Academic institutions are expected to undergo rigorous assessment as part of their accreditation process. Roughly put, this process is supposed to show that the institution is doing what an academic institution is supposed to do. Having served on numerous committees relating to SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), I can attest that the process is rather extensive and generates massive amounts of paper. However, there have been proposals to change this process.
Here in Florida, the Florida Accredited Courses and Tests Initiative, was proposed. If it, or something like it, were to become a reality, the accreditation process would radically change. One main change would be that rather than having accreditation at the institutional level, individual courses would be accredited. Within this broad change is also a more specific change: “any individual, institution, entity or organization” could create an accredited class. Thus, I could create my own course (and so could you) and get it accredited. Companies looking to make money could also do the same thing.
One reasonable argument for this initiative is based on the claim that the existing institutional model looks at the institution as a whole rather than examining every single course. Because of this, a properly accredited university could have some classes that are lacking in rigor and quality.
While this argument has appeal (and everyone in academics knows about crappy classes at accredited schools), one obvious reply is that institutions are required to engage in assessment at all levels. As the facilitator for Philosophy & Religion at FAMU, I have to complete a detailed assessment of the program and courses each academic year. Every 7 years the unit goes through a complete year long review, featuring an outside consultant who is an expert in philosophy and/or religion. I also serve on committees that are focused on insuring quality and rigor in individual classes. This is all required. Thus, the idea that individual classes are free from supervision is in error.
It could be countered that there should still be review of each class individually to ensure that there is rigor and quality. On the one hand, I do agree with this. After all, I do exactly that every year. On the other hand, there is the practical concern with having every single class subject to individual review in terms of the costs in resources and time. The obvious question is whether such resources needed to do this properly would be better used in another capacity and whether or not such micro-managing would have positive results that could not be provided by the current system. This, of course, lays aside the concern about academic freedom: impositions of “rigor” and “quality” might be used to suppress certain ideas.
Interestingly, the plan that has been proposed does not seem to involve the rigorous examination of individual classes for rigor and quality. As it stands, the proposal is that the head of Florida’s public school system and the chancellor of the state university system would handle the certification process.
One obvious concern, which echoes one talking point against Obamacare, is that it would really remove the decision making regarding college curriculum from faculty and schools and place it in the hands of two political appointees. That is, a bureaucrat would come between students and their education.
From the standpoint of well-connected vendors, this would be an ideal situation. Rather that having their “educational products” subject to evaluation by educational professional and subject to a rigorous accreditation environment, they would simply need to lobby these two appointees to certify their courses.
On the one hand, this could be a gold mine for me. I am comfortable with technology, have crafted online classes and I have that PhD that companies probably want to stick on their education product. Although I lack political connections, I could conceivable create MikeED and make far better money selling online classes than I do actually teaching classes for real.
On the other hand, there is the serious concern that such academic products would be lacking in quality and that students would be overcharged and exploited. After all, with all their defects public schools are dedicated to education rather than profit. While the profit motivation can lead to good results, there is the concern that those who are motivated by profit will be more concerned about profit to the detriment of education. After all, the for-profit schools have shown a dismal record in terms of cost, quality and job-placement.
The second major aspect to the proposal is to create statewide tests for K-12 and college undergraduates. These tests, which would be run by contractors rather than institutions, would allow students to get college credit by taking a test rather than a course.
The idea of students getting credit from taking a test is not new: Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and College Level Examination Program, and CLEP all provide students with this option. However, under the current system it is up to the schools to decide whether they accept the credit or not. Under the proposed system, public schools in Florida would have to accept the credits. These tests would, presumably, be online.
On the one hand, this does have some appeal. In the ideal, well-prepared or talented students could save time and money by taking a test rather than a class. After all, if a student has already mastered the skills of English 101, it would certainly be a waster of her time to be forced to take the class just because it is required. Because of this, I do favor the idea of well-designed tests that would allow students to do just this sort of thing.
On the other hand, there are the obvious worries. One is the likelihood of corruption in such a system. A second is that students will be able to pass such tests without actually learning the skills and knowledge that such courses are supposed to provide. That is, a student could just prep to pass the specific test rather than any learning the subject. To be fair, a student could do the same sort of thing in a traditional class and pass without learning. However, the course setting would seem far more likely to impart skills and knowledge.
I do expect and even hope that technology will change and improve education. I also favor education reform: college is too expensive and there are numerous defects in the existing system. However, this proposal seems to be obviously focused on allowing certain folks to turn the public education system into a source of profits. My own worry echoes that of a Republican law maker: this proposal would seem to ring the dinner bell for scam artists.
The U.S. senate has called shenanigans on Apple’s clever tax strategy. While congress has been rather tolerant of other corporations who avoid taxes (such as GE), the senators have apparently decided to go after Apple.
In some ways, this situation is entertaining. After all, liberals who are against corporations are supposed to be all gooey about Apple, thus putting them into an emotional predicament. Also, conservatives who are supposed to not be fans of Apple’s alleged liberal leanings must be torn over going after a corporation on the issue of taxes. Someone more cynical than I might speculate that Apple’s main “crime” was failing to pay the most important tax of all, namely the congressional tax that is paid via lobbying.
The main attack on Apple is that the company was able to engage in some clever (or dubious) tactics that allowed them to avoid paying all the taxes that the company should have paid. Apple has pointed out that the company pays the most (billions) in taxes, but folks in the senate have claimed that Apple should still be paying more.
While I do have some concerns that the senate is unfairly singling out Apple while giving a free pass to companies that are infamous for not paying taxes, this situation does have some positive aspects to it. Perhaps most importantly, it is drawing attention to the dubious tactics employed by companies to avoid paying taxes. Of course, I suspect that little reform will come out of this in terms of the more outrageous offenders when it comes to dodging tax obligations.
Someone more cynical than I might note that the existing system is, in many ways, a protection racket run by congress. They create harsh tax laws and then allow tax breaks for those who pay the congress “tax.” Companies generally consider this an acceptable deal-the congress “tax” is still less than what they would have to pay if they were fully subject to the corporate tax rate set by congress. Naturally, it would be better if the tax laws were both fairer and simpler, but it seems unlikely that enough folks in Congress are willing to make such changes.
Because of its psychological appeal and versatility, the slippery slope is a very popular fallacy. Thus, it is no surprise that Senator Ted Cruz employed it in his recent “argument” against expanding background checks.
The slippery slope is a fallacy in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question. In most cases, there are a series of steps or gradations between one event and the one in question and no adequate reason is given as to why the intervening steps or gradations will simply be bypassed. This “argument” has the following form:
- Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
- Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.
This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim. This is especially clear in cases in which there is a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another.
In the case of Cruz, his reasoning was as follows:
“The Department of Justice has been explicit that when you require background checks for private firearms transactions, the only way to make that effective is through a national gun registry. So if the bill that is pending on the floor of the Senate passed, the next step in the process would be that critics would say, ‘Well this isn’t effective. We don’t know if you’re selling your firearm to someone else unless we know you have your firearm.’ And in my judgment a federal registry of firearms … would be terrible policy and would be inconsistent with the Constitution.”
On the face of it, it might be contended that Cruz is not presenting a slippery slope fallacy. After all, he does claim that making background checks effective would require such a registry and the “critics” would presumably make that “terrible policy” a reality.
However, looked at more closely, he is still presenting a slippery slope fallacy. While he does purport to provide a reason to think that passing the law in question would lead inevitably to a national gun registry, he actually fails to adequately connect the two. As he conceded on 4/17/2013, the proposed legislation does not create a national gun registry. In fact, the Manchin-Toomey background check legislation actually makes it a felony for government officials to store gun records. Thus, the legislation that is alleged to lead to a national gun registry actually would have made it illegal which would, obviously enough, stop the slippery slope slide immediately. As such, the argument given by Cruz fails to support his conclusion and its only appeal is the psychological fear that passing the law would have led to a national gun registry.
It might be countered that someone could come along a pass a law that would allow a national gun registry, thus there is no slippery slope. However, what is wanting would be the same thing that is wanting now-adequate evidence that this would occur because of the passage of the original law.
I am reasonably sure that Cruz knows he employed a slippery slope-I do not think that he said what he said out of an ignorance of logic. Rather, I suspect he employed it intentionally, knowing how effective the fallacy is as a rhetorical device. After all, he is an Ivy League graduate and perhaps even an intellectual under his new persona. It was, it seems, clever of him to use this approach: he won, despite the fact that the majority of the senate and the vast majority of Americans supported the proposed legislation.
One of the many stock fallacious arguments against same sex-marriage is the slippery slope argument in which it is contended that allowing same sex-marriage will lead to allowing polygamous marriage (or at least bigamy). The mistake being made is, of course, that the link between the two is not actually made. Since the slippery slope fallacy is a fallacy, this is obviously a bad argument.
A non-fallacious argument that is also presented against same sex-marriage involves the contention that allowing same-sex marriage on the basis of a specific principle would require that, on the pain of inconsistency, we also accept polygamous marriage. This principle is typically some variant of the principle that a person should be able to marry any other person. Given that polygamous marriage is supposed to be bad, this would seem to entail that we should not allow same-sex marriage.
My first standard reply to this argument is that if different-sex marriage does not require us to accept polygamous marriage, then neither does accepting same-sex marriage. But, if accepting same-sex marriage entails that we have to accept polygamous marriage, the same would also apply to different-sex marriage. That this is so is shown by the following argument. If same-sex marriage is based on the principle that a person should be allowed to marry the person they wish to marry, then it would seem that different-sex marriage is based on the principle that a person should be allowed to marry the person of the opposite sex they wish to marry. By analogy, if allowing a person to marry any person they want to marry allows polygamous marriage, then allowing a person to marry a member of the opposite sex would also allow polygamous marriage-albeit only to a member of the opposite sex. But, if the slide to polygamy can be stopped in the case of different-sex marriage, then the same stopping mechanism can be used in the case of same-sex marriage.
In the case of different-sex marriage, there is generally an injunction against people marrying more than one person at a time. This same injunction would certainly seem to be applicable in the case of same-sex marriage. After all, there is nothing about accepting same-sex marriage that inherently requires accepting polygamous marriage.
In light of the above, the polygamy gambit against same-sex marriage would seem to fail. That is, the claim about the slide into polygamy that would supposedly result from legalizing same-sex marriage is unfounded.
There is, however, still an interesting question in regards to polygamy, namely the matter of whether or not it is wrong. After all, even if it could be shown that same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy, this would only be a problem is polygamy was actually wrong in some relevant way.
While polygamous marriage is not unheard of and there are also traditions of the practice, appealing to common practice or tradition to defend polygamy would obviously be fallacious. What is needed is a proper examination of the practice.
It is often the case that polygamy is condemned not directly because it is polygamy, but because of other factors associated with the specific sort of polygamy in question. For example, a culture that accepts polygamy might do so based on the view that women are inferior to men. In this case, it would not primarily be the polygamy that is problematic, but the way women are regarded and treated. As another example, polygamy might be practiced with under-aged and coerced brides (as has been seen in certain cults in the United States). In this case, the main concerns would seem to be with the coercion and age. In these and similar cases, the main point of concern would seem to not be that a man has many wives, but the treatment of the women. Thus, the moral problem with polygamy might not be a moral problem with the polygamy aspect, but the context of the polygamy.
Let it be supposed that polygamy was occurring in a situation devoid of such other negative factors. That is, those involved were not coerced, underage, or mistreated. The question would then be this: what is it about having multiple spouses itself that is wrong, if anything?
It might, obviously enough, be countered that any polygamous nature would be defective. For example, it could be argued that polygamy, by its very nature, must involve an imbalance in marital power (usually the male over the females) or, at the very least, it would always result in some of the spouses being denied the full benefits of marriage (that is, a single man could not attend to the emotional and physical needs of multiple women).
Naturally, it can easily be pointed out that critics of “traditional” marriage have pointed to the traditional imbalance in power between men and women and women being denied the full benefits of marriage. As such, these defects could be defects in marriage rather than a defect specific to polygamy-a polygamous marriage might merely multiple the disparities.
It is worth noting that these defects seem to arise from polygamy of the traditional sort: a male possessing a harem of wives. As such it would seem worthwhile to consider various forms of non-traditional polygamy, especially one involving multiple spouses of different sexes. Naturally, there could be different-sex polygamy of this sort (the marriage holds between the different sexes but not between the same sexes) or same-sex polygamy or bi-sexual polygamy. The notion of an extended marriage (with co-wives and co-husbands) was considered in science fiction by Robert Heinlein and he seemed to regard it as a potentially healthy and effective system of marriage. Of course, the fictional consideration of this matter could, at best, be considered a thought experiment. However, Heinlein did note the advantages for children (which he seemed to be regarded as of great importance in the context of marriage) in terms of the number of parents available to provide care and support.
Obviously enough, we have no real evidence of how a polygamous marriage between free and equal spouses would actually work-we just have our unfree and unequal world to draw upon for examples. However, it should, perhaps, not be dismissed out of hand or regarded as inherently defective.
In response to the obvious question, I would not want multiple wives. I failed with one wife and have no desire to multiply my failure.
While it sounds a bit like science fiction, the issue of whether or not human genes can be owned has become a matter of concern. While the legal issue is interesting, my focus will be on the philosophical aspects of the matter. After all, it was once perfectly legal to own human beings—so what is legal is rather different from what is right.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for the ownership of genes is a stock consequentialist argument. If corporations cannot patent and thus profit from genes, then they will have no incentive to engage in expensive genetic research (such as developing tests for specific genes that are linked to cancer). The lack of such research will mean that numerous benefits to individuals and society will not be acquired (such as treatments for specific genetic conditions). As such, not allowing patents on human genes would be wrong.
While this argument does have considerable appeal, it can be countered by another consequentialist argument. If human genes can be patented, then this will allow corporations to take exclusive ownership of these genes, thus allowing them a monopoly. Such patents will allow them to control the allowed research conducted even at non-profit institutions such as universities (who sometimes do research for the sake of research), thus restricting the expansion of knowledge and potentially slowing down the development of treatments. This monopoly would also allow the corporation to set the pricing for relevant products or services without any competition. This is likely to result in artificially high prices which could very well deny people needed medical services or products simply because they cannot meet the artificially high prices arising from the lack of competition. As such, allowing patents on human genes would be wrong.
Naturally, this counter argument can be countered. However, the harms of allowing the ownership of human genes would seem to outweigh the benefits—at least when the general good is considered. Obviously, such ownership would be very good for the corporation that owns the patent.
In addition to the moral concerns regarding the consequences, there is also the general matter of whether it is reasonable to regard a gene as something that can be owned. Addressing this properly requires some consideration of the basis of property.
John Locke presents a fairly plausible account of property: a person owns her body and thus her labor. While everything is initially common property, a person makes something her own property by mixing her labor with it. To use a simple example, if Bill and Sally are shipwrecked on an ownerless island and Sally gathers coconuts from the trees and build a hut for herself, then the coconuts and hut are her property. If Bill wants coconuts or a hut, he’ll have to either do work or ask Sally for access to her property.
On Locke’s account, perhaps researchers could mix their labor with the gene and make it their own. Or perhaps not—I do not, for example, gain ownership of the word “word” in general because I mixed my labor with it by typing it out. I just own the work I have created in particular. That is, I own this essay, not the words making it up.
Sticking with Locke’s account, he also claims that we are owned by God because He created us. Interestingly, for folks who believe that God created the world, it would seem to follow that a corporation cannot own a human gene. After all, God is the creator of the genes and they are thus His property. As such, any attempt to patent a human gene would be an infringement on God’s property rights.
It could be countered that although God created everything, since He allows us to own the stuff He created (like land, gold, and apples), then He would be fine with people owning human genes. However, the basis for owning a gene would still seem problematic—it would be a case of someone trying to patent an invention which was invented by another person—after all, if God exists then He invented our genes, so a corporation cannot claim to have invented them. If the corporation claims to have a right to ownership because they worked hard and spent a lot of money, the obvious reply is that working hard and spending a lot of money to discover what is already owned by another would not transfer ownership. To use an analogy, if a company worked hard and spent a lot to figure out the secret formula to Coke, it would not thus be entitled to own Coca Cola’s formula.
Naturally, if there is no God, then the matter changes (unless we were created by something else, of course). In this case, the gene is not the property of a creator, but something that arose naturally. In this case, while someone can rightfully claim to be the first to discover a gene, no one could claim to be the inventor of a naturally occurring gene. As such, the idea that ownership would be confirmed by mere discovery would seem to be a rather odd one, at least in the case of a gene.
The obvious counter is that people claim ownership of land, oil, gold and other resources by discovering them. One could thus argue that genes are analogous to gold or oil: discovering them turns them into property of the discoverer. There are, of course, those who claim that the ownership of land and such is unjustified, but this concern will be set aside for the sake of the argument (but not ignored—if discovery does not confer ownership, then gene ownership would be right out in regards to natural genes).
While the analogy is appealing, the obvious reply is that when someone discovers a natural resource, she gains ownership of that specific find and not all instances of what she found. For example, when someone discovers gold, they own that gold but not gold itself. As another example, if I am the first human to stumble across naturally occurring Unobtanium on an owner-less alien world, I thus do not gain ownership of all instances of Unobtanium even if it cost me a lot of money and work to find it. However, if I artificially create it in my philosophy lab, then it would seem to be rightfully mine. As such, the researchers that found the gene could claim ownership of that particular genetic object, but not the gene in general on the grounds that they merely found it rather than created it. Also, if they had created a new artificial gene that occurs nowhere in nature, then they would have grounds for a claim of ownership—at least to the degree they created the gene.
While the failure of the Exxon pipeline has resulted in a significant spill in Arkansas, the media coverage of the incident has been rather limited. Part of this is due to the nature of the media, but part of this is due to Exxon stepping in and imposing “Corporate Law” in the area. To be specific, Exxon seems to be employing the local sheriffs as their own private security force to keep reporters out of the area. While I am not a constitutional scholar, I would contend that this is a clear violation of the freedom of the press.
Naturally, I would understand it if the sheriffs were being employed to keep people from blundering into the contaminated zones-after all, being exposed to the spill would not be good for a person’s health. However, Exxon is directing its sheriffs to keep reporters away from areas in which there is no actual danger-other than the danger of Exxon and its associates being exposed to press coverage. As usual, I would infer that if they are engaging in such heavy handed and seemingly unconstitutional tactics, then what they are trying to conceal must be very bad indeed. There is also the obvious problem with an oil company using the sheriffs to do their bidding.
Another important point of concern is that the FAA has imposed a no-fly zone over the area of the spill and has apparently put Exxon in charge of this. Obviously, the folks at Exxon are not going to say that they have had their FAA impose the no-fly zone to prevent the press from taking pictures from the air. After all, a corporation imposing a no-fly zone over such an area simply to exclude the press would presumably be illegal. Instead, the claim is that the area must be kept clear to allow a helicopter to fly about without interference.
Now, if there was a significant air operation in the area so that the airspace was crowded, then the imposition of a non-fly zone would make sense. However, this is not the case and there is no reason why other aircraft should be excluded from the area-other than keeping people from seeing what is actually occurring in the area.
To some folks, this might seem to be the sort of thing that could only happen in a third world country with a weak government. After all, the United States government is supposed to have sovereignty in Arkansas and not Exxon. But, this sort of situation does not surprise me in the least. It merely reminded me of a cartoon I saw years ago in college on the wall in the petroleum engineering department. I don’t recall the whole cartoon, but I remember the main point was “no one screws with the oil companies.” That seems to be as true now as it was then.
It must be inferred that the folks in Exxon think that what they are doing is a good idea and that the consequences of acting in this manner will be better for them than allowing the media the access they are entitled to under the constitution. Or perhaps getting their own way is simply a matter of habit-they are just openly showing who is really in charge here.
For full disclosure, I must note that I own Exxon stock. As such, the profit loving part of my soul is pleased by this show of dominance over the government. I know that I can count on Exxon to have the power to do what it takes to keep the oil and money flowing. However, the part of my soul that loves the rule of law, freedom of the press and ethical behavior is appalled by this.
I do believe that a company can be ethical and still make a profit-Exxon could handle this situation both effectively and with moral correctness. In fact, they would actually benefit from doing so. But, the habits that arise from owning a chunk of the government are no doubt hard to break.
One of the stock fallacious arguments against same sex-marriage is the slippery slope argument in which it is contended that allowing same sex-marriage will lead to allowing incestuous marriage. The mistake being made is, of course, that the link between the two is not actually made. Since the slippery slope fallacy is a fallacy, this is obviously a bad argument.
A non-fallacious argument that is also presented against same sex-marriage involves the contention that allowing same-sex marriage on the basis of a certain principle would require that, on the pain of inconsistency, we also accept incestuous marriage. This principle is typically some variant of the principle that a person should be able to marry any other person. Given that incestuous marriage is bad, this would seem to entail that we should not allow same-sex marriage.
My first standard reply to this argument is that if different-sex marriage does not require us to accept incestuous marriage, then neither does accepting same-sex marriage. But, if accepting same-sex marriage entails that we have to accept incestuous marriage, the same would also apply to different-sex marriage. That this is so is shown by the following argument. If same-sex marriage is based on the principle that a person should be allowed to marry the person they wish to marry, then it would seem that different-sex marriage is based on the principle that a person should be allowed to marry the person of the opposite sex they wish to marry. By analogy, if allowing a person to marry any person they want to marry allows incestuous marriage, then allowing a person to marry a member of the opposite sex would also allow incestuous marriage-albeit only to a member of the opposite sex. But, if the slide to incest can be stopped in the case of different-sex marriage, then the same stopping mechanism can be used in the case of same-sex marriage.
In the case of different-sex marriage, there is generally an injunction against people marrying close relatives. This same injunction would certainly seem to be applicable in the case of same-sex marriage. After all, there is nothing about accepting same-sex marriage that inherently requires accepting incestuous marriage.
One possible objection to my reply is that incestuous different-sex marriage is forbidden on the grounds that such relationships could produce children. More specifically, incestuous reproduction tends to be more likely to produce genetic defects which would provide a basis for a utilitarian moral argument against allowing incestuous marriage. Obviously, same-sex marriages have no possibility of producing children naturally. This would be a relevant difference between same-sex marriage and different-sex marriage. Thus, it could be claimed that while different-sex marriage can be defended from incestuous marriage on these grounds, the same can not be said for same-sex marriage. Once it is allowed, then it would be unprincipled to deny same-sex-incestuous marriage.
There are four obvious replies here.
First, if the only moral problem with incestuous marriage is the higher possibility of producing children with genetic defects, then incestuous same-sex marriage would not be morally problematic. Ironically, the relevant difference between the two that prevents denying same-sex-incestuous marriage would also make it morally acceptable.
Second, if a different-sex incestuous couple could not reproduce (due to natural or artificial sterility), then this principle would allow them to get married. After all, they are no more capable of producing children than a same-sex couple.
Third, if it could be shown that a different-sex incestuous couple would have the same chance of having healthy children as a non-incestuous couple, then this would allow them to get married. After all, they are no more likely to produce children with genetic defects than a non-incestuous couple.
Fourth, given that the principle is based on genetic defects being more likely than normal, it would follow that unrelated couples who are lkely to produce offspring with genetic defects should not be allowed to be married. After all, the principle is that couples who are likely to produce genetically defective offspring cannot be married. Thanks to advances in genetics, it is (or soon will be) possible (and affordable) to check the “genetic odds” for couples. As such, if incestuous marriage is wrong because of the higher possibility (whatever the level of unnacceptle risk might be) of genetic defects, then the union of unrelated people who have a higher possibiity of genetically defective children would also be wrong. This would seem to entail that if incestuous marriage should be illegal on these grounds, then so too should the union of unrelated people who have a similar chance of producing defective children.
In light of the above, the incest gambit against same-sex marriage would seem to fail. However, it also seems to follow that incestuous marriage would be acceptable in some cases.
Obviously enough, I have an emotional opposition to incest and believe that it should not be allowed. Of course, how I feel about it is no indication of its correctness or incorrectness. I do, of course, have argments against incest.
Many cases of incest involve a lack of consent, coercion or actual rape. Such cases often involve an older relative having sexual relations with a child. This sort of incest is clearly wrong and arguments for this are easy enough to provide-after all, one can make use of the usual arguments against coercion, child molestation and rape.
Where matters get rather more difficult is incest involving two consenting adults-be they of the same or different sexes. After all, the moral arguments that are based on a lack of consent no longer apply. Appealing to tradition will not work here-after all, that is a fallacy. The claim that it makes me uncomfortable or even sick would also not have any logical weight. As J.S. Mill argued, I have no right to prevent people from engaging in consenual activity just because I think it is offensive. What would be needed would be evidence of harm being done to others without their consent.
I have considered the idea that allowing incestuous marriage would be damaging to family relations. That is, the proper moral relations between relatives is such that incest would be harmful to the family as a whole. This is, obviously enough, analogous to the arguments made by those who oppose same-sex marriage. They argue that allowing same-sex marriage would be damaging to family relations because the proper moral relation between a married couple is such that same-sex marriage would damage to the family as a whole. As it stands, the evidence is that same-sex couples do not create such harm. Naturally, there is not much evidence involving incestuous marriages or relationships. However, if it could be shown that incestuous relationships between consenting adults were harmful, then they could thus be justly forbidden on utilitarian grounds. Naturally, the same would hold true of same-sex relationships.
Reflecting on incestuous marriage has, interestingly enough, given me some sympathy for people who have reflected on same-sex marriage and believe that there is something wrong about it. After all, I am against incestuous marriage and thinking of it makes me feel ill. However, I am at a loss for a truly compelling moral argument against it that would not also apply to non-related couples. My best argument, as I see it, is the harm argument. This is, as noted above, analogous to the harm argument used by opponents of same-sex marriage. The main difference is, of course, that the harm arguments presented by opponents of same sex-marriage have been shown to have premises that are not true. For example, claims about the alleged harms to children from having same-sex parents have been shown to be untrue. As such, I am not against same-sex marriage, but I am opposed to incestuous marriage-be it same or different sexes.
One stock “argument” against same-sex marriage is that legalizing it will put us on the slippery slope to bestiality. That is, if
the Lone Ranger can marry Tonto, then he can marry Silver. This line of “reasoning” is easy enough to defeat.
First, this is an example of the classic slippery slope fallacy. Second, there is fact that if allowing different-sex marriage between humans does not lead to or warrant bestiality, then it would follow by analogy that allowing same-sex marriage between humans would not lead to or warrant bestiality. After all, if Adam marrying Eve does not warrant Adam marring a snake, then Adam marry Steve would not do so either.
While the bestiality argument is typically presented as a fallacious slippery slope, it is worth considering whether or not a proper argument can be presented that would show that allowing same-sex marriage entails that bestiality must also be accepted. Obviously, merely claiming that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to human-goat marriage is not enough. What would be needed would be logical reasons that we cannot accept same-sex marriage without being force by consistency to allow human-animal marriage.
Perhaps the most plausible way to argue for this is to begin by contending that same-sex marriage is justified by the principle that a person can marry anyone he wants to marry. This would, of course, justify same sex marriage: if a person can marry anyone he wants to marry, then he can marry another man. And a woman can marry another woman. It would also seem to justify human-animal marriage: if a person can marry anyone he wants, then he can marry a goat. As such, if we justify same-sex marriage on this principle, then it would also justify human-animal marriages. It would also justify human-rock marriages, human-iPad marriages and so on. A person could, on this principle, marry anything.
Now, if it is assumed that a person can marry anyone he wants, then this would also include marrying people who do not want to get married, people who are already married, and even Catholic nuns and priests.
Obviously enough, this principle leads to absurd results. As such, if this were the justifying principle for same-sex marriage, then there would be an excellent reason to reject same-sex marriage. However, if there is another principle (or principles) that would justify same-sex marriage while avoiding absurdity, then this principle could be sensibly used.
One obvious avenue of inquiry is to consider the principle that justifies different-sex marriage. While some might assume that different-sex marriage needs no justification, that would seem to beg the question. Naturally, if what justifies different-sex marriage would also apply to same-sex marriage, then there would not be a principled way to forbid one while accepting the other. However, if the justifying principle for different-sex marriage did not apply to same-sex marriage, then one could be allowed while the other is consistently forbidden.
One approach that people have taken is to argue that different-sex marriage is justified by a principle involving natural procreation. This principle would, obviously enough, not apply to same-sex marriage. However, this principle would lead to its own absurd results, namely that different-sex couples who could not have children or choose not to have children would not be permitted to marry. As such, unless we are willing to forbid such people from being married, then the procreation justification must be abandoned.
Once the procreation principle is out, there seem to be no non-ad hoc or non-question begging principles left that would allow different-sex marriage while forbidding same-sex marriage. For example, if a principle involving love is used, that could apply to different-sex and same-sex marriage (and, of course, we obviously do not take love to be a necessary condition for legal marriage). As another example, if someone claims that the principle is that men can only marry women, this would beg the question. It would be on par with arguing that mixed-race marriage is forbidden because the principle is that a person can only marry a person of the same ethnicity.
One worry at this point is that if any principle that warrants different-sex marriage would also warrant same-sex marriage, then it would seem that we would slide into human-animal marriage. Fortunately, this can be avoided in a principled manner.
Intuitively, marriage is a legal and moral agreement that requires the consent of both parties. Animals cannot, obviously enough, even understand marriage let alone provide consent. As such, a human cannot marry an animal. An animal can no more marry than it can make a promise or tell a lie. As such, same-sex marriage can be allowed without accepting a slide to human-animal marriage.
It might be countered that by taking marriage to require consent I am engaged in an ad hoc or question begging defense. After all, one might say, if marriage can include a man marrying a man, why can it not include a lack of consent and comprehension on the part of one partner, such as a goat? After all, if marriage is being redefined, why not redefine it completely?
The obvious reply is to note that if marriage can include a man marrying a woman, why can it not include a lack of consent and comprehension on the part of one partner, such as a goat? That is, if marriage is allowed, why not allow it for everyone and everything? However, if marriage (like debating or lying) requires certain capabilities (such as the ability to understand the relationship and consent to it), then humans can marry humans but not animals.