Friday, 22 July 2011

One Man's Poison

The previous post deals with the issue of cannabis legalisation policy approached as broadly speaking a matter of weighing costs and benefits. Here I'll make some first steps in discussing the relevance and impact of moral principles.

(My comments about Hitchens's position are inevitably somewhat sketchy; one could go on for thousands of words attempting to cover every fine gradation and distinction in the positions it is possible to take. An advantage of adversarial debate is at least that I can rely instead on Hitchens to clarify which positions he wishes to appeal to.)

A successful appeal to moral principle in this debate should establish two things: that the principle is valid, and that it has certain consequences so far as the criminal law is concerned. That is not, however, to say that either of these things must be established to any particular standard or by any particular method: perhaps the most that can be said here is that good reasons must be supplied. If they are not, the argument won't go through. And if a (supposed) moral principle can be shown to be invalid or legally inconsequential, then arguments invoking it can be rejected outright.

The relationship between moral principle and the law is a complex matter. I will suggest three main approaches:

First, judgements of value feed into the assessment of costs and benefits: for example if something can be established to be of little value, it should be accorded little or no weight in assessing possible outcomes. Questions of moral duty might in turn feed into judgements of value - the benefits of, to use Hitchens's example, cruelty to animals might be discounted since although a sadistic animal torturer may derive subjective pleasure or other benefits from his activities, these benefits are of such a morally defective kind that they are considered to have no value. That is not so say that the analogy between animal cruelty and taking cannabis is a close one - enjoying cannabis certainly does not depend, either in intention or in fact, on the suffering of other beings (though of course, like almost any activity, it might under certain circumstances bring about such suffering). In any case, on this approach, moral issues are relevant as one of an open-ended set of inputs to a policy decision. Call this the 'value-based' approach.

The second approach to these issues is to draw conclusions about legal status directly from moral considerations. In particular, one might seek to justify punishment of certain behaviour by direct reference to its immoral character. Certain conduct, being intrinsically wrong, should be banned, regardless of whether the consequences of such a ban are entirely desirable, all things considered (such a view might of course allow that very severe or perverse consequences might be sufficient to overturn the presumption in favour of a ban - an example might be Hitchens's remark:
...‘regulation’ of something fundamentally bad doesn’t get rid of its fundamental badness. Sometimes we may have to accept it as a compromise while we try to remove a poison from our culture, or at least greatly restrict it. But that is a defeat...).

I'll refer to this as the 'enforcement of morality' view.

Yet a third way of bringing in issues of personal morality combines certain elements of both these. In common with the first method, immorality is held to 'downgrade' a certain kind of action. In a similar fashion to the second approach, though, this is applied directly to principles about just punishment. Here I have in mind in particular the position that would make an exception of cannabis use: while normally behaviour should be permitted under the criminal law even if it is potentially harmful, there is something about cannabis use which means it is an exception to this general principle. We might call this 'withdrawal of protection'.

Unearned enjoyment

I'll consider first a moral principle that I think fails on its own terms, so that it is unnecessary to consider whether it is legally consequential. In comments on this blog, Hitchens suggests that using cannabis is immoral in itself:
There *are* strong moral arguments against the legalising of stupefying drugs, which I happen to think are over-riding.We should live our lives truthfully according to our senses, and not seek to hide from the truth by blurring those senses. Nor should we cheat our brains into rewarding us with artificial joy, when we have done nothing to deserve it.

One element here seems to be a variant of the objection based on 'self-stupefaction', here taking the form of self-deceptive retreat into distorted perceptions. For now all I will say about his is that this is not a good description of the way in which most people use cannabis - while heavy use may have a sedative effect and if prolonged perhaps lead to a degree of separation from reality, it is not an inevitable nor a widespread, nor, even when it occurs, a particularly pronounced effect of cannabis use. I will look more closely at 'self-stupefaction' later.

A second element, which I've emphasised, has been expressed in more detail elsewhere:
...morally - the pleasure and joy and exaltation provided artificially by drugs, and naturally by the human body are rewards for effort and courage. You may believe this is a created fact or the consequence of evolutionary biology, but the arrangement is beneficial to humankind because it limits this reward to those who have earned it. If you haven’t delivered the Gettysburg address, or won the Second World War, or designed St Paul’s Cathedral, or written Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, you shouldn’t be able to feel as if you had. If you can, then people will stop doing these things.

The final sentence seems to suggest that the idea here is that people taking cannabis will derive such joy and exaltation that they will lack motivation to achieve great things. To scale this idea down, we may express it as the concern that cannabis supplants the will to create, to achieve. This seems misguided, since many who take cannabis report that they experience an enhancement of creativity or of the ability to concentrate. Certainly an altered state of consciousness may be inspirational - one need not make New-Agey claims about the mystic properties of cannabis to see that the change in perspective delivered by cannabis might have benefits.

The idea that cannabis provides 'artificial' rewards is hard to pin down. Much of the subjective benefit to those who take it in moderation seem to consist in enhancing, rather than supplanting, real experience and achievement. 'Artificiality' is of course a rather common feature of the daily benefits (as well as disadvantages) of modern life. That a certain contrivance - the relatively natural one of consuming a herb - operates by way of direct effects on the central nervous system does not seem to me to constitute a good objection in itself.

Of course for some, cannabis is used in heavy doses as a euphoriant sedative. Of those who seek something approaching oblivion, the real question is why, not how, they do so. Fixating on cannabis as a source rather than a symptom of the problem is natural enough - as in the case of parents whose children develop mental illness or behave badly - is misguided. I don't think it at all far-fetched to suppose that the availability of this 'crutch' may have saved lives by providing an alternative to more permanent ways of escape. (Perhaps this is more likely to apply to opiates, a much more effective route to sheer disembodied world-excluding pleasure.) This is something of a diversion, since what 'dependent' and very heavy users get up to does not provide an objection to cannabis use in general.

So I'm led to consider the point relating to earning or deserving one's pleasure. Even granting that cannabis doesn't generate pleasure or satisfaction from nowhere, but instead enhances real enjoyments, isn't there a 'free lunch' being enjoyed here, like manna from heaven? And shouldn't this be stopped? If people are going to have more fun, shouldn't they be made to pay for it?

I don't accept the notion that if people are going to enjoy themselves, they should be made to pay a price. The idea of joy without compensating toil or hardship is not offensive to me at least, even if it is to Hitchens (and it's rather hard to believe that it really is). But in any case it's not clear that this rather excessively puritanical attitude can supply an objection to cannabis use.

I've mentioned previously that cannabis can of course be cultivated by the individual - and that such a case makes clear the essential privacy of cannabis use. This paradigm also serves to illustrate that cannabis use does involve work - we need not fear that benefits are being gained without a price being paid. Of course the price paid is generally a literal price - cash. That fact reflects division of labour: people don't have to grow their own cannabis, but instead pay for it with money, just as they do for other sources of enjoyment, like chocolate biscuits.

The example of chocolate biscuits ought also to see off a plausible and somewhat more sophisticated way of understanding Hitchens's argument here: one which combines and unifies the elements of artificiality and earning. Taking cannabis, the argument might go, involves a failure of reward and effort to be integrated as an organic unity: one's efforts ought to be closely coupled in some way with the rewards one gains from them. This seems to deny the benefits of interpersonal division of labour, so that one may only legitimately enjoy chocolate biscuits that one has made oneself, for example (and must one also make the chocolate, grow the wheat? So far as this has any plausibility, it still seems unable to provide an objection to taking cannabis that one has cultivated oneself.

This line seems unpromising, and I won't pursue it further. If Hitchens has a good point to make here, this surely isn't it. He may of course wish to clarify or refine his position, in which case I will respond.


One might try to fit the following remarks into the enforcement of morality approach:
I contend that it is morally wrong to stupefy yourself, and morally wrong to damage yourself or take a conscious risk of damaging yourself, with the aim of getting physical pleasure...

This might be the right place to locate an earlier discussion of Peter Geach's moral philosophy: Geach says that there is no duty to remain maximally alert, using the example of drinking hot toddy in bed. Hitchens replies:
What if the man, having gone to sleep drunk, is woken at two a.m. by the screams of his children, trapped in a fire? Or not woken? Or not woken until far too late? Where then is his duty? Was the drinking or the (tee hee) consumption of ‘cannabis indica’ morally objectionable if the children, as a result, were not saved? Yet he could not have known the house would catch fire -only that there was a remote chance that it might. And a remote chance that he would be too stupefied to act with courage and decision. Even if he was alone and therefore (according to the utilitarian ‘libertarians’) nobody’s concern but his own, he would have been more likely to burn to death, and others would have had to turn out to scrape through the ruins for his charred bones, or even risk their lives trying to rescue his already lifeless body.

An obvious objection to this is that Hitchens, in substituting his own example, has introduced the issue of harm to others - which I previously suggested can be adequately controlled by targeting especially risky or irresponsible behaviour such as becoming significantly intoxicated while in charge of a child, or while driving. But perhaps Hitchens is suggesting that intoxication carries with it such a general risk of danger that it merits a total ban on policy grounds. This doesn't seem sustainable in the case of cannabis intoxication.

However we are to understand the supposed legal consequences of the immorality of 'self-stupefaction' (a characterisation I've rejected as inaccurate to describe the effects of cannabis), the idea that there is an obligation to remain at maximum alertness at all times is hopelessly over-strict. People occasionally become tired, or choose to lightly doze, perhaps while lying on the beach, when they could instead remains vigilant. I don't think we could claim that they are always acting immorally.

Since being asleep always makes one less alert than being awake, even if every tired, perhaps we should resist sleep, or at least seek a cure for it. Similarly, is there a moral obligation to take performance-enhancing drugs? The proliferation of such questions I think illustrates the implausibility of this view.

Once we factor in the need for the moral principle to have consequences for the criminal law, I think it becomes clear that this approach is no good. No-one would accept this totalitarian attitude to mental alertness if it were consistently applied.


Now I have addressed some main strands of argument offered by Hitchens. But it is always possible that moral considerations interact and combine to create complex position, with exceptions to exceptions and so on.

A commenter on Hitchens's Blog, 'beaufrere', has suggested the following distillation of an argument provided by Hitchens:

An activity should be prohibited by law if the following conditions apply:

C1: the activity is known to be harmful to the health, safety or well-being of those who participate in it or who are affected by it, or it is reasonable to believe that there is a significant risk that the activity is harmful

C2: both the risk of harm from the activity and the extent of that harm are significant or substantial

C3: participation in the activity would become (or remain) widespread if the activity were to become (or remain) lawful,

but the activity should not be prohibited if at least one of the following exceptions applies:

E1: the activity has been lawfully pursued for a substantial period of time (and still is being lawfully pursued) by a significant number of people, as a result of which it has gained widespread acceptance as part of the nation's customs or culture

E2: the activity is capable of being pursued or applied for beneficial purposes, and where the sole or main beneficial purpose is the pleasure, entertainment or self-gratification of the participant(s), the pursuit of the activity requires or promotes self-discipline, courage, skill or other moral virtues in the participant.

As beaufrere goes on to suggest, this has the appearance of an ad hoc position tailored to Hitchens's preferred outcome. To try and dissect and evaluate this position would be rather time-consuming, but I am certainly inclined to agree that the position seems to lack antecedent plausibility. If Hitchens endorses this characterisation of his view, or wishes to formulate a similarly clear statement of his position, I will of course address it.

Cognitive Rights

Hitchens states (

Pro-legalisation spokesmen often suggest that there’s something anti-liberty about those of us who want the law on drugs enforced, as if smoking dope were the equivalent of free speech.

Wheil I am not a spokesman or indeed a campaigner, I would certainly agree that there is an important question of liberty here. I've previously suggested that there may be an innate or at least unavoidable desire or tendency for people to seek to alter their state of consciousness. I would certainly consider that there is a right to do so, just as there is a right not to have one's consciousness altered by others without consent. I've previously drawn attention to the essentially private nature of cannabis use. But it may well be that to prevent or prohibit people from using cannabis is indeed to impinge upon a basic right, one which may be more fundamental than freedom of speech.

The central component of non-medical cannabis use alteration of one's consciousness - and what could be more private a matter than that? To prohibit people from altering their consciousness is to impose what may be a significant burden on them, locking them inescapably into a standard mode of thought which in the context of the quotidian reality of their artificial environment may become intolerably tiresome and restrictive. Control over all aspects of one's own mind is surely a basic interest - and the use of tools such as cannabis for exploration of this internal frontier is a part of exercising that control to the full.

If we accept that cognitive rights include the right to alter consciousness - and I think we must - then we should not be erecting insurmountable obstacles to people's exercise of that right - there may not be a right to be supplied with cannabis, but that the state forebear from closing off the supply altogether and from punishing exercises of cognitive freedom may be an indispensable element of any attempt to take cognitive rights and liberty seriously.

Hitchens seeks to force people to be free - but his understanding of freedom is not mine. He seeks to remove any fleeting release or refuge that use of cannabis might offer those who are trapped in a dreary and grinding existence. He hopes that this will lead them to rise up in revolt, but confinement to an unremittingly uniform experience of reality may only draw tighter the chains of a life which for many is neither chosen nor easily escaped.

Revolt requires that one see not only the intolerability of one's situation, but the possibility of something different. Perhaps cannabis can help to deliver a kind of freedom that, glimpsed in the inner realm, can provide a template for independence in all areas of life.

This concludes my current round of responses.


  1. WHich moral absolute is smoking cannabis supposed to violate? If it the same one that, e.g. the Catholic Church has held is violated by drunkeness it's hard to see how smoking one joint could be seen as equivalent to becoming seriously drunk. If it isn't a question of moral absolutes, then one certainly can't justify a complete ban simply from a view as to the inherent wrongness of smoking cannabis. Such a ban may of course, reasonably be justified on other grounds (that's what's being argued about) but not on the 'reading off of positive law from moral law' approach.

  2. Yes, at this point I'm still trying to establish exactly what the moral objection(s) is/are supposed to be and how it/they have consequences for penal law.

  3. Joshua Wooderson22 July 2011 at 18:25

    PH's moral views seem decidedly inconsistent, and it's hard to know what to make of them.

    On this issue, he's written disparagingly of 'utilitarian libertarians.' Yet when arguing for the death penalty, he uses utilitarian arguments to gloss over the potential for execution of innocents.

    It also seems as though many of the arguments he directs against cannabis legalisation would apply equally, if not to a greater extent, to gun legalisation, which he's in favour of.

    Here, the dangers to other people are more obvious, and, if he doesn't think regulation would work with cannabis, I see no reason why it would with guns.

    This is probably a distraction from the debate, but I thought it might be worth bringing up.

  4. P Hitchens, as so often, giving me a right good laugh:

    "If you haven’t delivered the Gettysburg address, or won the Second World War, or designed St Paul’s Cathedral, or written Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, you shouldn’t be able to feel as if you had. If you can, then people will stop doing these things."

    No but you could go away and write Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, instead.


  5. P Hitchens:
    "If you haven’t delivered the Gettysburg address, or won the Second World War, or designed St Paul’s Cathedral, or written Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, you shouldn’t be able to feel as if you had. If you can, then people will stop doing these things."

    The corollary of that being that due to never being able to get my hands on quite enough meth crystal I've not yet achieved my dream of taking Moscow in the winter.

  6. Tim Wilkinson:
    "The idea of joy without compensating toil or hardship is not offensive to me at least, even if it is to Hitchens (and it's rather hard to believe that it really is). But in any case it's not clear that this rather excessively puritanical attitude can supply an objection to cannabis use."

    Perhaps the wretched Hitchens might want to contemplate for a moment on the unearned, undeserved terror, agony and death experienced by many young men on the first day of the Battle of the Somme before he prattles on more about the supposed "deserving" attributes of the human senses.


  7. Philosopher Michael Tanner (and currently Opera critic for the Spectator) wrote a fascinating paper called Sentimentality, which argued the case as to why this disposition is morally troubling. He sees the essence of sentimentality as indulgence of feelings that one hasn't earned.
    I offer this in case anyone thinks the case against sentimentality has any similarities with the point made about cannabis and 'unearned' pleasure.

  8. Joshua,

    I've even said his arguments for religion are utilitarian

    He replied that there's nothing wrong with that (or words to that effect)

    I guess there has to be a line with utilitarianism somewhere, but I'd like to know where...

  9. Joshua Wooderson23 July 2011 at 14:52

    Absolutely right. And he seems to think that because it's convenient if everyone believes in Christianity, that somehow makes it reasonable to do so.

    As others have pointed out, his moral arguments seem to fluctuate according to which position he's trying to defend - an ad hoc moral code in order to promote all of the traditional conservative causes: capital punishment, drug criminalisation, legal gun ownership, etc.

    But I don't want to derail this thread by discussing this if it's not relevant, nor to attack Mr. Hitchens behind his back. I know that he reads these comments sometimes, so I'm happy to be corrected by him if he feels I've misrepresented him.

  10. "Hitchens seeks to force people to be free..." Even with your caveat - "...but his understanding of freedom is not mine" - I think you're conceding too much here. Every political group and ideologue ever, from the Left to the Right, from the anarchistic to the fascistic, from the oppressed freedom-fighter to the oppressive tyrant, employs the rhetoric of Freedom. "By their works shall ye know them" - what Hitchens seeks to force people to be is servile to the political and theological viewpoints that happen to be held by Hitchens.

  11. sentimentality as indulgence of feelings that one hasn't earned

    Yeah, I've come across that idea in aesthetics; can't remember if it was in connection with Tanner. The idea involves a certain kind of self-deception (self-indulgence) - else all emotional response to fiction, music would be morally (in the broadest sense) suspect.

    Also, tends to be directed at melodrama, puppy pictures etc., but should certainly include confected outrage too. (And Dragon's Den-style self-congratulation).

    re: self-deception. This doesn't generally apply to deliberate consciousness-alteration by way of pharmacueticals. Quite the opposite if anything - looking at your own consciousness and personality in the third person, so to speak, as controllable other than from the inside.

    E.g. Odysseus, anticipating irresistible temptation, taking external steps to alter his own future behaviour (H. Cornwell allusions off topic though - we don't want any confusion here).

  12. I think you're conceding too much here

    Maybe a touch understated, but it should be clear that I don't agree that what he wants to force people into constitutes freedom, which is what I'm interested in establishing at this point.

    Inflammatory rhetoric is very much not what the debate could do with an injection of.

  13. Nice work Mr Wilkinson, I look forward to Mr Hitchens reply.
    Unlike PH's work I cant seem to find any fault in your articles.

    I'm reading the whole thing with great interest.

  14. A relevant 22 July comment from Peter Hitchens at his blog:
    Mr Platt suggests that I deliberately avoid difficult questions here. Perhaps he, or anyone else, could give an example? I generally avoid questions that bore me. I would never knowingly avoid one that was difficult, because that would be more interesting. I am sometimes simply busy on other matters.
    He also requires ( he is *so* peremptory) ' An unequivocal statement that he (me) would consider it *immoral* (as opposed to simply wrong) for a B&B owner to discriminate against homosexuals, given that the law has now been clarified.
    No, it would be immoral for the B&B owner to *break the law* . It is the alw-breaking, not the nature of the action which is prohibited, which is udner discussion here.
    It is the lawbreaking that I regard as immoral. There are undoubtedly several actions which I would regard as inherently immoral as well as illegal, but this isn't one of them. In fact, I think the law is wrong in this case, and wish it to be changed. That is how these things are conducted in a free society. We are free to *oppose* laws, and to seek to change them (which could not be the case if the action was automatically made inherently immoral by being made unlawful) but not free to *break* them.
    It may also be immoral to oppose certain laws, but not illegal to do so..

    The courts have ruled that discrimination in favour of marriage is classified as 'discrimination against homosexual indivuiduals' which it is actually not, and so made the action unlawful. That means it is immoral for them to break the law by continuing to act in this way. It is not immoral for them to continue to believe that marriage is the only proper sexual relationship, or to protest at their treatment or to campaign for a reversal of the law.
    Posted by: Peter Hitchens | 22 July 2011 at 05:46 PM

  15. Some points that haven't, as far as I can see, been addressed by PH or TW.
    Firstly, it's worth mentioning that teleology hasn't been mentioned thus far. Drinking wine etc. seems to be a teleological activity in a way in which smoking cannabis (or tobacco) isn't. A question arises as to whether, in terms of good usage of our functions, the ateleological nature of smoking should count against it? Of course, this doesn't rule it out morally or legally, but it might perhaps account for some of the uneases people have about such activities when compared to wine drinking etc.

    Secondly, and more seriously, TW states, in the section on Cognitive Rights
    "To prohibit people from altering their consciousness is to impose what may be a significant burden on them, locking them inescapably into a standard mode of thought which in the context of the quotidian reality of their artificial environment may become intolerably tiresome and restrictive. Control over all aspects of one's own mind is surely a basic interest - and the use of tools such as cannabis for exploration of this internal frontier is a part of exercising that control to the full.
    If we accept that cognitive rights include the right to alter consciousness - and I think we must - then we should not be erecting insurmountable obstacles to people's exercise of that right - there may not be a right to be supplied with cannabis, but that the state forebear from closing off the supply altogether and from punishing exercises of cognitive freedom may be an indispensable element of any attempt to take cognitive rights and liberty seriously."

    Would TW also hold that I have a 'right' to hack my arm off if the fancy took me and that any state would be acting illegitimately in seeking to prevent self-mutilation. Assisted suicide remains (thank goodness) illegal in this country and there is no 'right' to suicide as such. There appear to be strong reasons for keeping things like this because of what the practice of suicide does to a society and the message its practice (and the message imparted by those assisting suicides) sends to others (ie that some lives are not worth living/lack even minimal value - life not worthy of life etc). There is a common good that needs to be considered in thinking on these questions - and I'm unconvinced that the libertarian arguments take other than a very thin view of what that good might amount to.
    I offer these considerations because I think the stuff about cognitive freedom needs more thought. Am fascinated by the debate thus far.


  16. Of possible interest re legalizers:

  17. Joshua Wooderson24 July 2011 at 12:32

    Presumably, the point of the teleology argument is that appreciation of wine depends only on our natural sensory faculties, whereas cannabis and tobacco somehow distort those faculties beyond their natural limits?

    I'd question whether the use of cannabis is actually unnatural in this sense, or just using our faculties to their full potential. To paraphrase Alfred Kinsey, the only unnatural act is that which you cannot perform.

    Apart from this, I don't really see the moral relevance of 'teleology', nor do I think that humans have any in-built natural purpose to speak of.

    I don't know whether TW would agree, but I do think people should probably have the right to self-mutilate, and certainly the right to an assisted suicide, with certain caveats, so as to minimise the risk of abuse.

    I don't see how one person's judgement that his or her life isn't worth living is a message to others that theirs aren't, any more than other differences in personal preference indicate that one sort of preference is somehow wrong.

    Judgement about the value of one's own life is essentially subjective, and if people want to go on living, they're unlikely to be persuaded otherwise by the fact that someone in a similar situation chose not to.

    As for the sentimentality argument, I'd make a comment about this approach - virtue theory - to ethics generally. Namely, that it doesn't seem to have much weight when discussing an issue like this.

    Even if cannabis use were sentimental, this would hardly constitute a reason for its criminalisation, or at least not as much as the consequentialist and libertarian arguments already discussed.

    I suppose it might if cannabis use indicated or led to a deficiency of character as great as, say, that of someone who tortured animals for fun.

    But even here, our principal objection to the act seems to be its intrinsic cruelty, not the moral character of the torturer - which is, I think, an objection to virtue theory as a whole.

  18. On teleology - agreed, it's not sufficient to settle whethere something is morally permissible or not. However, Kinsey is wrong (as on everything else, as well as fraudulent - see J. Reisman). There are appropriate and inappropriate uses of faculties. As to sentimentality - I only bring it up because it might be seen as a moral failing - as I said it doesn't settle any moral argument here (and certainly not a legal one!).

    On assisted suicide I recommend:
    If a state is seen to efectively agree with a person's assesment of the worth of their own life when it is in a certain state then that cuts against a central idea of justice - namely that human beings possess inherent dignity regardless of the state of their faculties.
    As to virtue theory - depends - the virtue theory I favour merely posits that are key/fundamental moral terms are virtue terms - this in no way rules out the relevance of acts as such.


  19. Joshua Wooderson24 July 2011 at 14:59

    My feeling is that our faculties are used inappropriately only if such cause causes harm. I'm not sure what else would constitute an inappropriate use, since describing some acts as serving our telos, based on what is deemed 'natural', is fairly arbitrary. In this respect Kinsey is correct; I wasn't endorsing any of his other research.

    I've had a brief look at the link, thanks for that. I'd make a few quick observations.

    Firstly, that there was widespread support for NVE, both among the public and medical profession, before the legalisation of VE in the Netherlands, and there still is. As far as I'm aware, there's no evidence of risk of NVE, nor of pressure on the elderly, in Oregon. The Wiki article mentions a study which found this to be the case:

    Secondly, the report's considerations about practice in the Netherlands and Oregon don't necessarily make for a compelling case against VE or PAS, since they could be seen simply as indicators for how an act in this country could improve on the situations there, unless it can be shown that *no* assisted dying act could be enforced properly and have sufficient safeguards.

    Thirdly, the report doesn't (as far as I saw) comment on the practice of passive euthanasia in this country i.e. the removal of medication and food, which is widespread and legal. I see no moral difference between this and VE/PAS.

    I accept that a sound ethical theory should probably include some talk of virtues, but not just that.

  20. Thanks Joshua. Well, teleology is a huge topic but this is a reasonable summary of why it isn't just arbitrary:
    Oregon is a place where there has been no adequate surveys, unlike the Netherlands and Belgium.
    Removal of tubes witht he intention of bringing about death (the Mental Capaciry Act taks of 'with the purpose') is still illegal - though, of course, it is, in all likelihood, breached by less than moral doctors. Obviously, the distinction implicit int he act is the principle of double effect - another huge topic.

    Looking forqward to PHs reply - I presume he'll be putting up a notice to his blog readers that TW's final two parts (and most interesting ones) are now up.


  21. If Hitchens is really against the idea of people experiencing undeserved emotions then know one should listen to music that moves them, look at a painting that stuns or enjoy a horror film that scares the bejezus out of them.
    And that is to say nothing of rising to ones feet and with heart swelling solemnly with undeserved pride earnestly listen to the National Anthem.

    Hitchens is a pratt, who after reading him so often fills me with a sense of unwarranted but not entirely un-enjoyable rage.

  22. Joshua Wooderson24 July 2011 at 19:59

    AM, thanks. An interesting blog post, but that sort of teleology is fairly trivial, unless, as Feser suggests, it can be used to prove God's existence or some moral duty.

    I find the argument that for a final cause to be efficacious it must exist an odd one, if I've understood the argument correctly. Final causes clearly aren't like causes in the usual sense of something on which the effect depends (and which the effect usually follows temporally). A final cause is simply, as I understand it, a natural disposition in things to do certain things.

    It's a disposition which we can notice, but that doesn't mean that it actually exists in any form; it's simply an observed pattern. And I struggle with the idea that something which exists in a mind can be causally efficacious.

    Probably I'm showing my ignorance here, but I'd welcome any clarification of this.

    Another issue is, of course, what moral conclusions we're to draw from this. Those who argue, based on the Thomistic Natural Law tradition, that homosexual acts are wrong because, essentially, they're not natural, could equally argue that they are natural, for why would gay people have the sexual inclinations they do if it's not part of their telos?

    Equally, you could argue that the natural possibility of expanding our experiences through the use of drugs is just as much a part of our natural telos as the appreciation of wine through our natural senses.

  23. Earlier up thread I suggested that P Hitchens ran his War on Drugs thing passed the just war standards.
    Any war should not cause more harm after being started than existed before.
    I know this comes from America but I think it is still worth considering:

    More Black Men Now in Prison System Than Were Enslaved
    Law Professor Michelle Alexander says the shocking incarceration rate is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color.

  24. Just seen Peter Hitchens' 'final' response to this. How disappointing! Peter Hitchens writes: "’I've failed to communicate two of my fears – one my fear of the destruction of the link between effort and reward, and the other my fear that the general legalisation of mind-altering drugs produces passive and easily manipulated citizens."
    Yet reading Tim Wilkinson's post (above)at 'Surely Some Mistake' I found that he took these concerns on board and provided arguments as to why such fears may be misguided. Indeed I was struck by the cogency of the arguments he put - and I say this as someone who is against the legalisation of cannabis. It is a shame that Peter Hitchens, who was so insistent on the importance of the moral case has now chosen, when reasonably and politely challenged on it, to respond in this manner. There was no failure to communicate. There was a failure, on his part, to engage in the most important arguments re reward/stupefaction/Brave New World worries - arguments put up by Tim Wilkinson in response to a challenge. Perhaps part of the problem is that Tim Wilkinson's posts are not easily dismissable. I can't think of any other reason as to why, when it comes to the crucial moral arguments, the claim is made, falsely, by Hitchens, that he failed to communicate his fears. He did, however, fail to address TW's respectfully put arguments.

  25. I must admit, I too was disappointed in Hichens reply, his arguments have already been countered not only by Tim but also by various contributors in the comments on his blog.
    I see that as a defeat on PH's part and Tim can easily respond to every point highlighted in PH's 'rest my case' article.

    However I would disappointed if PH doesn't come out of this with the understanding that supporting a government policy that promotes the funding of organised crime and allows innocent members of the public to be placed in harms way is incredibly immoral.

  26. Well, that was disappointing, in a way, Hitchens retreated to his subjective moral position and quite happily admits to this

    Whether that's considered a 'loss', I don't know, he's made this argument into one of morals, so nobody can win, but the ultimate aim of an argument is persuasion - if anything I'm now even less sympathetic to Mr. Hitchens' arguments, so I hope Mr. Wilkinson doesn't feel he's wasted his time - a lot of people came here to read his points even if a lot of them were overlooked in the responses

    The point that Hitchens made at the end is an excellent one, though - as assertive and forthright (or just plain arrogant) as he comes across, he's just one man with an opinion, and we're better for having such people, I don't see why his opponents need to get so angry, let the debate speak for itself

  27. "he's made this argument into one of morals" - and Wilkinson responded challenging Hitchens to show the cogency of his positions (nb he didn't deny that they might have moral force, merely asked for a coherent position to be held). Hitchens ducked out in a rather cowardly way - disappointing as he's clearly a man of character. Wilkinson deserved better though.

  28. Tarquin said:

    "The point that Hitchens made at the end is an excellent one, though - as assertive and forthright (or just plain arrogant) as he comes across, he's just one man with an opinion, and we're better for having such people, I don't see why his opponents need to get so angry, let the debate speak for itself "

    We get angry because long before this debate a few of us already had Hitchens down as a right tosser that's why.
    And once again he has proved it.


  29. As well I might add some of us had Johann ruddy Hari down as a right tosser as well.


  30. So why waste your anger?

    I have mocked Hari for years and laughed at those who brought his articles into debate as some sort of serious commentary

    It's a nice feeling being right, be happy, no need to be angry or rude

  31. Hitchens's last post on the deabte with Wilkinson is poor precisely because he isn;t a Johann Hari-type. Having agreed to engage in a civilised and probing debate on cannabis legalisation he ends up ignoring most of Wilkinson's points and focuses instead on what some commenters may think. Look at how he dealt with the Peter Geach point (and then failed to deal with Wilkinson's follow-up) or even his comments on chocolate biscuits in his most recent comment post - it's clear he doesn't understand the point of the analogy. It's a shame because I think those who challenge cannabis legalisers need to be thorough and robust in their critique. Sadly, on this occasion, Hitchens has not shown that he's up to the intellectual challenge. An honest reading of the exchanges shows that Hitchens does little to counter ANY of the criticisms made of his position. That's poor, not least because there is, to my mind, a strong case to be made for prohibition. For Hitchens ticking off rude dopeheads is easier than engaging with thoughtful arguments - aa shame, because it will lead people to think, wrongly, that there is something behind the crude caricatures of his positions. And this time the fault is his.

  32. Anonymous said
    "Hitchens's last post on the deabte with Wilkinson is poor precisely because he isn;t a Johann Hari-type."

    What, you mean T Wilkinson would have done better debating the matter with a man on a dreary high of fey war support guilt and regret and prescription anti depressants for a depression that isn't there and who indulges in a cut out quote collage form of writing that would have made Burroughs blush?

    Nah, he'd have done better just couching out, skinning up and have done with it.
    We should have moved on by now.
    This is 2011 for god sakes not 1967 with all that butterfly broken on wheels crap.

  33. @Anonymous

    "Hitchens does little to counter ANY of the criticisms made of his position."

    yes indeed, as you say, with an honest reading of what he says, this is glaringly evident

    his blogs are largely self-referential hot air, prejudice reinforcing prejudice, ad nauseam - it's easy enough to see why Hitchens runs scared from the evidence -

    "there is, to my mind, a strong case to be made for prohibition."

    I'm yet to read one, do please share if you happen to know of one, I am genuinely interested --- Hitchens is bright enough but seems to have failed --- could it be his problem is the facts all point the other way?

    for example, prohibitionists are famous for presenting their failures as successes - "vast cannabis 240 acre cannabis farm found in Mexico" etc.

    and likewise famously fail to address the central point that as a drug control policy, prohibition has thus far never resulted in the ever-decreasing market in controlled drugs it is supposed to...

    Mephedrone was recently banned and has just surpassed ecstasy as the most popular drug among the UK's clubbers
    see Guardian on July 17th 'Mephedrone More Popular Among UK Clubber"

    at the core of all PH's rants is that central unchallenged belief, that prohibition either does or can result in an ever-decreasing market in controlled drugs

    with it goes the same unquestioned article of faith, that repealing prohibition must surely result in burgeoning drug use --- again, this is never substantiated, for the simple reason that it can't be...

    countries such as Portugal, which have decriminalised possession of drugs have not seen an explosion in use

    likewise countries such as the Netherlands which even tolerate supply of cannabis have substantially lower levels of cannabis use than those with tougher enforcement such as UK, Denmark and France - see the EMCDDA cannabis info, available online

    France has just recorded one million new regular or occassional cannabis users in the past five years - see the article in Haaretz 'Pass the Joint S'il Vous Plait' on 3rd July

    the US spends some $40 billion a year trying, and has locked up 500,000 or so of its citizens for breaking drug laws... south of the border there are some 40,000 Mexicans dead in the last four years, north of it another 10,000 or so dead each year, in Milton Friedman's estimate --- these deaths mostly occur in gang violence over control of the black market... yet drugs are as available as ever in the US

    fortunately the debate in America is moving on a pace, and voices such as Hitchens' are getting moved out to the distant margins - exactly where they belong

    there are countless legislative options on the table between the two extremes of blanket prohibition and a free market in harmful drugs

    it's a pity Tim Wilkinson didn't take the time to discuss that aspect of this discussion

    an alternative to cannabis prohibition is already underway in Spain and Belgium - to my mind the Cannabis Social Club system is an excellent form of self-regulation and a preferable alternative to simple 'legalisation'

    see the article "Drug Club: Spain's alternative cannabis economy" available on the TNI website

  34. No - I meant that because, unlike Hari, Hitchens is a man of character it's all the more disappointing that he's behaved in this way when faced with carefully reasoned criticism.

  35. 'No - I meant that because, unlike Hari, Hitchens is a man of character it's all the more disappointing that he's behaved in this way when faced with carefully reasoned criticism.'

    I don't know how long you've been reading the man, but that's what he always does

    He comes across as respectable and intelligent but the more you read his arguments, the more you will despair, occasionally he makes a good point, but he'll soon follow it with a populist rant about something and essentially resort to saying 'I'm right'

    Eventually any respect you had for him will ebb away and you will come to see him as a 'proll', or liberal baiter, the reason why I questioned this whole 'debate' when he first started it was because he's done it all before, hence I stayed out of it, knowing full well he would resort to the arguments you so succinctly pointed out

    I actually found it baffling that he would engage with TW as he was bound to get shown up as dry scientific debate has no place on his blog, seems he was happy to preach to his choir and was, in my view, merely drumming up business for his new book

    Anyway, welcome to the club, I think a certain Mr Wooderson will be in it pretty soon as well

  36. Anon wrote:
    "Hitchens is a man of character"

    You've got to be joking!
    Hitchens is some sort of cardboard cutout caricature of a fifties golf club bar bore.
    The man is preposterous only just this side of dementedness reached by Melanie Philips.

    Its not just phone hacking that one needs to worry about. The press is filled with these deadbeats plying their particular brand of schtick.
    And what is singularly odious about such figures is that their schtick relies heavily on creating and nurturing fear about much that not need be feared, and is used by proprietors as a way to divert attention from what should be concerning us.


  37. Joshua Wooderson31 July 2011 at 22:50

    Tarquin - which club, sorry?

  38. Joshua Wooderson31 July 2011 at 23:06

    Ah, I'm guessing you mean the 'PH is a proll' club. Well, if he is a proll, I don't think he means to be. I'm sure that he's sincere. But committed to serious and open-minded debate, no. At least, not on issues which matter to him. His refusal to acknowledge that pro-legalisers aren't just selfish, wicked or deluded is frustrating, to say the least.

  39. the spam filter appears to have cut out my two previous posts to this page, I'm not sure why

  40. I suppose he could just be genuinely pig-headed and annoying

    But he seems to revel in it so much, he would surely get angry and frustrated

    For my money, the fact that he writes for the Mail is the proof, if it was just the blog (and the foreign adventures) then maybe I could see him as genuine - but the fact that he ramps up the rhetoric in his proper columns, picks up weird Mail hobby-horses and writes some downright nasty things says to me that he's doing all this for hire, not principle

    I actually started to take note of the differences between the MoS columns and the blogs - I found the columns were invariably the most infuriating, and most likely to contain shoddy arguments

    But that's just my conclusion, I think that if you don't join the 'he's a proll' club, you will start to see him as quite pitiable - right now he's frustrated you with a poor argument, properly - normally he's infuriatingly tricky with his debates, but occasionally he gets shown up and you stop taking him seriously, think of the gradual effect of that after you've experienced it a few dozen times

  41. Hitchens also ignores the fact that the US has achieved across the board reduction in tobacco use over the past decades - without use of SWAT teams and no-knock raids

    a World Health Organization study shows that the U.S. -- despite being the home of the global "war on drugs", with 500,000 of its citizens behind bars from breaking drugs laws -- has the highest rates of marijuana and cocaine use in the world. Indeed, Americans use drugs at a higher rate than people in other countries that have modernized their laws by treating drugs as more of a health -- rather than a criminal -- issue.

    excellent article today from
    Neill Franklin of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition)

    Understanding Obama's "War on Drugs"

  42. Will Tim Wilkinson be commenting on Peter Hitchens' 'final' post?

  43. Joshua Wooderson15 August 2011 at 23:07

    I'd like to reiterate the question above. I think there are a few rather bold statements, to say the least, in PH's last few responses which shouldn't be allowed to go unchallenged. Pretty please?

  44. Yes - why no response to Peter Hitchens final statements. I think they need one, if only to wrap this up.

  45. Why the odious Hitchens isn't worth talking to. In his latest comment in the Mail he tells an outright lie:

    "The Misuse Of Drugs Act 1971 decriminalised cannabis, with huge results for behaviour."

    Read more:


  46. The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.