Philosophy: January 2005 Archives

This is part II in a series on meta-ethics begun here. See that post for more details.

I was going to treat emotivism next (and possibly some of the other non-cognitivist views if I get a chance to write more than what I covered in the class handout I wrote on meta-ethics that is serving as the basis of this series), but I just finished an email to someone who had made a claim that I see frequently from Christian apologists that just seems to me to be a mistake. In this case, it was about subjectivist views about religion. At least that's what I think is the most likely interpretation of it. The point I want to make applies to that and to subjectivism about ethics, so it's relevant to what I've been talking about. Before I move on to non-cognitivist ethics in my next post, it would be good to point out why I think this objection doesn't succeed against the subjectivist view I covered in my last post. It fails to grasp what the view is really saying and thus is refuting a straw man.

This is part II in a series on meta-ethics begun here. See that post for more details.

Subjectivism is a thesis about the nature of moral claims and moral views. It's the view that moral statements and attitudes are not about some subject matter independent of our perspective. These statements have to do with our own moral framework, and what makes them legitimate to say and to believe will be entirely based on the individual person. People generally want to be subjectivists because they think it's the tolerant view. I think it will become clear that that's both right and wrong, and it's actually at odds with many views held by those who want to be tolerant.

The view is sometimes called moral relativism. This is a topic that I've seen discussed in many Christian apologetics textbooks, usually on a very simplistic level. I think those discussions are helpful to those who will never encounter a philosopher, but they make Christians look stupid when they pull those one-liners out in the presence of someone who has spent any time reading more careful subjectivists. That's one reason I thought it would be good to turn this into a series of posts, since I have a number of readers interested in exactly that sort of book.

Evolution Stickers

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I was toying whether to say something about the evolution stickers fiasco. I didn't get around to completing my decision on whether I would. Sam has now beaten me to it, and I think she says everything I wanted to say (and a little more).

I know it's bad blogging practice not to link to the background to what I've just mentioned. I'm too burned out dealing with someone who turns out to be a semi-troll and a lot more people than I expected who have completely misinterpreted my words and actions with regard to the World post.

Therefore, I'm not going to comment further on the evolution stuff or seek out the links to the background on that or link to the posts I've just referenced on my own blog (which won't take too much work to locate if you really care and don't already know). Sam links to the background on the evolution stuff, anyway, so when you read her post, which was the point of all this, you can get the background from there.

I'm beginning the semester with some meta-ethical issues in my 300-level ethical theory courses this semester. For those unfamiliar with the term, meta-ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with questions about ethics as opposed to questions within ethics. Ethics itself asks which things are right and wrong, which things are admirable and praiseworthy, what kind of character we should seek to have, etc. Meta-ethics asks what sort of things moral statements are, what the terms involved even mean, whether they are objectively true, what makes them true or false, what the relation between morality and other objects of philosophical study is (e.g. God/religion, rationality, cultural views, social contracts among human beings).

Theodicy and Irrationality

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Stuart Buck says it's irrational to bring out the problem of evil after the tsunami as if this somehow changes anything. I think he's absolutely right.

If people were already prepared to maintain religious faith in the face of a 100% death rate (and all the lesser evils that already exist in the world), it is irrational to act as if the problem of evil has suddenly arisen simply because a minute percentage of the world's population faced death in one incident.

Not to minimize how bad it is for those involved, this is really only .000025% of the world's current population who have died all at once. Compare that to the history of the world, and it's not a huge change. People die in much worse ways than this. They just don't often do it in such large numbers at once. This isn't really any more of a problem for theodicists than any other natural deaths that are more spread out.

This is my fifth post for Joe Carter's collaborative project Jesus the Logician (which would better be described as Jesus's Reasoning).

In Mark 11:27-33 (also related in Matthew 21:23-27 and Luke 20:1-8), Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees, and he seems to ignore their question entirely. What's buried behind his silence is an argument against their authority even to ask the question.

This is my fourth post for Joe Carter's collaborative project Jesus the Logician (which would better be described as Jesus's Reasoning).

In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus caps off his diatribe against the rich scribes who dress majestically, love popularity, and receive much honor from human beings but who are merely showy without real piety and in fact devour widows' houses. As he looks up while saying this, he sees rich people depositing their gifts to the temple, while a poor widow put in just two coins. He says, "this poor widow has put in more than the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-4, NIV)

Here's my third posting for Joe Carter's collaborative project called Jesus the Logician (I don't agree with the name).

In Matthew 10:40-42, Jesus uses what's called a hypothetical syllogism. The logical form of the argument is:

1. If A then B.
2. B then C.
3. Therefore, if A then C.

Jesus' Reasoning in Mark 7:1-23

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Here is another entry in Joe Carter's collaborative project of what's being called Jesus the Logician (though I oppose that name).

Mark 7:1-23 has a lot in it that I could talk about, and I hope to get around to it at some point in my Mark Tidbits series, which I have not abandoned. I have a partially-written fourth post in that series that I keep moving forward because I haven't had the time to finish it when I haven't had something else higher on my priority list at the time.

Jesus' Reasoning in John 9:1-3

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I've been putting off contributing to Joe Carter's collaborative project of what's being misnamed Jesus the Logician, but here we go finally. Here's an instance of Jesus' reasoning strategy with his disciples that I think fits what Joe is looking for. John 9:1-3 contains a good example of a false dilemma. Jesus' disciples give him this dilemma, and he responds with the common philosophical practice of going through the horns of the dilemma by denying either of the options presented to him and saying they simply haven't listed all the options. A more exhaustive dilemma would have contained at least a third option, and that third option isn't as problematic as the two they mention.

Jesus the Logician?

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Joe Carter has begun what he's calling the 'Jesus the Logician' Project. The goal is to show how Jesus used sound reasoning, and different bloggers are contributing through discussing particular examples of Jesus' reasoning. Doug Groothius' paper "Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist" is a good example of the sort of thing Joe is up to here.

I think the name is off. A logician is not someone who uses good reasoning but someone who studies the nature of reasoning itself. The content of the logician's study is good reasoning. As Joe acknowledges, Jesus didn't do that kind of extremely abstract study (at least in any public records we have). Jesus used logic, but he didn't talk about logic itself. Then what's going on here is that Jesus isn't being shown to have been a logician but simply that he used good reasoning. Even though the name is a misnomer, I'm still going to contribute. My first post (of at least one) will follow shortly.

Mark raises an important philosophical question over at OrangePhilosophy. If you had to choose, would you rather eat poo-flavored-chocolate or chocolate-flavored-poo? The discussion is moving right along. Feel free to join in, but be prepared to defend your answer.

If you can stomach the disgustingness of it long enough to read through the comments until you reach mine, you'll see how this ties up with genuine moral and aesthetic issues that turn out to be quite controversial, with some relevance to sexual ethics.

Judicial Ethics

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Since I've been taking issue with the dominant view on journalistic ethics lately, why don't I try for judicial ethics? There seems to be this common view that it's wrong for a judge to talk about something they might later have to write an opinion on. Justice Scalia, for instance, recused himself from Newdow's case against the federal government about the pledge of allegiance because he'd talked about his views on the subject in public. Scalia and Breyer had a debate this afternoon, and Breyer seemed very hesitant to say anything positive about Scalia's opinions even though it was clear from the context that he wanted to say that Scalia's opinions are almost all excellent. The only reason I can think of why he would view this as improper is that he hasn't himself written on those issues, and judges aren't supposed to reveal opinions on any issues that they might face in court unless they've written an opinion on it before. This is a restriction that I've never understood.

Biological Parents

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David Velleman continues to surprise me with his posts at Left2Right. Now he's defending the following view. Other things being equal, children should have two parents, one male and one female, both of whom are their biological parents. Now other things often aren't equal, which is why adoption is not really second best for some children and for some parents. One reason is because "knowing one's biological relatives provides a kind of self-knowledge that is not readily available otherwise". There's more, but that's a good part of it for him. For some children, adoption is better than all other options, and for some parents adoption is the only option. However, David thinks an ideal world would have all children raised by their biological parents.

This is the first case like this that I've seen (not counting fictional cases such as in The Sixth Day). A woman lost her cat and decided to replace it with its clone. She found someone who would do it and now has her cat's clone. Hat tip: McConchie

What do I think of this? I hope she realizes that the clone will have a natural life span as long as her dead cat's natural life span would have been had it not died. Other than that issue, I'm not sure why this in itself should raise any serious ethical worries. When I first found this, I wanted to use it as an excuse to type up a thorough discussion of the moral issues raised in cloning, but I've got two reasons not to do it at the moment. First, I've got a long list of things to blog about and don't feel like doing a long post right now (this not feeling like doing it is independent of the next issue, which is just another reason not to feel like it). Second, I've got an injured finger at the moment and don't feel like typing the whole thing out in index finger mode. So I'm just going to issue a challenge: what is wrong with what this woman did, besides the one concern I raised? My claim is that there's nothing wrong with it, and I'm challenging anyone to give me an argument that I'm wrong. I can think of reasons not to do it, but I'm not sure they're moral reasons.

Philosophers' Carnival VII

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The seventh Philosophers' Carnival is at Mixing Memory. My OrangePhilosophy post Act vs. Rule is there. My co-blogger at Prosblogion David Hunter shows up as well with God the Utilitarian?

Siris has a nice post on arguments from analogy and what Hume had to say about them.

Studi Galileiani has a fascinating post about why the principle of Occam's Razor (which may have originally come from a quotation by Occam of his opponents!) isn't incredibly helpful when it comes to scientific theorizing. Most of the big scientific advances haven't really relied on it, and in many cases it would have prevented them! One thing that seemed strange to me was his account of Galileo's conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, which, though it acknowledges that some of the oft-repeated common account is apocryphal, still differs from what Donald Crankshaw and Joe Carter have said really went on. So I looked around the site more, and apparently the author has argued against both the standard account and the account Donald and Joe are arguing. Galileo was no martyr for science and reasoning as opposed to a backward and theocratic church, but at the same time the blame wasn't on Galileo for pushing a theory without evidence, as Joe's account suggests. Apparently it's a very complicated story. I don't have the time to pursue the details, but I wanted to mention that since I've linked to Joe and Donald's posts before.

Don Herzog at Left2Right has a very nice post on equal opportunity and anti-discrimination laws. I don't always agree with his posts, but this one shows some real balance between libertarian principles and classic liberalism's insistence on limiting libertarian principles for various reasons. I highly recommend to people of all political persuasions to think through some of the arguments he gives regarding the political theory behind these issues.

I'm teaching a 300-level ethical theory course next semester (actually two of them at different schools), really for the first time. I've taught 100-level ethics, focusing on applied ethics, focusing on theory with lots of applied interspersed, and an exact 50-50 mix. I've taught 300-level applied ethics courses before, both with a shorter time spent on each of many applied issues across the spectrum and as a more focused study of two or three issues (the latter of which I've also done at the 400-level). I've also done 300-level courses with theory and applied, with all the possibilities of what I've done in 100-level courses. What I've never done is a whole course just on ethical theory, so I had to hunt around for a textbook. I've chosen Stephen Darwall's Philosophical Ethics as my text. I looked through it somewhat carefully when figuring out which book I wanted to use, but I've begun reading it more carefully now and I've hit on something very interesting in the first chapter. Darwall argues that everyone has ethical views, even those who deny the legitimacy of ethics. I've always thought that. What was interesting in Darwall's presentation is how far he goes in counting views and attitudes as ethical, and I think the result is a much stronger argument against ethical nihilism than the ones I'd seen before.

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