February 22, 2018


By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, February 22, 2018


“Be tolerant” is today’s oft-heard moral imperative. This principle of tolerance sounds good, but careful thinkers should ask: Is it sound?

Answer: No, and yes.

It turns out that there are two senses of “tolerance.”  Let’s call them Tolerance 1 and Tolerance 2. (If my labels seem to lack imagination, blame Dr. Seuss.)

Tolerance 1 is the contemporary popular understanding of tolerance. On this understanding, all views or identity claims and expressions are accepted as equal and true and good.

“It’s all interpretation” or “it's all perspective” or “it's all feeling” or “it's who I am,” so a view/ identity/ expression may be “true for you, but not for me” (and vice versa).

According to Tolerance 1, you are intolerant if you disagree with someone’s ideas or self-identity or self-expression/ conduct. To say someone is actually mistaken or wrong violates Tolerance 1. Such intolerance is a “sin.”

But, sin or no sin, Tolerance 1 is false.

From the point of view of reason and truth, it’s simply not the case that all ideas, feelings, and expressions are equal.

Think about it. That the Holocaust occurred is true and well supported by evidence, whereas the belief to the contrary is false and not well supported by evidence. That a square has four sides is true logically, whereas a square having three sides isn’t true logically.

Think about it some more. Western democracy is a better idea morally than Soviet communism (because the former tends to respect the intrinsic moral worth of people whereas the latter does not). Also, talking with one’s spouse to resolve a dispute is a better idea morally than beating one’s spouse.

Also, feelings can be mistaken. A woman who constantly feels she is—identifies as—overweight when she actually isn't, and thus expresses her identity by dieting to extreme, suffers from anorexia nervosa.

In other words, Tolerance 1 is an epic fail.

Now consider Tolerance 2.

Tolerance 2 is the classic understanding of tolerance.

This is the practice of forbearance toward persons who hold beliefs or engage in conduct with which one strongly disagrees. (Forbearance involves patience and showing respect to those with whom we disagree.)

Tolerance 2 is a willingness to accept a person’s right to espouse a view or express themselves or engage in behaviour even though we think the idea is mistaken or the conduct unwise or even immoral.

But, according to Tolerence 2, intolerance is not always a sin.

We may be appropriately intolerant of an idea if the idea is truly false and can be shown to be false, and we may be appropriately intolerant of a behavior if the behavior is truly harmful to self or others and can be shown to be harmful to self or others.

According to Tolerance 2, teachers are appropriately intolerant of students cheating on an exam or bullying on the playground. Also, judges are appropriately intolerant of perjury, drunk drivers, and murderers. Also, citizens are appropriately intolerant of governments that engage in deception.

In addition, I dare say, parents are appropriately intolerant of educators who claim (falsely) that the parents' child is actually the opposite sex. Why? Because just as an anorexic's feelings are mistaken about being overweight, so too a child's feelings can be mistaken about sexual identity.

Clearly, Tolerance 2 (the classic understanding of tolerance) is superior, intellectually and morally, when compared to Tolerance 1 (the contemporary popular understanding of tolerance).

The question now arises: Who’s to say what’s true and good? That is to ask: How do we arbitrate between competing claims about what’s true and good?

Answer: We are to say what’s true and good. How? By using careful reasoning and careful investigation of evidence to discern what’s objectively true and good.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

January 30, 2018

Aborting Trudeau's (other) abortion argument

Canada's Prime Minister posing thoughtful.
(Vogue Magazine, January 2016.)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, February 8, 2018
(This is my original. An edited, less clear version appeared in the newspaper.)

Aborting Trudeau’s (other) abortion argument

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been criticized rightly about his recent false claims that Canadian women have a constitutional right to abortion (fact check: Canada’s Charter does not set out such a right). Yet, Trudeau goes on to justify abortion because, according to Trudeau, women have “the right to control their own bodies.”

This justification should be criticized, too.

Why? Because it's absurd.

Trudeau’s justification of abortion works only if the following argument works (I call it the body-part-control argument):
  • Premise 1: Every woman has the right to control her own body.
  • Premise 2: The fetus is a part of the pregnant woman’s body.
  • Conclusion: Women have the right to abortion.

The argument sounds good, but is it sound?

Nope, it is NOT sound. Consider the following reasoning.

First, assume (for the sake of argument) that the second premise is true. That is, assume that the fetus is a part of the pregnant woman’s body.

Second, consider the logical relation of transitivity. If A is a part of B, and B is a part of C, then A is a part of C. If a brick is part of a wall, and the wall is part of a house, then the brick is part of that house.

Third, keep in mind two facts: (1) a woman has two feet; and (2) a fetus has two feet.

Now, consider the following: if a fetus’ two feet are a part of the fetus, and if the fetus is a part of a pregnant woman, then the fetus’ two feet are a part of that woman. Hence, the woman has four feet.

Now, also consider the fact that the male fetus has a penis. If the penis is a part of the fetus, and if the fetus is a part of the pregnant woman, then the woman has a penis. (Note: We’re not talking intersex here, we’re talking about a pregnant woman.)

Think, too, about the possibility of male triplets.

Since absurdities follow logically from the assumed truth of the second premise, we can conclude that the second premise is false. (This is a reductio ad absurdum argument.)

Significantly, premise 2 fails to recognize the distinction between the concepts of part and connection. An object A can be connected to object B, yet object A need not be a part of B. The piano in a mover’s truck is connected (via straps, etc.) to the truck, yet the piano is not a part of that truck. Similarly, the fetus is connected to a woman’s body, yet the fetus is not a part of the woman’s body.

Sure, every woman has the right to control her own body. But there two bodies involved in an abortion.

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau: Please notice that it’s one thing to control one’s own body—it’s  quite another to kill the body of another!


Postscript: An objection and a reply

Objection: In 2014 there was a case in China of a baby conjoined at the torso to a headless parasitic twin, so the baby had extra legs, arms, etc. This case counts against the alleged absurdity of a woman having more than two feet or two hands (e.g., eight of each) and so on (e.g., three penises). So the above critique of the body-part-control argument fails.

Reply: Nope, it’s the objection that fails. Why? Because the limbs etc. of the headless parasitic twin are ATTACHED to the baby, but are NOT PART of the baby—they are properly a part of the headless parasitic twin that's conjoined/ connected to the baby. To think otherwise is to continue confusing / not distinguishing the notions of ‘part of X’ and ‘connection to X.’ (Happily, the limbs etc. of the headless parasitic twin were successfully detached surgically from the baby.)

Recommended book (from which the above reductio ad absurdum argument is gotten):

Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates

Past APOLOGIA columns concerning abortion:
Canada Summer Jobs kerfuffle, January 18, 2018 
About my abortion columns, October 26, 2017
Abortion, February 2, 2017
About outlawing abortions, November 24, 2016
We need an abortion law, October 12, 2016
Beyond the abortion wars, August 8, 2016
We need an abortion law, September 3, 2015
On abortion, again, October 16, 2008
Aborting an abortion argument, September 18, 2008

For support for crisis pregnancy:

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Manitoba. The views expressed in APOLOGIA do not always reflect the views of Providence.

January 17, 2018

Canada Summer Jobs kerfuffle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at town hall meeting
in Hamilton, Ontario (January 8, 2018).
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, January 18, 2018

Canada Summer Jobs kerfuffle

According to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, there has been a “kerfuffle” over the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program. Permit me to add my two-cents.

Recall that the CSJ program allows employers (non-profits and businesses) to receive wage subsidies to hire students, thereby helping employers (including many churches and charitable organizations) provide valuable work experience for young people, work experience that often benefits others, especially in the case of faith-based charitable agencies. So far, so good.

Problems arise, however, with the government’s new eligibility requirement, i.e., employers must now sign an “attestation.”

According to the CSJ guidelines, employers must “attest that both the job and the organizations’ core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.”

Moreover, “These [rights] include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

The guidelines explain that “reproductive rights” include abortion.

Many of the rights listed are important and legitimate, but some are reasonably controversial. I see (at least) three problems.

1. Though women have the right to access safe abortions (when needed), it is not true that women have a carte blanche right to abortion (whenever wanted), contrary to what our Liberal “pro-choice” government seems to think.

As a matter of fact, in 1988 Canada’s then abortion law was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) not because abortion is a woman’s right, but because there wasn’t equal access across Canada to therapeutic abortion committees. The SCC struck down the extant law and asked parliament to make a better law for women and unborn children, suggesting a gestational-age approach.

Let me repeat: The SCC did not say that abortion is a woman’s right. (Note: that X is legal does not mean that we have a positive right to X.)

2. A problem arises from the reference to the “values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms” to which the CSJ program asks employers to attest. The Charter explicitly explains the underlying values as follows: “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

This means God’s revelations by Scripture or conscience trump government’s requirements for citizens to “attest” to whatever goes against these.

This also means many Canadians believe God has given all humans—unborn children included—the right to life. In other words, these Charter-abiding Canadians cannot “attest” that they agree with “reproductive rights” when those include the right to kill a child.

So at the get-go the CSJ program and its “attestation” requirement infringes on the rights to equal benefit of the law (Charter, section 15) of those employers who take seriously Canadian law and its underlying values. This is blatant and unjust discrimination—built into the CSJ program.

At this juncture PM Trudeau would object (as he has) that when it comes to abortion we cannot restrict “the right to women to control their own bodies.”

In reply, thinking Canadians should notice this fact: It’s one thing to control one’s own body; it’s quite another to kill the body of another!

Moreover, no pro-life or anti-abortion Canadians are against the right of any woman to control her own body. Rather, they are concerned about the body that isn’t the woman’s body, i.e., the body of the child who is destroyed by abortion.

3. The CSJ program’s non-discrimination requirement concerning “gender identity or expression” assumes an ideological position on the alleged truth of many such identities and expressions, an alleged truth not settled by science or even common sense.

Think about it. Facebook used to offer 58 gender options and now allows “unlimited custom identities.” Canadians must “attest” to this to be eligible for public funding? Seriously?

In conclusion, I recommend a revision to the requirements of the Canada Summer Jobs program.

As is, it represents poor thinking or an ideological power play—or, probably, both.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

January 03, 2018

Attempts at humour

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, January 4, 2018

Attempts at humour

“A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Proverbs 17:2.

Laughter is good for the soul. I hope your soul will be blessed with the following attempts at humour. (Note/ confession: much of what follows is my own creation, but much is also plagiarized, uh, I mean, borrowed.)

I started going back to the gym to get into shape for the summer. Looks like it'll be summer of 2025.

The Apostle Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh. I have a couple, but when I laugh mine jiggle. (#Gym Humour)

Medical-philosophical news: Breakthrough medical procedure detects philosophical polyps in patients inclined to seek ideological control over other nations; tentatively called Colonialoscopy.

Related news: Harvard University, through a joint effort of its school of medicine and social science department, is offering a new major. But they can't decide what to call it: polypsical science or polypsychology.

What do you call a failed U.S. presidential nominee who pushes democratic socialism and likes chicken? Colonial Sanders.

Some people say I have a short attention span, but they

Is it solipsistic in here, or is it just me?

Solipstick: metaphysics by Mabelline; cosmetological underpinning of puckered-lip selfies.

Sadly, sometimes I contradict myself. Happily, when I do, I don't.

Othering others others others, including those accused of othering.

They're quite puzzling (sometimes even frustrating) without context.

Wife said she thinks I'm sometimes too combative. I fought tooth and nail to correct her.

Son: I'm going to roast Brazilian coffee beans. Wife: That'll take a long time.

Sidewalk sign (at local beauty salon/ barber shop): “Men's cut and beer $26.” Me (thinking): Only if you like a head full of hair.

Experience at new bathroom in mall: Dried my hands, but lost my hearing. (#Hand Dryers By Boeing)

Entry in my diary (during our recent cold snap): wWwennnnnnnnnnttt fffffffffffffforr a walkkk ](-+ outsssside.. mY fffingggerss R fffrozzn.

For chemists alcohol is not a problem, it's a solution (or solvent/ functional group: i.e., it works for them).

“A few days ago a very gorgeous but not so intelligent woman said that we should 'affirm people regardless of what they think their identity is.' So I told her I was her husband.”

A dentist tells a blonde that she needs braces. The blonde says, “Why? I can walk just fine.” When the dentist explains that braces are for her teeth, she replies, “But my teeth don't walk.”

Donald Trump walks into a Parisian cafe and says, “I'll have a covfefe, no cream.” The waitress says, “Sorry, we've only got milk. How about a covfefe with no milk?” (#Sometimes Jokes Are Funnier Before You Write Them Down)

Mexican spokesperson referring to Trump's wall: “At first we were sad, but we'll get over it.”

Communism: Always an execution away from utopia.

Pravda announced that it welcomes letters to the editor. All correspondents are required to include their full name, address, and next of kin.

Puns about communism aren't funny unless everyone gets them.

Of course communism doesn't work. There are red flags everywhere.

Some communist jokes lack class. (But they're funny when I'm marxing papers.)

Dear readers: I will be watching you. Sincerely, heNdriKVanDerbreggen.

New Testament scholars discover Mary's personal journal (in which she describes her Son's help with daily chores). Shortest entry: “Jesus swept.” (#Sometimes I Make Fake News)

I am a philosopher. One of my heroes is Socrates. Another hero is Jesus. I think my earthly future doesn't look bright.

When my friends learn I am a student of comedy, they tell me never to quit school. (#No Respect)

Happy 2018!

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. (When Hendrik was in his mother's womb, he thought he heard an angel say, “You will be a comedian.” Turns out Hendrik misheard. The angel actually said, “You will be a Canadian.” #Badum Tish)

Past attempts at humour: