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Are 'dangerous' and 'aesthetically ugly' one and the same thing?

Are 'dangerous' and 'aesthetically ugly' one and the same thing? I read somewhere once, that arachnophobia evolved as a defence mechanism against dangerous spiders. Even though most spider species are harmless, this evolved response is still there, as it is better to avoid all spiders, even the harmless ones to avoid being bitten by the really deadly ones. Seeing as this aesthetic disgust and fear arose for the purpose of keeping one safe, and very few spiders are actually dangerous, would it be incorrect to view the harmless ones as ugly? Similarly, there are some dangerous animals I consider quite beautiful: tigers, for example. Would it be incorrect to view them as beautiful because they are dangerous? Basically, what I'm trying to ask is, because perception of ugliness evolved to keep us from danger, is danger synonymous with ugliness and is any visual beauty we ascribe to a dangerous animal simply an illusion? Conversely, are non-dangerous animals that we find ugly actually visually beautiful even...

I think the answer is pretty clear and is implicit in things you've said. Yes: something dangerous can be beautiful. Tigers would be a widely-accepted example. "Dangerous Beauty" isn't just the name of a movie that got a 70% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's an idea that's something of a cultural touchstone.

Maybe the perception of ugliness evolved to keep us from danger, or maybe the story is more complicated than that. (I'd strongly suspect the latter.) But however things evolved, the concepts have long since come apart. If someone commented on the beauty of a tiger, and someone else tried to correct her on the grounds that tigers are dangerous, a blank stare would be an appropriate response. We find the appearance of tigers beautiful. They'd look the same way if, somehow, they magically became the protectors of humans. We also find their movements graceful; same comment.

The second question you ask is whether non-dangerous animals that we find ugly might actually be beautiful. The first point is that the mere fact that they aren't dangerous wouldn't be enough. However implausible it is that "dangerous" implies "ugly," it's even more implausible that "not dangerous" implies "beautiful." The reason is simple: that's not how we use the words. But perhaps more importantly, beauty seems to be a response-dependent property. The idea that something might genuinely be beautiful and yet no one—not even careful, disinterested observers who've taken the time to look—find it beautiful strikes me as very close to unintelligible.

I think the answer is pretty clear and is implicit in things you've said. Yes: something dangerous can be beautiful. Tigers would be a widely-accepted example. "Dangerous Beauty" isn't just the name of a movie that got a 70% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's an idea that's something of a cultural touchstone. Maybe the perception of ugliness evolved to keep us from danger, or maybe the story is more complicated than that. (I'd strongly suspect the latter.) But however things evolved , the concepts have long since come apart. If someone commented on the beauty of a tiger, and someone else tried to correct her on the grounds that tigers are dangerous, a blank stare would be an appropriate response. We find the appearance of tigers beautiful. They'd look the same way if, somehow, they magically became the protectors of humans. We also find their movements graceful; same comment. The second question you ask is whether non-dangerous animals that we find ugly might actually be beautiful. The...

Does allowing one's child to become obese constitute child abuse?

Does allowing one's child to become obese constitute child abuse?

On the other hand, there certainly have been cases where social services have removed children from parents where children have become obese, and the parents have been taken to be at fault.It seems to me to be an issue that needs to be considered on a case by case manner. There may be something in the parents' behavior that encourages obesity in the children, in just the same way that a parent may be in trouble with the authorities for letting their child play by a road.

We tend to think that although many parents are not ideal, it is generally better for children to be brought up by them than by removing them and trying out alternative carers for them. There are clearly cases though where parents do not take account sufficiently of the dangerous situations in which they place their children and intervention by the state is then justifiable. Obesity could well be such a situation, especially given the wide range of ailments to which it leads.

Phrases like "child abuse" are most useful if they pack some punch. When we think of child abuse, what comes to mind are such things as deliberate acts of cruelty, gross neglect, causing serious bodily harm, and sexual molestation. All of those are clear cases of child abuse. Whether a child ends up obese, however, is a complicated matter. Two children might eat the same diet, and yet one might end up obese and the other not. Parents may have some control over their children's weight, but the decision that one's child will not become obese might not be easy to act on, and acting on it might have its own unfortunate side effects. This isn't to suggest that childhood obesity is trivial. But obesity is complicated. If it could be easily prevented, and if the way to prevent it was widely understood, then we might say that clear cases of "allowing" one's child to become obese count as a kind of child abuse. As it is, things aren't nearly so straightforward.

In a review for Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos, John Dupré, takes issue with

In a review for Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos, John Dupré, takes issue with Nagel's assertion that reductive materialism is regarded as the only serious philosophical possibility within mainstream philosophy. According to Dupré, reductionism has been almost entirely rejected by philosophers engaged in the biological sciences. I've been a regular reader of the Askphilosophers.org website and from what I've learned here, physicalism is the widely accepted position. Even the Stanford encyclopedia says that physicalism is the "default" attitude among philosophers. Is there something I am missing, or is John Dupré correct? http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/35163-mind-and-cosmos-why-the-materialist-neo-darwinian-conception-of-nature-is-almost-certainly-false/

Others can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the solution to the puzzle is straightforward: physicalism isn't the same as reductive materialism. Indeed, that's part of Dupré's complaint against Nagel: Nagel's view of materialism is narrow and outmoded. You might have a look at this section of the article on physicalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which distinguishes reductive and non-reductive varieties of physicalism.

Others can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the solution to the puzzle is straightforward: physicalism isn't the same as reductive materialism. Indeed, that's part of Dupré's complaint against Nagel: Nagel's view of materialism is narrow and outmoded. You might have a look at this section of the article on physicalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which distinguishes reductive and non-reductive varieties of physicalism.

Do I have an obligation to be healthy in virtue of the fact that my health

Do I have an obligation to be healthy in virtue of the fact that my health problems contribute to higher health care premiums for other people?

I'm not convinced that we gain a lot here by talking about obligation; more on that below. However it's true: if you are unhealthy, then this makes at least a marginal difference to other people's health care premiums. That's one reason why it would be a good thing to try to stay healthy, even it we don't want to use the stronger language of obligation. Of course, it's just one among many reasons for trying to stay healthy, and almost certainly not the most important. Indeed, some of the other reasons (being able to care for your children, could be an example) might move us a lot closer to saying that you're obliged to stay as healthy as you can.

Why the hesitation about call it an obligation? Though staying healthy is a good thing in general, there are many, many things that are each, considered one by one, possible for us, and that would make others better off if we did them. However, there are so many such things that it's not even remotely possible to do them all. This makes it pretty clear that just because doing something would make others better off isn't reason enough all by itself to say that you're obliged to do it. We may well, as Kant suggests, have a general duty of beneficence, but that doesn't amount to saying that we're obliged to do each beneficent thing that we're capable of doing.

I'm not convinced that we gain a lot here by talking about obligation; more on that below. However it's true: if you are unhealthy, then this makes at least a marginal difference to other people's health care premiums. That's one reason why it would be a good thing to try to stay healthy, even it we don't want to use the stronger language of obligation. Of course, it's just one among many reasons for trying to stay healthy, and almost certainly not the most important. Indeed, some of the other reasons (being able to care for your children, could be an example) might move us a lot closer to saying that you're obliged to stay as healthy as you can. Why the hesitation about call it an obligation? Though staying healthy is a good thing in general, there are many, many things that are each, considered one by one, possible for us, and that would make others better off if we did them. However, there are so many such things that it's not even remotely possible to do them all. This makes it pretty clear...

Can Darwinian science explain the uncanny fact that a crow both looks and sounds

Can Darwinian science explain the uncanny fact that a crow both looks and sounds ugly whereas as a prettier bird makes a prettier song? What possible purpose could such an aesthetic unity serve and why would humans be able to recognize it?

The first question is whether there's a fact to be explained. Do "pretty" birds typically have "pretty" songs? And do "ugly" birds typically have "ugly" songs? I'm no expert, but I'm betting not. Peacocks are usually considered attractive; their songs not so much. Swans are (conventionally, at least) beautiful; their honking (at least to my ears) isn't. Many people like the cooing of pigeons. But pigeons aren't usually seen as "pretty." I'm sure a real bird aficianado could multiply examples.

Of course, there are also questions about whether "pretty" and "ugly" are objective notions. That's a big question, but you can no doubt see that it's relevant. But leave that aside. If your speculation were correct, it would be an interesting fact. What might explain it is something that it's very hard to say in the abstract. We'd need a lot more detail, but in any case there wouldn't be much reason to expect philosophers to come up with the best answer.

The first question is whether there's a fact to be explained. Do "pretty" birds typically have "pretty" songs? And do "ugly" birds typically have "ugly" songs? I'm no expert, but I'm betting not. Peacocks are usually considered attractive; their songs not so much. Swans are (conventionally, at least) beautiful; their honking (at least to my ears) isn't. Many people like the cooing of pigeons. But pigeons aren't usually seen as "pretty." I'm sure a real bird aficianado could multiply examples. Of course, there are also questions about whether "pretty" and "ugly" are objective notions. That's a big question, but you can no doubt see that it's relevant. But leave that aside. If your speculation were correct, it would be an interesting fact. What might explain it is something that it's very hard to say in the abstract. We'd need a lot more detail, but in any case there wouldn't be much reason to expect philosophers to come up with the best answer.

If, as Dawkins reminds us in "The God Delusion", our cellular self is completely

If, as Dawkins reminds us in "The God Delusion", our cellular self is completely renewed over time, should we absolve the criminal of his crimes after time has passed on the grounds that he is no longer the person that committed the crime - for example, the rapist who is not caught until decades after his crime, or the aging general who committed war crimes. If not, does this prove that there is more to the self-hood of a person than just a collection of cells?

And one might add that the cells themselves are hardly immune from "renewal" at the molecular level. So the short version is: If identity requires complete coincidence of matter, then essentially nothing but sub-atomic particles survive over any reasonable stretch of time. That does rather suggest, though the contrary view is certainly held, that identity over time simply does not require complete coincidence of matter. What it does require is not very clear, but that is no reason to despair.

Of course, the question didn't ask about complete coincidence of matter. But it's unclear why anything less might suffice. And, if it does, then you run into issues about transitivity: A might share much of its matter with B, which shares much of its matter with C; but A and C do not share much of their matter.

It's an interesting question, and to answer it, I'm inclined to turn things around. Let's start with what's clear: the fact that the rapist committed the rape seven years ago (supposing for the moment that this is the magic number) isn't a reason to let him off. In fact, the very way you pose the question makes the point. You ask about "the rapist" who committed "his crime" long ago. You've already take it for granted that we can say: this man is the one who committed the crime. And we can say it without worrying about how many cells have come and gone. So yes: there is something more -- or something other -- to the notion of a person than just the idea of a collection of cells. The something needn't be anything spooky. After all, a corporation can exist for a hundred years, even though all the people have changed and all the buildings and equipment it owns have gradually been replaced. Although saying exactly what sameness amounts to here is complicated, it won't call for talking about...

Complex language would seem to be beneficial to the survival of other species,

Complex language would seem to be beneficial to the survival of other species, so why are humans the only species with this trait?

Because it didn't evolve in any other species.

That wasn't very helpful. More to the point, it may not even be true. For all we can say for sure, other hominid species (perhaps Neanderthal?) had language, but didn't survive. In any case, the question of just why a particular trait did or didn't show up more than once in evolutionary history may not have any clear or uniform answer.

The philosophical issue here, I suppose, might be whether the fact (if it is one) that as useful a trait as language only appeared in one species makes some sort of difficulty for the theory of evolution. Someone might claim: if the evolutionary picture really is correct, we would expect to see many species with this trait. Being neither a biologist nor a philosopher of biology, I can't say for sure. But I'm strongly inclined to suspect that this just isn't a good reading of evolutionary theory. Given the complexity of language-capable brains, what might be surprising is that the ability appeared even once. But it could also be that in a few eons, there will have been many species that developed some sort of linguistic capacity. Language has probably been around for a rather short amount of time from the evolutionary perspective. It's not clear why we would expect a relatively new biological trait to be more widely distributed than it is.

Because it didn't evolve in any other species. That wasn't very helpful. More to the point, it may not even be true. For all we can say for sure, other hominid species (perhaps Neanderthal?) had language, but didn't survive. In any case, the question of just why a particular trait did or didn't show up more than once in evolutionary history may not have any clear or uniform answer. The philosophical issue here, I suppose, might be whether the fact (if it is one) that as useful a trait as language only appeared in one species makes some sort of difficulty for the theory of evolution. Someone might claim: if the evolutionary picture really is correct, we would expect to see many species with this trait. Being neither a biologist nor a philosopher of biology, I can't say for sure. But I'm strongly inclined to suspect that this just isn't a good reading of evolutionary theory. Given the complexity of language-capable brains, what might be surprising is that the ability appeared even once. But it...

Is human cloning immoral? Or can it help more society rather than do it harm?

Is human cloning immoral? Or can it help more society rather than do it harm?

It's hard to give an all-purpose answer. But notice: the way you've posed the problem suggests that if cloning does more harm than good, it would be morally acceptable. People who think right and wrong are a matter of consequences would agree; people with a different way of thinking about right and wrong might not. Someone might argue, for instance, that trying to make copies of people shows a fundamental lack of respect for the humanity of the beings who result -- doesn't treat them as "ends in themselves." I'm not sure that would be a convincing argument, but it's easy to imagine it being made.

As to whether cloning people might have net benefits, the answer surely is that it would depend on a lot of other things, which is one reason why it's hard to give a blanket answer to your question.

It's hard to give an all-purpose answer. But notice: the way you've posed the problem suggests that if cloning does more harm than good, it would be morally acceptable. People who think right and wrong are a matter of consequences would agree; people with a different way of thinking about right and wrong might not. Someone might argue, for instance, that trying to make copies of people shows a fundamental lack of respect for the humanity of the beings who result -- doesn't treat them as "ends in themselves." I'm not sure that would be a convincing argument, but it's easy to imagine it being made. As to whether cloning people might have net benefits, the answer surely is that it would depend on a lot of other things, which is one reason why it's hard to give a blanket answer to your question.

Is there any credence to the idea that acting morally works in evolutionary

Is there any credence to the idea that acting morally works in evolutionary terms, i.e., that it helps preserve the unity and survival of a co-dependent group? If this is the case, surely talk of absolute morality derived from religious scriptures is worthless, and our morality is just a refined survival technique. Thanks for a great site!

It may well be that there's an evolutionary story to be told about how we come to adopt moral codes and so on. But your question, as I'm reading it, is whether this undermines the objectivity of morality -- leads to the conclusion that our moral views are neither correct nor incorrect, or something like that. In fact, the two issues seem quite distinct. Compare: No doubt our ability to sort things by shape evolved and helps us survive. But that doesn't mean things don't really have shapes, nor that our beliefs about shapes are somehow flawed or empty or merely a "refined survival technique."

There's a third strand to be separated out here. If there is such a thing as objective morality, what makes it objective isn't the fact that it's to be found in some scripture or other. On the one hand, none of us needs scripture to be convinced that wanton cruelty is wrong. And on the other hand, some things called for in some scriptures don't seem right on reflection at all.

To sum up, what evolution brought about, whether there's such a thing as objective morality and whether moral claims found in scripture have any special status are three separate issues. The first philosophical step is to see that we can tease them apart.

Hope that helps!

It may well be that there's an evolutionary story to be told about how we come to adopt moral codes and so on. But your question, as I'm reading it, is whether this undermines the objectivity of morality -- leads to the conclusion that our moral views are neither correct nor incorrect, or something like that. In fact, the two issues seem quite distinct. Compare: No doubt our ability to sort things by shape evolved and helps us survive. But that doesn't mean things don't really have shapes, nor that our beliefs about shapes are somehow flawed or empty or merely a "refined survival technique." There's a third strand to be separated out here. If there is such a thing as objective morality, what makes it objective isn't the fact that it's to be found in some scripture or other. On the one hand, none of us needs scripture to be convinced that wanton cruelty is wrong. And on the other hand, some things called for in some scriptures don't seem right on reflection at all. To sum up, what evolution...

Human beings have evolved similar physical attributes over time. Though there

Human beings have evolved similar physical attributes over time. Though there is some genetic variation among individuals, we share many traits. But isn't it also possible that, as a result of our common evolutionary heritage, we share similar emotional and moral traits as well? If we all have basically similar emotional machinery, why couldn't we appeal to the general constellation of desires that most of us share, and use them to construct a universal ethics? If the good is what makes us happy, and happiness is the fulfillment of various desires, and if humans have similar desires because we share evolved mental traits, then why couldn't an appeal to those traits in the search for moral agreement? Just as medical experts can give general advice about physical health because most humans share similar physical bodies, why can't psychologists and ethicists give general advice about morality based upon our shared mental traits?

We do have a lot in common psychologically, and all of that matters when we're trying to decide what's right and wrong. And the more we know about the psychological effects of how we treat people, the more information we'll have to feed into our ethical decisions. Psychologists have relevant things to say, as do doctors and, for that matter, economists, massage therapists, and various other specialists.

Whether or not knowing everything about what makes people happy would settle all ethical questions, however, is another matter. (Not sure if you were suggesting it would.) For example: suppose that there are things that would make me happy at your expense. Most of us don't think it's just a matter of comparing the sum of my potential pleasure to the sum of your potential pain. Questions about fairness, for example, will also matter, and psychologists have no special expertise in sorting out what's fair. (Neither do most philosophers, for that matter.)

There's also room to argue about whether the good really is just what makes us happy, and about whether happiness is a just a matter of satisfying various desires. And in fact, we've only scratched the surface. So while the sorts of things you point to are bound to matter for ethical matters, there will be plenty left over that knowing how people's psyches work won't tell us.

We do have a lot in common psychologically, and all of that matters when we're trying to decide what's right and wrong. And the more we know about the psychological effects of how we treat people, the more information we'll have to feed into our ethical decisions. Psychologists have relevant things to say, as do doctors and, for that matter, economists, massage therapists, and various other specialists. Whether or not knowing everything about what makes people happy would settle all ethical questions, however, is another matter. (Not sure if you were suggesting it would.) For example: suppose that there are things that would make me happy at your expense. Most of us don't think it's just a matter of comparing the sum of my potential pleasure to the sum of your potential pain. Questions about fairness, for example, will also matter, and psychologists have no special expertise in sorting out what's fair. (Neither do most philosophers, for that matter.) There's also room to argue about...