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Some Christians claim to oppose homosexuality by saying, "hate the sin, not the sinner." Is this a meaningful distinction? Is it a cogent defense against accusations of homophobia?

Yes and No. (I'm a philosopher. What did you expect?) Yes, it's a perfectly reasonable distinction. Suppose your sibling or parent or child (as makes the most sense to you) were to murder someone. I hope that you would find what they had done to be horrible and worthy of moral condemnation. But that doesn't mean that you have to think they are horrible. It doesn't mean that you should stop loving them, or stop supporting them. In fact, I myself think that it would be horrible and worthy of moral condemnation if you did stop loving them, or stop supporting them. So, when (right-wing) Christians say things like, "Hate the sin, love the sinner", that's what the sort of thing they mean: You can love this person , even if you think that they are doing bad things. We should all agree with that. But no, it's not, by itself , a cogent defense against accusations of homophobia. The reason it seems like this might be a 'defense' is that the (right-wing) Christians say that they don't condemn people ...

Is it wrong to fantasize about sex with children? If a pedophile never acts on their fantasies are they still guilty of having evil thoughts, assuming that their abstinence comes out of a genuine desire not to do harm?

So far as I can see, there's nothing wrong with fantasizing about sex with children. There's nothing wrong with fantasizing about anything you like. If that seems crazy, then it's probably because you are thinking that someone who fantasizes about something must actually wish to do that thing. But that is just not true. As Nancy Friday makes very clear in My Secret Garden , her classic and groundbreaking study of female sexual fantasy, fantasy is not "suppressed wish fulfillment". The point runs throughout the book, which you can find on archive.org , but maybe the best statement is on pp. 27-8, though see also the poignant story that opens the book (pp. 5-7). I'd post an excerpt, but the language maybe isn't appropriate for this forum! As Friday's studies reveal, people fantasize about all kinds of things. Some women fantasize about being raped. It's a very common fantasy, in fact. That does not mean these women actually want to be raped, on any level. As Friday remarks, "The message...

I recently heard someone make an argument, something like- "if you accept that there is morality in sex, for example that a father having sex with his daughter is wrong, you can't say gay sex isn't immoral because people should be able to do whatever they want because it causes no harm to others" Is this argument or proof begging the question? Philosophically, what is wrong with this argument.

The main thing wrong with the argument is that it is terrible. Don't we think it's wrong for parents to have sex with their children precisely because we think that it is harmful to the children? One might also think that children have no genuine capacity to consent to sex, an issue that also arises in other settings, such as between a boss and an employee. In such a setting, there are always issues about coercion, even if such coercion is not explicit. Presumably the thought is supposed to be that there are forms of sex that are morally suspect, even though they do not cause any sort of harm. But then one wants to know what those are supposed to be. Then we could consider whether and why they are morally suspect. The example given, as I said, is a very bad one.

In Christian teachings, Jesus is said to have died for our sins. Is such a thing even possible? One person can pay another's financial debt, can 'moral debt' be transferred in the same way.

The question asked here is interesting, but not in my area of expertise, I'm afraid. I would, however, like to say something about the background stated with the question. The most familiar form of the doctrine to which you are referring is known as "substitutionary atonement". It was introduced in the twelfth century by Anselm and has since become central to many people's thinking about the meaning of Jesus's death on the cross. For all I know, it may be the official doctrine of some denominations that have official doctrines, such as Catholicism. This doctrine does have some basis in scripture, but it has been and continues to be controversial. One reason is that many people find it offensive that God should require God's own son, Jesus, to suffer a violent, agonizing death, no matter what its alleged purpose. And the idea that God would require atonement for wrongdoing to take the form of physical suffering seems to many people to make God out to be some kind of cosmic child abuser. As the...

I'd like to follow up something that was discussed in question 4096 (http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/4096). In Richard Heck's response to a question about the term "vulgar" he gives an example of an English slang term "gyp" meaning to cheat, which was derived from gypsy. As he mentions, this is considered offensive to gypsies. And, as he also mentions, many non-gypsies are not familiar with this issue and mean no disrespect to gypsies when they use the term. Heck goes on to say "One would not be blameworthy for that usage, but, once informed of its consequences, one should stop using the term." So my question is where is the line here? What if someone "informs" me that XYZ group is offended by some action I take. What if I'm not sure they're correct? What if actually some XYZs are offended and others are not? Does it matter how many people are in the XYZ group, and whether I believe they will actually witness my action? A considerate person wouldn't want to needlessly offend anyone, but at some...

All of these are good questions, but we should distinguish two issues. The first issue is as to the moral facts. I claim that if you come to know that use of some term is offensive to the members of some group, then you ought not to use that term. It's an entirely different question, of course, whether someone's telling you does lead you to have such knowledge, or whether your refusing to believe them might be unreasonable, and so forth. Questions about how many people in the group find use of the term offensive are another matter. We might well suppose, for example, that some people of gypsy descent are unaware of the origin of the term "gyp", or that some American Indians might be unaware of the origin of the term "Indian summer". Others might be aware of the origin, but think very few other people are, and so not themselves find use of the term to be offensive. So, well, it's complicated. I haven't thought about this deeply, but I'm inclined to think that the issue here isn't one of numbers,...

What role do hypothetical situations play in philosophy? For example; most of us consider it to be a moral axiom that paedophilia is never morally justified. But we can think of a hypothetical situation, for example person X being forced to engage in acts of paedophilia by a demented individual who threatens to kill a child if person X does not engage in lascivious acts with the child. Now this hypothetical situation is wildly speculative and extremely unlikely to ever occur in the real world. So does it disprove the axiom that paedophilia is never morally justified or not?

I think the answer depends very much upon what one thinks one is doing philosophically. But the important point here is that moral claims in particular, and many of the philosophical claims that get evaluated using these invented examples, are meant to be more than just true as things actually are. So, for example, the claim that it is wrong to torture babies just for fun is meant to mean not just that all the actual baby torturing that is done just for fun is wrong, but that any baby torturing that is done just for fun would be wrong. Counterexamples to that claim, therefore, do not have to involve actual cases. As the philosopher Timothy Williamson has pointed out, moreover, many of the sorts of hypothetical counterexamples philosophers use either do have real-world instances or else such instances can easily be created. There are, for example, some very famous examples concerning knowledge known as "Gettier cases", and, at the start of one of his papers, Williamson cleverly sets up a situation ...

I recently read in the New York Times that a majority of philosophers are moral realists. That is, they believe there are right and wrong answers to moral questions. I have always been under the impression that David Hume has had the last word on this and that questions of morality are emotive. That is, the come from our emotions, not our reason. They are similar in kind to positions on aesthetics, for example, however in the case of morals we view them as much more important. This seems certainly correct to me. If not, how can any position on basic values or morals be verified? We can verify that the moon is not made of cream cheese, but we cannot verify in the same way that it is "moral" for that human beings survive.

Just a minor correction, or perhaps elaboration. The (most?) famous argument of Geach's against emotivism (in "Ascriptivism", Phil Review , 1960), concerns embeddings in the antecedents of conditionals, such as: If sodomy is wrong, then it ought to be against the law. The contrast here is with something like, "If OUCH, then I should go to the hospital". That just makes no sense. Geach was not necessarily assuming a truth-functional analysis of conditionals, but the point is easiest to see from that perspective: The conditional is supposed to be true so long as its antecedent is false or its consequent is true; but the emotivist view is that "sodomy is wrong" does not have a truth-value, because it is not truth-evaluable. The response one tends to see from anti-realists turns on a different sort of understanding of conditionals, as so-called "inference tickets". But on this too, the jury has not yet reported.

I'm religious, but I'm also gay. My church teaches that homosexual relationships are immoral. They say that this is what God has told us and they back it up with scriptures and revelation from God given to my current church leaders. I have a hard time accepting that homosexuality is immoral. I don't see why people should be denied consenting, intimate, long-term relationships. So, here's the question that I need to find a solution to: Should I deny believing what I think is right to comply with what my church leaders say God thinks is moral?

I don't have a lot to add to what Peter had to say, except that I'd like to emphasize that, while I don't know to what sort of Church you belong, it is absolutely central to the entire Protestant reformation that each of us is entitled, and indeed required, to come to our own decisions on these sorts of questions, in a reverential and prayerful fashion, to be sure, but to our own decisions, nonetheless. And it is an understatement indeed to say that there is "hot debate" about the significance of the Biblical passages that seem to condemn homosexuality. But perhaps the larger and much more important question is how we read and respond to the Bible. The obsession with sexuality in conservative churches is nearly as puzzling as their obsession with "literal" interpretations of the Bible---interpretations that are hardly literal---and with regarding those few hundred pages as representing everything God might have cared to say to us. Well, as we like to say at my church, God is still speaking, and we'd...

Do Catholic hospitals have a right not to perform abortions?

Just a brief comment, which is that, even if one always does have a moral right not to do things one regards as morally objectionable, it does not follow that one has a legal or political right to do so, i.e., that one cannot legitimately face legal consequences for not doing so. It is fairly easy to come up with counter-examples by thinking of people whose moral views are themselves pretty objectionable. I don't know which issue the questioner probably had in mind, but both seem worth considering. For what it is worth, I think similar such examples make Aquinas's view very doubtful. If one thinks a thing is morally abhorrent, say, when it is, in fact, morally obligatory, then it is not at all clear that one has a moral right not to do the thing. Indeed, it seems almost contradictory to say one does: One has a moral right not to do something that is morally obligatory? Presumably, the resolution of this "paradox" lies in distinguishing subjective from objective elements of this, as is now...

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