Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

don’t drink the hemlock

September 22, 2006

maybe i read too much plato, but calling your outdoor morale retreat hemlock isn’t the brightest idea, is it?  just a bit too symbolic, i think.  and if anyone thinks i’m following the example set by the crito, you’re crazy.

on second though, rereading the text…


hm. so what if i’m a dirty person?

September 12, 2006

science has an article connecting personal hygene and ethics.

Ethically compromised individuals experienced an increased desire to cleanse themselves, but physical cleansing alleviated the psychological consequences of unethical behavior, both assuaging moral emotions and reducing moral-compensatory behavior

the proper study of mankind and thoughts in a haystack have summaries.  apparently the phenomenon is known as the macbeth effect.  it seems that after ‘cleaning’ we appear less likely to make amends for our immoral acts.

i’ll have to remember this, the next time i yell at someone for being a right-wing f-wit.

feminism fights jaberwocky, jaberwocky now cuddly

August 17, 2006

since the weekend, i’ve been having a series of interminable debates on sexism in america. among which, i keep being told:

no men truly want to be with feminists. all men really want is to be with a submissive little twit.

this, i think, is like comparing eating Krispy Kreme for the rest of your life, or having only complete and healthy meals, though entirely free of refined sugar. i can understand the attraction for a weekend, but in 20 years? i doubt i’d make it a month.

if that answer seems shallow, it is because a full explanation requires a jaberwocky, several thousand years of philosophy, and a pizza. more below.


the ten most harmful books

August 17, 2006

Human Events, a right-wing altar to ann coulter turned dating service with reports on on flowers growing in iraq, has published a list of the top 10 most harmful books of the 19th and 20th Centuries (HT:  doing justice).

  1. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
  2. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
  3. Mao Zedong, Quotations from Chairman Mao
  4. Alfred Kinsey, The Kinsey Report
  5. John Dewey, Democracy and Education
  6. Karl Marx, Das Kapital
  7. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
  8. Auguste Comte, The Course of Positive Philosophy
  9. Friedrich Nietschze, Beyond Good and Evil
  10. John Maynard Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

Honorable mentions:

  • Theodore Adorno, Authoritarian Personality
  • John Stewart Mill, On Liberty
  • Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
  • Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization
  • Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa
  • Simone de Beauvoir, Second Sex
  • Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks
  • Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
  • Sigmund Freud, Introduction to Psychoanalysis

just look at that!  on the top 10 most dangerous books of all time, On Liberty by John Stewart Mill, only gets an honorable mention!  not even top 10.  the shame of it all.  come on, i mean, doesn’t this deserve at least #7?

the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

right there.  we all have to be pro-choice, pro-feminist, support gay marriage, stop teaching creationism in schools, end the iraq war, play nice with our international neighbors, respect the first amendment, and otherwise behave like decent human beings.  what could be more dangerous than that?  the book is practically responsible for my whole view of the world.  come on – two entries from marx – thats just being lazy.

i’m actually offended, for mill.

(i have to agree with law and society – drop mao and hitler, and this is a decent reading list in critical thought)

moral weights

July 21, 2006

do you kill one person to save ten?now this is a standard question in moral philosophy, one whose meaning has been explored by kant (no), the utilitarian (yes/maybe), and just about every uppity philosophy 101 student. it has many forms and variants (recently cropping up in organ harvesting – no pun intended), and is one of those things whose answers aren’t really all that interesting, but whose justifications are the real substance.

so why the phil spew? because i think some people’s weighting systems have gone a bit unbalanced and it is a good way to re-center them. from my dear conservative friend, on lebanon-israel:

conservative: part of me is scared shitless this is gonna escalate more than it has. but part of me, though, is sorta glad we’re seeing the extremists emerge here

me: yeah, that one requires some explaining

conservative: at least now we know what we’re really dealing with, ya know. before, it was the easy way of fixing the problem, hope a strong man who you can coerce or cajole fixes it for you. its like the argument you dems always make about s. america — [stop] funding the contras, fix the underlying causes and the contras won’t be needed. well, US foreign policy has for years favored the contras in the ME (ie arafat, assad, mubarak, prince __ of saud, etc) as opposed to fixing underlying causes.

now that we see what those underlying causes can result in we’re a step closer to fixing the problem. is that completely cracked out? its like the argument against rent controls in cities if the signal of how valuable the property is doesn’t get sent, then you will end up with less housing than you actually need.

hm. lemme check whats on cnn – troops at the border, families fleeing, civilians dead and wounded… ok, the washington post has a roundup: more civilian casualties… and the guardian has a piece on children killed and how ineffective the bombing has been… so if that is reality, then what in the world is he seeing? because ‘knowing the mideast has big problems’ doesn’t really count as an upside here. most of us knew that already.this isn’t just my friend – this is what the president thinks:

“The president believes that unless you address the root causes of the violence that has afflicted the Middle East, you cannot forge a lasting peace,” said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. “He mourns the loss of every life. Yet out of this tragic development, he believes a moment of clarity has arrived.”

this (confirmed with this) is a dangerous shift from our “camp david” policies. ‘root causes’ here clearly doesn’t mean dependence on oil (that finances this conflict). or a history of mistrust (fueled by recent conflicts). it means the existence of hezbollah in lebanon. to them, the conflict is an opportunity to kill terrorists – a long term plus. between now and ‘the long term’, of course, we lose our role as an honest broker. predictably, the conflict can/will has escalated without us.but i started with the moral point. to even consider killing one to save ten, ‘we’ (philosophers, ordinary people) require a clear idea of what is lost and what is gained. the more vague, the more abstract the argument becomes (kill an undefined number now to potentially save more lifes in the future), the more we – rightly, i think – become unsettled. but in the fight between between israel and hezbollah (and by extension, lebanon), nobody has made even a vague case. to infer from actions, killing 306 to save 2 seems a bit unbalanced. accepting ‘collateral damage‘, to kill others (hezbollah) isn’t what i’d call a justification, either. as i understand it, this isn’t a game of counterstrike, where there are only so many terrorists we need to kill. these groups are always recruiting, and – unlike us – i imagine this conflict only fills their ranks (see the guardian reports, above). just killing and destroying isn’t an endgame. it is probably counterproductive. and it definitely won’t build peace. i could ramble on, but i think this makes the point.

i’m not saying don’t respond. i’m saying respond intelligently. think it through. philosophers may not agree on the answer (or even the question), but at a minimum a clear articulation is required. otherwise, it is running straight into misery. (there are, of course, additional benefits to clear statements in the field of public policy.)

[update: no, nevermind, my friend thinks this is all terrible and we need to address inequality in the region. see, now if everyone i know is being reasonable, why can’t the international community just do the same?]