June 24, 2005

False and Not-So-False Problems

In the category of "fascinating stuff I wish I knew more about, but hey, maybe it turns out I don't really need to after all"—er, yes, that's a category—is this paper by Peter Westen on free will and determinism: "I argue… that the relationship between free will and determinism is a false problem, that is, a problem that we are incapable of resolving, even in theory. The proper response to a false problem… is to stop thinking about it." Duh, okay. Actually, his punches seem to land pretty solidly, but what do I know? And also, why is this sort of thing published in a law journal rather than peer-reviewed for a philosophy journal? Doesn't that make it suspect from the start?

Somewhat relatedly, while waiting for the bus this morning I saw a headline in the SF Examiner showing the chap who cloned Dolly declaring that we need to slow down the stem cell-push so that we can have a proper "debate over when life begins." Now we hear this line a lot from people like Leon Kass—that everyone needs to slow down and take a breath so that we have time to think about the ethical issues. Really? Are there any ethical issues surrounding stem-cells that haven't been debated to death already and might somehow get resolved or clarified in the next year or two if bio-ethicists could just get a little breathing room to think harder about them? It doesn't seem so. It comes down to: "clump of cells: rights or no rights?" which has been scoured pretty thoroughly and isn't any closer to getting resolved. On the other hand, I can think of a number of issues with regard to the genetic enhancement of human beings that probably haven't been wracked over nearly as thoroughly, and are actually capable of being clarified. So it's probably best to train our attention on those issues, and fast, before Gattaca descends upon us.
-- Brad Plumer 2:56 PM || ||