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Friday, 20 March 2009

Alexander Pruss on Marquis's Transitivity of Identity Argument

Matt gave an overview of his scepticism here that moral status is attained at conception, citing Don Marquis' transitivity of identity argument placing moral status beginning at segmentation (14-21 days post-conception).

Matt is agnostic as to whether moral status is acquired at conception but argues that unless there are good reasons for thinking the pre-segmentation embryo does not have human moral status, it is seriously immoral to destroy it. Agnosticism like Matt's is not a good enough reason, so Matt opposes the destruction of embryo's from conception despite not being convinced such entities possess human moral status.

I intuitively felt the argument was flawed but could not articulate why or how which was frustrating - lack of philosophical training really bugs me at times. Baylor University's Alexander Pruss has very kindly written a rebuttal of Marquis's argument after I asked him to help me to either understand the force of Don Marquis' continual identity problem or give me an argument to overcome it.

Matt plans to look at it in detail this weekend but for those of you following the discussion on the matter back in the original thread it originated in I thought you might like to look at it too. I think Pruss' argument is very good and it encapsulates the threads of the objection I had towards it in my own mind but lacked the ability to formulate clearly.


  1. You just asked Alexander Pruss and he obliged...

    Didn't you also once get Alvin Plantinga to forward you a copy of his unpublished manuscript?

    How do you do it?

    In awe :-)

  2. LOL yes I did.

    Matt was desperate to read Warranted Christian Belief as it was not due for publication until after the deadline for his Masters thesis which drew heavily from Plantinga's work.

    It was coming up to Christmas and Matt is really difficult to buy for so I emailed Plantinga and asked him for it. He said yes and sent it to me, so I printed it and got it bound for him for Christmas. To this day Matt says it was the best gift ever.

    It is amazing what you can get if you just ask politely.

  3. He's done a detailed analysis. It's along the lines of what I was thinking but put in far better language that Matt is more likely to find convincing! :)

  4. Alexander Pruss is very good, though he does have a tendancy to send us lay people to the philosophical dictionary LOL!

    Whilst Matt does not write in the more formal logic style of Pruss's for MandM, which has to appeal to a broader audience than Pruss's, he does utilise this style in his academic writings and I know he has a great deal of time for Pruss's blog.

    I am always amazed at the ability of philosophers to take those tendrils of intuitive response that spring into your mind when someone presents you with an argument and you can sense there is something wrong with it but you cannot articulate it and then structure it so precisely.

    For me putting those threads of a response into an ordered argument can be like grabbing jelly - I know it's there, but I cannot get it out.

    Matt and I had so many frustrating conversations over this one, frustrating because he shot down everyting I said (in a logical manner) yet I wasn't managing to say precisely what I meant, I couldn't get it out. I began to get mad at myself because I was sounding more and more irrational yet I knew I had something. I kept searching the web for a good response but all I found were some really stupid post-modern responses or responses that clearly missed Marquis's point - if I could spot they were flawed they were never going to convince Matt.

    Matt is at the Whenupai airshow with the kids right now and we have people coming around later but he hopes to have analysed Pruss's response by the end of the weekend. It will be interesting to read his response.

  5. Alexander's article is excellent and well-structured, thanks so much for the link to his blog! looks fairly addictive.

    Recent blog post: Why Did They Hate Him So Much?


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