If there is no right and wrong, we sail through perilous waters
By Michael Cook
I think that I have nailed the World’s Most Dangerous Idea. It’s Dialetheism.
Never heard of it? You are not alone. Most people haven’t. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t subscribe to it. It’s a kind of sophisticated version of moral relativism.
Here’s an example of dialetheism at work. A recent issue of Scientific American ran a very unscientific opinion piece, “What Quantum Mechanics Can Teach Us about Abortion”. It was written by an abortion doctor in Salt Lake City, Cara C. Heuser, who may know a lot about obstetrics and gynecology, but about quantum mechanics not so much maybe.
Quantum mechanics is basically pretty easy to understand, as fans of Marvel films know. Many of their heroes’ superpowers and many of their plot lines incorporate gobbledygook about quantum mechanics. Dr Heuser may have learned a thing or two from Marvel scripts. “Is light a particle or a wave?” she asks. “Quantum mechanics, a discipline within physics, has demonstrated that both are true. Sometimes light acts like a particle, sometimes a wave.”
Similarly, she explains:
“That these two seemingly irreconcilable beliefs could come together gives me hope that similar harmony could be achieved in the discussion of other deeply polarizing topics, including abortion.”
Even though she performs abortions, Dr Heuser believes that she is serving the cause of life by helping women through difficult pregnancies. This leads her to conclude triumphantly:
“Particle and wave, abortion providers and ethical physicians, pro-life and pro-choice.”
Actually, the fact that light considered from one point of view is a wave, and from another point of view is particles does not mean that it is both at the same time and in the same respect. It means that there is something missing in our understanding of light. Waves and particles are complementary, not contradictory, features of light.
Quantum physics can’t solve moral questions because killing an unborn child is not good from one point of view, and bad from another. It’s just bad. Its effects may be both good and bad, but not the act itself.
Dr Heuser’s Marvel-ous insight is a handy illustration of dialetheism – that contradictory statements can both be true. “The Empire State Building is in New York” and “the Empire State Building is in Los Angeles” are both true.
If this were actually the case, all of Western philosophy would tumble down. Ever since Plato and Aristotle there has been nigh-universal acceptance of the Law of Non-Contradiction, that A and not-A cannot both be true.
However, as a defence of abortion, the notion of dialetheism is catching on.
A philosopher at Wofford College, in South Carolina, Katherine Valde, recently published a brief article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, in which she defended her own decision to have an abortion.
She didn’t do this for what might be regarded as compelling reasons:
“My abortion didn’t save my life or allow me to finish school. It just let me live a life I wanted. And, for whatever reason, that isn’t supposed to be enough.”
Why, she asks, does she need to have a reason? Isn’t the fact that she wants it good enough? Rod Stewart provided an anthem for dialetheism in his song: “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” Dr Valde dresses up this sentiment in philosophical garb. She writes:
“I’m tired of the defense of abortion that relies on the idea that there are good and bad reasons to get abortions…”
Unsurprisingly, as a professional philosopher, Dr Valde is fascinated by “the possibility of metaphysical dialetheism- that there might be contradiction in the world itself.”
What if dialetheism is true? There can be no difference between good and bad, right and wrong. What can justify jailing the perpetrator of the Buffalo mass shooting? What will happen to morality? No dialetheist will ever seriously defend torturing babies – but it will be hard to explain why it’s evil. And inevitably there will be more people who torture babies. Ideas, you know, have consequences.
There is a maxim in logic, ex absurdo sequitur quodlibet, from a contradiction you can derive whatever you want. Ideas built on contradiction are pure fantasy. That’s why the gobbledygook of the Marvel Universe is so popular. You can get whatever you want from it. But that’s also why it’s not reality!
The emergence of dialetheism is one of the most corrupting consequences of defending legalised abortion. It’s easier to argue that right and wrong don’t exist than to defend a decision to take an innocent life.
Editor’s note. This appeared at Mercatornet and is reposted with permission.