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Euthanasia and Taboos • Nietzsche’s Madness • Logic is Above Gender • Stoics and Gladiators • Boxers & Philosophers • Boxers & Philosophers • Sports and Deviance • Change or Progress in Sport • Cheat to Win?

Euthanasia and Taboos

DEAR EDITOR: Joachim Jung (PN March 03) and Richard Taylor (PN May 03) have both missed the point.

The central argument made by my original article against euthanasia (PN March 03) was that killing cannot be a form of medical therapy, because being alive is not, in itself, a form of medical problem. Therefore, I argued, it can’t ever be right to aim at the patient’s death directly, even if it sometimes permissible to allow the patient’s death indirectly. And so we shouldn’t allow ourselves to become morbidly obsessed with the option of killing terminal patients, like so much of the present rather unsavoury debate about euthanasia (including, I have to say, Dr Jung’s own ghoulish piece). Instead, we should attend to the wide variety of other options that are more genuinely in the interests of terminal patients, most of which go under the name of palliative care.

I hesitate to take up the cudgels against Professor Taylor when he is himself – as I was very sorry to hear – a terminal patient. But with respect, neither Taylor nor Joachim Jung says anything at all about the argument I’ve just given in their responses to my article. While they show plenty of emotion, their responses are not even relevant to my original argument, let alone (as they seem content to think) refutations of it. Instead of dealing with what I actually argued, they both invent positions that they’d like me to occupy, and vituperate those. Four quick examples:

1. Joachim Jung accuses me of hiding behind a taboo about killing. This charge makes me wonder if he’s actually read my piece, the whole point of which was that you don’t need to use taboos to oppose euthanasia, because there are good arguments against it too.

2. Both authors in effect ask me how a dying patient is supposed, in extremis, to carry on promoting the repertoire of human abilities and capacities that Aristotelians and others say define the range of the patient’s interests. But I never claimed that the dying patient could promote those interests. I simply said that he (and others) ought to respect them, and that killing himself was not compatible with respecting them.

3. Both Jung and Taylor accuse me of trying to decree what other people should be allowed to do. I’m no more doing that than they are.

4. Both Jung and Taylor attempt a familiar rhetorical trick in the euthanasia debate: they try and make it sound as if it was somehow my fault, or the fault of anyone who opposes euthanasia, that people die in pain and indignity. This is ironic, since what Jung and Taylor want to do with patients suffering pain and indignity is to kill them, whereas what I want to do for patients suffering pain and indignity is to offer them the highest possible level of palliative care, and fund further research into raising the available level of palliative care still higher. Yet another example of the way the euthanasia debate, as currently conducted, is warping our research and funding priorities. Yet another reason why it’s time to stop deliberating about whether to permit euthanasia, and move on to deliberating about how best to improve palliative care.


Nietzsche’s Madness

DEAR EDITOR: Fewer diagnoses have attracted a greater interest and controversy than that of Nietzsche’s mental illness. Since the philosopher’s death in 1900 numerous pathographies have been published but few of the authors knew much about his life, published and unpublished works, correspondence, and had access to his manuscripts and original photographs. Professor Otto Binswanger who looked after Nietzsche in Jena mental asylum in 1889, was largely responsible for a diagnosis of General Paresis of the Insane (tertiary syphilis). The famous psychiatrist may have known his patient’s body but seemed to have no interest in his soul, and had not read a single line of the philosopher’s works. For him Nietzsche was a patient like any other. Syphilis was a prevailing paradigm in 19th century European mental asylums and as many as 60% of inmates were believed to have a mental condition related to it. The diagnosis was made on clinical grounds alone as the first (non-specific) ‘Wassermann test’ was not available until 1906. Kraepelin’s publication of Manic- Depressive Insanity and Paranoia in 1913, backed up by Jasper’s General Psychopathology, can be seen as a birth of psychiatric nosology (just think of a bulky DSM-IV a century later!).

I was astonished to read the recent report in the Daily Telegraph of a study published by Dr Sax in May 2003 issue of Journal of Medical Biography, stating that according to the author “Nietzsche almost certainly died of brain cancer.” Firstly, there can be no certainty here whatsoever and any diagnostic attempt must be based on a balance of probabilities. Some diagnoses are more quantifiable than others. A valid diagnosis of a brain tumour can be made either on post-mortem, inter-operatively, microscopically and/or by a brain CT scan, but not a hundred years after the patient’s death. This makes for a gulf between medical science and fancy speculation! Furthermore, Dr Sax asserts that Lange- Eichbaum, a Berlin psychiatrist and a vociferous critic of Nietzsche as a Nazi philosopher, was responsible for trumpeting the diagnosis of tertiary syphilis by publishing his monograph in 1947. Does Dr Sax suggest that Lange- Eichbaum used a medical diagnosis as a weapon against Nietzsche? If so, Binswanger, Möbius, Podach and Karl Jaspers would have to be put in the same league, as they too have backed up the notion of syphilis. For a number of reasons this would preposterous!

There are also several inaccuracies in Dr Sax’s account of clinical signs of Nietzsche’s condition, e.g. that he “showed no dysgraphia” (disturbance in being able to write). Nietzsche’s dysgraphia was well documented in Jena’s medical notes and a photograph thereof can be found on page 468 of a book Nietzsche im Labyrinth seiner Krankheit published by Pia Daniela Volz in 1990. If Dr Sax relates Nietzsche’s severe migraines (from which the philosopher had suffered from boyhood) to his ‘brain cancer’ then it must have been one of the longest brewing cancers in medical history!

The October/November 2000 commemorative edition of this journal contained my article on Eternal Return in which I referred to my other paper ‘The Madness of Nietzsche: a Misdiagnosis of the Millenium?’ published in Hospital Medicine in August the same year. In the latter I argued against the notion of tertiary syphilis and proposed that the most likely diagnosis was a manic-depressive disorder, probably followed by multiinfarct dementia. Contemporaneously, two other scholarly publications appeared: Le Syndrome de Nietzsche by Jaques Rogé in 1999, and The Legend of Nietzsche’s Syphilis by Richard Schain in 2001. Whilst Professor Schain, a neurologist, takes a very similar stance to mine in his rejection of tertiary syphilis, Professor Rogé, a fellow psychiatrist, in addition puts forward a diagnosis of manic-depression. It is reassuring that three geographically distant physicians who had studied Nietzsche’s life and works in detail, independently came to very similar conclusions, using very similar arguments. Perhaps Dr Sax’s piece of ‘research’ could be best passed in silence.


DEAR EDITOR: My reading of philosophy books in a significant way only began much later in life, after retirement as a medical doctor when almost seventy years of age. Philosophy Now was an accidental discovery at a small shop in Vancouver about two years ago. It is a pleasure for me to read and gives a feeling of being in touch with what is going on in the subject. The May/June copy seemed to have strayed off course into sports, until I found the article on Nietzsche’s Women. The photograph of him with his mother raised hopes, which were not fulfilled by the article. There was too much emphasis on Nietzshe’s morbid concern with bodily functions. Varying degrees of such a malady can affect both males and females and it is a pity so much of the article seemed to dwell on those rather pathological fixations.


Logic is Above Gender

DEAR EDITOR: I write in response to the letter of Andrea Waddell and her outrageous charges against logic and any male that uses it. I try as hard as I can each day to support equal rights for all members of society and I believe more would if it were not for feminists of Miss Waddell’s nature who make claims as outrageous as the ones she made.

Waddell’s claim that logic is a male construct seems unfounded and she provides no real arguments for such a proposition. Furthermore even if logic is a patriarchal construct why must this demean it in any way? Is Waddell proposing that anything created by men in the old (pre feminist) system must be biased against women and therefore made redundant?

The only thing that may be seen as sexist inherent in logic is Waddell’s claim that men are better at wielding logic than women. Such a claim seems almost outrageous and ill founded as her claim in paragraph two that “men lack the ability to multi-task” (a comment thrown in with no reason or purpose that can be seen other than to offend or to assert superiority).

Logic is a tool that can be employed by both men and women and to think otherwise is (to excuse the pun) illogical.


Stoics and Gladiators

DEAR EDITOR: I hope that Dr John Sellars’ piece on Gladiator was simply intended to inspire an onslaught of letters like the one I am so obligingly composing now.

Sellars makes some valid points, such as the fact that Maximus is not terribly stoic in his lust for vengeance against Commodus. Proximo does, indeed, quote stoic rhetoric more than anyone else in the film, particularly during his laughably nihilistic pep talks to the combatants.

Sellars also writes: “In any event, I cannot find much heroic endurance in the behaviour of Maximus either, as disaster after disaster befalls him.” The slave who defies an emperor survives everything Commodus can throw at him in the arena, avenging the murders of his wife and son as well as his friend, Marcus Aurelius, allowing Rome to become a republic again as per Aurelius’s dying wish. In addition, when, just prior to his own Christ-like death, Maximus finally finishes off the human monster, Commodus, he saves the life of Commodus’s seven-year-old nephew, Lucius, and prevents Lucilla from having to spend the rest of her days as a sex slave to her own deranged brother.

Nothing heroic there!

As for Epictetus’s assertion that “One should consider one’s close relations as no different to any other transitory possession, such as an earthenware jug”: It does require far more courage to consider, say, one’s wife or son as more than an earthenware jug, as Maximus learned all too well.

Dr Sellars, Epictetus, and perfect, machine-like stoicism aside, can the virtue of honor really be found in one who survives at the expense of their basic humanity?

Strength and honor,

Boxers & Philosophers

DEAR EDITOR: The letter from John Pilsbury, ‘God blame them, every one’, published in your May/June 2003 issue is very strange. He writes:

“I refer to correspondence in your magazine and elsewhere on the subject of Israeli academics being targeted due to the actions of the nation of Israel. Very few people support the actions of Israel, but a substantial number appear to object to blaming individual Israelis. What seems to be forgotten is that Israel is a democracy. Thus, its citizens are blameworthy in a way that those of Iraq, North Korea and other states are not.”

Here are some central problems with the letter:

1. Pilsbury doesn’t mention what sort of targeting he has in mind. I imagine he means things like Israeli academics’ being banned from conferences, dismissed from editorial boards, denied postgraduate spots at Oxford etc. But he really ought to be more specific about the particular sort of targeting he has in mind, if he is making a case for the blameworthiness of all Israelis, since terrorist groups like Hamas mean something somewhat more lethal by “targeting” when like Pilsbury, they say that all Israelis are blameworthy.

2. It is odd for Pilsbury to say that citizens of democracies are blameworthy for their governments’ actions in a way that populations of authoritarian regimes are not, when so many of those Israeli academics affected by the sorts of boycotts and bans he wishes to defend, have protested against the Israeli government’s policies. But it is annoying to have to point this out, while at the same time, one doesn’t hear Palestinian academics condemning suicide bombings as intrinsically bad. The most that’s generally said by propeace Palestinians is that strategically, suicide bombings (and the targeting of noncombatants generally) are counterproductive, that they will not help the Palestinians attain independence. That just scratches the surface of what’s wrong with terrorism, and in this case, it’s morally obscene not to go beyond the surface.

3. Why not blame – or hold morally accountable, anyway – Iraqis, North Koreans, and (significantly here, though he doesn’t mention them) Palestinians for not having established democratic governments in the first instance? Of course, there are obstacles--like domestic repression – in these societies, which make it difficult for democratic governments to be established in them, but when Palestinians tell pollsters that they support suicide bombings, the fact that they live in an authoritarian society can hardly count as mitigating. Still, only those among them who manifest their support by actually planning or carrying out terrorist operations ought to be punished. (See: even though my family lives in Israel and is affected by these matters in ways I wouldn’t wish on Pilsbury or anyone, my sense of justice does not lead me to want to punish all Palestinians in the way that Pilsbury’s warped logic leads him to want to punish all Israelis.)

I can’t see Pilsbury’s as just one of many reasonable competing views on this matter. Lots of intellectuals, especially in Europe, apply a standard to Israel that isn’t – to put it mildly – entirely grounded in reason. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians benefit from that.


DEAR EDITOR: Surely John Pilsbury is living in another world when he writes (in Issue 41) that “very few people support the actions of Israel, but a substantial number appear to object to blaming individual Israelis.” Britain declared war against Iraq without the consent or support of the British people and it maybe that the outcome will be disastrous for Britain. Will John Pilsbury blame the British people because Britain is supposed to be a democracy?


Boxers & Philosophers

DEAR EDITOR: Readers of the Ayer- Tyson encounter (Philosophy Now, May/June 2003, p.9), may enjoy hearing about the equally obscure Russell-Ali exchange.

When Ali refused induction into the US army and spoke out against the war in Viet Nam, Russell phoned Ali to offer his support and congratulate him on his moral courage. The conversation then turned to boxing. Ali said he was coming to England to fight the European champion Henry Cooper, and asked Russell “If I fight Cooper, who’d you bet on?” Russell replied “Henry’s capable, you know, but I would pick you.” To which Ali replied “You’re not as dumb as you look.” Years later Ali found out who Russell was. The name had not come up, he said, in Louisville Central High. He wrote to Russell, apologizing, and Russell responded, saying that he enjoyed the joke. (Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, Ballantine Books: New York, 1975, pp.140-1)

Russell and Ali planned to meet, but never did. If they had, presumably they would not have fought. But if we add a fact about Russell, we could have anticipated a sizing-up with the faintest whiff of pugilistic overtones. Russell, ever the aggressive intellectual, says somewhere that he could never meet anyone without asking himself “Can I take him, or can he take me?” We can thus treat ourselves to the spectacle of Russell approaching Ali, hand outstretched, with that thoughtbubble over his head, and Ali putting out his hand in return, thinking “This is the man I said was not a dumb as he looks.”


DEAR EDITOR: I write to you in response to Gordon Marino’s apologetic for the sweet science: Apologia Pro Pugilatione.

My first Martial Art was boxing. After several years of this I graduated to other arts, some of which make boxing look positively gentle. Perhaps more importantly for this letter, however, has been my involvement in the security industry – I am a bouncer. This profession has placed me in the position to know violence intimately, and to know men and women who are in turn, very intimate with violence.

I read Prof. Marino’s article with sympathy, but feel that his arguments do not exclusively apply to either boxing or the Martial Arts – courage, for example, can be cultivated in many ways. And so, I feel the Professor’s arguments are not sufficient in their defence of the sweet science.

I believe, with Prof. Rickman (‘Wrestling with Ideas’) that: “Man is a violent animal which kills its own kind without being driven to it by fear or hunger.” This propensity towards violence exists, in varying degrees, in each of us: I, for one, am a violent man, some might say very violent. Critically, though, I acknowledge this. In ‘civilised’ society violence is too often denied as barbaric, indeed bestial; violence is, in a word, repressed. Repressed tendencies will, of course, out, one way or another, especially with the assistance of alcohol, sex and any-bar-you-care-to-mention. The process of training in the Martial Arts, I argue, is a process through which otherwise-repressed violence, forming part of the shadow, is integrated into the Self. In arguing this I am relying, of course, on a Jungian notion of the psyche.

It is a truism both within Martial Arts circles and within the security industry, that those who really know how to fight, tend to be pacifists. Prof. Marino’s exemplar of Floyd Patterson is a commonplace. There are, of course, exceptions to this; training in the Martial Arts does not alone lead to the possession of an integrated Self, there are many other factors involved; for many, however, it does form an integral part of this journey.


Sports and Deviance

DEAR EDITOR: Tim Delaney (‘Sports and Deviant Behaviour’, Philosophy Now Issue 41) claims that sport is a microcosm of society and that the deviant behaviour found in sport is a reflection of the moral norms and practices found in the wider social system. This assumes that the causal direction goes primarily in one direction and that sports deviance is an effect, rather than a cause, of the uncivilized and deviant behaviour patterns in the wider culture. This assumption is surprising given the statistics Delaney quotes to show how powerful and ubiquitous is sport in contemporary culture. This is nowhere more true than in America, where television and newspapers churn out a relentless and pervasive stream of football, baseball and basketball that no conscious American could fail to notice. It would appear that the antisocial values of sport (chiefly sexism and machismo) help to promote a ‘social’ agenda (albeit one that excludes half of the human race almost entirely) and not vice versa.

Delaney also fails to notice the ways in which sports prevent any serious criticism of the socially constructed norms that render love relationships between males suspect. As such, sports prevent genuine remedies to real social problems such as homophobia. The male narcissism and tacit homo-eroticism in the American ‘big 3’ sports provide a relatively safe outlet for love and friendship between males that is otherwise condemned in American culture as either ‘unnatural’ or ‘gay’. Sports, by allowing a safe outlet for otherwise unacceptable forms of homo-eroticism, actually prevent criticism of socially constructed definitions of ‘deviance’.

In addition, Noam Chomsky has commented that sports infiltrate the public consciousness to such a degree that they provide a distraction from the serious and more important social questions that affect people’s lives, and in this sense they can be politically useful tools for maintaining the status quo. The film Gladiator presents us with an example: Commodus fears criticism of his government and so attempts to pander to the lowest common denominator and win public sympathy against the legitimate senators by providing a series of ever more entertaining and distracting ‘games’ for public consumption.


Change or Progress in Sport

DEAR EDITOR: I wonder if Tim Delaney had Henry Newbolt’s ‘Vita Lampeda’ in mind when writing on ‘Sport and Deviant Behaviour’ in issue 41? Until the former’s death in 1938, and for perhaps a generation afterwards, the poetic lines were an inspiration to most amateur sportsmen and women who did not play their games for “the sake of a ribboned coat or the selfish hope of a season’s fame.” Fun and friendship rather than fame and fortune drove them on, extending the ethos of sport to an unwritten philosophy of life itself.

The current goals of fame and fortune that have replaced the amateur games at top level have led to some distasteful developments. Playing for one’s country, for example, was once considered the highest honour a player could achieve, markedly so in New Zealand where to be an All Black was the ultimate social accolade. Now, as recently reported in the New Zealand press, there is an alarming drain of rugby talent choosing pecuniary fortunes overseas to (over?) tribal fame at home, threatening the preeminence of the All Blacks on the world stage.

A century or so after William Webb Ellis ran with the ball at Rugby School another breed of English gentlemen in Norfolk jackets and nailed boots created the sport of mountaineering. The opponent was nature at its most daunting, leading to the disappearance of the legendary George Mallory and a young Andrew Irvine close to the summit of Everest in 1924, a record unsurpassed until John Hunt’s successful expedition of 1953. Commercial gain has now displaced the responsible sharing of a climbing rope where anyone able to pay a fee, currently estimated at US$64,000, can be dragged to the top of the world, risking the lives of themselves and other misguided egotists.

Greed and stupidity have besmirched healthy competitive sport.


Cheat to Win?

In Issue 41 we asked whether an athlete taking supplements was cheating or not.

DEAR EDITOR: All sports are based on a set of rules that have to be followed. If the rules are not followed, for whatever reason, then the sporting activity is unfair and this has no purpose. Thus cheating negates the basic purpose of sport, which as I see it, is a gentleman’s agreement to participate in an activity for personal pleasure in order to ascertain who is better at that activity. An unfair advantage is therefore where one party does not participate according to the rules that they originally said they would adhere to or uses something that is unnatural or artificial to enhance their performance in the sport. I therefore believe that taking ‘legal supplements’ is perfectly okay as one is playing within the rules.

However the big problem comes in determining exactly the difference between ‘legal supplements’ and illegal supplements. The premises here must surely be between what is unnatural or artificial which would be illegal supplements, provided that is what the rules of the sport actually say, and natural supplements one would presume to be legal. The main problem here is that when one tries to split supplements in this way one scientist would raise arguments in favour of the supplement being natural and an equally eminent scientist, in the same field raise as many arguments that the supplement is unnatural. If the whole purpose of sport is as stated above that is gentleman’s agreement to participate in an activity for personal pleasure then the pressures within sport (money, fame etc.) all tend to change the basic purpose of sport that being individual personal pursuit to that of a business and therefore the business mentality of ‘dog eat dog’.


DEAR EDITOR: Rick Lewis, Philosophy Now May/June 2003, defines cheating as an external paradigm. Cheating is internal i.e. pretending to yourself you are something that you are not.


DEAR EDITOR: May I suggest an approach to a definition of cheating. I feel that you are too readily dismissing the effectiveness of laws. The rules of major sports have been assembled pragmatically, and are respected by the great majority of participants. There are two types of sanctions against the cheaterstough penalties where the laws have been clearly transgressed, and obloquy in the form of peer contempt.

Of course there are grey areas which the laws cannot cover, but a strong and respected law-making body can apply concepts such as “bringing the game into disrepute”. In most cases, as Mary Warnock has pointed out, shame is a very effective deterrent.


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