instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, February 05, 2004

A sequence of arguments

Thomas the ecclesial wanderer writes:
Tom of Disputations offers two posts wherein he argues against folks who adopt what he calls a rigorist position with regard to the use, at Georgetown University, of fetal stem cell lines derived from aborted children.
Actually, my intent was really to counter rigorist arguments from authority. In the process, I've challenged (as one unconvinced of an position rather than one convinced of a counter-position) other rigorist arguments.

I see Zippy as offering rigorist arguments from principles, while Thomas's position is an argument from prudence:
We [in the Lutheran or Reformed tradition] do, however, have a principal known as status confessionis, which, obviously, means a state of confessing. Basically, when things get so bad (as, for many of us, they are in the ECUSA and the ELCA), we find ourselves against the wall, and there can then be no compromise.... I would argue that with regard to abortion we are indeed in statu confessionis. We can therefore give no quarter to those in our communions who spread the culture of death by twisting the Gospel to support the killing of children both before and after birth.
The sequence from authority through principles to prudence presents a sequence of progressively weaker claims (the Church says..., it is true that..., in this situation we ought to...) and consequently of progressively stronger arguments.

Now, I play a probabiliorist on the Internet, which means I'm inclined to allow something if it is most likely permissible, rather than certainly permissible like the rigorists. (In less archivable environments, I've been known to slip into laxism.) To be frank, I don't know enough about the GUMC situation to say whether it's most likely permissible, although there's sufficient evidence to say it's at least somewhat likely to be permissible (satisfying the probabilists among us). My opinion on this matter, then, isn't worth very much.

I'm writing about it not to leap into the medical ethics debate on one side or another so much as to point out the kinds of arguments being used in the debate and how well they work. The better we understand our own arguments, the more likely we will be able to arrive together at the truth.