Philosophy: July 2004 Archives

Jonathan Bennett has launched a new site containing his translations of early modern philosophy texts. I've used some of these translations, and they're excellent. Some of them are real translations from texts originally written in French, German, and Latin (e.g. Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant). For these, Bennett's translations are merely additional ones to those already on the market, though he does gear his translations toward the undergraduate reader. Some of them are from texts originally written in English (e.g. Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume). These are the ones I'm most excited about. What Bennett has done is update the texts to modern English without modifying the content. The arguments and even most of the turns of phrase are unchanged, but it's just plain easier to read. Since most of my students have faced their biggest obstacles toward understanding this material in the actual reading of the text, this goes a long way toward promoting greater understanding of this material and greater motivation to read it to begin with. I've used some of these texts in introductory classes, and it's so much more helpful than using the standard editions.

Heroism and Ethics

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Jonathan Ichikawa has a nice post at Fake Barn Country with a strong discussion thread about great power, great responsibility, and the ethics of heroism inspired by Spiderman 2.

The people on Fox and Friends this morning are amazed that John Kerry believes life begins at conception, and they're wondering how he can believe that and then say that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. Many of my students have had the same strange notion that pro-choice people shouldn't believe the scientifically obvious truth that life begins at conception. The main issue has absolutely nothing to do with when life begins. For many people it has to do with when personhood begins (though philosophers have given good reasons to think even that doesn't decide the issue either way, since it's sometimes ok to kill a person, and it's sometimes wrong to kill something that's not a person).

What bothers me about Kerry's stance on abortion isn't some supposed inconsistency between believing life begins at conception and allowing abortion. The problem is that he says he thinks abortion should be rare, and then he does nothing to discourage it and everything to encourage it. That's good reason to think he doesn't really believe very strongly that it should be rare.

Update: Someone from the Washington Post is on now, saying that Kerry has set himself up for some moral dilemma with his recent comments on abortion. He stated it again in terms of life beginning at conception, so apparently he doesn't know any biology either. Tehy're now giving some more information on the quote, and he hasn't just said that life begins at conception, which isn't exactly an informative point as to anyone's views. He actually said he opposes abortion. So maybe he does have a moral dilemma to deal with, and he's just a moral wimp, believing something to be gravely wrong but being absolutely unwilling to do anything to oppose it. That dilemma has nothing to do with when life begins, though.

Update 2: More context: Kerry sees his opposition to abortion as a purely religious matter that he can't force on others. This doesn't change my previous evaluation that this is the position of a moral wimp. It does raise my eyebrow a bit, though, because it reveals two things. First, he doesn't think there are any good arguments for abortion and takes it as an article of faith. He uses that term. Many people who have a more liberal view on this issue believe this to be true of all pro-life people, and it's completely false. I wonder if this is evidence that he doesn't really believe it and is giving what a Democrat might think a Republican believes to try to get more conservative votes. The other possibility is that this is just his way of saying that there isn't any truth of the matter, but he has a feeling about it. It's a bad way of saying that, and it's offensive to people who really have convictions about it, but it's one way of reconciling his claim that he has convictions about it with the obvious evidence that he doesn't.

Second, as I just suggested, this is incredibly offensive to people with deeply seated beliefs that coincide with their religious beliefs but also are held because or real arguments and even careful reasoning. It belittles them, and it ignores how many of our laws really do come from religious viewpoints, even if there are also secular arguments for most of them. Abortion, for many people who happen to have religious beliefs on the matter, is not a religious issue. It's a moral issue. Those who say you can't legislate morality are simply ignorant of how the legal system works. Most laws legislate morality.

To philosophers who read this blog and haven't checked out OrangePhilosophy lately: I've posted something new there on vagueness. It's a way to avoid problems with higher-order vagueness. It isn't exactly for the non-specialist, so I didn't bother cross-posting it here as I usually like to do when I post at OrangePhilosophy or Prosblogion. Since no comments have appeared yet, I figured I'd give it a mention.


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Here's some more stuff I've decided not to have longer posts on.

At Writing to Understand, Kris gives some reasons not to be so harsh with Fahrenheit 9/11. There really is something to be learned from it, even if you have to know a lot about the issues to be able to evaluate which bits are something to be learned and which are complete fabrications.

I knew video games were good for something.

Also from McConchie, a debunking of numerous claims about fetal stem cells. Destroying embryos doesn't seem to be worth it even if you ignore the fact that you're killing a human being.

Mark Liberman of Language Log has more on Bush's supposed disfluencies. This time an extremely respected linguist, George Lakoff, says Bush proved himself to be an excellent debater when running for governor. He describes him as eloquent, quick on his feet, and able to get out complicated sentences smoothly and without hesitation. Liberman considers a few theories as to why he seems to have become less that way during the 2000 presidential race and during his presidency. Interesting stuff.



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