Advanced Search

I have a reoccurance of Base of Tongue cancer, and this is a dehumanizing sort

I have a reoccurance of Base of Tongue cancer, and this is a dehumanizing sort of cancer in that it starts to strip away some our most basic asthetic appreciations: eating food, tasting, swallowing, speaking and sexual intimacy. It is also dreadfully painful. So - I've been having the internal question of, when is enough enough, and I think there was a classical parable of how someone would choose their death.

When is enough enough? Oh my friend, what a hard, hardquestion - a question that when being raised says a lot about life itself. Though I worry about a person being in decent fettle trying to resolve such a question --for me it would be when the pain got so relentless and all consumingthat it devoured my ability to love others – to care about anything outsidemyself – when the pain permanently nailed me to my self.

Leaving the law to one side (I don't know which jurisdiction you live in or could reach), I think there is nothing morally wrong with your bringing your life to an end under these circumstances. You will want to make this decision with sound medical information about your prospects and you will want to make sure that your loved ones understand -- even if, perhaps, they cannot approve. You may also want to think beyond your own life. For example, is there anything morally important that you might yet want to accomplish -- perhaps something that can free or protect others from as great a burden as you are bearing yourself. If your cancer is tobacco-related (some cases are), for instance, you might help warn young people against this danger. Or you may simply devote your remaining energies to a good cause you believe in. Such an active commitment may be quite as meaningful as the joys and pleasures no longer accessible to you. As a final thought, it may be worthwhile to communicate with others who...

Could having children be considered forcing life upon somebody who never asked

Could having children be considered forcing life upon somebody who never asked for it?

Yes, it could. Two philosophers who have written in this vein are Seana Shiffrin and David Benatar. You can find at quick introduction to this debate (along with additional literature) at http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com.au/2008/08/is-coming-into-existence-agent-neutral.html .

Ethically speaking, should private businesses be allowed to refuse service to

Ethically speaking, should private businesses be allowed to refuse service to individuals on account of any characteristic that is related to their behavioral choices? For example, in the US, restaurants are allowed to refuse service to patrons who spit on the floor or don't wear shoes but are not allowed to refuse service to a black man (since he did not "choose" to be black). In that case, supposing a restaurant owner does not like obese people, why should he be forced to serve obese patrons (some of whom might be black) since many of them chose to eat their way to obesity?

While I think you are right to observe that business owners are generally not allowed to discriminate against persons on the basis of their unchosen characteristics, it does not follow that they are allowed to discriminate on the basis of chosen characteristics. Religion, sexual orientation and political commitments are paradigm examples: they are chosen at least in their outward manifestations, but as a society we have decided not to rank people on the basis of such choices and to impose this non-discrimination upon businesses. This makes sense insofar as such choices are ones that the person is deeply identified with. They are part of a person's identity and, by refusing to serve a person on the basis of such a choice, or by requiring a person not to express such a choice as a condition of admittance, one is rejecting and disrespecting the whole person -- just as one is rejecting and disrespecting the whole person when one refuses to serve her on the basis of her gender or skin color.

The same does not typically hold when a business excludes those who wear no shoes, i.e. requires shoes as a condition of admittance. The choice to walk barefoot is a superficial choice, not part of a person's identity, and so the requirement to wear shoes is not demeaning or disrespectful (though it could be in special cases such as that of Mahatma Gandhi). Still, even with regard to such superficial choices, the business owner must still have a plausible reason for imposing the requirement. Business owners have a legitimate reason to preserve a certain ambiance in their establishment, and this may justify the exclusion of barefoot patrons and certainly the exclusion of those who spit on the floor. But this would not typically justify the exclusion of those who wear a belt or brown socks.

Obesity is an interesting case in that is has some features of unchosen characteristics: the obese person cannot suppress the outward manifestation of her obesity in the way people could remove any outward manifestations of their religion, sexual orientation or political commitments. Moreover, obesity is typically part of a person's identity, albeit sometimes an unwanted part; and so refusing admittance to a person on the basis of his obesity constitutes a rejection of, and disrespect for, the whole person.

While I think you are right to observe that business owners are generally not allowed to discriminate against persons on the basis of their unchosen characteristics, it does not follow that they are allowed to discriminate on the basis of chosen characteristics. Religion, sexual orientation and political commitments are paradigm examples: they are chosen at least in their outward manifestations, but as a society we have decided not to rank people on the basis of such choices and to impose this non-discrimination upon businesses. This makes sense insofar as such choices are ones that the person is deeply identified with. They are part of a person's identity and, by refusing to serve a person on the basis of such a choice, or by requiring a person not to express such a choice as a condition of admittance, one is rejecting and disrespecting the whole person -- just as one is rejecting and disrespecting the whole person when one refuses to serve her on the basis of her gender or skin color. The same...

Is it moral to behave only in terms of fearing punishment? For example, suppose

Is it moral to behave only in terms of fearing punishment? For example, suppose the only reason a person has for not behaving immorally is the fear of divine punishment. Since his actions yield the same results as another non-immoral person who has no fear of divine punishment, why does it matter what reasons give the same results?

Your question: "Is it moral?", can be asked about the conduct and the person. As you describe the case, the conduct is moral (i.e., morally above reproach), but the person arguably is not because he has no concern for the rights, needs and interests of other people. What does it matter, you ask, if the results are the same? Just think about living with someone who genuinely cares about you versus with someone who behaves the same way out of fear that, if she is not nice to you, she will be punished by losing out on the benefits of your mother's fortune. Or think about a whole world in which any consideration people show one another is motivated solely by a selfish concern over rewards and punishments. The value of human civilization cannot lie exclusively in right conduct -- robots could be programmed to produce that more reliably than human beings -- it must lie, in large part at least, in the nobility of human motivations.

Your question: "Is it moral?", can be asked about the conduct and the person. As you describe the case, the conduct is moral (i.e., morally above reproach), but the person arguably is not because he has no concern for the rights, needs and interests of other people. What does it matter, you ask, if the results are the same? Just think about living with someone who genuinely cares about you versus with someone who behaves the same way out of fear that, if she is not nice to you, she will be punished by losing out on the benefits of your mother's fortune. Or think about a whole world in which any consideration people show one another is motivated solely by a selfish concern over rewards and punishments. The value of human civilization cannot lie exclusively in right conduct -- robots could be programmed to produce that more reliably than human beings -- it must lie, in large part at least, in the nobility of human motivations.

I am an economist who wants to extend his philosophical horizon over the summer.

I am an economist who wants to extend his philosophical horizon over the summer. I am looking for a constructive philosophical approach to counter utilitarianism. I feel that utilitarianism is often not satisfactory but I can't say exaxtly why. So far, my reading list consists of Kant's Groundwork and Rawls's Theory of Justice. What else would you recommend?

Here a few classics that shaped the debate when it was at its peak...

J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams: Utilitarianism: For and Against (Cambridge UP 1973).

Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams (eds.): Utilitarianism and Beyond (Cambridge 1982), esp. Rawls's essay.

Ronald Dworkin: “What is Equality? Part II: Equality of Resources” in Philosophy and Public Affairs 10/4 (1981), 283-345 (also in Ronald Dworkin: Sovereign Virtue (Harvard 2000)). http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0048-3915%28198123%2910%3A4%3C283%3AWIEP2E%3E2.0.CO%3B2-3

G.A. Cohen: “Equality of What? On Welfare, Goods, and Capabilities” in Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen (eds.): The Quality of Life (Oxford 1993).

Amartya Sen: “Evaluator Relativity and Consequential Evaluation,” in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 12/2 (1983), 113-32. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0048-3915%28198321%2912%3A2%3C113%3AERACE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-U

Amartya Sen: Choice, Welfare, and Measurement (Harvard UP 1997, first 1982), chapters 4, 16.

Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics (Blackwell 1987).

Here a few classics that shaped the debate when it was at its peak... J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams: Utilitarianism: For and Against (Cambridge UP 1973). Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams (eds.): Utilitarianism and Beyond (Cambridge 1982), esp. Rawls's essay. Ronald Dworkin: “What is Equality? Part II: Equality of Resources” in Philosophy and Public Affairs 10/4 (1981), 283-345 (also in Ronald Dworkin: Sovereign Virtue (Harvard 2000)). http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0048-3915%28198123%2910%3A4%3C283%3AWIEP2E%3E2.0.CO%3B2-3 G.A. Cohen: “Equality of What? On Welfare, Goods, and Capabilities” in Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen (eds.): The Quality of Life (Oxford 1993). Amartya Sen: “Evaluator Relativity and Consequential Evaluation,” in Philosophy and Public Affairs , 12/2 (1983), 113-32. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0048-3915%28198321%2912%3A2...

According to value theory, does manufacturing an object (e.g. a bicycle) always

According to value theory, does manufacturing an object (e.g. a bicycle) always result in more value than performing a service (e.g. giving a haircut) since the object can be used again and again, can be resold, and cannot be destroyed (by law of conservation of mass). Or is this question out of the domain of value theory and limited to philosophy of economics?

Manufacturing adds value by configuring materials in certain ways; and this value can be lost even if the object's mass is preserved. Thus, destruction of the bicycle cancels the value of manufacturing it, even if the metal and other materials survive the destruction. Conversely, a service can continue producing value for a very long time: a medical treatment administered today can add decades to a person's life, and good education can convey knowledge, wisdom or a skill which can be useful for the student's lifetime and beyond (if she passes it on to others). So the reasons you consider do not show that manufacturing something is always more valuable than performing a service.

Manufacturing adds value by configuring materials in certain ways; and this value can be lost even if the object's mass is preserved. Thus, destruction of the bicycle cancels the value of manufacturing it, even if the metal and other materials survive the destruction. Conversely, a service can continue producing value for a very long time: a medical treatment administered today can add decades to a person's life, and good education can convey knowledge, wisdom or a skill which can be useful for the student's lifetime and beyond (if she passes it on to others). So the reasons you consider do not show that manufacturing something is always more valuable than performing a service.

If cause suffering is bad and life is in part suffering, procreate is inherently

If cause suffering is bad and life is in part suffering, procreate is inherently bad?

Well, with the symmetrical argument you could conclude the opposite:

If causing happiness is good and if life is in part happiness, then procreating is good.

Both conclusions seem inadequately supported. It matters how much suffering and how much happiness one's offspring is likely to face. And there are other valuable and disvaluable things besides happiness and suffering: knowledge, culture, art, science, sports and love may all be good things a future person will experience -- good even if they are unaccompanied by happiness. And there are also contributions this future person will make to the lives of others -- good and bad contributions. So the question whether it's bad to procreate requires a more complex weighing up of considerations than is suggested by your argument.

Well, with the symmetrical argument you could conclude the opposite: If causing happiness is good and if life is in part happiness, then procreating is good. Both conclusions seem inadequately supported. It matters how much suffering and how much happiness one's offspring is likely to face. And there are other valuable and disvaluable things besides happiness and suffering: knowledge, culture, art, science, sports and love may all be good things a future person will experience -- good even if they are unaccompanied by happiness. And there are also contributions this future person will make to the lives of others -- good and bad contributions. So the question whether it's bad to procreate requires a more complex weighing up of considerations than is suggested by your argument.

Is there a rule or a thing in philosophy that names the philosophical state of

Is there a rule or a thing in philosophy that names the philosophical state of believing in something and acting/following those beliefs, (simply because they were taught to you in school, by your friends, and/or by your family), (perhaps most people around you still believing in this thing), automatically sometimes even if your personal views are against it and even when large amounts of evidence are against it or pile up against it? "Teachism" is what I fan-named it. Since I used to be a fan of the paranormal, this would be nice to know.

In "The Fixation of Belief," American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce distinguishes various methods people use to fix their beliefs. Two of these are related to the phenomena you describe: the "method of tenacity" (where people hang on to beliefs even against piles of evidence) and the "method of authority" (where people form and revise their beliefs on the basis of the beliefs that certain others hold or express). You can read this essay at www.peirce.org/writings/p107.html

In "The Fixation of Belief," American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce distinguishes various methods people use to fix their beliefs. Two of these are related to the phenomena you describe: the "method of tenacity" (where people hang on to beliefs even against piles of evidence) and the "method of authority" (where people form and revise their beliefs on the basis of the beliefs that certain others hold or express). You can read this essay at www.peirce.org/writings/p107.html

Having received training mostly as an economist, I wonder whether why

Having received training mostly as an economist, I wonder whether why utilitarianism has a such a strong grip on thinking. Yet, while I do not fully like neither what goes into utilitarianism nor what comes out of it, I have not been able to find any other school that would be equally appealing. Just now, I have come across the preface to "A Theory of Justice" by John Rawls, who, at the time, claimed that there was not equal player to match utilitarianism and that intutition would be the only way out. According to your expertise, are there such schools, and which ones would you recommend? Apart from Rawls himself, I have the feeling that Kant and non-anthropocentric ethics might be possible candidates, is that so?

Utilitarianism makes the sum-total of happiness or average happiness the final end of human activity, what we should maximize.

Nearby competitors may disagree about the aggregation part, holding, for example, that we should maximize not the average happiness but rather the lowest level of happiness, or that we should equalize happiness. Or they may disagree with the happiness part (may hold, for instance, that love or knowledge have an importance that is not reducible to their contribution to happiness).

All such "consequentialist" views can be applied to human agents (to the question of how they ought to conduct themselves) and also to human societies (to the question of how these should be structured and governed). So utilitarianism is one of many consequentialist views.

There are also non-consequentialist views. In regard to human agents, there are views that guide them not toward making the world better but rather toward making oneself the best one can be (virtue ethics) or toward doing one's duties (deontological ethics). In regard to societies, too, there are non-consequentialist views, for example ones that give more weight to harms a society's rules mandate or authorize than to equivalent harms that these rules merely foreseeably but contingently bring about.

Rawls's theory is about how societies should be structured and governed. He is not a utilitarian; but I would classify him as a consequentialist: he holds that society should be governed by whatever public criterion of justice will best fulfill citizens' higher-order interests, especially those of the people whose higher-order interests are least well fulfilled.

Utilitarianism makes the sum-total of happiness or average happiness the final end of human activity, what we should maximize. Nearby competitors may disagree about the aggregation part, holding, for example, that we should maximize not the average happiness but rather the lowest level of happiness, or that we should equalize happiness. Or they may disagree with the happiness part (may hold, for instance, that love or knowledge have an importance that is not reducible to their contribution to happiness). All such "consequentialist" views can be applied to human agents (to the question of how they ought to conduct themselves) and also to human societies (to the question of how these should be structured and governed). So utilitarianism is one of many consequentialist views. There are also non-consequentialist views. In regard to human agents, there are views that guide them not toward making the world better but rather toward making oneself the best one can be (virtue ethics) or toward doing...

Is there such thing as a "selfish need"? Often in different contexts sexual

Is there such thing as a "selfish need"? Often in different contexts sexual desires are referred to as "selfish needs". The word "selfish" implies a desire that is excessive and self-indulgent or opposed to the interest of others but the word "need" implies a desire which is natural and important and therefor not excessive.

Good point. But the word "need" is also used in the sense of "strong craving". And strong cravings can be selfish both in regard to what is craved and in regard to how the craving originated. For example, someone starts going to expensive designer shops and comes to need the attention and flattery of the sales people there. Similarly, gamblers may need the next thrill, drug addicts the next fix, and so on. In such cases the word "need" does not imply a desire that is natural and important.

Good point. But the word "need" is also used in the sense of "strong craving". And strong cravings can be selfish both in regard to what is craved and in regard to how the craving originated. For example, someone starts going to expensive designer shops and comes to need the attention and flattery of the sales people there. Similarly, gamblers may need the next thrill, drug addicts the next fix, and so on. In such cases the word "need" does not imply a desire that is natural and important.

Pages