Thursday, April 27, 2006

On ‘John Stuart Mill’

'If anyone does an act hurtful to others, there is a prima facie case for punishing him' - John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Penguin, 1985) 70.

An interesting portrait of John Stuart Mill.

[A bit of an ethics theme with these two posts …]

Review Notice – ‘The Evolution of Morality’

‘Controversial’ Australian (?) ethicist Peter Singer has reviewed Richard Joyce’s The Evolution of Morality for NDPR – includes the requisite discussion of primates …

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Question On Ethics And Schools

Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article – ‘Call for ethics classes as alternative to religious teaching’ – on a call by the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW for ethics classes to be provided in New South Wales public schools as alternative to the weekly scripture lessons that have been part of the public system for most of its history.

The questions I want to put forward are (i) should ethics classes have a place in the school system, and (ii) how should ethics be taught in schools?

For reference, the St James Ethics Centre’s proposal is available here.

Editorial Considerations

We have been getting a reasonable amount of original posts on the blog, which is good, but I have concerns regarding the quality of some of these. I’m not asking for literary masterpieces, but I do have a few requests. (I know that some of the contributors don’t want to hear this but I am going to politely suggest this anyway. Please note that none of these requests apply to Ad hominem, I don’t care what you do there.)

The Editor requests that you please:

Try to spell words properly. I know this is hard, but I’ve taken criticism for poor spelling in the past, and I don’t see why anyone else should get away with it. This is not that difficult and I will expect contributors to attempt this, for the initial post at least.

Pay attention to sentence structure and grammar. If you read a sentence aloud and you sound like a gibbering idiot having an acid flashback, it probably needs to be re-written. This is an aim that is probably less achievable in philosophy, since sometimes things can get a bit convoluted.

Be clear on how you are using words. If you are using an obscure word (or a common word) in a non-standard or obscure way, please indicate that you are doing so.

Think about how this will look to other people. I am happy for people to use this site as a way to speculate in ways that may not be well received in our academic work. New and unusual ideas are good. But in terms of the quality, as opposed to the content, of posts, we could stand to do a little better. I have read 1st year tutorial papers (that are student’s first attempts at academic philosophy) that are better in many of the above respects than some of the contributions that we host. This is not right, as many of our contributors are honours students or graduates.

We are one of the few ways in which Philosophy at the University of Newcastle connects to the Web in a way that a broader audience will see. I don’t want to give the impression to outside visitors that this institution churns out philosophy graduates who are borderline illiterate.

-Sam Douglas.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

AAPAE Conference

( Plagiarised gratuitously from an email I received via the 'aphil-l' mailing list)

AAPAE 13th Annual Conference12-14 June, 2006University of New South Wales
Sydney, New South Wales Australia The annual Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics (AAPAE) conference is the longest established conference in Australasia in the area of Professional and Applied Ethics. Sessions and presentations have regularly dealt with a variety of topics, ranging from ethical issues in health care, to business ethics, ethical issues in education, research ethics, public sector ethics, and many others. Presenters have included academics and practitioners form a variety of fields, and keynote speakers drawn from prominent roles in public and professional life. This year’s conference will take place at the UNSW Kensington Campus.Papers/presentations are welcome in all areas of professional and applied ethics. In addition, identified themes of this year's conference are –

Public Sector Ethics
Healthcare Ethics
Business Ethics
Environmental Ethics
Military/Defence Ethics


So far, in addition to streams in these areas and other presentations, special workshops are being organised in the areas of Defence ethics, and Ethical issues of mental health care – in particular, involuntary treatment. Registrations and presentations already accepted have a truly international flavour. Those who would like to submit papers for presentation at the conference can choose whether they would like a full refereeing process for acceptance, or whether they would like their presentation proposal accepted on the basis of an abstract only. It is not too late to submit at paper. It is certainly not too late to register!Aside from conference publication, presenters will have the opportunity to submit their work for consideration for publication subsequent to the conference. keynote speakers are being organised, and
will include Lawrence Hinman (Director of the Values Institute at the University of San Diego), who will be talking about moral imagination, and, he says, sketching out a framework that is applicable in various areas, including law and business. Full details of the conference are available from the conference website:
or go to the AAPAE website
click on ‘conferences’, and follow the links Conference registration and submission of papers are available online.The early-bird rate for registrations ends on May 18

On Ethics And The University

“Unfortunately, there is no employer who carefully scrutinises the ethics courses to make sure they are rigorous enough. University students know that if they fail ethics, or don’t even take ethics, they can still graduate from university and go on to a good job.

And ethics lecturers know that if they make the subject too difficult, nobody will take it. If nobody takes your subject, the university starts asking why they need you. What student wants to waste their time doing a subject that no employer cares about and then fail because it is too difficult and there is too much work involved?

Over time the ethics and philosophy courses become easier and require less work. Not as many books need to be read. The exams are graded less rigorously. Less is required from the assignments” – Eric Claus, ‘Ethically Speaking’ (On Line Opinion).

On ‘The Source Of True Self’

“In 1989 eminent McGill University philosopher Charles Taylor, published a book entitled Sources of the Self. Taylor’s book is a history of western philosophy that, as its title suggests, seeks to explain the origin of the western mind.

While this book is instructive and explains much about the way we now think, a theologian would want to argue that it misses the primary origin of the western self, the person of Jesus. In this we must make a distinction between the contribution to the self made by philosophical ideas and that made by one whose significance cannot be explained in terms of philosophical ideas or in codes of morality, and certainly not as a founder of a great religion, but in his very being as the one true human being.

This is why the New Testament is so puzzling to the modern mind which looks for ideas or even great actions. Here we have a person whom John the Evangelist describes as the Word made flesh, that Word that was with God and was God, the eternal truth of all things. The Christian proclamation is not of a set of ideas but of the perfection of a person, the source of true self” – Peter Sellick, ‘The source of true self’ (On Line Opinion).

Normally I would have refrained from posting this, but it is Easter and I get the feeling that there are certain Contributors who will make fools of themselves misinterpreting this. And there are some who are just going to scoff. But, before your do, make sure you read the entire piece because it gets somewhat better from there.

The only thing missing is the requisite reference to Foucault …

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

On-line Philosophy Conference: Schedule of Papers

The schedule of papers for the First On-line Philosophy Conference has been posted, with the first set of papers to be posted on the 30th of April.

Given the alleged ascendency of analytic philosophy within the Club, it is highly likely that most of the readers of this forum will find something of interest among the papers when they are posted.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A claim to make Sam's head explode.

In the Ad Hominem section I made the claim that "physics is just ethicists trying to sound like something else", and Sam broke. Yet, in his crumbling state he did put forward two readings of what I could have meant, the second being more to the mark, that they are both normative systems. Now since Sam has claimed I lake all requisite wherewithal to argue such a case I won't try, but to fill out the picture a little more:

The laws of physics are produced (I make no claims about the laws themselves or those things which the laws describe, but about our awareness of what we refer to as the laws of physics) by observing how things work and then extrapolating. Ethics, similarly, is produced (in similar manner) by observing peoples actions and seeing which we react approbatively, and then extrapolating. Basically, they are both sets of 'laws' that only describe what we see, and do not in fact cause anything to act in certain manner as laws of society, from which the analogy is derived, are supposed to cause certain actions to be performed and cause certain actions not to be performed.

The laws of physics are taken to be different because we have never observed these laws being broken, while we have observed ethical systems being broken frequently. This may be purely because we have not yet formulated the ethical laws to the same degree as we have the physical, rather than because the systems are different. The physical laws certainly have gone through an amount of revision over time. Now I am not trying to suggest that the ethical laws could be brought to such precision as the physical, but that we understand the complexities of the ethical systems more than those of the physical: they are more personal. This of course is an argument that is produced purely through lack of knowledge, like so many other philosophical arguments at the moment, but the lack of knowledge is on both sides. Maybe the model of physical laws is only a model held up because we have limited knowledge of the system, which is upheld by theexistence of continuing work in the area of physics. So, 'physics is just ethics for matter'; what do you think?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

History of the Philosophy Club?

A few days ago I was think about a poster for the club, something that would include: "Corrupting the Youth of Newcastle Since..." (plus a picture of a youth being 'corrupted', whatever that looks like). It was then that I realised that I had no idea how long we had been corrupting these so-called youths.

So if anyone who frequents this site has any information on this, or any ideas on where to start or who to ask, I'd be very happy to hear them. We could compile a comprehensive history, replete with anecdotes and disagreements. (What we will probably end up with is philosophical equivalent of He Died With a Felafel in His Hand. )