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John Harris Clarifies his Position on Infanticide

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Editor’s note: we received this communiqué from Professor John Harris, who wishes to clear up any misreading of his position on infanticide.

I wish to clarify my position on infanticide to correct the impression that infanticide is something I defend or advocate. There is a big difference between an analysis of the moral symmetry of some abortions and some cases of infanticide on the one hand and the defence of infanticide or indeed the advocacy of infanticide on the other. I have always drawn a clear line between what I call “Green Papers” and “White Papers” in ethics. Green papers are intellectual discussions of the issues, white papers are policy proposals. I have never advocated or defended infanticide as a policy proposal. I would not and do not advocate the legalization of infanticide on the basis of any alleged ethical parity of infanticide with abortion.

–John Harris

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22 Comment on this post

  1. If you don't support infanticide so don't argue for it in a serious academical publication. As soon as you've delivered arguments, which you call logical, reasonable and of academical standard, you are collaborating with the potential murderers of innocent people. Of course, some Nazi-ideologians at Universities never killed a Jew with a bullet nor turned on the gas of the Gas chamber, but they had legitimated the killing. So I will never believe you Mr. Harris until you provide a real apology,

    signed a Catholic whom you would call a bigot but who she will never care what the atheist celebrities of the mainstream would think of her.

    1. Putting forth intellectual argument for debate and discussion, isn't collaboration teresa. You're suggesting that there are things that should never be discussed, because of what they are about, and that isn't any kind of open academic discussion. If you're not interested in open and academic discussion, then you probably shouldn't troll philosophy blogs.

      1. I am suggesting that something should never be argued for. For example killing innocent babies. It is not a topic for serious philosophers. If you want to call this blog a "philosophical blog", then you must provide something here more serious.

        And use immediately the word "troll" to suppress dissenting voice, that is what liberals like, isn't it.

        1. We try. The last serious thing we provided is now buried under thousands of death threats.

          Why is it bad to kill babies? If it is indeed bad to kill babies, what argument to we have to not stop killing animals, since some of the latter have higher cognitive functions than the former? Should stop eating eggs? Should we stop using vaccines, since they kill thousands of lifeform in order to save only one? What makes one lifeform different from another?

          Is cannibalism bad? Why? What is the essential difference between eating dead animals and dead humans? Why should a taboo not be questioned?

          What is perversion?

          Are Asians inferior? What is "Asian"? Where do we draw the line that separates Native Americans and Asians, or Asians and Caucasians,? What are the arguments we use to define that concept?

          Should Jews be killed? Should Nazis be killed? Likewise, should Christians or Muslims be killed? Should pro-choice ethicists be killed? Why should anyone be killed at all? Why is it acceptable to kill some people, but not others? Why do some people defende life in one instance, but kill people in another?

          Why should some topics never be questioned? How does freedom of speech fits in a society that kills ethicists?

          This is what you should expect from a philosophy blog.

          1. Did you study philosophy? May I kindly remind you that there is something called "philosophy of ordinary Language". I am also amused by the arrogance of Oxford students, they think they are the only philosophers in the world, funny. The way you are treating the questions addressed by an opponent of your "ethic" centre is quite sophistical. Of course, you can redefine every word we use in everyday language and give them a new definition to make your outrageous look fine, but then we are in Orwell's word.

            Indeed, after having read what you and other proponents of baby killing, including John Harris, have written, I have the impression that here is not Oxford, not the Centre for "ethics", but the Ministry of Truth for Newspeak (I doubt that our learned and highly respected experts here know the allusion so I am kind enough to provide it: George Orwell, like many other literary scholars, is interested in the modern use of the English language and, in particular, the abuse and misuse of English. He realises that language has the power in politics to mask the truth and mislead the public, and he wishes to increase public awareness of this power. He accomplishes this by placing a great focus on Newspeak and the media in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Demonstrating the repeated abuse of language by the government and by the media in his novel, Orwell shows how language can be used politically to deceive and manipulate people, leading to a society in which the people unquestioningly obey their government and mindlessly accept all propaganda as reality. Language becomes a mind-control tool, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of will and imagination.)
            for more information:

          2. "Orwell's world".
            Btw. Peter Singer is quite funny, killing babies is O.K. but eating animals is wrong. It is no need to discuss, of course you can provide a theory for the most strange thing in the world, that is what Oxford "ethic" centre here is doing all the time, still, you can't make a wrong right by providing tax founded vociferous "papers" for your ridiculous thesis.

            You remind actually of the philosophers in Jonanthan Swift's Satire. I think this kind of craziness should be financed by like-minded people but not by public money. I think your ethic centre should be closed because it is useless, these questions you pose as "highly philosophical" can be also done at home, without spending a singly penny of public money.

          3. What you are saying is:

            “Your centre for debate of ethical topics must be shut down because you eventually defend opinions that are agaist my worldview, and above all with my tax money.”. From this I conclude two things:

            1) Hitler would have agreed with you.
            2) For you, Galileo’s and Socrates’ trials were fair and perfectly justifiable.

            I suggest you take some time to reflect on what you have been saying and put your moral consistency to test. I don’t need to say anything else.

            *. PS: Exclusively privately-funded ethics centers are a very, very dangerous thing.

          4. "Peter Singer is quite funny, killing babies is O.K. but eating animals is wrong."

            Singer is a utilitarian. I don't believe he is fundamentally opposed to eating animals, it's just that he believes the methods of farming and killing them generally cause suffering that outweighs the pleasure from eating them.

            Similarly, as far as I'm aware he is does not fundamentally support killing babies. It is only if their existence would likely lead to more suffering overall, either for the baby itself or for those around them, that would justify killing them. Most of the time there is no justification, since most of the time there is no reason to think a baby itself will suffer or cause more suffering than pleasure to those around it.

          5. Yes Matt, Singer doesn't support infanticide for healthy babies since he thinks the preferences for most parents is to keep the baby. But he seems to fail to take account of the possibility that other parents may wish to end the life for very similar reasons to many abortions. Likewise if society changed to accept infanticide of healthy babies, when it was the parents preference, he would be committed to allow it.

  2. For example, should academical discussion be allowed to argue for the inferiority of Asian people? Should academical discussion be allowed to argue for cannibalism? Argue for killing Jews legitimately? Should academical discussion be allowed to argue for that Homosexuals are pervert? Answer my question and then use your troll stick!

    1. Yes all things are up for discussion in a free society. People can argue whatever they like but should have something to back it up. Let a racist or homophobe argue the foundation of their views; often in these cases they will show themselves for what they are and be baseless.

      BTW as someone who has a strong leaning towards a Pro-Life position you are doing more harm then good. The paper is showing the inconsistencies of the liberal/Pro-Choice account and should be welcomed. Apart from the point that you are basically advocating intellectual censorship. Why not start burning books next?

      1. Well, yes, I am for censoring Nazi-ideology, and baby killing belongs to Nazi-ideology, so I am for censoring baby killing. A free society doesn't not mean everyone is free to do any thing. The freedom, as defined in the constitution, has another meaning than the postmodern "anything goes".

        I also live in a free society, but this society censors Nazi-ideology, and I find it to be very appropriate. As for book burning, no need for it. I think the best is these baby killing proponents shouldn't be supported by public money to rant their obnoxious ideas.

  3. Btw. I am amused to here that I am on a philosophical blog. What I've read until now (three postings after one another) are using vague academical vocabulary to say that as long as you are academics, you are not obliged to be a good human being, you can propose killing babies, because you are academics and not politicians so you have the license to say anything whatever obnoxious you want to.

  4. Teresa, 'Troll' :
    a. To fish for by trailing a baited line from behind a slowly moving boat.
    b. To fish in by trailing a baited line: troll the lake for bass.
    c. To trail (a baited line) in fishing.

    In a broader sense, to troll philosophy blogs is to browse through them until one of them baits you. I hope this clears up any misunderstanding you may have had regarding the earlier use of the word 'Troll'.

  5. That's funny. Liberals are the most frequent practitioners of intellectual censorship. Just look at American universities.

  6. Teresa

    You are understably disturbed by what you've read, but the questions pertaining to ethics is about precisely why we believe the things we do. Do you think that killing babies is wrong? Tell us why. People who assumed that whites were superior to black people would merely assert such things, too (and no I am not calling you a racist, at all, I'm merely pointing out this is how bad ideas entrench themselves in our societies). If you have good reasons for believing the things you do – that no child should be killed, for example, even if their life is filled with endless suffering and there is no cure for their suffering (see cases of spina bifida for example) – then, if these reasons can stand up to the "silly" arguments proposed by crazy, liberal ethicists. There are plenty of ethicists, who I've spoken to, who support your view. However, the only way they can offer their solutions is to work within the marketplace of free ideas. Would you not want these ideas out in the open? Would you not want to openly defeat Nazi ideology (or whatever you've been calling it) in the open? Why not show the world how stupid these ideas are? Since we can't be absolutely certain about most things, how can we chance saying this and that idea must be banned? Who decides? You? Me? Why not have it out in the open and decide for yourself, as you've done?

    Why would you want to decide for other people they can't read Pro-Nazi books? Wouldn't you rather want a world where people see Nazi books and arguments and laugh them out the room? Banning ideas and thought is the mechanism of totalitarian regimes – the very thing Orwell opposed. I find it terribly ironic that you use Orwell when you are asking for the very mechanisms he was writing against (Thought Police, control, etc.).

    1. Excuse me. I can't edit. *then if they these reasons can stand up to silly arguments proposed by crazy, liberal ethicists, you have nothing to fear."

  7. Arguments proceed from premises to conclusions. Given the truth of the premises, and correct logic, the conclusions follow. The trick is to get the premises right. My premise (or one of them) is that you cannot build a moral argument solely on factual premises – you must have at least one moral premise. This must be chosen.

    How do we choose among moral premises? By a beauty parade, as if we were choosing an advertising agency? By consensus – but among what group of agents? By intuition? By Divine command? By lot? We probably need more than one premise – if so we might include the criterion that they all be consistent. But not necessarily.

    In practice, we choose premises that conflict: sometimes with others that we have chosen, invariably with some that other people have chosen. As a practical matter, that causes practical problems – and, as a practical matter, care is needed in dealing with such problems (except for those of us who embrace the principle that no constraints whatever are to be put on free discussion and the search for truth). Some principles are widely seen as not to be rejected – whether freedom of discussion, sanctity of human life, or the unacceptability of racism. If your concern for the first of these leads you to challenge – or appear to challenge – one of the other two, say, you will do well to be prudent. Emphasise the theoretical nature of your concern – say (if this is the case) that you do not advocate a change in the law, that other factors need to be considered, that others may take a different view. If you do not consider how others will receive what you say, you will (to put it at its lowest) cause yourself trouble. Actions have consequences.

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