigeren (servilen, subalternen) Berufen, resp. Dienstleistungen, vor.)
- Florian Coulmas – Nur ja kein Trinkgeld – Gastlichkeit – in Japan eine Frage der Ehre [↩]
There are eight levels of charity, each greater than the next.
 The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .
 A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.
 A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this, if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.
 A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes, so that they would not be ashamed.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.
i’ve long argued that there is no – can be no – principled distinction between the natural and the artificial. our pride in human amazingness and distinctiveness – understood theologically or in terms of evolution – is matched by our self-loathing (beautifullly developed in the monotheistic traditions and environmentalism), and we regard our own interventions primarily as destructions. ”pollution’ is a nice site of this struggle: pouring artificial poisons of our own invention into a pristine nature. so think about this: the gummy black toxic slop pouring into the gulf of mexico is an entirely natural substance: it hasn’t been refined or processed at all; it is the trace of billions of organisms over millions of years; what’s going to kill everything is an essence or a remainder of life. all we did was…release it. that is a much better model of us in relation to our world: not standing outside it destroying or conserving it from the heights of consciousness and technology, but issuing slight deflections or articulations of it, wholly from within. if we were to destroy nature (which, i tell you, is by definition impossible) it would be nature devouring itself.1