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Nonsense and Disability: In Response to Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins doesn’t learn from his mistakes. He just makes them broader.

In his infamous tweet from 2014, Dawkins claimed it was immoral to birth children with Down syndrome. And just the other day, he found it “plausible that, if a child has any kind of disability, then you probably would increase the amount of happiness in the world more by having another child instead.” He also claimed it would be “wise and sensible” to abort a child who is deaf or blind.

The concepts that Dawkins operates with are nothing new. They boil down to utilitarian ethics (of the “act utilitarianism” variety) coupled with an unreflected pro-choice mentality.

This advice to replace disabled children with abled ones for more happiness is derived according to something called “hedonistic calculus”. In utilitarian moral philosophy, good is equated with happiness. Happiness is commonly defined as pleasure or absence of pain. Therefore, according to this doctrine, one should act to increase the overall amount of happiness in the world and decrease the amount of suffering. In addition to “act utilitarianism”, there are far more nuanced and subtle theories out there under the umbrella of “rule utilitarianism”, but Dawkins’s remarks fall neatly in the cruder category of act utilitarianism. It is quite pleasurable to see this seemingly simple but immensely problematic doctrine fall on its head by the sheer force of Dawkins’s banality. Let us analyze it to see the fall in slow motion, shall we?

When judged by logic and the standards of their own ethical underpinnings, Dawkins’s remarks appear to be:

  1. ignorant;
  2. nonsensical;
  3. insufferable;
  4. ableist;
  5. eugenic and
  6. on the wrong side of history.

Let’s explain these features in detail.

1. Dawkins’s remarks are ignorant.

I will not go into the empirical statistics that provide irrefutable proof that most people with Down syndrome or other disabilities live full and satisfying lives, nor will I go into my own experience as a parent of a child with Down syndrome. I will stick to logic.

According to Dawkins, the world would be a happier place if people would kill as many future persons with a disability in utero as possible.

That means Dawkins sees disability as radically negative in terms of the probability of achieving higher levels of happiness through living which might make up for their congenital happiness deficit. Logic, however, dictates that disability must be contingent to happiness, since disability does not render people incapable of experiencing pleasure. However, being terminated does. Therefore, if you terminate fetuses because of their disability, you just prevent whole groups of people from experiencing life and experiencing happiness, thus disabling them to be happier than suffering, all due to your ignorant notion of their congenital disability as being literally insufferable.

Read more at Saving Downs

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