Monday, 26 March 2007
3-26-87 . . . In the past couple of years medical researchers have identified a new virus that, to date, has no cure. The virus is called acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS for short. It attacks the body’s immune system, making the subject liable (how’s that for a legal metaphor?) to several diseases, including cancer. Eventually, the subject develops one or more diseases and dies. As I say, there is no cure. Researchers are working frantically to develop one, but thousands of people are dying in the meantime. The odd thing about this virus is that it is transmitted in only certain ways. It can be transmitted through sexual contact or shared use of intravenous needles. Homosexuals and drug users have therefore constituted most of the victims, but the virus is slowly making its way into the general population. Almost every television newscast and newspaper has a story on the virus, a victim of the virus, or the search for a cure. Since the disease, once caught, is fatal, some people are taking extreme measures to combat its spread. Some politicians are even proposing AIDS tests for all government workers, prospective married couples, and athletes, while others keep their children from schools in which there are known AIDS victims.
This is where AIDS as a health problem intersects with AIDS as a social and moral issue. To what extent can AIDS victims be forced to do this or that (be quarantined, for example) in order to protect the public health? Can an employer, consistently with the right to privacy, require an AIDS (or any other) test as a condition of employment? Ought we to require prospective married couples to be tested? If so, and the result is positive, what should we do? There is currently much debate about these issues in the press and among the public generally. There is also the homophobia factor. Many religious leaders (and even some politicians) have tried to make hay of the fact that AIDS afflicts primarily homosexuals and drug users. Isn’t this evidence, they ask, that certain lifestyles or preferences violate God’s laws? Isn’t AIDS just a message from God, or a punishment for past transgressions? Our governor, Evan Mecham, has made public statements which imply a view like this. He has denied that there are any homosexuals in his church (Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormon) and has called homosexuality “an unacceptable lifestyle.” So the issues surrounding AIDS are complex. As a philosopher, I’m interested in all of them, especially the connection between the health and social aspects of the disease. I’ll have more to say about this dreaded virus in future entries.
I’ve been a headbanger for 34 years, but somehow I’ve never listened to Megadeth. My friend Carlos recently sent me a song by this band. It blew my mind. It’s the best song I’ve heard in a long, long time. Here is a live version. Before you click the link, strap yourself to your chair. I guess I’ll have to buy all the Megadeth albums now. Damn you, Carlos!
Successful natural-law arguments identify and apply norms of morality that reason grasps as truths entailed by the integral directiveness of practical reason’s first principles—principles that direct human choice and action toward intelligible aspects of human well-being and fulfillment (health, knowledge, friendship, etc.) and away from their privations. Of course, those principles themselves, qua fundamental, are not deduced from further or deeper principles; but they are nevertheless grasped by acts of understanding—acts of what Aquinas, following up a lead from Aristotle, called the practical intellect.
To the Editor:
Re “Take a Rat to Dinner,” by Steven A. Shaw (Op-Ed, March 16):
If Mr. Shaw is correct that rats are not the greatest threat to food safety in restaurants, this open secret in no way contradicts the fact that rats are as unwelcome as any other threat. Rats serve as a dramatic visual reminder—spread through services like YouTube—in a way that unwashed hands and flies cannot.
This positive convergence of an old bugaboo and a new technology should not be given short shrift in light of the attention it can draw to the larger problem.
New York, March 16, 2007
Note from KBJ: Shaw’s op-ed column gives new meaning to the Black Sabbath song “Rat Salad.”