Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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The Wrongly Convicted: David Milgaard

In January of 1969, 16-year-old David Milgaard and his friends Ron Wilson and Nichol John took a trip across Canada while under the influence of various drugs. While the friends were in Saskatoon, 20-year-old nursing student Gail Miller was found dead in a snowbank.

“The David Milgaard Story” by Carl Karp and Cecil Rosner

At the time Milgaard and his friends were picking up their friend Albert Cadrain (from his parents home), Cadrain’s family had been renting out their basement to Larry Fisher. Tipped off by Cadrain (who later admitted he was mostly interested in the $2000 reward for information), RCMP officers arrested Milgaard in May of 1969. He was then sent back to Saskatchewan, where he was charged with the murder of Gail Miller. Cadrain testified he had seen Milgaard return the night of Miller’s murder in blood-stained clothing. Wilson and John were also called to testify against Milgaard; they had told police they had been with him the entire day and that they believed him to be innocent but changed their stories for the court. Wilson had later recanted his testimony, saying he had been told he was under suspicion and wanted to alleviate the pressure on himself. David Milgaard was convicted of 1st degree murder and sentenced to life in prison on January 31, 1970 – exactly a year after Miller’s murder. He was 17 years old at the time of his sentencing.

I speak of the plight of David Milgaard,” said Liberal MP Lloyd Axworthy “who has spent the last 21 years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. Yet for the last two years, the Department of Justice has been sitting on an application to reopen his case. But rather than review these conclusive reports, rather than appreciate the agony and trauma of the Milgaard family, the Minister of Justice refuses to act.” After twenty-three years in a maximum security prison, Milgaard was exonerated at the age of 40. Using Axworthy’s argument, we can determine that:


Premise 1: The murder of a Canadian citizen is a crime.

Premise 2: David Milgaard is in prison for the murder of Gail Miller.

Premise 3: David Milgaard was wrongly convicted.

Conclusion: Therefore, David Milgaard should not have been convicted.


By analyzing the above argument, we can easily discover if Lloyd Axworthy’s argument is a sound one.

Premise 1: Murdering a Canadian citizen is in fact a crime, therefore this is true.

Premise 2: David Milgaard did spend over 23 years in a Canadian prison after being wrongfully charged with both raping and murdering a young woman. Thus, this premise is also true.

Premise 3: At the time Axworthy spoke out about this case many believe Milgaard was solely responsible for what tragedy had happened, however in 2015 we know that he had been wrongly convicted and is truly innocent.

So when looking at Axworthy’s statement after David Milgaard had been released, the syllogism is true, valid and sound.

 

 

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Euthanasia By Nadine and Alyssa

Throughout the past few week in class we have been discussing morals and philosophers views on ethics. While diving into an exploration of some ethical issues one stood out for us, that topic being Euthanasia. Euthanasia is the intentional killing of another person as requested by them as they may be facing terminal, painful illness and would rather end their lives immediately than fade away slowly and painfully with time. There are different types of Euthanasia.

  • Voluntary euthanasia: When the person who is killed has requested to be killed.
  • Non-voluntary: When the person who is killed made no request and gave no consent.
  • Involuntary euthanasia: When the person who is killed expressed a wish to the contrary.
  • Assisted suicide: Someone provides an individual with the information, guidance, and means to take his or her own life with the intention that they will be used for this purpose. When it is a doctor who helps another person to kill themselves it is called “physician assisted suicide.”
  • Euthanasia By Action: Intentionally causing a person’s death by performing an action such as by giving a lethal injection.
  • Euthanasia By Omission: Intentionally causing death by not providing necessary and ordinary (usual and customary) care or food and water.

Euthanasia is currently illegal in most of Canada and many other countries around the world. As with all ethical problems, there are two side; for and against. The present law in Canada does not distinguish between euthanasia, assisted suicide and other forms of murder.  The key consideration is the intention to cause death.  Consent or motive – even one of compassion – does not change the reality of killing a human being.

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People who are against Euthanasia are just that for a multitude of reasons.

Many believe that allowing Euthanasia to become a legal norm would weaken society’s value for human life. People with disabilities and illness may soon be viewed as burdens to society as they have the option to die sooner and no longer use up our hospital’s resources and space, a view that would negatively impact the mental health of millions of patients. Every human being has the right to be valued equally in society. By legalizing Euthanasia some may develop the mindset that the weak should simply be disposed of, a view that is detrimental to the equality of our society. Human life should not be a means to an end, it is a good in itself and should be treated as such.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that rational human beings should be treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to something else. The fact that we are human has value in itself. Our inherent value doesn’t depend on anything else – it doesn’t depend on whether we are having a good life that we enjoy, or whether we are making other people’s lives better. We exist, so we have value. It applies to us too as we shouldn’t treat ourselves as a means to our own ends meaning that lives should not be taken for the sole reason that it seems like the most effective way to alleviate suffering. To do that, through the eyes of this moral argument, would be to disregard people’s inherent worth. This view is known as the Slippery slope argument, the idea that allowing something seemingly harmless to happen may enable it to eventually spiral and escalate to allowing more worse things, currently unthinkable things, to become the norm. If Euthanasia were to be legalized and made a norm, many believe that vulnerable people will be put under pressure to end their lives. It would be difficult, and possibly impossible, to stop people using persuasion or coercion to get people to request euthanasia when they don’t really want it.

vancouver rally iv

Euthanasia is usually viewed from the viewpoint of the person who wants to die, but it affects other people too, and their rights should be considered.

  • family and friends
  • medical and other careers
  • other people in a similar situation who may feel pressured by the decision of this patient
  • society’s balance in general

To outline each and every argument against Euthanasia out there would make for a monstrous blog post, so instead here are some of the most common arguments against Euthanasia in point form:

  •  Voluntary euthanasia is the start of a slippery slope that leads to involuntary euthanasia and the killing of people who are thought undesirable
  • Proper palliative care makes euthanasia unnecessary
  • There’s no way of properly regulating euthanasia
  • Allowing euthanasia will lead to less good care for the terminally ill
  • Allowing euthanasia undermines the commitment of doctors and nurses to saving lives
  • Allowing euthanasia will discourage the search for new cures and treatments for the terminally ill
  • Euthanasia undermines the motivation to provide good care for the dying, and good pain relief
  • Euthanasia exposes vulnerable people to pressure to end their lives
  • Moral pressure on elderly relatives by selfish families
  • Moral pressure to free up medical resources
  • Patients who are abandoned by their families may feel euthanasia is the only solution

In contrast, there are many who believe that Euthanasia is something that should be made legal for all people. There are a few different moral approaches that have come to this conclusion.

Protesters

Consequentialism & Utilitarianism would focus on looking at the consequence of the affected people of the situation. John Stuart Mill said in his famous essay that

“good consequences are simply happiness, and happiness is pleasure and freedom from pain – not only physical pain but also distress of other kinds.”

The idea of this explains that there is the possibility of producing most pleasure and the least pain for everyone involved. Mills also stated

“ good consequences depend not only on the quantity of pleasure but also on the quality of the experiences which produce it and of the human being which is developed by them.”

According to this, the right action is something that promotes in oneself and others in a higher happiness.

Another approach to this issue would be Deontology, the idea that some or all actions are right or wrong in themselves because of the type of actions that they are. In this article by Elizabeth Telfer, she explains this concept by stating:

“Examples of these would be John Locke in the seventeenth century, Richard Price in the eighteenth century and David Ross and H. A. Prichard in the twentieth. Some Deontological philosophers speak in terms of duties, others of rights, but for our purposes they may be grouped together. However, we need to distinguish between two kinds of rights. Some rights, commonly called negative rights, are rights not to be treated in certain ways, and there are corresponding duties not to treat the owners of these rights in these ways. Other rights are positive rights to receive goods or services. Other people may have a duty to provide these, though it tends to be difficult to decide exactly who, as with such rights as the right to work.

There are two negative rights, found in most lists, which are particularly relevant to voluntary euthanasia. These are: the right not to be killed, corresponding to a duty not to kill, and the right to liberty corresponding to a duty to respect others’ liberty. I shall say a little about each of these. The notion of a duty not to kill seems at first to rule out euthanasia of any kind, and those who oppose euthanasia sometimes seem to think that all they need to do is to say ‘Thou shalt not kill’ in a suitably solemn voice. But we do not regard the prohibition of killing as absolute: we may think there can be justified wars or justified capital punishment, or that killing in self- defense or defense of others is justified. And it is easier to justify voluntary euthanasia than the killing in these other cases, where the person who dies does not choose to do so. If the reason why in general we ought not to kill is that life is a person’s most precious possession, then that reason can be overturned if the person no longer wants to live.”
-Elizabeth Telfer

The Moral theory of Egoism; the belief that the right action is always that which has the best consequences for the doer of the action, or agent, would further find that Euthanasia should be a legal right.Similar to topic one, this is more about how the doer of the action presents itself to something that benefits him/her. Such as a selfish family member that would rather have the money one gets from a fallen family member.Aristotle’s policy in life is not to pursue our own pleasure but to develop our own flourishing or foster our best selves. This however is the opposite of Egoism. One must find and develop a non-egoistic self. Someone who possesses moral virtues, which includes the act of regarding others values. Such as the idea of a death with dignity. Euthanasia lets someone have their values preserved and their better self is seen at the end, rather than a declined better self.

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In general, those who are for Euthanasia believe that legalizing it and making it accessible to the people who are in dire pain would make their better self shine through at the end of their lifespan, would benefit many families and would give them the freedom to control their own lives.

Like many topics in this world, Euthanasia is extremely controversial. As it stands, Euthanasia is illegal in most of Canada, but there are many arguments against it. As is the case of all ethical situations, there are pro’s and con’s, what you believe and which philosopher you agree with is an opinion thats entirely up to you to form.

 

 

 

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The Road to Murder

 

Before reading the entirety of the post, keep one thing in mind: We are limited to the amount of ‘free will’ we have (or maybe we don’t have free will at all, depending on what you think) and it traps us. This plays a huge role in our topic.

Social Factors:

  • Friends
  • School
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Social stigma/discrimination

Personal Factors:

  • Parents
  • Adoption
  • Family
  • Needs/wants/desires/goals/dreams
  • Philosophy/ideology
  • Influences
  • Boredom
  • Neglect

Mental Factors:

  • Genetics
  • Mental Illness
  • Pressure/Stress

All of the factors listed above play a part in the road to murder. Society tacitly condones murder by having these factors. An example is boredom; when an individual is bored, and seeks to quell that boredom through murder, society punishes them for doing so. We forget that everyone is different, so naturally, what pleases certain individuals may not please you. We are brought up to think of murder as bad, but it could very well be just like any other interest. Many of us like to listen to music, watch movies, play video games, play sports and the like, so why is murder any different? Isn’t it because we were made to think that way?

Society conditions a certain group of individuals into being the weak; for example, the blacks, the Jews, and First Nations are conditioned to be thought of as the weak. Society conditions Muslims, men, and terrorists in general to be thought of as the strong, because we fear these people and what they are capable of doing.

Society can be categorized into three groups: the weak, the average, and the strong. Using a scale as an example, the weak and the strong are at the ends of the scale, while the average are at the middle. The weak and strong would be categorized at outliers, while the average are categorized as the majority. The strong category would include those with mental capacity and strength that is above average; physical strength; innovative and creative; influential and charismatic; those with interesting and unique ideas; and those with dreams that they are willing to sacrifice everything for to achieve. The weak include those who drop out of school; lose their jobs and homes (homeless); those who are considered “failures” in life by society; those who have no motivation or drive in life to achieve anything; those who are dependent on others even though they have full capability to be independent; those who are socially oppressed against their own will; and those who are physically or mentally disabled.

Society seeks to prolong the survival of the average, the middle class which has the highest chance of survival. It ostracizes the weak and the strong, which leads to these two outliers feeling despair, and thus raising the chances of these two outliers committing acts of violence. These outliers are driven to taking revenge against the average for what society has done against them, in order to give them a sense of purpose which will encourage them to continue living. Society, in doing so, causing itself harm: if it did not ostracize these two outliers, it would not have to deal with the troubles caused by them. Remember, our ‘free will’ is limited or otherwise non-existent (depending on your belief), and therefore, the weak have no opportunities to bring themselves to power and the strong are typically alienated against their will.

Thinking more in-depth about it, there have been numerous pieces of evidence that back our points up. Numerous studies agree that gifted children are more emotional than the average person; blacks and Jews have been kicked around for a good chunk of history; people of different sexual orientations are still being discriminated today.

Some proofs that hit closer to home include: when we bear expectations of our hardworking peers and continuously praise them for their good marks, not knowing that it puts pressure on them; when some parents overlook the good and can only see the bad in you; when you have no say over anything because you’re just a child; when being gifted or being good at something automatically means other people can call you super smart and the fear of disappointing others overtakes you; when you are a certain religion, skin color, nationality, heritage, body size, etc. and you can’t do anything about it, but the media only brings the spotlight to men with “hot” bodies and skinny and tall women. Things like that drive us into a hole, and sometimes, it causes people to crack- to kill, even- and sometimes, the victim of this harm is ourselves.

Therefore, in the interest of the greater good or benefit, society would benefit itself by caring for the two outlier groups in order to maximize the happiness of the average. John Stuart Mill, an extremely important British philosopher who lived in the 19th century put forth the Principle of Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle: “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”. In this case, society would be justified in judging the two outliers, in order to promote the greatest happiness of the majority. Even though these two outliers would undergo the opposite of happiness (pain), the majority of the average would benefit, therefore justifying these actions.

However, through the lens of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, every human being should be treated as an end in itself. Therefore, society should treat each person in a way that benefits their inherent dignity as a human, and be given help to prevent them from sinking down to a level of violence. This view disagrees with that of Utilitarianism, because it does not condone using people as means. By treating everyone fairly, we would prevent a lot of the trouble that the justice and social system has to deal with.

Is murder justified after being presented with the evidence above? This includes:

  • Murdering for fun (keeping in mind about our points in the first two paragraphs)
  • Murdering because people have cracked under the pressure (keeping in mind about our points in the second to fifth paragraphs)
  • Murdering for the greater good (Mill & Kant paragraphs)

Anything not mentioned on the list above can be posted about, but please don’t direct arguments or discussions towards those points.

 

 

 

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And now, for levity’s sake

If you’re new to xkcd, hover over the image to catch the punchline.

 

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Ethics Discussion Threads on the Go

Metaphysicians

Peace, Joel.

To bring together the various threads of discussion and dialogue we’ve been engaged in as we work through our initial introductions to the principles of moral reasoning put forth by John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, I’ve collected links to many of the prompts and posts from the unit below. Follow the links in the headings through to the original posts and share your thoughts on the questions and comments emerging in these various discussions.

The Morality of Murder 

  • Do we have certain fundamental rights? (Follow up: What are they? Why can we assume that they exist?)
  • Does a fair procedure justify any result?
  • What is the moral work of consent? In other words, Why does/can consent make the amoral moral?

Part of the Problem: Talking about Systemic Oppression

Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of [racial minorities, other genders, classes, regions, religions] and not be deemed responsible for such oppression? If it is possible to be ‘innocent’ in such a case, under what conditions does such innocence exist?

Colonialism and Reconciliation in Canada

…who bears the responsibility to reduce the amount of discrimination and oppression experienced by [indigenous] groups? Should it fall to the oppressed to liberate themselves from a pervasive society of oppression? Or are we all responsible?

Iowa rules Legal to Fire Woman for being “Too Attractive”

“The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday stood by its ruling that a dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant because he found her too attractive and worried he would try to start an affair.

“Coming to the same conclusion as it did in December, the all-male court found that bosses can fire employees they see as threats to their marriages, even if the subordinates have not engaged in flirtatious or other inappropriate behavior. The court said such firings do not count as illegal sex discrimination because they are motivated by feelings, not gender.”

Systemic Misogyny or Over-Sensitivity? 

  • What do you feel are the merits of these two arguments?
  • Similarly, where do you feel that either of the arguments is vulnerable or weakly articulated?
  • Have you seen others make either case better?
  • Are there further perspectives that these two essays may be leaving out?

Beyond a Formal Acknowledgement

  • How might each of these three moral philosophers (Kant, Mill, Rawls) approach these recent events?
  • Are there ways in which they might agree?
  • Where do you see their thoughts on indigenous land claims diverging?

Rawls and What is a Fair Start? 

  • First of all, what are your impressions of Rawls’ theory next to concepts of Utilitarianism and/or notions of the Categorical Imperative?
  • Second, do you agree that everyone should have the same basic liberties, whether they are a man or a woman, young or old, rich or poor, part of the minority or part of the majority? And if you do, what basic liberties should everyone have?
  • And third, how do you see Rawls’ theory applying to the discussions we have had around systemic oppression in the last week or so? What insights might the theory offer for those looking to combat a misogynistic or racially discriminating culture? Are there other groups or conditions to which Rawls’ insights may oppose?
 

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Harvard’s Justice and the Morality of Murder

To introduce our study of ethics and social/political philosophy, we’ll be viewing the introductory lecture(s) by Michael Sandel in Harvard’s JusticeIn addition to the introduction to the two major schools or moral reasoning – consequentialist and categorical – Sandel’s brilliant facilitation throughout the series stands out as a remarkable feat of intellectual discourse. By highlighting the guiding principles underpinning our ‘gut’ reactions to the thought experiments, the lecture/discussion serves as a model of respectful dialogue, as well as an invitation to engage everyday topics with an open mind.

Upon completing the discussion, Sandel poses three questions I would like to pose here for our own debate and introductory musings on morality and ethics. Please add your thoughts to one or more of the following prompts in the comments to this post:

  1. Do we have certain fundamental rights? (Follow up: What are they? Why can we assume that they exist?)
  2. Does a fair procedure justify any result?
  3. What is the moral work of consent? In other words, Why does/can consent make the amoral moral?
 

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Logic Assignment Introduction

Logic Lane, Oxford

Photo of Logic Lane at Oxford by Andy Hough on Flickr.

As we move into our unit on logic, the face-to-face participants in Philosophy 12 have been reading about the Basic Concepts of Logic (pdf), which may be defined as “the science of reasoning.” Delving into statements, premises, propositions, as well as truth, validity and soundness, our hope is to greet the weekend with a host of blogged examples of logical arguments in their natural habitat. In past years, the tasks around logic have involved a similar feat of strength, and participants have generated multiple examples of logical arguments and tested them for form and content. Occasionally this has sparked interesting discussions of both the merits of this or that argument, the cultural implications (or origins) of such thinking, and by amending the unit assignment this week hopefully we will see more of this type of discourse emerging around our logical examples.

The Assignment 

  • Summarize and describe an example of a logical argument you have uncovered in a variety of settings: current events, popular media, personal anecdotes or hypothetical thought experiments. Be sure to include enough back-story for people unfamiliar with the milieu of your example to digest the logic at work, and provide links, video, or attached materials so that your audience can follow up or extend their inquiry into your example with ease.
  • Dissect the argument and its form by representing it as a syllogism.
  • Evaluate the argument for Truth, Validity and Soundness and explain your judgements.
  • Reflect upon the origins or implications of your selected argument. Where does it (or others like it) come from (in society, culture, etc)? What are the consequences of the conclusion drawn, or from the argument being framed in this way?

Post your example on the class site no later than Tuesday morning, and be sure to include the proper Category: Logic and Scientific Philosophy.

For your reference and preparation, here is an example of a response to this assignment:

Prime Ministerial Logic 

Image via Transitions, an Advocate for Sociological Inquiry

Following the discovery of Tina Fontaine’s murdered body in the Red River, in August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced reinvigorated calls to launch a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada. On the heels of reports from the special rapporteur to the United Nations, as well as the RCMP, which each discovered that aboriginal women in Canada face significantly higher rates of violence than non-aboriginals, Harper’s federal Conservative Government continued to reject pressure to better understand the root causes of this trend. The Prime Minister himself stated that “we should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as a crime.”

The Prime Minister’s statement might be seen as an argument broken down to the following premises and conclusion:

Premise 1: The murder or abduction of aboriginal women is a crime.

Premise 2: Crime is not a sociological phenomenon.

Premise 3: A federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women would rely on sociological practices of inquiry.

Conclusion: Therefore, a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women would not address crimes against aboriginal women.

By evaluating the various premises’ truth and/or accuracy, we might be able to reveal the soundness of the Prime Minister’s argument.

  • Premise 1 can easily be accepted as true.
  • Premise 2 can be more easily contested, as the study of criminology itself is a branch of sociological inquiry. While it is the government’s prerogative to define and combat crime in terms it was elected to uphold, practitioners in the fields of both sociology and criminology would likely contest the Prime Minister’s assertion that “crime is not a sociological phenomenon.”
  • Premise 3 can be seen to be true, as an inquiry into the trend of murdered and missing aboriginal women would “study social behaviour, its origins, development, organization, and institutions,” which Wikipedia defines as sociology.

As we can see, the flaw in the Prime Minister’s argument is contained in Premise number two, and damages the conclusion reached. While the argument’s form may be valid, an error in its content damages both the truth of its premises and the soundness of the conclusion.

The origins of the Prime Minister’s logic are difficult to trace, though they might be seen in the political ideology of Neoliberalism. Writing in the Toronto Star, Jakeet Singh noted that the Prime Minister’s remarks were

“clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems.”

The effects of this logic being brought to bear on crime and punishment in Canada can be similarly difficult to witness (somewhat ironically even, as the evidence to be found would reside within the sorts of sociological inquiries the Prime Minister is denying). However, Singh’s article describes the casualties of Mr. Harper’s ideology as our societal ability to perceive and confront injustice. “You see,” he writes, “Sociologists often differentiate between “personal injustices” and “systemic” or “structural injustices.” Personal injustices can be traced back to concrete actions of particular individuals (perpetrators). These actions are often willful, and have a relatively isolated victim.”

Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”

By refusing to view crime as a sociological phenomenon, those accepting the Prime Minister’s argument do so within a broader context which should trouble those who believe in our collective responsibility for one another’s well-being. “When we paint all social problems as individual problems with individual solutions,” Singh writes, “we also lose any sense of the social responsibility, rather than personal responsibility, that we need to address them.”

 

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Ethics Discussion: Euthanasia, Capital Punishment & Safe Injection Sites 12.06.13

Here is the second Ethics discussion from our unit, concerning the questions of Euthanasia, Capital Punishment & Safe Injection Sites. You can read more about each of these topics on their introductory posts:

 
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