Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Getting out of the Corner

Two great follow-up posts at the Corner continue the stem-cell debate in a direction I find very appealing. Iain Murray's post about the "scientization" politics continues on exactly the "naturalistic fallacy" theme I was hammering yesterday:

When people appeal to science in political arguments it is generally either out of an attempt to steal lightning for their preferred policy position (the "science says we must" argument) or in an attempt to introduce uncertainty where ever increasing numbers of scientists will argue over ever more complicated issues that fail to provide the certainty politicians say they need (the
precautionary argument). In either case, politicians have abdicated their responsibility to debate the moral and political aspects of the issue, which may well come up with a solution that doesn't need science. And the logical outcome of the scientization of politics is handing over much of policy to technocrats.

In an earlier post, John Hood demonstrates the kind of political (in the best sense of the term) reasoning that appeals to me, which avoids the false certitudes of scientism:
...my proposal is intended simply to find a criterion that seems likely to attract a political consensus. It doesn’t pretend to achieve anatomical precision, or to address at all any religious or spiritual conviction as to when the soul enters the body (or, indeed, whether it is created at conception or instead pre-exists the body)...The fact that lines may be blurry or even somewhat arbitrary does not constitute an argument against drawing them, or against their practical usefulness. Sometimes you just have to draw the line as best you can in a way that satisfies the largest number of interested parties...The best government can do right now, it seems to me, is to a draw an admittedly arbitrary line at some point in the average pregnancy at which a functioning brain is evident.
This kind of pragmatic, approximate approach to hot-button social issues can make use of the available scientific data without reifying it, and seems to me to be more likely to generate workable political consensus while moving society in a moral direction; in fact, this approach calls on society not to abdicate its moral authority to the technocrats (or theocrats), and thereby in itself may represent a moral good.


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