What would Plato say? Blog away!
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Check out John Tierney's article in yesterday's New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/14/science/14tier.html?ei=5070&en=258a5f406ca9d607&ex=1187755200&emc=eta1&pagewanted=all) on the possibility that we are all the products of someone's computer simulation. It's hard to take him seriously when he says such a possibility had never occurred to him, when this idea (in various other forms) has been around for so long, not only in philosophy but in fiction as well. To write this and not cite Jorge Luis Borges' "The Circular Ruins," for one, is inexcusable... Well, take a look and let me know what you think of the argument posed by Dr. Bostrom. Is the scenario he envisages really possible?
Posted by Anna Christina Ribeiro at 10:16 AM
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Monday, April 23, 2007
On Friday afternoon Andrea Westlund will present the keynote address, entitled "Love and Shared Identity." 5:15 pm, English/Philosophy Room LH01. Professor Westlund (Ph.D. University of Michigan) is a specialist in feminist philosophy, social and political philosophy, ethics, and moral psychology. Her current research is on the moral psychology of friendship and love, with a particular focus on personal autonomy, joint deliberation, and the formation of shared interests and identities.
For more information visit:
Or contact Rachel Myers.
Posted by Allan Hazlett at 5:00 PM
Edward Hinchman (Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
"The Assurance of Warrant"
Thursday, April 26
Posted by Allan Hazlett at 4:59 PM
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Ann Cudd (Universrity of Kansas)
Thursday, April 12th
Abstract: Do humans really desire freedom? If so, why is there so much oppression in the world? In my recent book, Analyzing Oppression, I attempted to explain how and why humans oppress each other and why oppression of some groups continues often for many generations. This explains why we lack freedom. I also argued that none of us is free unless we all are free. But the problem is that we do not seem to really want that freedom, the freedom that comes when all are free. This paper clarifies that problem – the problem of wanting freedom -- and points in the direction of a solution.
"Truly Humanitarian Intervention"
Friday, April 13th
Abstract: In the standard, just war theory, use of this term, "humanitarian intervention" refers to the use of military force by one nation or group of nations to stop genocide or other gross human rights violations in another sovereign nation. Such purportedly humanitarian intervention, however, often ends up killing innocent civilians, violating the principles of just war theory, and making matters worse. Furthermore, only the most horrible, massive and violent violations of human rights can justify the use of military force against a sovereign nation, and therefore many evils go uncounted, unnoticed, and unmitigated. In this paper I suggest a range of responses to human rights violations that includes military intervention as only one end of the continuum, and to combine this with a greater understanding of the scope of human rights violations that require international response. I offer a new conception of truly humanitarian treatment within and beyond international borders.
Despite the implication, both lectures are open to the public. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Allan Hazlett at 9:43 AM
Monday, March 19, 2007
German animal-lovers are divided on the issue of "Cute Knut", an orphan polar bear that has (so far) been raised by human beings at the Berlin Zoo. Some argue that the bear should have been euthanized, for "[i]f a polar bear mother rejected the baby, then ... the zoo must follow the instincts of nature." And like-minded others argue that "[t]he animal will be fixated on his keeper and not be a 'real' polar bear," and that being raised by humans is "not appropriate to the species."
As Thom Yorke said, we hope your rules and wisdom choke you. The very idea that a being would be better of dead simply because it's not living a "natural" life -- well, I guess I just can't make sense of it. Let me try to explain why. Here a situation in which it seems like you might be better of dead if you couldn't live a natural life: you're a fish, and you're not allowed to live in water, but when you're outside of water you are in constant pain and suffering from lack of oxygen, and (this may go without saying) you don't have any important Williamsonian ground projects that involve being out of water. If that's you, then you'd be better off dead.
But that is because the unnatural life that you're forced to live is a life of pain and suffering (with no compensation when it comes to the things you really care about). It's not the mere fact that your life is unnatural that makes it a life not worth living. What ultimately explains why your life is not worth living, in that case, is not the fact that your life is unnatural. Rather, it's the pain and suffering.
In the case of a fish, intuitively, there may be nothing more to the good life than pleasure and pain -- any fish life that isn't a life of suffering is a fish life worth living, for a fish. How might other animals -- including humans -- be different? The existentialists (and American sympathizers like Frankfurt, Nagel, and Williams) have an answer to this question: (roughly) human beings have values, i.e. things they love and care about, i.e. projects that give meaning to their lives. On a less grand scale, many animals (including humans) have interests, desires, concerns, preferences. To the extent that you have these sorts of wants (whether they rise to the level of existentially significant "ground projects" or not), your life is worsened by not getting what you want, in the same way that its worsened by pain and suffering. So the question we have to ask about Cute Knut, it seems to me, has nothing to do with the biological nature of bears, and everything to do with what he wants, and whether he's getting it.
Can we attribute to Knut a ground project of wanting to be a "real" bear, according to zoological standards? Of course we can't -- what Knut cares about is getting food, and playing with a toilet brush, or whatever. He could care less about living up to his biological nature, if he even things about such things, which he doesn't -- and that's the real point. What's "natural" can't matter to a being that doesn't (and probably can't) form thoughts about what's "natural." And if it can't matter to Knut, then it can't be the difference maker for whether his is a life worth living.
Posted by Allan Hazlett at 2:08 PM
Monday, March 05, 2007
Abstract of "Locating Conscience: Conflict, Integrity and the Limits of Morality":
How demanding are the requirements of morality? If we are permitted to privilege ourselves and our projects at the expense of the impartial good or at the expense of respecting the categorical imperative, what explains this? In "Persons Character and Morality" and "Consequentialism and Integrity" Bernard Williams suggests an "integrity"-based critique of impartial morality. The aims of this talk are three: (1) to attempt to explain Williams' critique of demanding morality, (2) to suggest two ways in which Williams' critique fails (one having to do with his construal of our moral psychology and the other explicitly ethical), and (3) to re-describe our moral psychology in a way that suggests a principled account of our commonsense intuitions about the limits of morality.
Posted by Allan Hazlett at 12:55 PM
At his second talk last week Hugh Benson said some things about Plato that made Plato sound a lot like Aristotle. In particular, I got worried that, on Benson's view, a crucial Platonic thesis -- that a well-ordered soul is necessary and sufficient for happiness -- was not actually Plato's view. My suspicions were aroused by some things Benson said about philosophers and political "power", and about knowledge and virtue. All philosophers have political "power", but they don't all live in worlds where this "power" can be manifested; all those who have knowledge have virtue, but they don't all live in worlds where this virtue results in virtuous action. This sounds like luck is playing a big role in whether someone who is internally good (someone who is a philosopher, someone who has knowledge) ends up achieving various external goods (actual political power, an actually virtuous life). That sounds like Aristotle.
But my worries were appeased (as they so often are!) at the bar, later that day. Here is a picture of the difference between Aristotle and Plato, which Benson tentatively approved. The two philosophers agree that there are three sorts of goods you can attain:
1. You can be internally good (i.e. have a "well-ordered soul" by being philosophically reflective)
2. You can be virtuous (in the sense that you can have a virtuous character, in the sense that you are disposed towards right action and emotion, i.e. you can have the capacity for living a virtuous life).
3. You can actually live a virtuous life, and get properly rewarded for it.
They agree that those are three goods that you can attain. And they also agree that (1) is sufficent for (2) -- a controversial claim in its own right. And they agree that (2) is not sufficient for (3), since it takes some contingent luck for (2) to lead to (3).
What they disagree about is which of (1) - (3) is necessary and sufficient for happiness, or living a good life. Plato thinks that (2) is sufficient for happiness (along with (1), of course), but Aristotle thinks that (3) is necessary as well. So Plato does endorse the controversial (and false!) Platonic thesis that an internally "well-ordered soul" is sufficient for happiness, since satisfying (1) and (2) is an internal matter; it requires no "cooperation from the world," it requires (for Plato, at least) no luck. And Aristotle does deny this thesis, since satisfying (3) is an external matter; it requires "cooperation from the world," it requires luck.
Posted by Allan Hazlett at 12:35 PM
Thursday, January 18, 2007
It's time to blog! Welcome to Philosophy of Literature. The thread for our course is now open, so you can discuss our course topics by clicking on 'comment'. I look forward to your entries.
Enjoy the forum,
Posted by Anna Christina Ribeiro at 4:43 PM