Opening Quotation for My Thesis

I am, I think, late in handing in my thesis proposal. Anyway, I am in the middle of preparing it. The most wonderful thing was finding my opening quotation, from the great James Rachels.

The great man himself. Click to visit his website where you can get three of his wonderful books for free, including the one referenced here.


It is appropriate on a personal level, since the late Professor Rachels ‘got me’ into applied ethics. The quotation encapsulates much of, if not most of, my research for my thesis. I will be unpacking it for several hundred pages, but also developing an answer I think deserves more attention: rational pessimism. What that means I will have to fully flesh out; needless to say, I am drawing from Schopenhauer, Harris, Mill and Kant to formulate some kind of synthesis that can be applied in practical ethical dilemmas, especially when it comes to medical ethics. We’ll see how that goes.

Here is the wonderful quotation. (References at the end)

Although it may seem a surprising thing to say, the Western tradition places too much value on human life. There are times when the protection of human life has no point, and the Western tradition has had difficulty acknowledging this. The noble ideal of ‘protecting human life’ is invoked even when the life involved does its subject no good and even when it is not wanted. Babies that are hopelessly deformed, and will never mature into children, may nevertheless be kept alive at great cost. Euthanasia for persons dying horrible diseases is illegal. St Augustine called respect for animal life ‘the height of superstition’; in these cases, it is respect for human life that seems to have degenerated into superstition.

– James Rachels, The End of Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 24.



This blog might be a bit anesthetised considering I am working on two papers for publications in philosophy journals (“working on” doesn’t mean either will be published, but it is important practice for me, nonetheless). I have also begun working and researching on my thesis, provisionally titled: Unsanctifying Life: Moral and Policy Implications. But due to it’s sounding almost exactly like Peter Singer’s collection of essays (Unsanctifying Human Life, edited by Helga Kuhsa), I think I might change it. Maybe something like The Moral Necessity of Unsanctifying Life: Personal and Policy Implications.

My focus is on the impact of bad metaphysical nonsense and supernatural-type claims on human life. However, I also look at reasons for maintaining sanctified views, even among secular people and society. Thus, I will dealing with: suffering, evil, death, suicide, killing, the four principles of biomedical ethics (Beauchamp and Childers), medical ethics, procreation and adoption, and the “meaninglessness of life”.

My purpose is not to upset people; it has and will always be about remaining consistent with arguments. If emotions are upset so much the worse for emotions – but I would rather have a clearer understanding of our moral principles, arguments and the effects of our moral decision-making than maintain the flatline of emotions which we tend to pacify with appeals to the sanctity-of-life. Whatever that means. So my apologies for the very few who follow this blog.

Here is a picture of a kitten so that you can’t be mad at me for unblogging my life for the next few weeks.