I’ve been teaching ethics since 2006, and just about every semester I teach the problem of ethical egoism. In short, that problem is: Why should I do what’s right if it’s not in my self-interest. To me, this is THE central question in ethics. Continue reading
Churchill did warn us, “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” And, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Plato warned us, too: “So tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty.” Something I take away from these thoughts is that necessarily democracies have a non-zero chance of producing a demagogue. Any democracy, given a long enough time will produce a leader that rises to power by whipping up the base fears and prejudices of the mob. It will eventually happen. There are, therefore, two tests of a democracy: (1) How often does any particular democracy allow such a demagogue to rise to the heights of power? (2) How does the state/society respond when (1) occurs? Together, these questions ask how well a democracy does at preserving itself, at prevent itself from devolving into any of “those other forms” of government. Continue reading
Traveling home on the Sunday after Thanksgiving provided an interesting insight into the future of AI and autonomous vehicles. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is the annual I-35 post-Tday traffic jam. It’s something of a tradition as everyone simultaneously returns home. You never know precisely when or where it will happen or how bad it will be, but you know the traffic will drop from 80 mph to 0. In years past, you’d hit the slowdown and everyone would have to make a decision based on what little they could see ahead of them: Get off or stay on. Getting off the interstate and taking the parallel access road might be quicker by bypassing an accident. Or it might not. It was a gamble either way. And everyone had to make that decision independently. Hence, some got off and some stayed on.
The “Confederate Flag”1 should be taken down immediately, at the South Carolina capitol and on any other state grounds (in SC or elsewhere). That it took a racist terrorist attack on Emanuel AME Church and the death of nine people to bring this point into the national conversation is a lamentable and reprehensible. I’m hardly alone in this call. There are a number of petitions ( here, here, and here for instance) that one can sign (and I urge you to do so). Here I want to offer a philosophical analysis and rejection of a common argument against removing it.
Last week something interesting happened in Japan. A woman fell into the gap between a train and the platform. Unlike a similar instance in New York where one man could save another from a subway, no one person could save her. So 40 passengers got off the train and started pushing. Others quickly joined in. By cooperating, they managed to push the train over far enough to get her out. This case raises some interesting questions about cooperation? What moral obligation do we have to cooperate? Can we be obligated to cooperate with others on something that we would not individually be obligated to do? And how can we best understand any moral obligation for cooperation, as a duty or a virtue? Continue reading
Welcome to the first in a new series of posts: Unpublished Thoughts. Today, I’ll take up a significant problem in Judith Jarvis Thomson’s (2008) “Turning the Trolley.” She offers an argument intended to demonstrate the that Trolley Problem is in fact a non-problem. Her argument, however, is logically invalid. Continue reading
There is a new series of posts coming to Cacoethes Scribendi. I’ll be writing a series of posts called Unpublished Thoughts. I, like most philosophers, have way too much going on to write up and publish articles on every interesting thought that pass through my mind. My own research agenda is already very full, and some ideas or arguments are too far afield from my research areas; they simply would take too long to develop into an article. But the power of the internet saves the day, allowing me to share these ideas with others. While I one day may come back to some of these ideas in this series, I won’t begrudge anyone from developing them into an article on their own (so long as credit for the initial idea is given). I would ask, however, that any criticism not extend beyond the blogosphere. If you disagree, feel free to say so in the comments or in a blog post of your own, but not in any scholarly format. These unpublished thoughts are not fully worked up. My intention is to share thoughts of interest, hoping to spark further thought in the future, either for me or someone else. I hope you enjoy these explorations.