A new Mini-Heap…


  1. The ethics of the movie “Yesterday,” in which a contemporary singer-songwriter is the only person to be aware of the Beatles ever existing — a writer consults with philosophers Elizabeth Anderson, Louise Antony, Benjamin Chan, Barry Lam, Todd Lekan, Ben Lennertz, Todd May, and Neal Tognazzini
  2. “It’s unsettling to witness the ease with which a few men writing over two millennia ago laid the groundwork for centuries of sexism. It’s crushing to realize that so many of our contemporaries embrace the logic of those ancient arguments” — Christia Mercer (Columbia) in The Nation
  3. Using the witch scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to teach logic — a lesson plan from William A. B. Parkhurst (South Florida)
  4. “The sort of metaphysics and ethics they [Plato, Descartes, or Kant, Fischer, Korsgaard] all endorse grew up in connection with white supremacism and helped shape it.” — Crispin Sartwell (Dickinson) on western philosophy and white supremacism
  5. A new open access philosophy book on the arguments and controversies regarding abortion — by Nathan Nobis (Morehouse) and Kristina Grob (University of South Carolina, Sumter)
  6. Wittgenstein’s hut in Norway — it has recently been restored and is now open for visitors
  7. Philosophers and physicists on whether new findings have implications for the “black hole information paradox” — Eric Winsberg (South Florida), Sean Gryb (Bristol) and others quoted on a new “sonic black hole” discovery

Mini-Heap posts appear when 7 or so new items accumulate in the Heap of Links, the ever-growing collection of items from around the web that may be of interest to philosophers.

The Heap of Links consists partly of suggestions from readers; if you find something online that you think would be of interest to the philosophical community, please send it in for consideration for the Heap. Thanks!



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4 years ago

Did anyone else look through the Nobis and Grob book and worry that…the only argument for the claim that abortion should be legal was that abortion is morally permissible? I mean, nobody, except maybe fanatical libertarians, think all morally permissible things should be legal. So the argument seems like a total non sequitur. Or am I missing something?

Reply to  JDRox
4 years ago

What are some examples of morally permissible things that should be illegal? Are you thinking of cases like – all X should be banned, even if in some contexts X is permissible, because it’s too difficult to sort cases and in aggregate banning X is better? But the authors don’t treat abortion like something that is most of the time wrong with a few exceptions – they argue in general abortion is morally permissible.

And what does fanatical libertarianism have to do with this? Libertarians might want to narrow laws to a small set of rules protecting property and bodily integrity, but they would also typically say property and bodily integrity violations are morally impermissible.

Even if there are some classes of actions that are morally permissible but should be illegal, their argument isn’t a non sequitur. The primary argument for banning abortion is that it is morally impermissible (qua killing an innocent individual with a right to life, interests, etc.). Defeating that argument is quite relevant to the abortion debate. Perhaps the authors’ categorical statement leaves open a theoretical argument for banning abortion, saying it’s morally permissible but there are other reasons it should be banned. But what would that argument look like?

Reply to  Owen
4 years ago

Sure, I guess maybe “non sequitur” is an overstatement, but I really do think the principle is just obviously false. (Any argument can be made valid by adding an obviously false premise.) I mean, there’s nothing morally wrong with the following, at least aside from their illegality:

Driving 58mph (on a street with a white sign that says 55 on it)
Failing to give X% of one’s income to the government
Owning a gun
Possessing/taking/selling various (all?) drugs
Getting paid to competently perform activity X, even though one doesn’t have a license to perform activity X.

The percentage of laws that forbid immoral behavior, because it’s immoral, is much closer to 0 than 100, and offhand I think it might be pretty close to 0. Note that I’m not saying that there’s a class of actions that are morally permissible but should be illegal, although that might be true too. I’m just saying that there’s a class of actions that are morally permissible but permissible to legally forbid.

Hopefully those examples also illustrated why I thought maybe libertarians were an exception: they don’t think any of that stuff should be illegal, or in the case of taxation that taxes should, morally, be high enough to provide services x, y, and z (e.g., courts, police, military) and no higher. But it really was an offhand comment…one of the reasons I was looking at the book was that I don’t know about how people think about the connection between law and morality, and wanted to learn more.

I didn’t mean to deny that the book was relevant to the question of legality, since as you say the primary argument for forbidding abortion is that it’s immoral. If they had just said that, then that would have been fine, although I still think it would have been false advertising to say that the book was explaining why all abortions should be legal. But they didn’t say that–they gave an argument with an obviously false premise, at least unless I’m missing something.

Nathan M Nobis
4 years ago

Hi, I just saw this. The simple idea is or was this: suppose you are doing something that’s not morally wrong. Should there be a law against what you are doing? Should you be put in jail for what you are doing? No. Or, to be a bit safer, not unless there is some special reason to do so.

Some of the examples you give above would conform to this idea: e.g., the drugs example. Other are examples where we’ve gotta have some rules but they are going to be a bit arbitrary, e.g., speed limits, maybe licensing requirements.

But the basic idea was just that if you are doing something that’s not wrong, then what you are doing should not be illegal. Insofar as many people think that abortions are profoundly wrong and so should be illegal, this is the sort of view we were engaging, at an introductory level. I hope this helps!