To out-Plato Plato:
Before Plato, the Greek conception of morality was basically “help your friends, harm your enemies.” Plato transformed this to “harm no one.” His reasoning was that you make yourself worse by becoming the kind of person who does harm to others. Jesus transformed the Platonic doctrine in a radical way such that “do not harm your enemies” became “love your enemies”—
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? (Matt. 5:46)
Plato’s argument for “harm no one” is that by doing harm, a person worsens both himself and the other person. He worsens the other person by harming him and he worsens himself by becoming a harmful person; by becoming the kind of person who does harm. Is it possible that Jesus was more of a Platonist than Plato in this sense? Perhaps the question came to me after I recently encountered this statement by Andrew Louth:
There is handed down an ancient tradition that a certain learned man used often to curse Plato the philosopher. Plato appeared to him in his sleep and said to him, “Man stop cursing me, for you only harm yourself. For that I’ve been a sinful man, I do not deny. When Christ came down into Hades, truely, no one believed in him before I did.”
On censorship in the time of Corona:
Bret Weinstein has been an outspoken critic of censorship surrounding the Coronavirus-pandemic phenomenon. Recently, he has been exploring the potential efficacy of repurposing the anti-parasite drug Ivermectin against COVID-19 and also the apparent suppression of any discussion around this issue by means of censorship campaigns by tech-giants and corporate media outlets. It has been argued that no evidence exists to warrant the use of Ivermectin in cases of COVID-19 and this remains the National Health Institute’s (NIH) official position. Weinstein has appealed to a meta-analysis, together with the testimony of numerous physicians which he has interviewed on his DarkHorse Podcast. A number of recent interviews have actually been removed by YouTube for “violation of community standards,” presumably through broaching the topic of Ivermectin. As journalist Matt Taibi explains:
As detailed in “Why Has ‘Ivermectin’ Become a Dirty Word?”, Weinstein is on the verge of becoming one of the more prominent casualties to a censorship movement that it’s hard not to see as part of a wider Evergreening of America. He and Heying’s two YouTube channels have been hit with multiple warnings for two brands of speech offenses, and are on the verge of having their business shut down entirely as a result (YouTube has a “three strikes and you’re out” policy). One offense involves interviews with the likes of Dr. Pierre Kory about the potential benefits of the repurposed drug ivermectin, and the other involves interviews with guests like Dr. Robert Malone, inventor of the mRNA vaccine technology used in the Covid-19 vaccines. One video with Malone this week had 587,331 views before it was shut down.
Some folks have argued that Weinstein’s appeal to a meta-analysis is disingenuous since he ought to be aware that the “gold standard” in respect to such questions is known to be the randomized, double-blind placebo control study. The meta-analysis in question included, among other findings, that Ivermectin resulted in “95% of 39 early treatment and prophylaxis studies report[ing] positive effects (93% of all 60 studies). 28 studies show[ed] statistically significant improvements in isolation.” Nevertheless, no adequate “gold standard” has been provided in the case of Ivermectin in respect to COVID-19. This has so far allowed the NIH to maintain its stance that no evidence exists to support the administration of Ivermectin. A cynical interpretation of this situation would lead one to suspect that it is necessary to maintain this position for the sake of incentivising the development of novel drugs and also to support the Emergency Use Authorization of the various vaccines, which was necessary if their administration was to be approved without being compelled to undergo extensive trials. A criterion for the issue of the Emergency Use Authorization is that no other effective treatment be available. Evidently, if Ivermectin were recognized as an effective treatment, this criterion could not have been met and hence Big Pharma would have been prevented from reaping billions in profit following the vaccine’s deployment. Whether this is the explanation for the campaign of censorship surrounding Ivermectin, the censorship itself remains an observable fact.
As I suggested above, it has been argued that the censorship is not problematic because Ivermectin is ineffective anyway. Even if it were true that Ivermectin were not effective, this in itself would not justify censorship of discussions surrounding it. Moreover, it leads one to wonder how it could be known that this fact were true if any discussions of it have not been allowed to proceed and large-scale studies have not been funded. Uncertainty is a sword that cuts both ways and not knowing whether it is effective means that we also do not know that it is not. But, indeed, the few studies that have been allowed to proceed seem to suggest exactly the opposite of this conclusion. While it’s true that the individual studies that comprise a meta-analysis can vary in respect to their caliber and quality, the effect of compiling them together can serve to filter out “noise” by allowing for a sort of “regression to the mean.” These are my words, not Weinstein’s, but this is what I understood his argument to be. As a result, the meta-analysis can provide for the discernment of trends that individual studies risk overlooking. It is the same principle as increasing the sample size in a single study or analysis but applied to studies themselves—hence, “meta.” I think this is common knowledge but it seemed worthwhile to reiterate it nevertheless.
The drawback of the randomized double etc. is that, while your findings are more likely to be true, they are also more narrowly circumscribed and thus risk missing crucial elements of the relationship. It is like birdwatching with binoculars with high magnification but low angle of view; you are liable to see certain things very closely but miss others altogether. Of course, the meta-analysis will encompass any individual randomized double-blind etc. so it is not a question of negating such a study but attempting to compensate for its limitations.
Considering Ivermectin, for example, to get a good picture from a single study, no matter how “golden”, is impossible because of variables like dosage, frequency, prophylaxis-versus-late-stage-treatment, combinations with other medicines, age, etc. To design a proper study, it is necessary to isolate a single variable by controlling all of the other ones but this comes at the expense of learning anything about them. If you conduct a perfectly designed, double blind study, but get the dosage wrong, you risk actually coming to findings that lead you further from the truth rather than closer to it. Some evidence even suggests that Hydroxychloroquine suffered this fate and, indeed, two of the studies primarily responsible for its official stigmatization were retracted following questions over the data that was used (i.e. death rates exceeded official tallies, etc.) in them and the data collection company’s subsequent refusal to reveal its sources while a recent study suggest that it may indeed be effective. In any case, Weinstein has been advocating, following the testimony of various doctors, for prophylactic and early-stage treatment with Ivermectin.
I am not arguing that Ivermectin or Hydroxychloroquine is effective nor that the lab-leak scenario is an established fact. Instead, I am pointing out that it remains undecided and, most importantly, that inquiry into the question was effectively suppressed for 18 months on the basis of spurious studies or fraudulent testimony and anyone who questioned this verdict was violently attacked by the corporate media by appeal to “experts.” The situation surrounding the Wuhan lab-leak hypothesis seemed to have followed the same pattern. My reader will misunderstand me if they believe that my argument concerns one or another outcome in these cases. Instead, I am foremost seeking to establish that these two issues are red flags that indicate serious compromises in our media ecology and collective sense-making networks. It would be astonishing if Ivermectin turned out to be an effective prophylactic or the SARS-CoV-2 “Wuhan” virus in fact originated in the Wuhan Laboratory of Virology. More astonishing still is that discussion over these hypotheses—both of which are prima facie plausible—was successfully suppressed for 18 months by the tech giants and legacy media. Most astonishing of all is that few people seem to be bothered by any of this and seem rather content to parrot the talking points of politicians and official experts even if this means contradicting themselves from one day to the next. In Orwell’s words, “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them and to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed…all this is indispensably necessary.”
Suppose a superhero—call him “Batman—were confronted with a situation analogous to the notorious “Trolley problem.” How ought we to conceptualize his dilemma in light of the three conventional theories of normative ethics—utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics?
Considering the case of Batman from the utilitarian perspective, we would have to be able…somehow…to calculate the consequences (i.e. in terms of net happiness) that would follow from each of his potential courses of action in order to determine which of them he should take to begin with. As I have suggested before, I have no clue how we would go about this calculation.
In respect to deontology, we would need to know which specific system of duties Batman was bound to. A Jew, for instance, would adhere to the Law of Moses as outlined in the Decalogue and throughout the Torah. For a Christian, the deontological view is largely transformed into something resembling virtue ethics given that Christ himself and not the Scripture is seen as the Word of God and the embodiment and fulfillment of the Law. Hence the phrase imitatio Christi, which is Latin for “imitation of Christ,” and Saint Paul’s assertion that the new law is “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2 Corinthians 3:3) If Batman were a Kantian, then he would be duty-bound to follow the categorical imperative with his actions. And so on. What Batman would do in respect to the case that you proposed would likely change according to which system of deontology is at stake.
The virtue ethics approach is at once more and less helpful in confronting the hypothetical scenario that you posed. It is more helpful because its prescription doesn’t depend on abstract and impossible conjectures nor rigid and sometimes mutually exclusive codes of duty. But it is perhaps less helpful in resolving a situation in which one is confronted with a legitimate ethical dilemma because it may not be at all clear “what a virtuous person would do.”
Some folks have attempted to argue that the utilitarian and the deontological Batman would ultimately respond to the Trolley problem in the same way. But this argument depends on accepting the premise that we cease to distinguish between “killing someone” and “failing to prevent someone from being killed.” Some people would be more liable to consent to this than others. Utilitarians would not have a problem with collapsing this distinction because any distinctions of this sort are immaterial to utilitarianism in the first place given that the consequences are the same. On the other hand, a deontologist would likely be inclined to regard such distinctions as paramount for the function of practical reason.
On “the incommensurability of paradigms” in science and politics:
The “incommensurability of paradigms” is a handy phrase that entered our lexicon following Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn employs the phrase in explicit reference to the procession of scientific paradigms but the principle at stake is by no means limited to scientific disciplines. The Newtonian view of gravitation cannot directly be contradicted by any findings because it is not, per se, something that is seen but rather something through which other things are seen. It is an idea that organizes and renders intelligible our perception. Through the Newtonian theory of gravitation, we are able to conceive of a connection between an apple falling from a tree and the procession of Jupiter through the zodiac. The same holds for the Einsteinian view. Neither of them is an object of perception. Instead, any relevant perception will be interpreted in light of one of these theories. Newton conceptualized gravitation as a universal force while Einstein posited that gravitation was an epiphenomenon of more fundamental transformations in the geometry of spacetime. It is impossible to arrive at Einstein’s theory through a perfection of Newton’s theory, despite that this is ordinarily how scientific progress is conceived.
The incommensurability of paradigms is no more evident in the various explanations for why massive bodies attract one another than in the way different people conceptualize the issue of abortion. For one person, the life of the embryo as such is subsumed into an abstract calculus of general utility. Such a person is likely to assume the conjecture that the fact that abortion was being sought in the first place is prima facie evidence for the belief that that potential life did not have good prospects for happiness to begin with and thus, such a person will handily rationalize an intervention to end that life. For the other person, any conjecture about the prospects of an embryo’s life are impertinent and could never justify intervening to end it. From the deontological perspective, a categorical distinction must be sustained between allowing a life to play out even in the expectation that it will be full of hardship and positively intervening to end it. The second thing could never be morally justified since the abstract calculus should never subsume the concrete life of an individual being. I hope this short discussion is helpful. I wish I were better able to lay this out clearly because I think it is a significant source of conflict between people that is the result of misunderstanding the principles that are at stake.