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Gun ownership/manufacture in a philosophical sense?
November 2, 2006 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Gun ownership/manufacture in a philosophical sense?

It seems that pro-gun groups are much louder than anti-gun groups. As such, it is difficult to find anything that creates an arguable philosophical stance against guns.

I'm looking for something that addresses guns objectively, in the same way that a book might objectively address whether it's right or wrong to eat meat.

What are the moral issues concerning owning and manufacturing guns? Where can I find a non-partisan, objective, philosophical resource (not a pro or anti resource) like in a college textbook?

Are there any legitimate philosophical arguments that deal with the morality of gun ownership and manufacture?

Please: Do not include politics and or opinions.
posted by owl to Religion & Philosophy (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Morally, people of faith should abhor violence, but few do, really.

The moral controversy is that gun ownership is enshrined in the constitution.

If we are to take a moral point: Jesus says he who is without sin cast the first stone, then we assume that He takes violence to be without question a sin.

But the real moral question is whether gun ownership is a contribution to violence or an act of violence. Certainly, few can make the case that simply bearing arms is morally wrong, unlike killing.

The moral question remains whether a gun manufacturer should feel they have sinned by selling weapons to owners who use their weapons for violent purposes.
posted by parmanparman at 12:58 PM on November 2, 2006


Are you concerned more with the philosophical nature of the shovel or the holes they dig?
posted by jazzkat11 at 1:00 PM on November 2, 2006


I'm interested in an objective philosophical analysis of the ethics of guns in society, not whether they should be banned, completely legalized, or whether guns or people "kill people."

If you were teaching a philosophy course called "Firearms and ethics," what objective, well-reasoned (not political) resources would you use?
posted by owl at 1:03 PM on November 2, 2006


Also- not interested in statistics or case studies of situations where guns were banned.

Just the ethics of guns.

Thanks!!!!
posted by owl at 1:05 PM on November 2, 2006


Please: Do not include politics and or opinions.

You are saying that philosophy is fact?

What is the moral implication of owning a baseball bat? A kitchen knife? An ice pick? Speeding in your car? I don't see any philosophical problem in a piece of metal that is no different than any other object that can immediately kill a person in the hands of someone with an intent to kill.
posted by spicynuts at 1:05 PM on November 2, 2006


If I was teaching such a course, I would use Google Book Search and input relevant search terms. I tried searching for terms like "firearms" and "ethics" and found some interesting texts. None of them directly addressed the "objective philosophical analysis of the ethics of guns" but some of them made points and arguments you may wish to include in your discussion. Good hunting (so to speak.)!
posted by dendrite at 1:12 PM on November 2, 2006


You want "legitimate" arguments, but you don't want opinions. I'm not sure how you decide if an argument is legitimate without opinions. Your question is unanswerable.
posted by mendel at 1:13 PM on November 2, 2006


I think the reason you're finding so little is that the interesting philosophical question is, "when, if ever, is it morally acceptable for one human to kill another?" The various philosophical answers to that question are, I imagine, generally independent of the specific weapon used to accomplish the killing, so the particular weapon wouldn't get much discussion.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:17 PM on November 2, 2006


"I'm interested in an objective philosophical analysis of the ethics of guns in society, not whether they should be banned, completely legalized, or whether guns or people "kill people.""

I'm a little curious as to how you can separate those issues from the guns themselves. Without the context of what you've mentioned, guns are just simply crafted hunks of metal.
posted by jazzkat11 at 1:17 PM on November 2, 2006


You want "legitimate" arguments, but you don't want opinions.

I think he meant that he didn't want opinions in this thread; not that he didn't want opinions in the recommended sources.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:20 PM on November 2, 2006



I think he meant that he didn't want opinions in this thread; not that he didn't want opinions in the recommended sources.


That is what I meant. I don't want to get personal opinions or politics involved.
posted by owl at 1:30 PM on November 2, 2006


Well.

Guns are tools. Tools that shoot bullets. Bullets are generally used to hit Targets and Injure/Kill things.

Some would argue that the very possession of, or production of, a tool that kills/Injures (either as its primary or secondary function) Is morally wrong.

*Contingent of course on finding the injuring/killing of things/people morally objectionable.
posted by French Fry at 1:48 PM on November 2, 2006


I think that you're not going to find what you're asking for because owning guns is not objectively right or wrong, just as owning knives or baseball bats or any other object that can be used to hurt someone isn't objectively right or wrong. The common moral arguments are over whether using weapons is right or wrong, and over whether allowing people to possess and carry weapons causes net benefit or harm to people and societies. If you're asking some other question, you need to be more specific in articulating what it is.

Slightly off-topic, but I had to address this:
If we are to take a moral point: Jesus says he who is without sin cast the first stone, then we assume that He takes violence to be without question a sin.

I think the Biblical quote you're referring to is, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." It has nothing to do with whether violence is a sin, but is rather an admonition that only people who have never committed sins themselves are qualified to judge the sins of others. It's meant to tell us that only God is allowed to judge people.
posted by decathecting at 1:53 PM on November 2, 2006



++
In addition: one could make the distinction between Guns and Cars/Bats/Ice picks in that these tools intended function is entirely removed from Injuring/Killing; whereas One of the intend possible uses of a Firearm is the injuring/killing of things.
posted by French Fry at 1:55 PM on November 2, 2006


I encourage you to take advantage of AskPhilosophers.org, although you might get similar answers if you phrase your question the same way as you have here. Most people would argue that simply owning a gun is morally neutral. (Of course, if you are being careless or irresponsible in some way, that is a different story.) Philosophy deals with much more generalized issues, as DevilsAdvocate suggested.

Also, eating meat and owning gun are not really analogous. People who argue against eating meat argue that the act itself is morally objectionable. People who are "anti-gun" argue against them because of how they can be and often are used, not because a gun is inherently morally objectionable.
posted by puffin at 1:59 PM on November 2, 2006


I just got a flier for precisely this kind of book (on all topics, actually). Unfortunately I can't vouch for their bias but try out these links:

Opposing Viewpoints
Guns and Crime
Guns and Violence
Is Gun Ownership a Right?

And in general, type in "gun" to the search box on this page for their whole selection.
posted by ontic at 2:18 PM on November 2, 2006


I think those are what you're looking for. I won't have a chance to order them, but if you do let me know what you think. Maybe I'll use one in a class some day.
posted by ontic at 2:20 PM on November 2, 2006


Also- not interested in statistics or case studies of situations where guns were banned.

Just the ethics of guns.


Not so fast. One of the main branches of philosophy is epistemology, i.e., how do we know things? One suggested answer to that question is that of empiricism, i.e., we know things through observing them.

If one embraces empiricism, then those statistics and case studies may be very relevant to philosophical questions regarding the ethics of guns.

If you argue that statistics and case studies are not relevant to the philosophical questions around guns, you have already tacitly decided that empiricism is not a valid approach for the issue, and in doing so may have eliminated a large number of empiricist philosophers from your consideration. Which is fine if that's what you want to do; just be aware that that's what you're doing.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:50 PM on November 2, 2006


[iiap] first off, how do you define "gun"? i think any truly probing discussion of the technology and it's place in societ(ies) needs to take a pretty broad definition, including everything from pellet guns, to .22s, and even stinger missles (which are portable, projectile-throwing, but vastly more destructive), all the way up to the sort of artillery that is currently sitting in caves just across the DMZ in N.Korea (thereby posing an iminent threat to those south of the zone).

approaching the topic you should move across these categories of scale, geography, culture, and historical epoch, and test out each position or generalization you want to make about the (un)ethicality of manufacturing a particular device in each conceivable case.

for instance, think about the manufacturers of the guns used in constructing the Maginot Line in France following WWI as a means of "defense" against future German aggression. how'd that work out, and how'd the equation of destructive power/human life saved square out when the dust cleared? consider also e.g., Nobel's discovery and then large-scale manufacture of TNT, which led him to a level of guilt that steered him toward more humanistic goals, such as his prizes for achievements in the service of humanity.

now think about these micro/macro instances in terms of, say, these three ethical stances - utilitarian, deontological, virtue thoeretic .

but most importantly, before you do any of that, drop that bible. we don't use that thing to actually do philosophy. instead you need to take some of the basic stances linked above, and see how they play out in a variety of real/hypothetical/historical circumstances. are you happy with the outcomes? if so, why the hell should your happiness with the outcome of ethical equations be important to the other monkeys? (going a bit meta-ethical)...and so on.

as you were.
posted by garfy3 at 3:02 PM on November 2, 2006


I'd say that fundamentally, a gun is no more or less morally ambiguous than any other object. A gun is a tool, it cannot have morality. I don't believe that the act of creating something is ever immoral.

That said, it is certainly possible to act using a tool in an immoral way, i.e. leaving your gun(s) unlocked.
posted by Skorgu at 3:03 PM on November 2, 2006


woops, just realized i read that bible-remark as yours, when it was clearly was not!
posted by garfy3 at 3:05 PM on November 2, 2006


Persig discussed the value-neutrality of technology in general in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Very likely that the "Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" also covers this topic.

I don't remember, but he may have exapnded on this subject in "Lila."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:55 PM on November 2, 2006


Just the ethics of guns.

This is tough because, as others have said, guns are tools and are free from ethical dilemmas.

You may want to approach this from a different angle. Perhaps look at the people who made different guns and what their motivation or reaction was. One of the early machine gun pioneers (I believe it was Hiram Maxim) believed that his gun was so terrifying that it would bring an end to wars. To his thinking, no sane person would willingly advance into fully automatic fire.

Sarah Winchester, wife of William Winchester (of Winchester arms, natch) believed that she was being haunted by the ghosts of those that were killed by her husbands guns and built a famous mansion to keep her personal demons at bay.

I suspect that through the observation of the creators, you will have more luck finding your answer.
posted by quin at 9:19 PM on November 2, 2006


This is an interesting question. I've always assumed that most everything written about guns in 2006 would be partisan, but on closer examination I can't see why that would have to be the case.

A bit of Googling reveals A Concise Encylopedia of Ethics. Pages 145-171 deal with gun control - the chapter is titled "gun control" because this is how this field of inquiry is commonly named. According to the TOC available on Amazon, it looks to be an attempt to present both sides of the story.

I think an attempt to present neither side of the story is something that you're really not going to find. If there were one way to explain this story that made perfect sense to everybody, there wouldn't be two sides to the endless debates about it that do go on. See Wikipedia: Neutral point of view for a practical guide to this issue in general, and what you can and can't expect from attempts to resolve it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:52 PM on November 2, 2006


Here's another book which seems to be more an attempt to expound a history of legal thinking about guns in the U.S. than it is an attempt to promulgate any particular viewpoint.

You could do worse, when attempting to fathom the practical ethics of a topic, than to study the history American jurisprudence on the topic. American statesmen and jurists used to be thoughtful, eloquent, and well-educated.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:23 PM on November 2, 2006


People who are "anti-gun" argue against them because of how they can be and often are used, not because a gun is inherently morally objectionable.

Not the whole story.

There is also the question of what the implications of gun ownership are not because of the gun's inherent qualities, but because of its relationship to capital and politics.

Buying a gun profits organizations whose interests and actions may be amoral, immoral or moral. Further, advertizing your gun ownership may be read as support for those or other organizations aims - by owning a gun you may legitimize or delegitimize the organizations or aims.


I'm sure good analyses of the philosophy of gun ownership would take this into account.
posted by lalochezia at 7:06 AM on November 4, 2006


If I were teaching a class about the "ethics of gun ownership" and the "societal implications of gun ownership" (I think that these are two distinct things), I would surely include the following:

Giving up the Gun, by Noel Perrin.

This is book-length treatment of a New Yorker piece (from 1965, but I can't find it online). It's about how the Japanese first adopted and then later discarded guns in their society.
posted by zpousman at 5:48 PM on November 27, 2006


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