Essay / Philosophy

One Who Thinks Well Makes Careful Distinctions

Medieval thinkers observed that one who thinks well makes careful distinctions. Clear thinkers make and sloppy thinkers blur important distinctions. When I look at facial sores, I see, well, sores. But a doctor sees a host of different kinds of blemishes. When I open our kitchen cabinet, I see seasonings, but my wife notices a wide range of seasonings. In both cases, my thinking is pretty sloppy!

Attempting to advocate for government sponsored universal healthcare, a politician recently said this: Just as we have a fundamental right to life, so we have a fundamental right to healthcare. The politician wasn’t thinking very well. Why? She failed to distinguish a negative right to life (the right to be protected from harm, but not to be provided with something) with a positive right to healthcare (the right to have healthcare provided for us). Maybe we have such a positive right, but the analogy used to argue for it blurred an important distinction and was sloppy thinking.

A few days ago on talk radio, a professor argued that Homophobia and Islamophobia are as bad as anti-Semitism. He did this to establish the moral equivalence of the three. Again, this was sloppy thinking. Why? Anti-Semitism is a stand against a group of people based on a morally indifferent factor: ethnicity.

People who are against homosexuality and Islamic extremism stand against a set of ideas: (1) That homosexual inclinations and activities are morally appropriate and that homosexual “unions” are as morally appropriate as heterosexual marriage. (2) That Muslim extremists are freedom fighters victimized by Western imperialism. Maybe the people who are against these two sets of ideas are wrong, though I suspect most people know deep down that this isn’t the case. Nevertheless, it is irrational thinking to blur the distinction between anti-Semitism and the other two.

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