Sunday, August 28, 2005

Eighteenth Philosopher's Carnival

The eighteenth Philosopher’s Carnival is presently being hosted at Language Games & Miscellaneous Arbitrary Marks. There are handful of posts and the question, raised by one of the posts, of whether it is ethical to ‘google’ (- isn’t it an amazingly versatile word!) someone is one that probably does need further ethical consideration.

Question – On Public Censorship

You, Readers, may or may not have noticed the appearance of a little button on the top of the page marked ‘Flag’.

By pressing this button, a reader may flag a blog as ‘objectionable’. Those behind Blogger and Blogspot track the number of times a blog is flag and then determine whether action, such as unlisting the blog (though not deleting it), is apropos. There is more information on the process available from blogger.

The questions being raised are something of a side issue; how many objections to a ‘text’ (used here is the broadest sense) makes it offensive? Should the public be allowed to determined what texts are openly available, and which are not? Should the public discourse be regulated by any form of censorship?

Editorial Notice – Comment Verification

Apologies for having to do this, but comment verification has been enabled. This simply means that you are going to have to complete a word verification step as part of the process of commenting. You will have to enter the ‘word’ into the verification box as part of posting your comment. It is a way of preventing more of those spam comments appearing in the discussions that take place here.

Two Links – A Hypothetical, And A Library Idea

I’m generally not one to throw any support behind Nine’s Sunday, but I caught the end of a Geoffrey Robertson Hypothetical this morning, the transcript is available here.

This is one of a couple of stories about a program that is being employed in Europe; the idea is that you borrow a ‘sterotype’ for about forty-five minutes in the interests of engaging with individuals of differing perspectives. I am putting it forward as a possible project for the Club next year …

Thursday, August 25, 2005

More Ethics; though this time about sex

Given the interest that has been shown to ethical dilemmas on this blog I thought that people might like to sink their teeth into this one. Then again maybe nobody will want to touch this with a ten foot pole....yes, it's about paedophiles.

This hypothetical situation was one presented by Dr. Dave some years ago in one of his ethics seminars. The issue being discussed concerned people's experiences with the nature of their sexuality. It was suggested by our wise guru that some people don't choose their sexual orientation, rather they experience a process of discovery whereby they 'find' that they are straight, gay, etc. A reasonable enough claim given that we have all no doubt heard people discussing their sexuality as though it wasn't a choice before. Now, suppose someone goes through this kind of discovery about themselves and learns that they become turned on by watching children. Of course we will all agree that were this person to pursue the source of their arousal and commit some heinous act, thereby harming some poor child then we should lock them up and throw away the key.

But suppose that this person were to take a different course of action. We can imagine that instead of pursuing their lust they instead make efforts to keep away from areas such as schoolyards and playgrounds. We can even imagine them taking efforts to construct their life such that their career, residential address and so forth never require them to risk temptation, again by avoiding areas where children are abundant and vulnerable. We can even imagine that they are quite successful with this strategy.
The question is: should we think of this person as being a monster in the same way that we think of paedophiles who actually do go through with these terrible crimes?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Article On Danto

Okay, I’m going to interrupt my thesis imposed sabbatical from posting on the Blog to leave a little present for Peter as he attempts to write his … ‘The philosophy of art’, it’s on Danto, more biographical and on his time as critic for The Nation than philosophical (from my brief reading). Might be useful to boost the number of references … though probably not for anything much else.

Singer on Animal Cruelty, Again.

Via Butterflies and Wheels and The Boston Globe, Peter Singer compares animal rights laws in the U.S. to other countries, particularly those in Europe. While his point about "common farming practices" being legal is a good one, I am not sure I completely agree with his model of excellence in this area, Austria. "It has also made it illegal to trade in living cats and dogs in stores" - This sounds a bit excessive to me.

The Whole Article Here

Friday, August 19, 2005

On Bullshit

Amusing and lucid article on Bullshit.

(This is not spam. This is not a jibe. It really is quite a good look at epistemology.)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Cranky Editor

As some of you might have noticed, a growing proportion of the comments to posts here are blatant spam. As much as possible I will try to remove them as they appear, but if it continues, I will be forced to discuss with the administration the possibility of removing anonymous comments. I am happy for people to link to their webpage or blog from a comment, but ONLY if that comment is even vaguely relevant. Comments along the lines of 'yeah great, go to my page about hair loss products or cartoon animals or mesothelioma' or whatever are not acceptable.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Club Ideas

My name is Paula Morrow and I am one of the two vice-presidents of the philosophy club. I stood for office in order to get a bit more age and gender balance on the committee. I also remember the heyday of the philosophy dept and club and hope to help raise the profile of both again. My idea on how to do this is 1) to organise debates on campus - starting with one in October on the topic 'people with ethics don't make profits' in light of the logging company Gunns suing 20 organisations and individuals for trying to save the tas forest which is a landmark case for freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate. And 2) to bring philosophy into the broader community by arranging monthly get-togethers in town somewhere where we can talk philosophy and current affairs generally in a neutral and comfortable environment.

Please email me on with any comments or better ideas.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Contra - Singer.

This is part of an assignment I did last year for Dr Mintoff's course on Ethics in Social Work. (Just for the record, don't be a dill and copy it, Turnitin will detect the plagarism, and besides it's my work, not yours.)

I'm posting it in light of the recent discussions about Peter Singer's work with regard to the ethics of our treatment of animals.

The “Contra Singer"Argument

I do eat meat, and do not think it is morally wrong to do so. From this, it becomes obvious that I think that Singer is wrong.
If we are the same as animals, and animals have no moral obligation, then we have no moral obligation.
For example, if an animal does something we consider to be immoral, like my cat eating a pigeon even though I feed him ample pet biscuits, we do not judge them by our standards.
But, we can be moral. That is to say, we have the option, to be moral, or not moral, as we choose, (unlike my cat).

This is not sufficient justification however, as will be seen. Consider the two following statements:
1.We should be moral because we can.
2.We should eat meat because we can.
Statement number 2 is clearly one that Singer would not agree with. And with good reason, as statements of the form: We should X because we can (X), are highly problematic from an ethical viewpoint, and by themselves, do not form a valid argument.
Thus it is possible to say:
I. We should follow the principle of Equal Consideration of Interests, because we can.
II. But: If we should X, if we have the option of X or not X, is false.
So: We should not feel compelled to take other species interests into consideration, or indeed fulfil any moral obligations whatsoever, simply in virtue of us having the capability to choose to be moral or not.

Now: the objection may be made that I have not shown anything, except that the capacity or ability to be moral is a necessary but insufficient condition of actually being moral. But consider this: Singer himself says that we should not base our concern for others on what abilities they possess . That is to say, that we should not discriminate against animals, for example, because of how their mental capacities differ from ours. This seems agreeable enough, but discrimination cuts both ways. So I would suggest that to place a moral expectation on humans, because of our ability to be moral, is a form of discrimination directed against humans (or indeed any being judged capable of making these distinctions). Since discrimination on the basis of species, or on the basis of abilities, is specifically prohibited by Singer’s account there are only two options. One is to remove the moral obligation on humans, thus removing the discrimination, (allowing me to eat meat) which does render the account somewhat useless as a guide for behaviour. The other is to admit that Singer’s account is self contradictory, and thus invalid (this option allows me to eat meat also).
This response to Singer has very little to do with the ‘forceful reply’ as it does not deny that animals, or severely intellectually disabled humans for that matter, have interests. What I have attempted to show is that Singer’s argument does not give a coherent account of why we should take them into consideration.

In response to this Joe said something along the lines of this: that it is not discriminatory for someone who can't actually do a job to be passed over for someone who can do it. Similarly it is not discriminatory for us to be expected to take animal's interests into consideration, even if they can't do the same for us. This is a good point, and could shoot down my claims of discrimination somewhat. But I can't help but feel that the analogy is not quite right. A better analogy would be expecting or even forcing someone of sufficient intellect to go to university and study theoretical physics or medicine, rather than letting them choose a vocation that made no use of their mental skills whatsoever. If this is a more accurate way of characterising the argument, then the outcome is less clear cut. We may want to say that it is a person's right to choose how they use what they have, even if there are distinct advantages, for them and for the rest of us if they do, for example, become a doctor and cure some terrible disease. Thus in both cases (meat eater and non-doctor) they could be willfully contributing to more a situation with more suffering (animals and patients), but there is a difference somewhere as Singer would condemm the meat-eater but not the person who could become a doctor but doesn't.

On the other hand, it could be that due to the ethical/moral aspect of this topic, the above might not be the right way to characterise the debate. I can't decide right now. Maybe someone out there can clarify this position for me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Philosopher's Carnival 17

The 17th Philosophers Carnival is on at Tiberius and Gaius Speaking...

I've only had a quick look so far, but there does seem to be some interesting, if occasionally misguided (because that is so uncommon in philosophy) material submitted this month. Something for everyone, if you have the time to get through it all.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Academic Freedom in the U.S.

( And here too maybe if we are really, really unlucky.)

This week Butterflies and Wheels discusses the current furore in the U.S. over academic freedom:
"All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs." Read the full article here.

While the bill that is specifically discussed is in the Colorado state legislature, many other states including Florida, Ohio, Georgia and Pennsylvania have either passed or are trying to pass such legislation.

So what is all the fuss about? Rights are good...right?

Well that depends on the content of the bill supporting/enforcing them. From what I can gather, the bill(s) seek to address what is perceived by many, such as Republican David Horowitz, as a 'liberal bias' in the faculties of universities around the country. The central claims are that conservatives, especially republicans are excluded from faculties, and that the alleged left wing bias that follows in teaching amounts to 'indoctrination' and/or discrimination, through biased grading. One detail of the legislation that is particularly worrying is the shifting of responsibility for academic fairness and freedom from faculty to government.

Projects that Horowitz has founded include 'Discover the Networks', a project that aims to monitor and publicise the relationships between prominent liberal figures and the political left, Arab organisations, and groups that allegedly condone terrorist actions.

Complaints from students seem to be that they object to there being not enough material supporting right-wing views being included in courses, that non-leftist views are ridiculed by lecturers and tutors, that a balanced treatment is not given to right leaning material and that students are unfairly receiving poor grades due to their political views conflicting with their marker's.
Were this all there was to it, the situation may not be quite so bad. But there seem to be cases where students have objected to material simply because they disagreed with it. A poor grade could be reviewed independently to check for bias, but Horowitz would claim that the left-wing bias is so endemic, that impartiality would be impossible in the current situation. It does not help that organisations such as the Students For Academic Freedom (founded by Horowitz) have sprung up, publicising complaints against academics, with no substantiating evidence. This group is also known for campaigning on campus against academics that are openly critical of the current President and are alledgedly connected to class disruptions, hate mail and smear campaigns.

Understandably, these developments have many philosophy and politics academics and lecturers very worried. The American Philosophers Association has been openly hostile towards the legislation, and has condemmed what they describe as the outbreaks of "Young Republican-sponsored vigilante action". They have advised their members to (amongst other things) try to maintain dialogue with complainants and try to maintain a professional and rational atmosphere. Read the APA's full statement here.

While harassment of students by teachers or biases marking is not excusable, is it fair to enforce a standard that one side of politics (the Republicans) deems to be 'unbiased' (check out the blatantly obvious irony), when some subject matter, and indeed some subjects and courses are irreducibly evaluative?

With any luck, we will never have to deal with such developments here. But an Australian version of the SAF could function just as well as a political tool against a so-called 'left-wing academia' here in the hands of the Coalition as it has for the Republicans.

I would encourage everyone to take a look at the links and see what they think of this. Are there some opinions that university academics should not be allowed to express to their classes, or is to legislate for this taking away a fundamental part of the critical process that occurs within universities and just a blatant attempt to quash political opposition in educational institutions?

Where belief is born

Alok Jha
Guardian Weekly

Belief can make people do the strangest things. At one level, it provides a moral framework, sets preferences and steers relationships. On another, it can be devastating. Belief can manifest itself as prejudice or persuade people to blow up themselves and others in the name of a political cause.

"Belief has been a most powerful component of human nature that has somewhat been neglected," says Peter Halligan, a psychologist at Cardiff University. "But it has been capita-l-ised on by marketing agents, politics and -religion for the best part of two millennia."

But belief is quickly becoming the subject of choice for many psychologists and neuroscientists. Their goal is to create a neurologic-al model of how beliefs are formed, how they affect people and what can manipulate them.
Read the full article here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Biopolitics/Bioeconomics : a politics of multiplicity

By Maurizio Lazzarato.

We have never understood the word of liberalism as much as during the referendum campaign. However, have these passionate debates contributed to make the logic of liberalism intelligible ? According to the two courses by Michel Foucault, recently published as “Security, Territory, Population and The Birth of Biopolitics”, this is dubious.

These books trace a genealogy and a history of liberalism and effectively present a way of reading capitalism which differs from Marxism, from political philosophy and from political economy at once. Read the full article here.

Lazzarato presents an interesting snapshot of Foucault's work in this area. I particularly liked this gem: "According to Foucault, by market we must always understand competition and inequality, rather than equality of exchange. Here, the subjects are not merchants but entrepreneurs. The market is therefore the market of enterprises and of their differential and non-egalitarian logic."
Definitely worth reading.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Spiked-Science on Peter Singer's New Book.

Singer on 'speciesism': a specious argument by Helene Guldberg.

Peter Singer is recognised as the driving force behind the modern animal rights movement, and is widely credited with making 'speciesism' an international issue - speciesism being the idea that a human-centered morality is as abhorrent as racism or sexism. His new book In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave, of which he is editor, brings together 'the best current ethical thinking about animals', according to the cover blurb. Read the full article Here.

This article is worth reading, but not because it is necessarily good. Guldburg disagrees with Singer on many points, but ultimately fails to give a coherent reply. On top of this she falls into the trap that many who read Singer are tempted into by their finely honed pseudo-humanist conservative outrage: Singer's move to draw the comparison between animals and humans (who for what ever reason) that have similar mental abilities is not intended to be a justification for treating these humans as we would animals. It is rather to encourage us to treat these animals as we would humans; to raise them up to our level, rather than to bring us down to theirs.

Now I am not saying that there is nothing wrong with Singer's arguments. Those who know me in the real world have seen me eat meat, wear leather shoes etc, clear evidence that I'm not really convinced by them. But Peter Singer is a clever person. You don't end up as being Professor of Bioethics at Princeton by being a daft bugger. To critique his work requires a certain amount of emotional restraint. Stop getting upset by his seemingly outrageous analogies and focus on the actual content and structure of his arguments. Guldberg fails utterly to do this and therefore misses the point.