Sunday, May 10, 2009

Some Paradoxes Worth Wider Attention!

Tibor R. Machan

Here is a paradox in the position being championed by several commentators on a prominent anti-vivisectionist website: If other animals may kill and maim fellow animals, and if human beings aren’t significantly different from other animals, why are human beings derided for killing and maiming other animals just as those kill and maim other animals? All those pictures of animals that have been hurt by people could be matched by pictures of animals that have been hurt by non-human animals. Nature is replete with cases of that kind. Some defenders of non-human animals claim that humans are not all that different from other animals; if this is so, why do they demand that humans treat non-humans so differently from how non-humans treat other non-humans?

This paradox is a serious one and it requires an answer from those who condemn human beings for treating non-human animals hurtfully! But there are others, too, that are worth mentioning.

There are innumerable scientists and philosophers who hold that everything that occurs in the world had to occur or, to put it differently, there is no freedom of choice or free will in human existence--que sera, sera or what will be will be. Often this position is also expressed by defenders of evolutionary theory or Darwinians. They claim that with Darwin's views well established, we know now that everything in the living world happens as a result of the principles identified by Darwin and his students. Although Darwin made some attempt to reconcile his views with the idea of morality in human life, it is widely thought that there is no way to reconcile those views with the theory of free will or human origination or initiation of action, behavior, or conduct--i. e., with personal responsibility.

Yet, many among those who subscribe to the Darwinian position, especially in the environmental movement, engage in talk about how human beings should have done this rather than that with the environment, how they ought to have helped preserve endangered species, how they should not have cleared rain forests, or depleted rivers or lakes of fish, or drive SUVs., etc. Furthermore, many of these persons also claim that human beings have a choice between, say, what former Vice-President Al Gore is advising people to do and the opposite, which he advises people not to do. Evidently, then, Mr. Gore and millions of his more or less well educated followers believe that people do have free will and are not compelled to behave along lines the forces of evolution makes them behave.

There is a unit now at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is working on revising America's criminal law system in line with the view that free will is an illusion and there are no criminal culprits who can be held responsible for their illegal conduct. "Proponents of neuroscientific evidence say it can help make the judicial system more accurate and less biased on matters of guilt, punishment, and treatment, on the detection of lies and bias, and in the prediction of criminal behavior. They believe the result could be less crime and fewer people in prisons...." Although described in terms that do not straightforwardly reveal the orientation of the project's supporters and administrators, the bottom line once one reads through what is available at the project's website is clear, namely, that human choice is an illusion and thus the concept of criminal responsibility must be purged from the legal system.

Here, too, a paradox arises since the project is very judgmental, viewing as it does the American criminal law wrongheaded and in need of serious revision. But, of course, if no one has any choice about what he or she is doing, neither did all those who were instrumental in fashioning America's system of criminal law. Everything happened as it had to and will continue to happen as it must. All the hand-wringing is then utterly pointless.

A short piece is not where the paradoxes can be addressed fully but it can bring to the attention of the general public what is cooking at some of America's higher education institutions.

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