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Wednesday, 18 November 2015 13:21

The Positivist and Pragmatist

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The Positivist and Pragmatist

Thomas Martin

Thomas Martin teaches in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. You may contact Thomas Martin at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
"The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." --G. K. Chesterton

Harold Andersen, in his editorial "Debate Over Research Took Irrelevant Turn," in the Omaha World-Herald on January 18, 2007, continued his ongoing defense of embryonic stem-cell research when he stated:

Acceptance of the pro-life activists' argument that a human being, a person, is created at the instant of conception means, it seems to me, a complete rejection of the commonly understood version of what constitutes a human being or a person. My dictionary defines a human being as "conscious of mortal existence. The complex of physical and spiritual qualities that constitute an individual, human, person." And a person is defined as a "being characterized by conscious apprehension, rationality and a moral sense." Doesn't sound like an embryo, frozen or unfrozen, to me.

If we accept as true Harold Andersen's "commonly understood" definition, then even unborn babies and children are not human beings. In fact, both the unborn child in a mother's womb and the child in her arms are blissfully ignorant of mortal existence. Being aware of death is reserved for adults.

Then again, children in their innocence have an imagination which is not hindered by the laws of science. In a child's world, horses can fly, dolls talk, and cows jump over the moon.

In this respect, the uncommonly understood definition of a person is that the child is the father of man. The child of whom I write was not conscious of mortal existence inasmuch as he was conscious of immortal existence. Man is much more than his body; man is a living soul. A living soul has a conscience, as well as the faculty of reason, placed in him by God, which is directed by moral principles, such as what you do unto the least of these, you do unto me. And the very least of me is who? My embryonic state.

We live in an age that is held captive by the mentality of scientism, thinking that all our problems can be understood and resolved by science. It is the age of the positivist and the pragmatist. The former holds that valid knowledge is attainable only through the methods employed by the natural and social sciences, so no knowledge is regarded as genuine unless it is based on observable phenomena; the latter holds that the only valid test of truth is that it works: if it can be done it should be done.

The positivist, limited to the information of his senses, does not know how and when life came to be. However, he does know that he can separate the part from the whole by taking a human embryo from a woman's body. It is important to remember that, though a human embryo does not exist naturally by itself but as a fertilized egg housed in the womb, it is a fallacy to think the part does not have the potential to be a person apart from its mother.

The positivist, limited by the information of his senses, does not use reason to move from or toward moral principle, and the pragmatist justifies his actions by rationalizing that the end justifies the means.

We live in an age that is captivated by the image of youth. We are self-indulgent and do not want to grow old or even be reminded of death. In such a state, reason becomes the slave of passion and science is the handmaiden of desire, to be used to satisfy our worldly needs and wants.

Now the problems facing modern man are those of emphysema, heart disease, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries, stroke, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It is said the solution to these life debilitating and threatening diseases is hopefully going to be found in human embryos.

I am here reminded of C. S. Lewis, who in The Abolition of Man, noted:

From propositions about fact alone no "practical" conclusion can ever be drawn. [That] this will preserve [life] cannot lead to "do this" except by the mediation of [life]"ought to be preserved.

In other words, the pragmatic positivist cannot get a conclusion in the imperative mood out of a premise in the indicative mood; he cannot learn what he ought to do from what it is in his power to do.

Through our fear of death, we commit the scientific fallacy of not acknowledging the soul. The supporters of embryonic stem-cell research wrongly characterize it as being potentially "life-saving"; for while it is in the province of medical researchers to relieve pain and cure diseases, it is outside of their realm to preserve a person's life indefinitely. That is reserved for the child who is the father of man. *

"A government that robs Peter to pay Paul will always have the support of Paul." --George Bernard Shaw

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