From Kant to Kevorkian
Regis NicollRegis Nicoll's weblog
- 2010 Aug 16
From 1990 to 1998, Jack Kevorkian assisted in the suicides of more than 130 people. Although a number of those cases involved the terminally ill, the majority did not; and in five instances, autopsies showed no evidence of disease or illness.
In a recent interview Kervorkian stunned an interviewer by saying that the worst moment in his life was the moment he was born. While it can be tempting to dismiss Jack Kevorkian as a misanthropic quack, the philosophy from which his actions can be traced goes back more than two centuries.
The Copernican Turn
He had the best of intentions: to rescue what can be known from the radical skepticism of David Hume. But by dividing the universe into its sensible and insensible parts, Immanuel Kant created a Knowledge-Belief split. In this binary framework, "knowledge" was restricted to facts about the material world, with everything else a product of "beliefs" shaped by personal experiences and cultural influences. It was nothing less than a Copernican Turn in thought.
Up until Kant, it was generally accepted that a pre-existent something—Yahweh, the uncaused Cause, the Good, the One, Apeiron, Logos, God—brought the universe into existence with a rational structure that made knowledge possible: knowledge of the physical matrix of the cosmos and the metaphysical questions of life, as well.
According to Kant, the moral law (being law and rational) resided in the category of Knowledge. But Enlightenment agitations with the Church, coupled with the materialistic enthusiasms of the Scientific Revolution, eventually caused moral knowledge to be dislodged from the realm of facts, along with the concepts of God, spirit, soul, and the like.
The effect, over time, was the death of moral absolutes and the popularization of relativism, pragmatism, and utilitarianism.
The ‘sweet mystery of life'
Consider the nation whose rule of law is founded on the declaration: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal: that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…"
Two hundred years later, the highest court in the land upheld a ruling that excluded the unborn from those provisions with this fatuous reasoning: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
Note the Kantian influence. It is the individual that assigns value and meaning to human life, bereft of any extrinsic standard or influence. And while it is true that the individual should be free to hold whatever peculiar beliefs he wants, acting on beliefs untethered to an external standard is another matter; in fact, it is moral chaos. For if the "sweet mystery of life" can be applied to life's earliest stages, it can be applied to its later stages as well. One person who clearly understands that is Princeton ethicist Peter Singer.
As a thoroughgoing materialist, Peter Singer considers the human being a mere bag of chemicals with the capacity for suffering. What's more, as an avowed utilitarian he believes that any action that reduces the sum-total of suffering in the world is justified, with little regard as to the distinction between human and non-human sufferers (Singer is an outspoken critic of speciesism).
Following the logic of the Supreme Court to its monstrous conclusion, Singer argues that if a newborn will cause his parents, siblings or community more hardship than joy, his parents have the right, even the duty, to euthanize him, and that the State should honor that right by granting the parents a "grace period" —a few weeks, months, whatever—post-partum to do the moral math. In the Singer world, "inalienable rights" do not apply until parents see fit bestow them.
Continuing down into that logical gutter, Singer took to the pages of the New York Times to pose the question "Should this be the last generation?" There Singer coquettishly brought up the idea of sterilizing ourselves to extinction.
Why? Because pain, suffering, and disappointment are universal to the human condition; they afflict the rich and poor alike, whether in the developed world or the developing world. And what better way to reduce misery, than to prevent the proliferation of those capable of experiencing it!
Now Singer doesn't take all this seriously, leastwise on a global scale. He admits that a peopled world is better than a non-peopled one, not out of consideration of any transcendent value, but because of his brimming confidence in man to bring about a better world—one with "far less suffering." Rather, he invites individuals to consider the question "Is life worth living?" before having children.
For his part, Singer deems life worth living and believes that most folks share his belief. But for those who don't, there is Jack Kevorkian... Continue reading here.