Academia, giving a paper, Philosophy

On devilering philosophy papers

When American philosophers come to Europe and read their papers as if they were delivering a 19th century lecture, us Europeans are never very impressed – and often half asleep. There are very good reasons for doing something other than reading your talk: engaging with the audience; clarity; the very lefty – but not very philosophical – disregard for formalism; demonstrating confidence to the crowd (and yourself).

Therefore it’s a real shame that the European answer to this poor American practice is reading off your power point slides, word by word. The same objection applies to both methods: you could have sent me the bloody thing! Much more environmentally friendly than flying over from the States, for sure.

duties, future generations, Geras, normblog, Philosophy, Politics, rights

The rights of future generations

Very interesting stuff over at Normblog, on whether future generations have rights. It’s in progress, three posts so far: 1, 2, and 3.

A few comments, which will make sense only after having looked at the links above:

Geras argues that there is no difference between the possibility of a future non-existing individual having a right, and the possibility of a future non-existing collectivity having rights. Not so if we look at it from the point of view of probability. Then the probability that there will be someone in the future is almost one; while the probability that there will be some particular individual – say my great-great-great-grandson – is much lower.

Also Geras says, of these future individuals or collectivity:

They can’t already have duties when it is impossible for them to fulfil these. How can they have rights of which they cannot yet be the beneficiaries and of which they may never come to be the beneficiaries?

But I can today have a duty that it is impossible for me to fulfil now, but that I might be able to fulfil in the future – say my duty to look after my children (I don’t have any). The same goes for rights. Couldn’t the rights and duties of these future individuals be conditional? The same way in which I have a duty to look after my children which is conditional on my having any? But does that mean that I have a duty today that I can only fulfil in the future if some set of conditions apply, or does it mean that I will have such duty in the future if the conditions do apply? The point of the conditional duty or right is exactly to escape such dichotomy. I don’t have a full-blown duty today, nor will I only have a full-blown duty in the future. I have, today, a conditional duty.

The point of conditional duties and rights is that, even if they might not be as valuable as full-blown duties, they have some moral relevance. Therefore the welfare of future generations is morally relevant, even though it might not be comparable to the welfare of an individual or collective living today. So you might not have an argument to divert funding from Africa to climate change. But you do have an argument for doing something rather than nothing.

aesthetics, categorical imperative, Feminism, Kant, objectification, Philosophy, women

The objectification of women: a possible solution

I have always believed that beauty and its enjoyment, even in their human female form, are too crucial a component of the good life to necessarily violate the categorical imperative. But the difficulty is an apparently insurmountable one: the appreciation of a woman on purely aesthetic grounds means appreciating her as an object. Last night, in the company of men (A. & G.), I came to a possible solution: what one entertains, in looking at a beautiful woman, is not necessarily the woman herself; it can just be the woman’s appearance. But if that is the case, the woman is no longer being objectified: only her appearance is. But since her appearance is not an end in itself (that is, it is not a person with ends), objectifying it does not violate the categorical imperative (that is, it is not conceptually possible to objectify it, because a woman’s appearance is not a person with ends: it is not the right kind of thing to be subject to objectification).

The point is rather simple: the woman is not part of the experience, and therefore it cannot be that she is being objectified. The point must be distinguished from a similar one that would be appealing to the difference between the woman and her body. To that point, it might be replied that, if dualism is false, then the body is identical with the woman, and so entertaining her body is entertaining her. But this kind of objection does not necessarily apply to a woman’s appearance.

It might be replied that judging a woman by her appearance is itself a form of objectification. But this objection overlooks the crucial point that it is not the woman who is the object of the experience, but just her appearance. Once that distinction is reinstated, the objection reemerges as senseless: judging a woman’s appearance by her appearance is a form of objectification.

Britain, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Tony Blair, Uncategorized

Should the British government apologise for the slave trade?

Should the British government apologise for the slave trade? First of all, whom should they apologies to? Anyone who’s suffered because of the slave trade; but they are all dead. Are they, though? Couldn’t it be that people still suffer to this day as a consequence of it? If so, those people deserve an apology. Furthermore, don’t people whose ancestry has suffered from the slave trade deserve an apology? They do if, and only if, what happened to their ancestors bothers them to this day – and in some cases it will.

Now the difficult question: why should the British government apologise for the slave trade? Because the British government recognises the slave trade as abhorrent. It does. And because the British government was involved in the slave trade; by, in the very least, allowing it. But certainly, one will want to say, this British government was not involved. Indeed, no member of this government was involved. And no one who voted for this government was involved. It was too long ago. So, there is no responsibility, just on the ground that they did not do it.

Two problems with this: first of all, if we have recognised, as we have, that anyone alive today, who suffers today as a result of the slave trade, deserves an apology, then should we not recognise that anyone alive today, who profits today as a result of the slave trade, should issue that apology? We probably should; and it is probably the case that there are people, today, still profiting from the slave trade – someone whose family got really rich through the slave trade, and who is still enjoying the wealth to this day. But even accepting this, it does not mean that the British government should apologise for them. That, surely, would be their individual responsibility if anyone’s, and so it should be themselves, and not the government, to issue an apology.

The second problem is more fundamental: isn’t the British government an historic continuity, such that there is only one thing, the institution by the name of “British government”, through history? If that was so, then Blair’s government, today’s British government, is directly responsible for the slave trade, on the ground that it was the agent who perpetrated the crime, if one accepts, as we should, that ‘The British government was involved in the slave trade”. In this proposition, ‘British government’ identifies an institution which is still in existence, in the shape of Blair’s government, rather than a set of people long dead that used to constitute those British governments that were involved with the slave trade.

That way, we would be treating the institution of the British government through history just in the way in which we treat a single person through their life. If, in my youth, I had committed a crime, then, today, I would still be responsible for that crime, because it was the same person who committed that crime, namely me. And the same argument would apply to the institution British government. And the fact that today that institution is constituted by Blair and his ministers, while hundreds of years ago it was constituted by someone else, would count as much as the fact that today I am constituted by a set of cells, while at the time of the crime committed in my youth I was constituted by an all-together different set of cells. And, just as in my case, the continuity, the fact that it is the same person, me, at both times, is guaranteed by some sort of identity, consciousness, and past, so with the institution of the British government there would be a sort of identity, consciousness, and past that would guarantee that we are still talking about the same thing.

But how could there be a continuity, if this government would never dare to allow such monstrosity, while the government of the time did? It doesn’t matter; because the fact that, in my old age, I have become the sort of citizen which would never commit the crime I committed in my youth, does not mean that I am no longer responsible for that crime. So, if the analogy stands, then Blair’s government is indeed directly responsible for the slave trade, just as it is responsible for everything that any British government has ever done, good or bad. But can we praise, for example, the Blair’s government with having won WWII? It sounds weird. Can we praise Blair’s government with universal suffrage? Weird, again. And even weirder it would be to praise or blame a government for policies it doesn’t agree with that were implemented by a previous government;

So this argument for the identity of all governments over time under the institution of the ‘British government’ does have some counter-intuitive consequences. But, let us remember it, if we don’t accept this argument, then it isn’t at all clear why should Blair’s government apologies for the slave trade. One might propose that identity through continuity is not necessary, and that it is sufficient to claim that Blair’s government is, today, the representative of previous British governments. More so, it could be supposed, than any other institution around. And so that it should apologies on behalf of those which it represents, namely previous British governments. But would that be enough? Would it be enough if Blair said that the British government apologies for what other British governments have done in the past? Maybe so; and still better than just saying how horrific the slave trade was. Indeed, it seems that any rational human being ought to think that the slave trade was horrendous, and that any rational human being ought to feel sorry for those involved. But it looks as though it would not be enough that the British government said that; because that’s short of an apology, and the relation between this British government with previous ones is tighter than the relation between any human being today and those human beings that were involved with the slave trade.

One final thing: if one was to dismiss those arguments, there would still be wrong reasons for not apologising: such as temporal relativism.

7/7, 9/11, BBC, Britain, Ethics, intentions, Iraq, Islam, London, Philosophy, philosophy of action, Philosophy PhD, Political Philosophy, Politics, Radio4, Terrorism, Tony Blair, US Government

Blair, Responsibility, and Terrorism

Just heard PM’s interview on Radio4. An issue came up which already came up yesterday in the Commons; an issue of responsibility. Let us suppose that terrorism (or attacks against westerns, or whatever) has increased since, say, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Are the US and UK Government responsible for that, given that their invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was deliberate and intentional? Blair has a good answer to that: look (as he always, annoyingly, starts his answers), we can’t be responsible for the actions of others. And this is true. Responsibility is not causally transitive. So even if it made sense to say that the decision of the UK Government to invade Iraq caused the terrorist’s decision to blow up tube trains in London (and it isn’t at all clear what it means for one’s action to cause another’s action, given that the former, supposedly, was not sufficient to bring about the latter, otherwise the latter would not be an action), that does not mean that the UK Government is responsible for those trains being blown up; it is only who blew them up that is responsible. So that the counterfactual ‘the London trains would have not been blown up if the Government had not invaded Iraq’, even if true, would not bring with it responsibility for the Government. But there are at least to replies to Blair’s answer which, unfortunately, John (who fancies himself a bit too much to be a good interviewer) did not put to the PM: firstly, responsibility comes in if the government could have prevented what happened (but if the counterfactual is true, wouldn’t not invading Iraq have been a way to prevent the attacks? I guess the issue is whether you can do counterfactuals with people’s intentions and actions; and still, even then, it’s not clear that they would carry any responsibility). Secondly, there is an issue of prediction: because it is the Government’s responsibility to try and predict threats, it the Government could have predicted the threat, then, even though it cannot be responsible for someone else’s action, it would still be responsible for not having predicted someone else’s actions, which resulted in the attacks. In this latter case, both who blew up the trains and the Government would be responsible for the people who died on 7/7, because both who blew up the trains and the Government could and should have prevented what happened.

Disabilities, discrimination, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics

loo ethics

Should one use a disabled toilet if free? Why not? Just in case a disabled person arrives while you are in. But why should they not wait? Because they are disabled. So? It might be fair for them to wait while another disabled person uses it, but not for someone else. Why not? Because they are not disabled. And? They could have used other toilets. Why should they, if the disabled toilet is free? Just in case… ops, circular.

Christianity, Evangelical Christians, god, jesus camp, Philosophy, Politics, USA

notes on ‘Jesus Camp’

It’s common among Christians to pray when faced with a touch decision (and, as dilemmas go, it doesn’t get much harder than whether to send your kids to Bible Camp). Evangelical Christians have gone a step further: they have substituted the verb ‘to decide’ with the verb ‘to pray’. So, in Jesus Camp, the minister does not tell families to decide whether to send their kids to Bible Camp; she rather tells them to pray whether to send their kids to Bible Camp. This is no irrelevant difference: it undermines the Christian commitment to free will.

P.S. Did you notice, dear Pope, that the minister, in Jesus Camp, is a woman?