384 109 24MB
English Pages  Year 2021
В книге изложены вопросы, связанные со свойствами поверхностно закаленных деталей машиностроения: усталостной прочностью
164 34 4MB Read more
This collection explores the phenomenon of the messianic in contemporary philosophy, religion and culture. From the late
154 48 808KB Read more
This journal-like book series includes edited volumes to rapidly report and spread the latest technological results, new
147 61 4MB Read more
ISSUE 144 JUNE / JULY 2021
Philosophy Now a magazine of ideas
racism protest recognition self-definition conflict respect
MODERN MORAL PROBLEMS
A PHILOSOPHER L O O K S AT
;PWZ\IVLXMZ[WVITXMZ[XMK\Q^M[Ja M`XMZ\\PQVSMZ[WV\WXQK[\PI\_MITT MVKW]V\MZQVW]ZM^MZaLIaTQ^M[
CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S MODERN TIMES (1936)
“Nothing is permanent in this wicked world – not even our troubles.” Charlie Chaplin
ith this issue, we are celebrating Philosophy Now’s 30th birthday. Sometimes 1991 seems like an earlier age of the world. Recently the young whippersnapper who does most of the editorial work these days, Grant Bartley I think he’s called, disturbed my afternoon nap with the idea that we should move with the times and produce an issue focusing on what he called Modern Moral Problems. “Humbug, young man,” I shouted, waving my cane at him, “Philosophy is timeless and so are the problems with which it deals.” Yet maybe he had a point. When discussing practical ethics there are several routes that philosophers tend to take. The most notorious is to examine thought experiments – often far fetched ones – to expose the underlying features of ethical systems. One famous example is Philippa Foot’s thought experiment about a runaway tram or trolley hurtling towards a group of track workers, who could be saved by throwing a fat passerby onto the track. One by Judith Jarvis Thomson asks us to imagine a famous violinist being kept alive for nine months by umbilical cords from an unwilling kidnap victim. I have a soft spot for such examples, and not merely for their entertainment value. Nobody ever claims that they are terribly realistic, but that isn’t the point; the point is to design your thought experiment to explore the limits of ethical theories which can then be applied back to more everyday cases, and to our own lives. Another approach is to explore the kinds of ethical problems and dilemmas one might actually encounter in real life. There are plenty of problems one bumps up against in the course of any life; problems of relationships with other people, problems of honesty with money, problems of conflicting duties and conflicting priorities. Some of them can be talked out and made clearer. There are also ethical problems on a societal level; these vary from one society to another and also –
I admit it – they change with time. Japan was once very interested in complex ethical problems relating to honour. Mid 19th century America was torn apart by disagreements about slavery. Medieval Europe’s ethical debates often revolved around interpretations of Christian theology. And today the public is excited by a whole range of moral problems which seem particular to our present century – though the taste for denouncing heretics seems as strong as ever. Sometimes long-standing ethical disputes are transformed by the development of new technologies. In this issue, JY Lee and Andrea Bidoli consider whether this might happen to the debate around abortion. Other modern moral problems result from the ever-changing values and priorities of people in a frenetically-paced global civilisation. (If you are woke, please read that last sentence as “...result from a clearer understanding of moral reality and of the sins of past generations.”). There are so many modern moral problems that we couldn’t possibly hope to solve more than a handful of them here – so we’ll leave all the others as an exercise for the reader. Each of our contributors applies some critical thinking and insights from the long history of philosophy. The article on racism suggests countering it using the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius. Another article examines the best way to understand social protest movements, using Axel Honneth’s ‘recognition theory’. The one on election meddling applies just war theory, which is one of medieval philosophy’s longer-lasting legacies. The essay on fat shaming is timely for several different reasons. Firstly, it has to do with a form of prejudice, so it might cast light on other forms of prejudice too. Secondly, there is more of it around, as the disastrous practices of the food industry over the last few decades have led to a steady increase in the girth of the average citizen, while the aesthetic ideas of an earlier age still linger. Thirdly, it has to do with self-definition and respect, which both seem to be threads common to many modern moral problems. For instance, they are at the heart of contemporary debates about gender and sexuality. These questions about politics and life and values and identity, which stir such strong passions, are being thrashed out every day online, and the occasional nastiness and intolerance of social media is notorious. This brings us to an older philosophical question, namely the status and extent of free speech. What should people be allowed to say? How far should they be allowed to go? Nearly everyone says “I’m in favour of free speech BUT....” They usually have big buts. Free speech is increasingly under pressure, but that’s all I’m allowed to tell you. If you insist on debating contentious matters all I can recommend is to be kind and respectful as well as clever. That way they’ll assume you’re a tourist and leave you alone. Rick Lewis June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 3
Philosophy Now Philosophy Now
ISSUE 144 June/July 2021
43a Jerningham Road, Telegraph Hill, London SE14 5NQ United Kingdom Tel. 020 7639 7314 [email protected] philosophynow.org
Editor-in-Chief Rick Lewis Editors Grant Bartley, Anja Steinbauer Digital Editor Bora Dogan Book Reviews Editor Teresa Britton Film Editor Thomas Wartenberg Assistant Editor Alex Marsh Design Grant Bartley, Rick Lewis, Anja Steinbauer Marketing Sue Roberts Administration Ewa Stacey, Alex Marsh
Jay Sanders, Stella Ellison [email protected] UK Editorial Board
Rick Lewis, Anja Steinbauer, Bora Dogan, Grant Bartley
Editorial by Rick Lewis
News by Anja Steinbauer
US Editorial Board
Shorts by Matt Qvortrup
Prof. Timothy J. Madigan (St John Fisher College), Prof. Teresa Britton (Eastern Illinois Univ.), Prof. Peter Adamson, Prof. Charles Echelbarger, Prof. Raymond Pfeiffer, Prof. Massimo Pigliucci (CUNY City College) Contributing Editors
Alexander Razin (Moscow State Univ.) Laura Roberts (Univ. of Queensland) David Boersema (Pacific University) UK Editorial Advisors
Piers Benn, Constantine Sandis, Gordon Giles, Paul Gregory, John Heawood US Editorial Advisors
Prof. Raymond Angelo Belliotti, Toni Vogel Carey, Prof. Harvey Siegel, Prof. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong Cover Image by Alex Printed by Acorn Web Offset Ltd Loscoe Close, Normanton Ind. Estate, Normanton, W. Yorks WF6 1TW Worldwide newstrade distribution: Select PS (+44 1202 586848) [email protected] Australian newstrade distribution: Ovato 26 Rodborough Road Frenchs Forest, NSW 2086 [email protected] The opinions expressed in this magazine do not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or editorial board of Philosophy Now.
Philosophy Now is published by Anja Publications Ltd ISSN 0961-5970
Subscriptions page 62 Shop page 63
4 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
Editorial & News
Modern Moral Issues
Recognition & Protest Andrew Hyams looks at what causes causes 10 The Ethics of Fat Shaming Charlotte Curran on a pervasive prejudice 14 A Stoic Approach to Racism Frank Thermitus says be ready for haters 18
Is Election Meddling an Act of War? Elad Uzan on voting and just war theory
Nonhuman Persons Gerard Elfstrom chews the idea that some animals are persons too
Abortion & Artificial Wombs J.Y. Lee & Andrea Bidoli on ethics and tomorrow’s technology
Deleuze & Guattari’s Friendly Concepts Karen Parham presents some novel concepts
about reality from the French new wave 31 René Descartes: A Yogi? Sujantra McKeever meditates on the question 34
Reason & Emotion James Robinson says they work well together
Phenomenology at the Beach Chad Engelland relaxes in the sun 38 Leibniz on Unicorns Dean Ericksen shares the polymath’s surprising thoughts about their possibility
Reviews 52 Book: What is Philosophy For? by Mary Midgley Reviewed by John Shand 53 Book: Philosophy in a Technological World by James Tartaglia Reviewed by Kieran Brayford 54 Book: The Promise of Artificial Intelligence by Brian Cantwell Smith Reviewed by Joshua Schrier 56 Film: Casablanca Brian McCusker says, “Here’s looking at you, Kierkegaard.”
some of our
Contributors Charlotte Curran is a current Master's student at the University of Manchester, specialising in the Philosophy of Psychiatry and a recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh. Charlotte is the owner and founder of ARTEMIS, a female run ecommerce business based in Manchester.
Guto Dias is a Brazilian who decided to venture beyond the seas with his drawings. He is an illustrator, cartoonist and comic artist, who has been working professionally with drawing for over 25 years, in a wide variety of graphic areas.
COVER BY ALEX
8 Regulars 40 Brief Lives: C.S. Lewis Martin Jenkins apologises for an apologist 44 Interview: Martin Savransky talks with Thiago Pinho about society, reality and knowledge 48 Letters to the Editor 51 Philosophy Then: Evil Overruled Peter Adamson sees the Problem of Evil from the perspectives of American slaves 58 Street Philosopher: Bicycling in Brussels Seán Moran looks at distorted images 60 Tallis in Wonderland: Laws of Nature Raymond Tallis lays down the laws 66 Philosophical Haiku: Albert Camus by Terence Green
Fun, Poetry & Fiction 25 Philosophers’ Café Guto Dias 35 John Stuart Mill Brandon Robshaw uses rhymes with utility 46 Simon & Finn Melissa Felder 64 The War with the Insectoids Luís Cordeiro-Rodrigues & Ricardo Tavares take unexpectedly disastrous countermeasures
studied International Business and Economics at Hofstra University. He is a financial market veteran currently living between New York and South America where is working on a couple of entrepreneurial projects and a book. He is also working on a non-profit project to create an Afro-Diaspora network in the Americas.
Karen Parham lives in Birmingham, where she is a philosophy tutor and freelance writer. She has a PhD and Master and Bachelor degrees in Philosophy and Dutch Studies. Her recent publications are Who the Hell is Plato and the soon to be published philosophical children’s story Scarlet Thims and the Luminous Twins.
June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 5
A Prize for Béatrice Longuenesse Béatrice Longuenesse, Professor Emerita of Philosophy at New York University, has won this year’s Hegel Prize. This is one of the most prestigious philosophical awards, given every three years by the City of Stuttgart (Hegel’s home town) to a prominent academic who has made a special contribution to furthering the humanities. The jury commented that “in her work she succeeded in taking up and bringing into dialogue very diverse traditions, questions and cultural impulses.” Longuenesse was born in France, studied at the Sorbonne and held earlier professorships at various universities, including the Sorbonne and Princeton. She has written highly regarded texts on Kant and Hegel. Longuenesse has also worked on the nature of self-consciousness, and its relation to the use of the first person pronoun, publishing I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again in which she drew on both continental and analytic traditions. And a Prize for Jürgen Habermas ... or hold on Jürgen Habermas, Germany’s best-known living philosopher, was offered and briefly accepted the 2021 Sheikh Zayed Book Award Cultural Personality of the Year Prize. The annual award was to be given to the 91 year old philosopher at the Abu Dhabi book fair at the end of May. It is designed to honour Arab and international personalities and organisations that have contributed to the furthering of Arab culture, to tolerance and to peaceful coexistence. It is given under the patronage of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Last year the prize was given to Palestine poet Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Having initially accepted the award, Habermas rethought his response and has now rejected it, saying that he had not been clear about the political connection:
6 Philosophy Now l June/July 2021
News reports by Anja Steinbauer
“I declared that I was ready to accept this year’s Sheikh Zayed Book Award. This was the wrong decision, which I hereby correct. I had not sufficiently appreciated the close connection of the institution which gives these prizes in Abu Dhabi with the political system there.” Rudolf Burger, anti-multiculturalist, has died Austrian philosopher Rudolf Burger has died at the age of 82. Burger had a PhD in physics as well as academic qualifications in sociology and philosophy. This summer, Burger was due to receive the Paul Watzlawick Prize of Honour. Burger was known as a notorious sceptic, who wasn’t afraid to be controversial. He was cynical about the usefulness of the public engaging with the country’s National Socialist past: “It is a highly questionable thesis devoid of empirical basis that remembering evil will prevent its repetition.” He was equally sceptical with respect to multiculturalism, believing it to be “playing with fire.” He defended his cultural pessimism in the following way: "My pessimism is grounded in the fact that I believe to see on the one hand how strong our modern and postmodern world is in certain respects, but how fragile the whole edifice is on the other hand.” Hans Küng, multiculturalist, has died The Swiss theologian and philosopher Hans Küng has died at the age of 93. Küng was known as a rebel, critic of the Catholic church and adversary of several popes. Above all, he wanted to warn and provide a conscience for religion in our time. Among Hans Küng’s many philosophically relevant initiatives, perhaps the most prominent was the Universal Ethics Project launched by UNESCO in 1997. Küng was the driving force behind the project, which brought representatives of all religions and philosophies into dialogue to
try to find basic moral commitments that all could agree on. As early as 1989, Küng had initiated a Global Ethics Movement. This he proposed at a World’s Religions and Human Rights Conference in Paris, where he stated that “there will be no peace for the world if there is no peace between the religions.” In 1993, Küng’s Global Ethics concept took a new form, a ‘Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions’, a proposal signed by 6,500 people of diverse religious backgrounds. His proposal for a global civic ethics strongly influenced the Commission on Global Governance in 1995. The most fundamental value of Global Ethics is treating all human beings humanely. There are four principles all religions share: 1. Commitment to a culture of nonviolence and respect for life. 2. Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order. 3. Commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness. 4. Commitment to a culture of equal
PHOTO © DUTCH NATIONAL ARCHIVES
• Two Philosophers’ Prizes • Two Philosophers’ Deaths • One Philosopher’s Birthday
Hans Küng, theologian and searcher for a global ethical consensus, pictured in 1973
Shorts rights and partnership between men and women. Küng pointed out that a ‘Global Ethics’ as proposed by him was not a new ideology or even a religion but was intended to form a basis for understanding and peaceful coexistence. Küng did not approve of naïve visions of the afterlife: “that one sits on little golden chairs singing hallelujah.” In an interview he once said that he was “curious what will be in the afterlife.” He said he would enjoy meeting Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Thomas More, but would not be upset if that didn’t happen.
JEBULON, CREATIVE COMMONS 1.0 LICENCE
Happy Birthday Marcus Aurelius 26 April 2021 was the 1,900th birthday of Marcus Aurelius. He had the unusual distinction of being both a notable philosopher and a Roman Emperor at the same time. He was anything but an ivory tower academic. He fought wars, battled against the floods of the Tiber in Rome, engaged with administration and jurisdiction and dealt with the public disaster of one of the worst epidemics of the ancient world. He was a lifelong Stoic, and the journal of private reflections which he wrote while on military campaigns grew into a book still read today, called The Meditations. It records the fascinating inner struggle of a lover of wisdom and ascetic virtue to square his moral and intellectual commitments with the demands of being the most powerful person in the world.
Marcus Aurelius (121-180), Stoic philosopher and Emperor of Rome, marble bust, 17th Cent.
Philosophy Shorts by Matt Qvortrup Pop songs are usually about variations on the theme of love. But there are exceptions to the rule. ‘More songs about Buildings and Food’ was the title of a 1978 album by the rock band Talking Heads. It was about all the things rock stars normally don’t sing about. Philosophers, likewise, tend to have a narrow focus on epistemology, metaphysics and trifles like the meaning of life. But occasionally great minds stray from their turf and write about other matters, for example buildings (Martin Heidegger), food (Hobbes), tomato juice (Robert Nozick), and the weather (Lucretius and Aristotle). This series of Shorts is about these unfamiliar themes; about the things philosophers also write about.
Philosophers on Sleeping
ené Descartes (1596-1650) liked a good sleep-in. No wonder the sleepy Frenchman often reminisced about dreaming in his philosophy. For example, in his Discourse on Method he wrote that, “asleep we can in the same way imagine ourselves possessed of another body and that we see other stars and another earth, when there is nothing of the kind.” Alas, his employer Queen Christina of Sweden was an early-bird and demanded philosophy lessons at five in the morning. That killed the French rationalist, after he caught pneumonia from venturing out in the snowy Swedish dawn. Writing circa one hundred years later, David Hume was of the same mind as Descartes: “A man sound asleep”, he wrote in A Treatise of Human Nature, “is insensible of time” (p.84). Søren Kierkegaard too, another century on, liked to stay in bed. “My time I divide as follows: the one half I sleep; the other half I dream. I never dream when I sleep; that would be a shame, because to sleep is the height of genius,” the existentialist wrote in Either-Or. These philosophers mostly enjoyed sleep. Not all philosophers did. Plato had little time for those who preferred a lie in: “Asleep, man is useless, he may as well be dead.” Unlike his drowsier colleagues, the Athenian philosopher thought “it a disgrace and unworthy of a gentleman…if he devotes the whole of any night to sleep” (Laws 297). Immanuel Kant clearly got that memo. He had his servant wake him up every day at 5am. Thomas Hobbes too wrote about sleep; but he was more interested in the
causes of bad dreams. Always unromantic, and true to his mechanistic worldview, the Englishman believed that "dreams are caused by the distemper of some inward parts of the Body" (Leviathan, p.95). He also suggested that food might cause dreams and nightmares. Interestingly, the same idea had occurred to Aristotle a couple of millennia before. He proposed that dreams were a result of indigestion. And, based on his indefatigable empirical studies, Aristotle concluded, in the aptly entitled On Sleep, that people with small veins, dwarfs, and people with large heads, sleep a lot (De Somno, 3.457). Aristotle surely would not have been surprised that one of Snow White’s diminutive cohabitors was named ‘Sleepy’. Ethical philosophers have also written about sleep, and what we might call the natural rights of sleepy heads. The Oxford philosopher Philippa Foot believed it was immoral to photograph a sleeping person (Natural Goodness, 2001, p.64). Whether this is a cardinal sin might be debated, but her other observation is undeniable: “In human life it is an Aristotelian necessity (something on which our way of life depends) that if, for instance, a stranger should come on us when we are sleeping he will not think it all right to kill us” (p.114)! This was a bit long-winded. Are you still awake? Okay, I see... Sweet dreams, then! For, as Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "Blessed are the sleepy ones: for they shall soon nod off.” © PROF. MATT QVORTRUP 2021
Matt Qvortrup is Professor of Political Science at Coventry University
June/July 2021 l Philosophy Now 7
Recognition & Protest hroughout the last decade, social protest movements have filled our TV screens and newsfeeds. From Occupy and the Arab Spring, to the Yellow Vests, Extinction Rebellion, the Women’s Marches and Black Lives Matter, people power is as alive as ever. Sadly, it also remains as controversial as ever, as the media furore over the toppling of statues in the US and UK has shown. This highlights the poor appreciation by many commentators of what drives social protest. If we want mature responses to social movements, we must first consider the points-of-view of those doing the protesting. A philosophical account of social movements that does just this is Axel Honneth’s ‘recognition theory’, originally developed in the 1990s. Honneth (b.1949), a German social philosopher, was reacting against a previously academically-dominant Marxist explanation for social conflict, which reduced the agency of protestors by claiming that their activism was predetermined by economic and social factors. Honneth sought a new theory that gave proper agency to individuals, recognising their feelings and hopes. To do this, he turned to an eighteenth century concept from GWF Hegel (who had in turn been inspired by Fichte) known as ‘mutual recognition’. Fichte and Hegel held that a condition of increasing human self-consciousness is that we mutually recognise each other as free. The theory says that we can only truly become free ourselves if we recognise others as free, and have them so recognise us back. Honneth saw in this idea the potential for a new account of social movements. But first, to scientifically back up Hegel’s analysis, he used George Herbert Mead’s psychology. Mead’s studies of children had led him to conclude that an infant gains a good practical understanding of itself only through interaction with others. Honneth used this psychological insight to update Hegel’s philosophical concept of mutual recognition, and so create a theory of social movements that restored the importance of the individuals involved. He first did this in his 1992 book The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. In it he details three forms of recognition that can be bestowed upon someone, and three corresponding values or attributes this recognition from others allows people to recognise in themselves. These are (i) ‘Love’ – arising originally in your family and providing basic existential self-confidence; (ii) ‘Legal recognition’ – granted by the state and its legal system, and giving you self-respect insofar as you are an equal participant in the legal process; and (iii) ‘Solidarity’ – the type of self-esteem which comes from seeing yourself as socially valuable. He believes that realisation of all three forms of social recognition are necessary for true freedom. In Honneth’s account, being denied recognition in any of these ways – for example, being excluded from the legal system, or being denigrated as socially worthless – is the source of motivation for social struggle. The feeling of individual disrespect this denial provokes disrupts your expectations, which are based on previous experiences of either
8 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
your own or others’ recognition. The impetus for a social movement arises when a particular type of disrespect starts being perceived as being shared by a group. This in turn leads to a shared concept of what a future society that delivered recognition would look like, and the gap between this ideal and reality fuels social protest. To Honneth this would be the underpinnings of a movement such as the Women’s March or Black Lives Matter. The strength of Honneth’s recognition theory is the role it gives to those actually involved in social struggles. No longer are their actions seen as necessitated by economic or social conditions, but instead as arising from their own experiences and feelings. Nowhere is Honneth’s concern for the agency of protestors clearer than in his refusal to define their goals for them. This follows from his philosophy. What constitutes a society that truly provides recognition is inherently ambiguous in his theory, since the qualities, traits, and lifestyles deemed socially valuable or necessary to be included in the legal system are open to constant, and conflicting, reinterpretation. Indeed, for Honneth, social groups will clash as they each attempt to establish their own conception of a good future as the norm. But this implies that social groups that are engaged in protest must define their own shared concept of what a world that brings proper social recognition consists of. It is not for a philosopher, or a media pundit, to tell them. So instead of patronisingly instructing people in what the good society would look like, we must leave it to those struggling for recognition to define their own ends – so long as they don’t wish to deny recognition to anybody else. Presumably, this is why Honneth himself has always shied away from specific political interventions. Honneth’s recognition theory is not perfect. The pretence of it being grounded in science is shaky, and it lacks an account of how institutions, in contrast to individuals, also provide or deny recognition – arguably a crucial element of any recognition theory for dissecting systematic prejudice. It’s also hard to make recognition theory fit protests that span myriad otherwise conflicting groups – such as those united against authoritarian leaders. However, Honneth reminds us to always put those affected and protesting first. This is a crucial and timely lesson. Donald Trump described the Black Lives Matter movement as ‘a symbol of hate’. In Britain as in the US, politicians and media too quickly reach for the tropes of ‘hooliganism’ and ‘thuggery’ when discussing those engaged in social struggle. And many of us who consider ourselves ‘woke’ nevertheless all-too-easily fall into critiquing the demands of protesters. Perhaps if we had a better shared appreciation of what drives social movements, and gave primacy to those individuals at their hearts, we would be better able to act on valid demands for meaningful social change and recognition. In 2021, we need this shared account that avoids patronising those who take a stand more than ever. © ANDREW HYAMS 2021
Andrew Hyams is a political campaigns consultant. He holds an MA in the History of Political Thought and Intellectual History from UCL and Queen Mary, University of London.
© PROTEST BY VENANTIUS J PINTO 2021. TO SEE MORE ART, PLEASE VISIT BEHANCE.NET/VENANTIUSPINTO
Andrew Hyams recognises what fuels protest movements.
June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 9
The Ethics of Fat Shaming Charlotte Curran tells us precisely why fat shaming is unethical. at people are perhaps the most openly stigmatized individuals in our society: there is data which suggests that weight stigma is more pervasive and intense than even racism and sexism. There is certainly a well-documented social and cultural bias against fat people, particularly in the workplace, the medical sphere, and the media. In the workplace, discrimination exists with respect to hiring, wages, promotion, and termination. Workplace discrimination is examined in detail by John Cawley in his 2004 paper, ‘The Impact of Obesity on Wages’ (Journal of Human Resources vol. 39, issue 2). Cawley found that fat white females earn 11.2% less than their non-fat counterparts. In the medical sphere, fat oppression is also very much present: in one study, over 40% of physicians were found to have a negative reaction towards obese patients and may be dissuaded from suggesting or performing certain procedures on them (‘Physicians’ attitudes about obesity and their associations with competency and specialty: a crosssectional study’, M. Jay et al, 2009). There are endless examples of weight bias in the media: from ‘fat Monica’ in Friends to The Biggest Loser and The Nutty Professor, fat people are depicted in a variety of degrading ways. Fat characters in TV and film are more likely to be seen eating and to be the objects of humour compared to their thinner counterparts, highlighting that even when fat bodies are represented, these characters are usually depicted as unattractive, ridiculous, contemptible, even gross and disgusting. These alarming facts indicate that fatism is not considered a serious form of prejudice, perhaps due to its normalisation or to the vast attempts to justify this oppression. There have been attempts to ethically justify fat shaming as being motivated by a desire to achieve a greater good – namely, improved physical health or well-being. These ‘greater good’ arguments assume that the intentions behind fat-shaming are often positive, aiming to inspire individuals to make healthier choices which could contribute to a better quality of life. The positive case for fat shaming is particularly interesting to investigate because the belief that weight loss results in a better quality of life underpins our everyday practices pertaining to fatness. The idea that being overweight is bad for us is evident for instance in the popularity of calorie counting app MyFitnessPal, with 19.1 million active monthly users in 2018, or with weight loss products such as detox teas, meal replacement shakes, and even appetite suppressant lollipops, which generate an estimated $37.5 million in yearly revenue for lifestyle brand Flat Tummy Co. However, acts of fat shaming underpin weight loss support groups, which use public weighins, positive reinforcement, and rewards, as motivation for individuals to achieve their weight loss goals. The notion of accountability in such groups is an implicit example of fat shaming. If someone is held accountable or responsible for their weight loss journey, the fear of people’s reaction on social media or other members of their support group knowing that they have failed
10 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
Who says big isn’t beautiful? Not Renoir... Woman Combing Her Hair, 1907
will provide motivation for persisting. Here social stigma is seen as a positive motivating force that will help us achieve our weight loss goals. If we associate weight loss with positive consequences, such as an improvement in an individual’s overall health and quality of life, then in these instances fat shaming could be seen as justified in order to improve someone’s life. Although this rationale may intuitively seem correct, let me present reasons why this view is misguided, and why a competing moral demand should take precedence. Bad Fat Shaming Arguments The arguments which attempt to justify fat shaming in order to achieve an overarching greater good are unsuccessful for many reasons. First, they depend on the assumptions that fat shaming is an effective means of getting people to lose weight, and that weight loss makes one physically healthier – both of which can be contested. In fact, fat shaming has been argued to be not only an ineffective means of getting people to lose weight, but it can potentially achieve the opposite. A population survey conducted by University College London in 2014 concluded that fat shaming not only does not encourage weight loss, but discovered that those who reported weight discrimination gained more weight than those who did not (Obesity Journal vol.22, S.E. Jackson, R.J. Beeken, and J Wardle). The report concluded that weight discrimination is a part of the obesity problem and not part of the
Modern Morals solution. Additionally, N.A Schvey’s et al’s 2011 study, ‘The Impact Of Weight Stigma On Caloric Consumption’, suggests that among overweight women, exposure to weight stigmatizing material may lead to increased caloric consumption. The belief that weight loss leads to increased well-being can have adverse effects on children, too. In 2019, Weight Watchers launched an application called Kurbo intended to promote healthy eating habits from an early age. It’s for children aged eight to seventeen, and encourages them to track their food intake. The app prescribes a ‘traffic light’ system for food: green items can be eaten freely; yellow should be consumed in moderate portions; and red should encourage a child to ‘stop and think’ before eating. Weight Watchers have come under fire for actively enforcing the stigma of obesity, which may, as a consequence, lead to children developing disordered eating and unhealthy relationships with food. In light of this, as of April 2021, a Change.org petition to remove the app had collected 114,525 signatures. With these matters in mind, A. Janet Tomiyama and Traci Mann’s 2013 paper, ‘If Shaming Reduced Obesity, There Would Be No Fat People’, makes the plausible claim that if stigmatizing fat people worked, it surely would have done so by now. A second reason the greater good arguments are misguided, is that we are rarely in a good position to know someone’s underlying health conditions. Nor can we assume an individual’s lifestyle from their appearance alone. The common stigma behind fatness assumes that weight gain is caused simply by laziness or a lack of self-control, but this is not necessarily the case. Along with diet choices and lifestyle habits, body size can also often be influenced by metabolism, genetics, sleep, medication, financial stability, mental health, or pre-existing health conditions such as hypothyroidism. This shows that the ‘solutions’ to weight gain are not always as straightforward as eating less or exercising more. Rather, fatness is a complex socio-economic, psychological, and physiological phenomenon. The causes of fatness are diverse and often not a matter of individual choice – which once again demonstrates that fat shaming is not an effective or appropriate way of decreasing fatness. This raises serious doubts concerning the greater good argument, because claims that the intentions of fat shaming are generally positive and well-meaning lacks their major justification – that there are good outcomes of fat shaming. The Immorality of Fat Shaming I wish to take these thoughts one step further by arguing that fat shaming is not only unproductive, but morally impermissible. It is for instance unethical to shame an individual for circumstances beyond their control – especially when weight gain is a consequence of complex trauma or personal difficulties. But even in instances where an individual is in control of their weight, it is morally impermissible to fat shame, firstly due to the discrimination that these practices perpetuate, but also because it is a serious burden to place upon an individual. Weight loss is a burden as it is not a quick fix, is mentally challenging, and often requires time, money and will-power. So fat shaming manipulates people into feeling that they need to change, either concerning something they have no control over, or concerning something they can control, but which places a serious burden upon them.
Our attitudes toward healthy eating and dietary choices are increasingly important components of how we conceive of and judge ourselves and others. In this context, let me introduce orthorexia, a condition which might be thought to constitute an internalisation of the ideology behind fat shaming. Orthorexia Nervosa, meaning ‘correct eating obsession’, is a condition in which the subject becomes obsessed with identi... nor Rubens. The Holy Family with St Anne (detail), 1630
fying and maintaining the ideal diet. An orthorexic individual typically avoids both pleasure and experimentation in eating by rigidly avoiding foods generally perceived as unhealthy. In her paper, ‘Eat Y’self Fitter: Orthorexia, Health and Gender’ in The Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics (edited by Anne Barnhill, Mark Budolfson, and Tyler Doggett, 2017), Christina Van Dyke discusses society’s obsession with health using orthorexia as her central focus of study. She argues that orthorexia is a manifestation of age-old anxieties about human finitude and mortality, which twenty-first century Western culture is prone to obsess about. Van Dyke raises the interesting point that orthorexia often tends to involve a sense of moral superiority, evoked when someone adheres to their idealised diet. In the book, Health Food Junkies Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating (2001) Steven Bratman and David Knight agree that unlike other eating disorders, orthorexia disguises itself as a virtue; but one where the subject gradually places healthy eating above other values. Eventually, the quality of what they consume and the purity of their diet become more important to the orthorexic than personal moral values, interpersonal relations, career plans, and social relationships, as food becomes the focus of their life. It is thus unsurprising that recovering orthorexic Edward Yuen has said that orthorexia ultimately worsens the experience of the rest of your life. June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 11
GRAPHIC © ERIC FAUST
Fatness & Freedom I would say that the core reason fat shaming is unethical is because it’s a malign restriction of a person’s freedom. Fat shaming limits personal freedom first because it results in deformed desires, which is significant for issues such as autonomy, agency, and responsibility. In his book Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality (1983), Jon Elster explains that a person acquires deformed desires as they adapt their preferences without their control, or even awareness. Deformed desires also typically involve deception about what an individual truly wants, or what is truly in their interest or will promote their welfare. Desires are deformed in response to unjust social conditions. This seems particularly appropriate to this discussion since, as I noted, fat people are the most openly stigmatized individuals in our society. Deformed desires constitute a restriction of autonomy because they are not chosen and so are not an indication of an individual’s self-determination, but rather, indicate the individual’s subordination to the dominant culture and its ends. The sentiments behind fat shaming both simultaneously create and are reinforced by the cultural oppression of fat people. From this we can conclude that fat shaming satisfies the conditions for something that deforms desires – such as adapting an individual’s preferences without their control, or deceiving them into believing that losing weight will promote their welfare. Fat shaming is responsible for deforming desires by reinforcing the distaste for fatness, thus constituting a malign social pressure, and so presenting a threat to personal autonomy. The second reason fat shaming threatens personal autonomy is because it involves an imposition of values. Here individuals have projected onto them other peoples’ beliefs about what their priorities in life should be. Culturally extant beliefs concerning bodies and health – that is, the fashionable distaste for fat bodies – emphasises the importance of our appearance, dictates what kind of bodies are ‘good’ and ‘bad’, associates weight loss with improved well-being (falsely, as we have seen), and consider fatness a physical state to be ashamed of. The cultural enforcement of these values affects a person’s ability to act 12 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
according to their own reasons because they are being insistently told what they should or should not eat, how much they should eat, and that the size of their body should be one of their main concerns. It is undeniably difficult for any individual to make free choices when the sentiments of others are repeatedly imposed upon them in this way, when they are negatively judged for their choices and lifestyle habits, and especially when they’re ostracised for the way that they look. To put this into context, imagine the experience of someone who is subject to fat shaming: they experience daily discrimination from their community, while the media is saturated with weight loss advertisements, negative representations of fat bodies, and positive representations of thin bodies. Someone has to be almost impossibly strong-willed and self-confident under these circumstances to feel comfortable enough in their own body to only ever decide to make changes to their body in response to their own genuine desires despite all of these manipulating forces. It is a great challenge to resist internalising the aesthetic ideal of thinness because the stakes for being perceived as attractive are extremely high, and the dominant standards of attractiveness in Western society are skewed toward an aversion to fat bodies. It is therefore morally impermissible to fat shame because fat shaming enforces a specific value system onto others, resulting in individuals pursuing ends that they would not have pursued naturally or from their own motivations, but rather as a consequence of being coerced or manipulated into abiding by the dominant standards of attractiveness in society. Conclusions Fat shaming supports the perpetuation of malformed ideals, and attempts to condition people into adopting the sentiments which underpin fat oppression. If we internalise these sentiments, a natural consequence is that we adopt the skewed value system which is starkly highlighted in orthorexia, prioritising health, physical appearance, and body weight above genuine moral values. This defective value system can lead to disorders where one becomes obsessive in behaviours concerning food, exercise, or health, and this can have severe, sometimes fatal consequences. The common ideology which underpins both orthorexia and fat shaming should thus be resisted. Another potentially dangerous result of internalising common social beliefs concerning health and fatness, is that healthy or thin people are considered more morally virtuous than unhealthy or fat people.When attractiveness and physical health are considered virtues, any real virtues which would more likely promote well-being for an individual – such as friendship, dignity, or honour – are undermined. And if health does happen to be an important value to an individual, it is appropriate only when it is result of self-determination, and not when it is a consequence of deformed desires or malformed tastes. Therefore the belief system which motivates fat shaming influences a skewed value system, which can lead to eating disorders and obsessive behaviours, as well as restricting the ability for individuals to determine their own priorities in life. It is inconsistent with a fully developed personal autonomy. © CHARLOTTE CURRAN 2021
Charlotte Curran is an MA student at the University of Manchester, and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, specialising in the Philosophy of Mental Health.
FIND OUT WHY www.bloomsbury.com/The-Future-Is-Feminine
A book that will change the way you think about everything that matters —
The Single Simple Question that Challenges All Convictions
Connecting the Conundrums of God and Immortality, Free Will, the Strange Reality of Quantum Physics, and Finding Purpose in Existence
Available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble Paperback, 376 pages, ISBN 978-1695354784
A Stoic Approach to Racism Frank Thermitus says prepare for the worst to achieve the best. ather than imagining an ideal world, Stoics try to manage their emotions in order to deal with the world as it is. With this in mind, Stoicism would suggest that people of color should begin each day by reminding themselves, “I will face racism, I will be stereotyped, I will be racially profiled, I will face racial discrimination, and people will be culturally or racially insensitive.” Although this idea of negative visualization – visualization of the inevitability of suffering – seems an odd approach in contrast with presently popular positive thinking psychology, it is rooted in a time-tested philosophy that started in Greece in the third century BCE. The original Stoic principles are based on the idea that we may not have control over the things that happen to us, but we do have control over how we respond to them. The Stoics also believed that one should cope with the real world while pursuing self-improvement through wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage. The best-known Stoic philosopher was the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE), who in his book Meditations wrote, “Begin each day by telling yourself: ‘I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness’ – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and evil.” Some argue that racism has not lessened much since the days of colonialism but has simply evolved. Others say that the type of racism we face today is a ‘privilege’ compared to what our ancestors or grandparents endured centuries or even just decades ago. But regardless of comparisons to the past, the fact remains that racism is still active in our societies. The recent resurgence of neoNazism and other white supremacy groups, sometimes even condoned or supported by some leaders of powerful nations, is a testimony to racism’s strong roots and persistence. This must be perceived as a substantial moral problem, not merely a political or economic one. Indeed, racism is undoubtedly one of the most prevalent evils of our society. It has also been the most challenging obstacle for people of color for the past four centuries. Racism still affects people of color in many complex ways, including operating as a form of ‘invisible hand’, which works in obscurity within political, social, and economic systems. I want to argue that a moral fight within the framework of Stoic ethics will help destroy it. According to the American psychiatrist and sociologist Frances Cress Welsing, racism is a ‘systemic structure’ that functions in all areas of society: economics, education, entertainment, labor, healthcare, law, politics, religion, sex, and war. An argument can be made therefore that it’s not sufficient to simply recognize that racism is deeply rooted in all aspects of society: people of color should fight against racism on a personal level. Awareness alone will only bolster the typical negative emotions that most individuals of color experience when facing varieties of racism, including confusion, helplessness, fear, anger, and frustration, which often lead to a state of depression and/or victimhood. Moreover, recent research by USC and UCLA, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology (Vol. 106, 2019), has found that day-to-day
14 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
racism drastically increases the risk of disease and chronic illnesses among people of color. It can even be argued that racism is a toxic public health hazard stemming from the same system that ought to cure it. But since people of color cannot rely on the system for a cure, a strategy based on self-therapy through philosophy should be explored. As the ancient physician Galen once wrote, “The best physician is also a philosopher.” This is why I wish to advocate Stoicism to combat racism. Stoic Anti-Racist Virtues While at the frontline of Rome’s war against the Germanic tribes in around 170 CE, Marcus Aurelius wrote: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way, becomes the way.” Such is the creed, the motto of Stoicism, and it should also be the attitude of people of color in the fight against racism. Aurelius’s words stand on the premise that we don’t control most of the external obstacles to our happiness or fulfillment, but we can maneuver round and otherwise use these obstacles to our advantage. We people of color can’t control that we are born black or brown or yellow, and consequently are marginalized and discriminated against because of the color of our skin, ‘due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and evil’. However, we are fully capable of using these factors as opportunities to improve ourselves and be better than the offenders. When they go low, we go high. Stoics believe that everything around us operates in a web of cause and effect. Stoics call the anima mundi, the operative principle of the world, the logos (logos literally means, principle, explanation, or word). They originally applied the concept of the ultimate principle to explain how the gods interacted with the imperfect universe. In the present-day case of people of color, logos could refer to the principle used to understand how the evil of racism operates in human culture. So for the sake of our discussion, let’s say the logos is the systemic racist structure that Dr Cress Welsing described. To put things in Stoic terms, while we may not have control of the system and how or when some form of racism will challenge us, we do have full control of how we react to it, and how we allow it to affect us. Following Stoic principles, people of color should deal with these challenges through cultivating the four cardinal virtues of Stoicism, namely wisdom, temperance, justice and courage. For the purpose of responding to racism, I also dare take the liberty of adding a fifth virtue, using the concept of v-rules advanced by Rosalind Hursthouse in her 2001 book On Virtue Ethics: Wisdom: The ability to navigate the system in a logical, informed, and calm manner, as exemplified by Michelle and Barack Obama, for example. Temperance: The exercise of self-restraint and moderation in the face of racism, as shown by Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela. Justice: Treating others with fairness even when they do wrong. A Stoic would argue that racist people are not necessarily intrinsi-
Modern Morals Toussaint Louverture (see p.16)
Modern Morals cally bad; rather, they have a misguided view or a misconception of what’s good and evil. Hence, one should fight against racism, but not necessarily against racist people (hate the sin but not the sinner) – just as Martin Luther King approached his own fight against racism. Courage: Having the courage to stand against racism with clarity and integrity, not only during exceptional circumstances but also during ordinary situations; for example by kneeling at work like quarterback Colin Kaepernick, or by refusing, like Rosa Parks, to move to the back of the bus. Resistance: Resisting our natural instincts to have negative emotions towards racism, in order to react in accordance with the aforementioned virtues while nevertheless taking action through organized defense tactics, persistence, and ingenuity – almost as Malcolm X did, or as Huey Newton did with the Black Panther Party, but retaining non-violence as a principle. As Ryan Holiday says in his book The Obstacle is The Way (2014), these five cardinal virtues can be aligned with three basic practical steps: Perception, Action, and Will: Perception: The Stoic concept of managing one’s emotions by viewing things objectively can be applied to racism if one elects to perceive racist acts as almost inevitable. And by pragmatically viewing racist acts perpetrated by racist agents for what and who they are – products of the environment and the racist system – one can eventually take wise, tempered, and just action against them. Action: Circumvent the racist system creatively to our benefit. It behoves people of color to respond to racist challenges with our natural gifts of creativity as our best weapons. Our ‘difference’ allows us to view things from a unique angle, thus providing the opportunity to creatively fight and approach issues differently, in a controlled or even humorous manner. For example, during a game in Spain in 2014, Brazilian soccer player Dani Alves casually ate a banana tossed at him onto the pitch. The act was a racist attempt to insult Alves, but his reaction was a Stoic one, embodying Aurelius’s concept of using challenges to one’s advantage. In a brief instant, Alves covered all five virtues in one simple action. Or as the Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “I laugh at those who think they can damage me.” Will: ‘Will’ does not apply only to willpower and persistence, but also means to have the willingness, wisdom, and courage to accept the things we can’t control – like racism and racists. It’s about having inner strength by understanding that racism is a system based on historical factors and that some people are naturally products of that system. Yet we are willing to fight for the good cause and stand for something much bigger that won’t bear fruit overnight but could ultimately change that system. Stoic Self-Empowerment Using Stoic philosophy to deal with racism is not a new concept. Seneca’s book Letters from a Stoic (c.65 CE) was often read by African American activists and abolitionists in the nineteenth century. The first free black American community in NYC, founded in 1825, was called Seneca Village. In the late 1700s, one of the greatest generals of the age, Toussaint Louverture, architect of the first free black nation of the Western world – Haiti – was known to be an avid reader of Epictetus (one of the first Stoic 16 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
philosophers, who had also lived as a slave). Toussaint’s Stoic approach allowed him to have a diplomatic but militaristic stand against slavery and racism, which helped him make deals with Spain, France, and Britain to gain freedom for the slaves in Haiti. And Toussaint’s initial fight for freedom in Haiti helped pave the way to free black slaves in many other South American countries. One can argue that every aspect of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) was an example of reversing the apparatus of slavery/racism to the advantage of the slaves. When Toussaint was betrayed, captured, and about to be exiled and imprisoned in France, his last words at the port before leaving the island were one of the most powerful quotes of the time. Before boarding the boat, he said with pride to his French captors: “In overthrowing me in Saint-Domingue [Haiti], you have done no more than cutting down the trunk of the tree of black liberty. It will spring back from the roots, for they are numerous and deep.” These words epitomized a great Stoic concept called in Latin amor fati, or ‘love of fate’, which embodies the idea of embracing one’s fate even when it’s bad. Toussaint had already accepted his fate, but he knew that the fight would continue without him – which turned out to be worse for the French in his absence. Nelson Mandela was another black leader who followed the philosophy of Stoicism. Marcus Aurelius’s journals would guide and comfort Mandela during his twenty-seven years of imprisonment. After being released from prison and becoming the President of South Africa, Mandela’s approach to the fight against racism was also arguably Stoic. He stressed that the injustice of the past could not be changed, but in the present black people can confront the offences of the past by seeking to build a better future for South Africa. Epictetus wrote: “Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: some things are in our control and some things are not.” If people of color can begin to apply Stoicism against racism, it could make a difference in their own lives and in the current battle against it. Instead of getting frustrated and irritated by the constant racist challenges and attacks – discrimination, stereotyping, microaggression etc – they will realize that due to the systematic nature of racism, things are not so black and white. Those attacks are not in their own control and perhaps not even in the control of the offenders in some instances, but they can control their reaction to (and against) them. For our own peace-of-mind we ought not to allow these offenses to negatively affect our emotions, nor give the offenders the satisfaction of knowing that their evil behavior has negatively affected us. As Seneca said, “all cruelty springs from weakness” – therefore people of color should exercise inner strength when racists display their weakness in this way. Stoicism is not simply a philosophical idea, but also a recipe for daily personal growth and happiness. By adhering to the principles of Stoicism, it is my belief that people of color can reverse most of the obstacles of racism to the way of tranquility, selfempowerment, and the overall betterment of our people and community. Ultimately, what stands in the way – racism – becomes the way – to empowerment. © FRANK THERMITUS 2021
Frank Thermitus is an Haitian-American financial market veteran from New York. He is working on a non-profit project to create a network between Afro-diasporas in the Americas.
THE HOME OF EXISTENTIAL TRAINING
MA in EXISTENTIAL AND HUMANIST PASTORAL CARE WWW.NSPC.ORG.UK/PASTORALCARE Demystify baffling language and understand fascinating concepts with this brand new guide by Philosophy Now’s Anja Steinbauer. NEW SCHOOL OF PSYCHOTHERAPY AND COUNSELLING 61–63 Fortune Green RoadɅLondonɅNW6 1DR 0207 435 8067 // 0203 515 0223Ʌ@ [email protected]Ʌ nspc.org.uk This programme is quality assured by Middlesex University and you will receive a Middlesex award on successful completion.
ROSES’N’GUN © FEDERICO DE CICCO 2021
PLEASE VISIT ZUMAR7.COM INSTAGRAM.COM/ZUMAR7/ OR WWW.FEDERICODECICCO.COM
Is Election Meddling an Act of War? Elad Uzan argues that although it may well be, this doesn’t necessarily justify a warlike response. n July 2020, then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden put Russia and others on notice. “If any foreign power recklessly chooses to interfere in our democracy”, he said, “I will not hesitate to respond as President to impose substantial and lasting costs.” Soon after he was elected, Biden warned that a massive Russian cyber attack against the United States, revealed in late December, would not go unanswered. In a statement issued by his transition team, the President-elect sounded ready for battle: “A good defense isn’t enough. We need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyber attacks in the first place… Our adversaries should know that, as President, I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation.” Former President Trump never confronted Vladimir Putin over Russia’s cyber aggressions directed at American companies and government agencies. Nor did Trump and his congressional allies move to hold Moscow accountable for its attempts to undermine American democratic institutions: the hacking of prominent Democrats’ email accounts, and a concerted campaign by Russian agents to sway the outcome of the 2016 election using malignant software (in this case, bots), social media manipulation and online propaganda. With a new team in the White House, perhaps the approach will change. But what should its response be? What, for that matter, should any state do when it finds itself on the wrong end of election interference? After all, the US is hardly the only victim. Facebook, for instance, acknowledges that “it has become a battleground for governments seeking to manipulate
18 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
public opinion in other countries.” At stake here is the issue of sovereignty itself. A foreign power need not directly tamper with election results in order to undermine the sovereignty of democratic states. Even if no voting machines are hacked or tallies altered, election meddling in the other ways mentioned corrupts the process by which publics form and express their wills. It also contaminates voters’ faith in the democratic process and the rule of law, leaving them suspicious of fraud and marring the legitimacy of elected bodies and officials. The fundamental purpose of election meddling is to substitute, to the greatest extent possible, the leadership preference of a foreign power for that of a sovereign people. Hardly anything could be more dangerous to the practice and ideals of democracy. What then should democratic leaders do when faced with election meddling? In response to foreign interference in elections, warlike language is understandable. As a hostile violation of sovereignty, election meddling fits one technical description of an invasion. However, just war theory, the most influential source of objective guidance for the ethical prosecution of wars, and the philosophical heart of international law concerning war, offers a sobering rejoinder. The theory suggests that, while election meddling is in fact a belligerent act, no actual use of military force could ever be ethically justified as a response. The Ethical Problem of Bloodless Violence While no blood is shed in cases of election meddling, it is a warlike act. According to a declassified US government report,
Modern Morals during the 2016 campaign President Putin ordered his subordinates to undermine faith in US democracy, harm Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the election, and help Trump become President. In all of these ways, the Russian government assaulted the sovereignty of the American people, effectively attempting to replace the existing US system of government with a new one. Under this new system, Russian citizens, acting covertly and with no democratic mandate, would have an outsized role in deciding how the United States was governed. Many Americans perceived these actions as attacks even though Russia never used violence. Bill Evanina, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center issued a statement in August 2020 saying, “Foreign efforts to influence or interfere with our elections are a direct threat to the fabric of our democracy.” Congressman Eric Swalwell, who took part in the investigations into the Russian interference, wrote in a posting on his House of Representatives webpage that “Russia will use the lessons learned from their 2016 attack on our democracy to carry out future attacks on both our democracy and other sovereign nations worldwide.” Fiona Hill, who served as a top Russia expert on Trump’s National Security Council, told The Atlantic, “The fact that they faced so little consequence for their action gives them little reason to stop” – an argument for deterrence, and therefore suggestive of a security crisis. In an opinion piece for CNN.com (December 16, 2020) Christopher Krebs, formerly a high-ranking US cybersecurity official, accused Russia of corroding “public faith in American democracy through cyberattacks and a coordinated disinformation campaign.” What Krebs saw was “targeted, calculated threats from without, and from within.” Prominent newspapers similarly understood Russia to be a foreign power attempting to subvert US sovereignty. In an editorial, USA Today opined, “It is not unreasonable to see the Russian attack as a sort of digital version of 9/11. No one was killed, of course, but a foreign adversary sought to strike at one of the nation’s most cherished freedoms: the right to vote in a secure election for president.” And a Washington Post editorial concluded that “Biden must call out Putin’s secret war against the United States”, labeling Putin’s actions ‘asymmetric warfare’ by means of ‘unusual weapons’. In sum, Russia’s election meddling was widely perceived in the United States as an assault on the government and on the rights of citizens. When such an assault is undertaken by force of arms, international law and the ethics of war grant the victimized party a right to defend itself also by force of arms. Yet we may be confident that even people deeply concerned about Russia’s attack on US sovereignty would have been horrified if the response had been military retaliation. None of the above voices calling out Russian interference as an act of war recommended that the US respond with violence. But setting aside the political and strategic arguments for restraint, is such caution warranted from a moral standpoint? A closer look at the notion of sovereignty and at the injunctions of just war theory suggests that caution against the use of force is indeed warranted, further narrowing the toolkit for ethical responses to election interference.
Sovereignty, Power & Violence Just war theory is traditionally attributed to Ambrose (ca. 339397 CE) and Augustine (354-430 CE). Nine hundred years later, Thomas Aquinas devised some ground rules for when it would or would not be justified to wage war. The theory has evolved over the centuries since, but the biggest developments took place due to the widespread adoption of the notion of sovereignty, while recasting it in terms of what is allowed or forbidden in wars between modern nation-states. Sovereignty is now. a guiding principle of international relations, referring to a state’s supreme authority within that state’s territory. The concept was developed first by Francisco de Vitoria in the early sixteenth century; then later in the same century by the likes of Jean Bodin, Hugo Grotius, and Alberico Gentili, who wrote during or in the aftermath of the French Wars of Religion. Their ideas inspired the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years’ War. The Peace of Westphalia proved to be more than an agreement to lay down arms, though: the notion of sovereignty embedded in the pact became the foundation of international law. International law now holds sovereignty sacrosanct. Notably, what serves as a justification for defensive response is not the extent of the harm done to human life or property but the violation of sovereignty. History is full of violation of sovereignty cases in which states have responded violently to bloodless invasions, and yet have done so without suffering international accusations of wrongdoing. One such example is the British action following the 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands by the Argentine armed forces. Amazingly, no British deaths or injuries resulted from the initial invasion. 107 Royal Marines surrendered following a brief clash, and were returned to Britain unscathed. Nevertheless, Britain’s response – a war that cost nearly a thousand lives, including those of a small number of Falkland Islands civilians – was lawful under international treaties, which grant states the right to use force in protecting their borders. The underpinning of this right is traditional just war theory’s unwavering respect for sovereignty regardless of other ethical factors. A state’s borders may be drawn unjustly; the territory these borders enclose may be of little value to the sovereign and its citizens, and may be subject to insistent claims by others, but even then the ethics of war lies on the side of the sovereign power. For, as the Westphalia participants realized, the injustices of the sovereignty itself may be outweighed by the benefits of peace achieved through a firm non-interference policy. Traditionalists vs Revisionists In our quest to make ethical choices about engaging in war, or not, we need not be guided by the example of Westphalia alone. In the centuries since that pact, philosophers have done much to further elaborate just war theory. In modern times, just war theory has branched into two schools: traditionalist and revisionist. The traditionalist position reflects a position more or less in line with that derived from the Westphalian peace and contemporary international law, and is represented best by Michael Walzer’s seminal 1977 work, Just and Unjust Wars. According to Walzer, “every violation of the territorial integrity or political sovereignty of an independent state” constitutes an act of aggression. For Walzer, June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 19
© HARLEY SCHWADRON 2021 TO SEE MORE, PLEASE VISIT SCHWADRONCARTOONS.COM
states have fundamental sovereignty rights, owing to which any harm done to the state’s sovereignty justifies the use of force. The revisionist camp is in turn spearheaded by Jeff McMahan, whose landmark 2009 book, Killing in War, revolutionized the philosophical discussion of the ethics of war by questioning both the moral standing of states and the traditionalists’ presumption that sovereignty is the highest good. According to McMahan, states may ethically protect their citizens’ lives and rights, but sovereignty itself is not an independent good. Rather, it is worth protecting only insofar as doing so secures the rights and lives of citizens. The revisionist and traditionalist schools thus come to different conclusions over cases like the Falklands. We might presume that if the British defense of its Falklands territory was in fact unjustified, then surely nonviolent Russian cyberactivity cannot justifiably be met with force, either. Yet revisionist just war theory actually comes to the opposite conclusion here: it can be met with force. This is a conclusion shared by the traditional theory. So although traditional and revisionist just war theories are in fundamental ways at odds and provide contradictory guidance in some cases, on the subject of foreign election interference they can be reconciled. This would seem a strong argument that a forceful response is justified in this case. We need not delve deeply into traditional theory to understand its conclusion that election meddling is casus belli – just cause for going to war. That would be based simply on the violation of sovereignty. But what about the revisionist theory? According to McMahan, what makes someone liable to defensive harm is whether the defensive harm is justified under specific conditions, not the kind of harm threatened. Thus a sovereignty violation is not by itself an adequate cause for going to war, but sufficient harm to citizens’ rights does justify shedding blood. So, if foreign election meddling significantly undermines the political rights of enough citizens, the violated state might be justified in resorting to violence in order to redress the harm its people have suffered, and reestablish the integrity of their political institutions.
20 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
Other revisionists concur. Cecile Fabre asks us to imagine a situation in which voters in a state – let’s call it Democratania – are unable to use their intended ballots because hackers from an enemy state – Invada – sabotage the election’s result. Invada has not killed a single Democratanian. Still, according to Fabre, rights violations on such a large scale might justify lethal response. To complicate Fabre’s example, let’s conceive of a democracy in which the burning political issue to be decided in the next election is whether to continue a protracted war against a neighboring state. Imagine, furthermore, that there are two plausible candidates for the election, and the winner will decide whether the war continues. The two candidates present opposing viewpoints: one promises to end the war, the other to extend it. Now imagine that a foreign power with financial and political interests in prolonging the war interferes in the democratic processes of the election, hacking internet accounts and balloting machines, in order to manufacture the victory of the prowar candidate. In this case the people do not decide whether or not to continue the war – a foreign power does. Without incurring the substantial costs of invasion or of assassinating the other candidate, that power asserts its will over a state in which it has no political rights. If election meddling is a less costly way to achieve the goals normally achieved by violence, that does not mean the goals have changed in a way that would neutralized a state’s rights to self-defense. Further Reasons Against Force It is easy to see, from the thought experiment, that election meddling can be a harmful violation of rights and sovereignty. Thus, at least at first glance, electoral interference may justify the use of force on both traditionalist and revisionist just war theories. However, both accounts place further constraints on the exercise of force, and it turns out that thanks to these constraints, it is impossible to ethically respond to election meddling with force. Just war theory enumerates six preconditions for the justifiable use of force: 1) There must be a just cause; 2) The resort to violence must be necessary in order to realize that cause; 3) The planned response must be proportionate to the harm expected from the enemy’s actions; 4) There must be a reasonable probability of success in achieving the just cause; 5) The defender must be acting with the right intentions; and 6) The defender must be acting on legitimate authority. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that election meddling might provide a just cause. It is still unclear whether resorting to force would satisfy the further criteria of necessity, proportionality, and probability of success. Indeed, on my view, these conditions constitute the most significant ethical constraints on warmaking. First let us consider necessity. Is it necessary to use force to prevent a foreign power’s interference in a nation’s elections? In most cases, probably not. A variety of other courses of action might be more effective. These could include improved security for online voting; regulations preventing the use of bots on social networks; and taking the balloting process entirely offline. The use of force is likewise unnecessary for punishing the meddler, who could instead be subject to economic sanctions or various other diplomatic censures. Second let us consider proportionality. There’s the fraught problem of measuring the harm to proportionately tailor the
Modern Morals The Spirit of Peace Flies Over The World by Farshaad Razmjouie 2021
response to it. How do you quantify the damage of electoral interference, especially when no votes are changed, or one cannot determine whether the meddling affected outcomes? How do you compare that with the quite different harms that would result from armed retaliation? Any answer to these questions will be marred by imprecision. Third, how likely is it that a forceful response will achieve the just goal? That is, how probable is it that the use of force will restore the victim state’s sovereignty or the rights of its citizens? An armed operation could only be viewed as successful if the meddling state’s leaders come to admit and turn away from what they’ve done. But even then, the restoration of a state’s sovereignty would have to come from within the state itself. For instance, politicians elected illegitimately due to election interference might respond to that revelation by ceding power and agreeing that they never legitimately held it. Such an outcome is probably unachievable except at an enormous cost – far greater than could ever be proportionate to the harm done. And we cannot be confident that the people’s trust in their sovereignty would actually be restored in that case. And in all likelihood, a forceful retaliation in response to election interference would cause a much greater harm to the damaged democracy than the meddling itself. When it comes to election interference, large constituencies are probably better off ignoring the meddler, and taking non-violent steps to ensure that the meddling won’t happen again. And so we reach a surprising conclusion. On both accounts of just war theory, election meddling of the kind Russia initiated in 2016 violates a state’s sovereignty in a way that justifies defensive response. Yet, on both accounts, the hands of the invaded sovereign are somewhat tied. The use of force would be unethical, in spite of real harms to sovereignty.
The Road Ahead If we draw only on traditional and revisionist just war theories, then we’re stuck at this impasse, and must accept that election meddling cannot be prevented through either the use or the threat of force. On my view, the real harm of election meddling to sovereignty plays out in terms of the rights of the victimized public. Election meddling creates a situation in which one portion of the electorate believes its rights undermined, while another portion remains committed to the legitimacy of the election outcome in spite of the acknowledged meddling. The problem therefore needs to be solved within the society and institutions of the attacked state. Although international institutions can help by adjudicating the facts and coming to some advisory determination, it is still up to the ‘invaded’ people to recognize that their democratic rights amount to more than the outcomes of tainted elections. So ultimately, although many Americans may see Russia’s election meddling as warlike, the defense of democracy must come from within and take the form of a realization across the ideological spectrum that it was an unacceptable violation of sovereignty, leading to a commitment to internal reform in order to steel the country against further similar violations. Reforms to social media regulation; reforms to election law; civic education to help citizens discern propaganda better; and political processes to remove from power politicians who refuse to condemn this violation of sovereignty, and thereby encourage it. © DR ELAD UZAN 2021
Elad Uzan did his PhD in philosophy and law at Tel Aviv University. Starting October 2021, he will join Oxford University’s Faculty of Philosophy as a Marie Curie Fellow. June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 21
Nonhuman Persons Gerard Elfstrom asks what such creatures, if they exist, would be like and how much it matters morally. or much of Western history, we have been confident that human beings are persons but no other creatures have that status. These beliefs matter because personhood has often been deemed a necessary requirement for possessing moral value. Recently, an American legal activist group, the Nonhuman Rights Project, has challenged the assumption that only human beings are persons. Their approach is simple. They assume that humans possess particular features that make them persons, then ask whether there is evidence that any nonhuman animals display these same qualities. The group has offered testimony from an array of experts to support the claim that chimpanzees, elephants, and dolphins do indeed possess them. They conclude that these animals should legally be considered persons. Indeed, the Project has filed lawsuits in several state courts on behalf of individual chimpanzees, requesting that these nonhuman persons be granted legal recognition of their autonomy. Although the Project makes claims about legal rights only, and their court suits have so far been unsuccessful, their arguments have implications for more general issues concerning the moral standing of nonhuman animals and their relations to humans. If some animals do have a standing as persons even in the narrow sense required for legal recognition, then we may be morally obliged to treat those animals very differently, by, for example, not killing them for sport or food, or using them for medical experimentation.
© HARLEY SCHWADRON 2021 TO SEE MORE, PLEASE VISIT SCHWADRONCARTOONS.COM
Historic Animal Identity Issues The discussion of the moral status of animals has ancient roots. The Classical Greeks debated the matter at length, and with considerable sophistication. Several Greek philosophers,
including Aristotle and the Stoics, framed the issue in terms of the possession, or not, of reason. They argued that if any animals possessed reason they should enjoy the same moral status as human beings. But why should the ability to reason be required for moral standing? The moral approach most often employed by the Greeks, was that members of communities who’d devised jointlyaccepted standards of conduct have moral standing in that community. The idea is that rational beings alone are able to recognize the benefits of long-term advantage over short-term advantage and to grasp general principles of conduct. Several ancient Greek philosophers assumed that only the ability to reason allows beings to conform their activity to the requirements of morality. Since reasoning is not a physical trait which can be examined directly, they had to seek indirect evidence for its possession. They determined that any genuinely rational being must possess language. Because, so far as most Greeks were able to discern, animals lack the ability to speak, none had reason, and thus none could be either persons or members of moral communities. Since nonhuman animals cannot be part of communities composed of reasoning individuals, they concluded that they had no claim to the same moral protections as humans. Medieval Christian ideas regarding animals were shaped by Aristotle and the Stoics, and the scholastics asserted along with them that nonhuman animals lack reason, so they cannot enjoy anything akin to the moral status of humans. Later, René Descartes (1596-1650) viewed a human being as a unique combination of a material body and an immaterial mind or soul. He argued that because animals lack reason they must lack an intellect (having only sensations), and so they lacked a soul. Similarly, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) presumed that humans simultaneously resided in two domains – although in Kant’s case, a realm of sensory experience and a distinct realm of intellect (which to Kant means non-sensory thought). Since he also believed animals do not reside in the realm of intellect, he also believed they have no moral claims on us. Notoriously, Kant asserted that humans should avoid cruelty to animals, but not for the sake of the animals themselves. Cruelty to them should be avoided on grounds that some human observer might be pained at the prospect of such treatment, and also that to inflict cruelty was bad for the person doing the inflicting (Lectures on Ethics, 1775). But this intellectual climate began to shift late in the Eighteenth Century. Jeremy Bentham famously asserted that the only question relevant to the treatment of any creature was whether it could suffer: “It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same
22 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
Modern Morals fate [of suffering]. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse?
Values and porpoise
But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” (The Principles of Morals and Legislation, Chapter XVII, 1780).
If an animal could suffer, Bentham argued, it should have the same claim to be free of suffering as human subjects. He believed that an animal’s appearance of suffering was an accurate indication of the experience of pain, and, thus, it should not be made to experience suffering. Bentham’s position on animals is a marked shift from that of earlier thinkers. He assumed that the simple fact of vulnerability to harm was sufficient to endow a creature with moral standing. This was a significant shift in moral thought, too. Until then, a basic assumption of Western European ethics had been that only moral agents were of moral concern – only individuals able to grasp moral principles and act in accordance with them. Bentham presented the alternative idea that beings able to suffer harm mattered morally simply because they were vulnerable to harm. Hence (without employing the term) he introduced the notion of moral patients: that is, of creatures who mattered morally simply because of their vulnerability to harm. In the second half of the Nineteenth Century, Charles Darwin completely altered the common view of our relationship to animals in a different way. An important implication of his theory of evolution by incremental change was that there is no sharp break between the abilities of humans and those of nonhuman creatures. Hence for those who accepted Darwin’s ideas, the thinking of Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes and Kant was incomplete at best, since they all presumed the existence of a significant gap or difference between humans and nonhuman animals. One of the troubling aspects of Darwin’s continuity view was that it conflicted with the evident fact that humans live in ways that are markedly different from other animals, and also have abilities that seem vastly different from those which animals appear to possess. However, these ‘evident facts’ also came under fire in the Twentieth Century. Modern Animal Thinking During the Twentieth Century scientists began to hotly debate the question of whether nonhuman animals have genuine language use. Certainly, nonhuman animals are unable to communicate as humans can; but to what extent does this imply they lack language? Scientists are even now hard at work examining the sounds produced by chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and whales. In a number of cases, they have concluded that some types of animal communication have a syntactical structure akin to human speech. We might say that they use grammar to create complex meaning. They not only produce different distinct sounds, they are also able to produce those sounds in ordered series, and the order in which the sounds are produced is important for the meaning of the whole. For the past thirty years there has been ferocious debate on the question of whether chimpanzees and gorillas have language, or can learn to communicate at a human
level. There is not yet a final consensus on these matters (see for instance, ‘Why monkeys can’t talk – and what they would sound like if they could’, M. Price, Science magazine, 2016). But at this juncture, it is not at all obvious that the Greek confidence that all animals lack complex language, or reason, is justified. Chimpanzees, and some other nonhuman animals, also display evidence of other abilities that some researchers associate with personhood. One is the ability to recognize oneself in a mirror. The thought here is that an animal able to recognize its own reflection possesses a sense of self, a requisite for personhood. In addition, some animals, including chimpanzees, display evidence of what’s called ‘a theory of mind’. That is, they are able to understand that other individuals have wants, desires, feelings, intentions, and projects of their own, and act on the basis of that understanding – by being deliberately deceptive, for instance. Another set of abilities concerning personhood involves being able to foresee a future and plan for it. Chimpanzees certainly do display such abilities. Notably, some captive chimps will store up piles of rocks, which they plan to toss at future human visitors. These are remarkable and important discoveries, and they greatly deepen our understanding of our nonhuman neighbors. Nonetheless, by themselves, they do not necessarily imply that animals with these abilities should be considered persons. Christine Korsgaard of Harvard University is a highly astute and clear-headed modern Kantian philosopher. She nonetheless rejects Kant’s view that animals have no moral claims on us. In support of this she argues in her book Fellow Creatures (2018) that perhaps all conscious creatures have intentions and plans that entitle them to be respected by us. She contends that we have no sound basis for judging that our wants, desires, and values have greater worth or moral significance than those of other creatures. She believes that since we are unable to sucJune/July 2021 Philosophy Now 23
CHIMPANZEE © CARLOS VALENZUELA 2018
some degree of freedom to live as they wish. But, for primates resident in human societies, these degrees of freedom must remain strictly limited. Like small children, they can survive only with the direction and care of human adults. Moreover, laws presently exist to protect animals from cruelty and ensure their proper treatment. Would granting the legal status of personhood add significantly to these protections? As Jeremy Bentham and his utilitarian followers would no doubt insist, what matters is the ways in which animals can be harmed. In addition to physical pain and discomfort, we have learned they may suffer by being deprived of social ties with others of their species and by the inability to live as they would wish. The bare fact of this seems adequate reason to protect them from such experiences, regardless of issues of personhood. Nonhuman Moral Standing Christine Korsgaard believes that only conscious beings have a claim on our moral obligations. It would seem that Korsgaard thinks that a creature without consciousness (insects, for example) is thus without awareness of its circumstances, and so unable to suffer, no matter what level of physical distress it encounters. There are several difficulties with this view. For one, we have no clear, accepted definition of consciousness, nor any clear criteria for determining when consciousness is present. Given the present state of our understanding, it is possible that both flies and cockroaches possess some level of consciousness. After all, they are notoriously well-equipped to escape threats and respond to predators. For Korsgaard – in opposition to Bentham – it appears that suffering alone is not directly morally relevant to our treatment of animals. What matters in her view is their intention to escape it. For her – as for Kant – it is intention that is morally central. Hence Korsgaard’s standard may allow a huge number of living beings, including insects, to have moral standing. Professor Korsgaard, following Kant, nonetheless finds a wide gap between human beings and creatures of other sorts. She notes that human beings are able to grasp moral principles and conduct their lives in accordance with them. As far as she is able to determine, no other creatures have this ability. Other creatures simply act in accordance with their impulses. They do not reflect on their motives, nor evaluate them as humans can. They simply act or do not act. So although Korsgaard differs from Kant in arguing that nonhuman animals matter morally, she agrees with Kant that only human beings are capable of functioning as moral agents. In other words, she is assuming that nonhuman animals are unable to grasp general moral principles and align their actions with them. The activists of the Nonhuman Rights Project are thus faced with the difficulty that nonhuman animals can never be persons in the way humans are. From this perspective, the Nonhuman Rights Project is misconceived. But there are robust grounds for asserting that nonhuman animals should matter morally simply because of the ways they can suffer. Hence, rather than seeking something akin to human legal personhood for animals, it would likely be more feasible as well as more conceptually coherent to seek robust legal redress for the ways in which humans make animals suffer. © PROF. GERARD A. ELFSTROM 2021
Gerard Elfstrom is Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University in Alabama. He took his PhD at Emory University. 24 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
COMIC © GUTO DIAS 2021. PLEASE VISIT FACEBOOK.COM/PG/GUTOZDIASSTUDIO
cessfully defend the claim that our values are superior to theirs, we are obliged to accommodate their life plans. Among other things, she concludes that this implies that nonhuman animals should not be removed from their native habitats, and certainly should not be held captive. Korsgaard’s argument is both ingenious and intriguing. Nonetheless, her findings leave several issues unaddressed. For example, human interests frequently conflict with those of animals. We seek to keep deer, rabbits, and squirrels out of our gardens. Mice and rats appear to find human residences enormously attractive, yet we make determined efforts to keep them away. How are we to deal with the issue of pests? Also, although some nonhuman animals are akin to persons in some ways, they possess the qualities of personhood to a markedly lesser degree than adult humans. For example, research has provided evidence that adult chimpanzees achieve the intellectual development of a two- or three-year-old human child (‘The Intellectual Development of a Home-Raised Chimpanzee’, K. J. and C. Hayes, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 95, No. 2, 1951). Children continue to develop intellectually for more than twenty years, while chimpanzees cease cognitive development at an early age. Should they have the same or similar moral standing to humans? Detailed investigation shows that chimpanzees form close emotional bonds with others and suffer emotional distress if those associations are denied. The same is true of many – perhaps most – nonhuman animals. Hence, this data may provide a foundation for claims to decent treatment; but it seems unlikely that an appeal to personhood is necessary to reach that conclusion. As Bentham would likely insist, it provides evidence of ways in which they can suffer, and that alone is sufficient to ground moral claims on us. Chimpanzees display signs of self-recognition and of planning for future activity. But it is not obvious that this entitles them to legal claims to remain free of human constraint. In fact, the chimpanzees that are the principals of the Nonhuman Rights Project lawsuits have been in captivity for much or even all of their lives, and it is most unlikely they would survive a return to the wild. Given this, what rights is it reasonable for them to possess? The Nonhuman Rights Project believe they should be allowed to form associations with other chimpanzees and enjoy
Cover art for Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
Abortion & Artificial Wombs Ji Young Lee and Andrea Bidoli discuss how artificial womb technology will shape the abortion rights discussion. bortion is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy. In current practice, this involves the death of the foetus. Consequently, the debate on whether those experiencing an unwanted pregnancy have the right to abortion is usually dichotomized as a matter of pro-choice versus pro-life. Pro-choice advocates maintain that abortion is acceptable under various circumstances. The idea that we ought to respect pregnant people’s rights to choose what to do with their bodies – respect for bodily autonomy – is cited as a major reason for granting them abortion rights. Pro-life advocates, on the other hand, claim that abortion is not acceptable under most circumstances. They argue, typically, that the foetus has a right to life. Recent events, such as Poland’s High Court decision in October 2020 to ban most abortions, and the huge protests and outcries this generated around the world, indicate that the abortion debate is far from resolved.
Artificial Womb Technology Presently, most research on artificial womb technology is funded to tackle health complications caused by premature birth. But artificial womb technology may one day make gestation outside of human bodies possible. This will have radical implications for the abortion debate. The notion of gestation within artificial wombs has been 26 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
termed ‘ectogenesis’, from the Greek ecto (‘outer/outside’) and genesis (‘coming to life’). There are two possible routes of ectogenesis, which would lead to two different challenges for the abortion debate. Partial ectogenesis would involve the transfer of the foetus from a human uterus to an artificial womb at some point in a pregnancy. Full ectogenesis would instead involve the creation of the embryo in vitro and its direct placement in an artificial womb, therefore bypassing a human uterus completely. Research has been promising enough in recent years to expect partial ectogenesis in the relatively near future. Full ectogenesis, by contrast, may be possible only in the unforeseeable or far future. But both types of ectogenesis raise interesting issues worth talking about today. Let’s first briefly consider what the general impact of ectogenesis might be for the controversies currently surrounding abortion matters. On the surface, the possibility of gestation outside of a human body appears rather promising for the abortion debate. By enabling people to avoid enduring an unwanted pregnancy whilst ensuring that foetuses can grow without having to compete against a person’s bodily rights, ectogenesis appears appealing to both the pro-choice and the pro-life factions of the dispute. Yet it is equally possible that ectogenesis might instead complicate the debate on abortion. The next sections will elaborate on these issues.
Modern Morals Partial Ectogenesis & Abortion Rights Some claim that partial ectogenesis could resolve the abortion debate. Supporters of this view argue that once artificial gestation becomes technologically possible, the only morally acceptable way to meet abortion requests would be to extract the foetus from the pregnant woman and continue its gestation ex utero regardless of preference(s) of the potential parent(s). However, not everyone would agree that this is a morally satisfactory solution to the abortion issue, on account of the potential parent’s bodily autonomy. For instance, just as we might view a forced abortion as morally abhorrent, under the assumption that people ought not to be forced to have something done to their body that they do not want done, forced extractions would be equally subject to the charge of interfering with bodily autonomy. Thus, although the possibility to resort to artificial womb technology would be a significant addition to the choices offered to people considering an abortion, some may argue that this procedure – like any medical procedure – ought not to be imposed on them. Even in the case that partial ectogenesis is voluntarily carried out, an interesting dispute arises on whether to class a foetus as born once out of the human womb, as premature babies currently are or whether it’s born only once the gestation (human or artificial) is complete. If the foetus is considered born at the time of the transfer process, it would be almost impossible to request the death of the foetus thereafter, no matter how early the extraction occurs, as it would automatically become a premature child. In this case, it seems that partial ectogenesis would terminate unwanted pregnancies, but fail to avoid bringing to life an unwanted child at any point post-extraction. Some scholars have introduced alternative conceptualizations of human identity, which might perhaps be necessary in this scenario. In particular, Elizabeth Romanis has proposed that we consider “the subject of the process of gestation ex utero [as] a unique human entity: a ‘gestateling’, rather than a fetus or a newborn preterm neonate” (see ‘Artificial womb technology and the significance of birth: why gestatelings are not newborns (or fetuses)’, Journal of Medical Ethics, 45(11), 2019). Whatever we make of the metaphysical status of the foetus postextraction in partial ectogenesis, the definitional boundaries – and so the justifiability or permissibility of abortion – remain contentious. Full Ectogenesis & Abortion Rights Full ectogenesis would have more radical implications on the abortion debate. This is because the focus would shift away from the issue of the right to bodily autonomy - which has thus far been the basis of many abortion laws - entirely onto the even more ethically controversial right to the death of the foetus. Full ectogenesis challenges proponents of abortion rights to justify why termination of a foetus would be ethically permissible if the usual routes cited by pro-choice advocates – such as bodily autonomy – are no longer relevant. For instance, in her famous paper ‘A Defence of Abortion’ (1971), the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson argued in favour of the right to choose abortion when the issue is related to bodily autonomy, but against “the right to secure the death of the unborn child.” Some
might intuitively feel that this question is doubly at issue in the full ectogenesis context, since, unlike in natural conception, full ectogenesis is in principle never accidental, but involves deliberate intent, and poses no health risk to the aspiring parent. Perhaps the most palatable options in the case that the aspiring parent(s) change their mind about having a child, then, is for them to relinquish any legal responsibility or right over the foetus; for the artificial womb to continue to be used to incubate the now legally parentless foetus; and for the resulting child to be put up for adoption once out of the artificial womb. Although some believe that full ectogenesis would make termination of a foetus ethically unacceptable, others would argue that the boundary of reproductive choice for potential parents also includes the right to terminate the foetus even in this case. It may be therefore that a more comprehensive view of the ‘right to choose’ is called for. We might need to broaden peoples’ rights over their reproductive future in a way that includes the right for every individual to decide whether to become a parent. Such a right would capture the right to decide whether to become a parent at a particular time, with a particular partner, to a particular potential child. This right may be based on one’s rights to control one’s genetic material, or to privacy, for instance. Suppose such a right to personal control over parenthood could be established. We might still encounter further, novel challenges, such as the need for all partners involved in the childmaking process to have a say in termination rights of the foetus in question. It would no longer be the sole prerogative of the pregnant person to decide, since the pregnancy itself has been outsourced to an artificial womb. On the face of it, this looks like a win for gender equality in reproductive rights: surely aspiring parents, rather than only potential parents, would have equal say in what happens to the foetus in the artificial womb. Yet even allowing this, difficult questions remain. Whose decision should be prioritized in case of disagreement? What ethical models would we use to adjudicate contrasting preferences? Up until what point in gestation should the parents be able to decide whether to terminate the foetus? As our reproductive possibilities and procedures change over time, we must be ready to address these kinds of questions. Conclusion The prospect of full ectogenesis may seem far off, the stuff of science fiction. However, the increasing potential of artificial womb technology compels us to consider new ethical terrains for future abortion debates. Ectogenesis can represent a promising new possibility. Yet, even the mere possibility reveals that sensible policies here will be critical to the future of abortion rights, and thereby to the ethical success of this technology. We should therefore rightly reflect on the moral and legal implications of these matters, and do so well before the possibility of ectogenesis becomes a reality. © J.Y. LEE AND ANDREA BIDOLI 2021
J.Y. Lee is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen, working on the Velux-funded project ‘The Future of Family Relationships’. Andrea Bidoli is a PhD fellow in Bioethics at the University of Copenhagen. Her PhD project focuses on gender, parenthood and gestation. June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 27
PORTRAIT © CLINTON INMAN 2021 FACEBOOK AT CLINTON.INMAN
Deleuze & Guattari’s Friendly Concepts Karen Parham explores the collection of curious concepts Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari use in their organic perception of reality. hilosophers are friends and creators of concepts. This was certainly the view of the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) and Felix Guattari (19301992). As they say in their book What Is Philosophy? (1991), “Philosophy is the discipline that involves creating concepts” (p.5). Certainly, no other discipline could have created concepts such as ‘tabula rasa’, ‘language games’ or ‘qualia’, but surely other disciplines have their own concepts? Well, according to Deleuze and Guattari, they do in the sense that they have concepts within a frame of reference – they invent concepts to label things already in existence – but they don’t create the thoughts behind them, as philosophy does. Philosophical concepts are often tied up with personalities. The cogito belongs to Descartes, for example; whereas the concepts we’ll consider here – including ‘schizoanalysis’, ‘territorialisation’, ‘lines of flight’, ‘rhizomatic’, and ‘the plane of immanence’ – are some of the many concepts that belong to the longrunning philosophical double act of Deleuze and Guattari. Possibly no other philosophers have been as creative as these two in creating new concepts, and redeploying others. This is due to their belief that language, like everything else, is constantly evolving, so words don’t have fixed meanings. Consistent with
28 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
their own preference for movement, and for uprooting thought, Deleuze’s and Guattari’s philosophical concepts themselves never stood still and so the concepts explained below are each relative to one of the following four books: Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus, Kafka and What Is Philosophy? Deleuze’s and Guattari’s fluid application and manipulation of language mirrors their view of reality. For them the real is the mind-independent world that consists of both the actual and the virtual. The actual is what has become manifested, whereas the virtual is everything that could potentially happen (for Deleuze and Guattari the virtual isn’t confined to computer simulation, though it includes it). Every organism unlocks the virtual as it partakes in the process of becoming by interacting with its environment. It is this becoming that is of specific interest to Deleuze and Guattari, and characterises them as process metaphysicians. In A Thousand Plateaus (1980), they use ‘becoming’ to refer to change that is neither necessarily progressive nor regressive. Deleuze and Guattari consider for instance the wasp becoming orchid, and orchid becoming wasp, as they interact in their symbiotic relationship. (p.9). Becoming does not involve imitating or identifying with something; rather, the nature of reality is one of forever pro-
FRACTAL TREE IMAGE © SOLKOLL 2006
ducing ever more becomings or multiplicities. ‘Multiplicities’ is a way Deleuze and Guattari have of describing the relationship of the elements that make up reality. D and G’s idea is that the multiple aspects that make up the world have no unity in themselves: for instance, there are multiple different cats which are nearly as different from each other as cats are from humans, so there is no unitary thing ‘cat’. The world, we might say, is a multiplicity of forms in which everything is fluidly connected, yet everything is different from everything else. Nevertheless, the multiple nature of reality may produce coherent structures or arrangements of elements. These are known as assemblages. Assemblages for D and G consist of both things that act and react, and the expression of those acts. This article itself is an assemblage of letters that make up words on a page; the paper it’s printed on; you reading it; your response to it; and so on. Assemblages can interact at various levels to produce an affect. This affect can be of the emotional kind (in the usual sense of the word); but may also be physical, spiritual, cognitive and intellectual. ‘Affect’ refers to anything where a process of becoming is evident in response to an interaction that has taken place. In What Is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari discuss affects in art. A work of art is the affect of the assemblage of the artist, his or her materials, and the finished product. Or, to take D and G’s example
of the wasp and orchid from A Thousand Plateaus, a wasp and an orchid assemblage together affect a new assemblage of a ‘wasp-orchid hybrid’. Being themselves multiplicities, assemblages have no essential structure or unity. A wasp or a wasporchid hybrid has many other options to become some other assemblage. A wasporchid hybrid may become a starlingwasp-orchid assemblage as a starling consumes the wasp feeding from the orchid. Such becomings are entirely rhizomatic, in that they can move or grow in any direction. Getting To The Roots With Franz Kafka For Deleuze and Guattari, the term ‘rhizome’ refers to ideas, concepts or assemblages with no fixed starting or finishing points which allow for multiple interpretations and developments. The internet, for example, is rhizomatic, in that you can dive in anywhere anytime, and go anywhere within it. Bulbs, tubers, rats swarming over each other; potatoes, couchgrass, weeds, are also rhizomes. They spread out in all directions, performing many functions. D and G say that a rhizome has “no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo” and “connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature” (A Thousand Plateaus, p.26, p.21.). Generally, D and G employ the term ‘rhizomatic’ to describe anything that has
no starting point and can go any direction. A Thousand Plateaus was intended to be read in just this way, such that the reader can open the book at any point and read on because there’s no linear narrative. Reality is equally rhizomatic, as it too lacks a centre, end-point, or any cohesion. Deleuze and Guattari initially associated the term ‘rhizomatic’ with Franz Kafka (1883-1924), believing that his work has no linear structure, and many interpretative impasses. They suggest entering this rhizome of Kafka’s work by looking at the recurring presence of “the portrait or the photo, and the beaten and bent head” (Kafka, 1986, p.3). These motifs appear in Kafka’s novels The Castle, Amerika, The Metamorphosis and The Trial in various guises, and have many plausible interpretations. Yet Deleuze and Guattari detect optimism here. Contrary to standard interpretations of Kafka, for them the bent head, representing compliancy, can straighten. In The Castle, for example, the presence of a church steeple or tower of the castle indicates that there is room for the bent head to straighten (Kafka, p.4) This is just one of many ways of reading Kafka which is possible because of the rhizomatic or unfixed nature of his writing. Against Control It is desire that pushes subjects to create new assemblages. Deleuze and Guattari made the driving force of desire the focus of their 1972 book Anti-Oedipus. They are anti-Freudian at least in the sense that for them desire is something positive – a productive force within us all that should be free-flowing. It is not the result of lacking something, in the usual Freudian sense of desire. Desiring something we can’t afford, for example, is not true desire, as this impossible craving actually inhibits our flow of desire. The powers that be in society tell us to contain our desire, or that we should allow others to contain it for us. For twentieth-century French philosophers there are two standard mechanisms that manipulate and/or suppress desire: capitalism and psychoanalysis. Capitalism channels desire, through advertising and controlling supply, rather than letting it flow freely. Psychoanalysis forces the conscious mind to control the seat of desire – the unconscious. The desires in the unconscious then might express themJune/July 2021 Philosophy Now 29
BACKGROUND RRACTAL IMAGE © JULIA MENGE & PANTHERALEO1359531
selves through myths rather than through real things – the myth of Oedipus being a notorious example. Yet to be truly alive is to let desire follow its own course uninterrupted and not let the conscious mind dominate. By freeing the unconscious, desire can then become productive again – can exist in a continuous state of becoming rather than just of static being. Then the person becomes a true desiring-machine – or in Deleuze’s and Guattari’s language, becomes a collective assemblage that in interacting with other collective assemblages freely becomes a further collective assemblage. In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari admire the schizophrenic’s movement of thought: she allows desire to roam freely and transgress boundaries. The schizophrenic has thought patterns that are, to use their word, rhizomatic. Daniel Paul Schreber, a German judge who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, is cited in Anti-Oedipus concerning how he ‘becomes a woman’, and also about how he “lived for a long time without a stomach, without intestines, almost without lungs” (p.8). His desire roams freely within the realm of gender, and from the realm of the mental to the physical, and beyond. In the same way, Deleuze and Guattari encourage us to escape psychic and social oppression that tells us who we are and how we should behave. Instead, we need to be creative, let desire run wild as a schizophrenic would, and make unusual connections in our thought. As soon as we stop doing this, desire is captured, and full creativity is lost. Alas, this happens more often than not. Desire is captured; it is coded and territorialised. ‘Territorialisation’ is Deleuze’s and Guattari’s word for the process whereby an assemblage represses desire by claiming it, and perhaps labelling it, in order to use it for its own benefit. The most obvious cases of territorialisation are when animals or humans domesticate an environment. Equally, a musician might territorialise notes to create a tune. Territorialisation is not necessarily a bad thing, except when it stifles desire. In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari argue that although capitalism deterritorialises (that is, frees up desires) by exploring various avenues to capitalise on, it is itself controlled by the profit motive. Desire can never be truly liberated in such a system. Rather, advertising, for instance, traps desire so that it can reterritorialise it for the purpose of profit. More generally, capitalism makes creative projects commercial by producing them on a large scale and encouraging consumers to think that this is what they desire. Psychoanalysis also territorialises desire. It does this by reducing desire to something psychological, sexual, or Oedipal. By contrast, a schizoanalytic approach is recommended by D and G. Here desire is understood not as something to be repressed, but rather, to be freed. Fight & Flight When desire or an assemblage becomes deterritorialised – becomes free from repression or control – it escapes that territory through following various lines of flight. Lines of flight are like mutations; they are potentials that become manifest, giving desire or an assemblage a different form. A line of flight is completely fluid and follows no predetermined trajectory. As explained in A Thousand Plateaus, “The line of flight is part of the rhizome” (p.9). The schizophrenic follows lines of flight, and schizoanalysis encourages such breakthroughs 30 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
in us all. D and G clearly themselves follow various lines of flight. If desire follows lines of flight to become deterritorialised, it is unlikely to become reterritorialised. In other words, the desire evolves into something that defies characterisation or interpretation. Although this creative process is valuable, Deleuze and Guattari recognise that it can become ineffectual. It is better for desire to create ‘a collective assemblage of enunciation’ where the different fragments can form a dynamic system that speaks to people. Lines of flight become significant when they are developed in a particular milieu, or what Deleuze and Guattari call a plane of immanence or plane of consistency. We might think of this as a zone of thought, or region of concepts. The plane of immanence is unlimited – presumably because it encompasses both the actual and virtual – operates at infinite speed, and is unthinkable without the concepts that resonate with it (see What Is Philosophy?, p.36). The concept of ‘rhizomatic’, for example, is incomprehensible without the presence of other concepts that make up the plane of immanence of Deleuze’s and Guattari’s own work – such as multiplicities, assemblages, affects and lines of flight. Should you confuse the plane of immanence with a concept, the result would be a universal concept and universals are stagnant, unrealistic representations of what philosophical concepts entail. Once you limit a concept to a universal, you limit it to the actual, and in so doing, you eliminate difference, change and the virtual. When explaining the preferred free trajectory of desire in Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari also use the term ‘body without organs’ (corps sans organes) to stand for the plane of immanence. This refers to a structure or area without imposed organization, and can be sentient or inanimate. The term ‘body without organs’ was first used by Antonin Artaud, the French avant-garde actor and essayist, and was redeployed by Deleuze and Guattari to explain the nature of the plane of immanence. This plane is itself unproductive because it lacks the content, the desire. It is a body without organs because it lacks organisation into a structured body. The Earth too is a body without organs (A Thousand Plateaus, p.65) as is reality itself, for neither have organisation, despite what we like to think. Deleuze and Guattari encourage us to become a body without organs, in the same way that they advise us to think like a schizophrenic. A body with organs – or ‘plane of organisation’ – territorialises those organs (meaning, those desires or concepts) as its own, even though in fact it is more advantageous to be deterritorialised. Desire, like philosophical concepts, is most productive when it is allowed to follow lines of flight in a continuous process of becoming – when it occupies a ‘body without organs’. The body without organs in this sense “serves as a surface for the recording of the entire process production of desire” (Anti-Oedipus, p.11). The concepts with which Deleuze and Guattari are best friends seem to be those that express an openness to becoming for multiplicities and assemblages, concepts such as lines of flight, rhizomatic, deterritorialisation, schizoanalysis – as well as the platforms that allow such processes to take place: the plane of immanence or body without organs. This is consistent with a view of reality that includes the virtual, and acknowledges desire as part of reality. © DR KAREN PARHAM 2021
Karen Parham is a teacher and examiner of philosophy, and a freelance writer.
René Descartes: A Yogi? Sujantra McKeever finds striking similarities between Cartesian and yogic thought. ne of history’s greatest philosophers was, by my estimation, also a great yogi. The Frenchman René Descartes (1596-1650) is often called ‘the father of modern philosophy’. He sat in his room and contemplated the mysteries of the mind. Yoga follows the same course to wisdom and understanding. Descartes was a man shaped by his times. Louis XIII was King of France for most of Descartes’ life. The Inquisition also started in France, in the twelfth century. Its aim was to prevent doctrinal dissent within the Catholic Church, and it was still in full swing in Descartes’ lifetime. Espousing certain ideas could lead to banishment, imprisonment, or death. Believing in the Church’s vision of the world was important for one’s safety. As a prominent thinker, and a devout Catholic, Descartes was watched by the church powers, who feared any threat his teachings might pose to their authority. In 1663 the Catholic Church put Descartes’ works on its Index of Forbidden Books. Printing, reading, or even possessing his books was forbidden to Catholics. But as they say, the pen is mightier than the sword. Descartes’ teachings have flourished, and the narrow-mindedness that sought to banish his ideas is on the wane. Indeed, the Index itself was discontinued in 1966. As a life-long practitioner of yoga, I am deeply inspired by Descartes’ insights and feel that his teachings vindicate the practice of yoga. I also feel that he has left a concise methodology for philosophizing that can lead to the deepest levels of understanding a human being can attain. To explore these teachings, especially in relation to yoga, I will draw from his classic texts Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) and The Principles of Philosophy (1644).
Descartes, Yogi? Yoga is an ancient Indian philosophical tradition and set of spiritual practices, which remains popular today. The definitive teachings of yoga are found in The Yoga Sutras, compiled by the Indian sage Patanjali sometime around the time of Christ. Classic yoga has eight aspects: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
Moral injunctions (such as non-harming) Actions (such as living a pure life) Physical exercises Breath control Turning the senses within Concentration Meditation Contemplation
The ability to turn one’s senses within is called in Sanskrit pratyahara. We do it unconsciously each night when we fall asleep and dream; but to do it consciously, as a yogi does, is extremely challenging.
René Descartes by Stephen Lahey
Note the opening words from the Third Meditation of Descartes’ Meditations: “I shall now close my eyes, I shall stop my ears, I shall call away all my senses…” This is exactly what I try to do each time I sit down to meditate in order to reach deeper levels of awareness. But Descartes does not stop with stopping the senses: “I shall efface even from my thoughts all the images of corporeal things, or at least (for that is hardly possible) I shall esteem them as vain and false; and thus holding converse only with myself and considering my own nature, I shall try little by little to reach a better knowledge of and a more familiar acquaintanceship with myself.” To become familiar with ourselves, to know our deepest nature, is also the goal of yoga. Descartes mentions ‘conversing only with myself’. This can only happen when we’ve brought sufficient quietude to our minds. In yoga this is most often achieved through breath control and inquiry into the essence June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 31
of mind. Descartes clearly has the ability of the yogi to turn his mind within in order to know the truth of self and God. From Descartes’ writings I have put together seven numbered statements which offer the essence of yoga, and comments on them. (The propositions in the Principles were originally numbered, but I have deviated from that numbering system.) I have tried to do nothing that would take away from the spirit of his writing or skew his philosophy. By connecting yoga with Western philosophy – by uniting the transformative practice of yoga with the illumined writing of Descartes – I hope to offer you confidence in your yogic journey to wisdom and understanding. And if by some chance you don’t practice yoga, perhaps this may inspire you to try it or at least to more fully understand what it is about.
We do not often hear the word ‘philosophizing’ in everyday speech in the twenty-first century, but I am very drawn to the term. Usually we think of one philosopher arguing with another. But for Descartes, philosophizing was an active search into his mind in search of truth and knowledge. In our own quest for truth it would be unwise to paralyze ourselves by taking a technique for finding ultimate truth and trying to apply it to our daily decisions. One basic meditation technique that works great for decisionmaking is to meditate into a state of relaxed peacefulness, and then, by inwardly visualizing, bring the options to decide between into your mind one at a time, and see how each option resonates with your inner feeling of peace. This is an excellent technique to get in touch with your feelings when making decisions.
The Yoga Sutras of René Descartes 1. “The seeker after truth must once in his lifetime doubt everything
4. “When we’re focused on the search for truth, we’ll begin by doubt-
that he can doubt. We’re bound to have many preconceived opinions that keep us from knowledge of the truth, because in our infancy,
ing the existence of the objects of sense-perception and imagination. There are two reasons for this: (1) We have occasionally found our
before we had the full use of our reason, we made all sorts of judg-
senses to be in error, and it’s not wise to place much trust in anyone
ments about things presented to our senses. The only way to free ourselves from these opinions, it seems, is just once in our lives to
or anything that has deceived us even once. (2) In our sleep we regularly seem to see or imagine things that don’t exist anywhere; and
take the trouble to doubt everything in which we find even the tini-
while we are doubting there seem to be no absolutely reliable crite-
est suspicion of uncertainty.” (Principles, Part 1, No.1)
ria to distinguish being asleep from being awake.“ (Principles, Part 1, No.4)
Here Descartes lays down the first step of the process: remove from your mind the things you only thought were true, and retain only things of which you can be absolutely sure. He presents us with the formidable task of taking a good look at what we believe or think we know and casting it aside in search of actual knowledge. He notes that many of our beliefs were formed in childhood before we could discriminate between truth and falsehood. Our parents tell us things about life and ourselves that may be incorrect, yet as children we tend to believe what we’re told. Now is the time to set those beliefs and judgments aside. 2. “What is doubtful should even be considered as false. It will be useful to go even further than that: when we doubt something we should think of it as outright false, because this will bring more thoroughly into the open truths that are certainly true and easy to know.“ (Principles, Part 1, No.2)
What we’re looking for is certainty. This is reminiscent of the attitude of the Buddha when he resolved to sit under the Bodhi tree until he achieved enlightenment and experienced Nirvana. Whether we term the goal ‘Nirvana’ or ‘certainty’, the refusal to settle for anything less.
The first part of this statement notes that if our senses and imagination have misled us once we can never again rely on them with absolute certainly. It’s just like when someone lies to you. Once you know they’re a liar, then you know there’s always the possibility that they will lie again. It is the same with the senses. In the second case we are presented with a classic conundrum that has been explored by Eastern and Western philosophers for millennia: the inability to determine with absolute certainty whether we are really awake, or asleep and dreaming. The take-away point however is that whether waking or asleep, our everyday sense of reality is created by our mind, through our thoughts. There is therefore a strong possibility that our sense of reality is likely to be superimposed upon a deeper and more permanent substratum. It is that deeper stratum that the yogi seeks. It is for this reason that yogis seek to quiet their thought in order to perceive truth. If our minds manufacture our subjective reality, then by quieting our minds we can hope to perceive the reality underlying them. What is this substratum underlying our thoughts and experiences? To answer this question is the very quest we are on. I’ll let Descartes describe the actual process that he uses to seek the answer, in a quote we met earlier:
3. “But this doubt shouldn’t be carried over into everyday life. While this doubt continues, it should be kept in check and used only in thinking about the truth. In ordinary practical affairs we often have to act on the basis of what is merely probable, not having time to hold off until we could free ourselves from our doubts. Sometimes we may – for practical reasons – even have to choose between two alternatives without finding either of them to be more probable than the other.” (Principles, Part 1, No.3)
5. “I shall now close my eyes, I shall stop my ears, I shall call away all my senses, I shall efface even from my thoughts all the images of corporeal things, or at least (for that is hardly possible) I shall esteem them as vain and false; and thus holding converse only with myself and considering my own nature, I shall try little by little to reach a better knowledge of and a more familiar acquaintanceship with myself.” (Meditations, No.3)
Here Descartes clarifies that one must be practical when philosophizing.
This passage was one of the first to draw me to see the connection between yogic techniques and Descartes’ philosophy.
32 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
Pratyahara, the process of turning one’s awareness away from the external senses, is the fifth of eight steps in the yogic journey. Descartes’ quest to connect with himself at a deeper level is the very reason people practice yoga. We become so identified with our senses and our body that we forget that our deeper nature, the root of our sense of being, lies below the surface of our sense perceptions and thoughts. By consciously ‘calling away’ his senses, the journey begins in earnest. When our senses are silent and our thoughts quiet, our sense of the external world begins to fade, just as it does as you begin to fall asleep. In that state we become more acutely aware of ourselves, and ultimately, of our pure sense of being. This feeling of pure existence, which is certain and constant, brings a profound sense of peace and joy. As the sense of a world separate from him begins to fade, Descartes becomes more conscious of the powers of the mind: 6. “I am a thing that thinks, that is to say, that doubts, affirms, denies, that knows a few things, that is ignorant of many, that wills, that desires, that also imagines and perceives; for as I remarked before, although the things which I perceive and imagine are perhaps nothing at all apart from me and in themselves, I am nevertheless assured that these modes of thought that I call perceptions and imaginations, inasmuch only as they are modes of thought, certainly reside [and are met with] in me.” (Meditations, No.3)
Descartes discovers that even as the external world dissolves, his ‘modes of thought’ continue. His sense of being continues. He now refines and hones his perception of himself as essentially mind:
CARTOON © WOLFGANG NIESIELSKI 2021
7. “We can’t doubt that we exist while we are doubting; and this is the first thing we come to know when we philosophize in an orderly way. In rejecting everything that we can in any way doubt, even pretending to think it false, we can easily suppose that there’s no God and no heaven, that there are no bodies – so that we don’t have bodies, hands and feet and so on. But we can’t suppose that we, who are having such thoughts, are nothing! ‘At a time when I am thinking, I don’t exist’ –
that’s self-contradictory. So this item of knowledge – I’m thinking, so I exist – is the first and most certain thing to occur to anyone who philosophizes in an orderly way.” (Principles, Part 1, No.7)
Note that in the last sentence of the quote, Descartes says that this awareness is the “most certain thing to occur to anyone who philosophizes…” This reflects a giant step in the yogic journey. The realization is that in the process of doubting everything there’s one thing that cannot be doubted: I exist! Notice also that at this point Descartes lets go of even the ideas of God and heaven. In this way Descartes finds the ‘most certain thing’. In fact, in the journey within, we must eventually let go of all thoughts and conceptions, for they will only keep us attached to the idea of the external world. Letting one’s awareness sink deeper and deeper into the sense of pure being is the journey into the ‘kingdom of heaven within’ – into Nirvana or Samadhi (contemplation of the Absolute). In light of this we might see Christ’s statement “My kingdom is not of this world” in a new way, taking ‘this world’ to mean the world of sense perceptions, and ‘my kingdom’ to mean the joy of pure existence. Descartes is most often quoted as saying: Cogito, ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” To the yogi, the crucial part of the statement is the realization that ‘I am’. This sense of self grows stronger and stronger the more we calm our minds and turn within. Descartes’ Place in History Interestingly, Descartes soon leaves this major realization, into which the Indian yogis plunge, and heads back outwards to thoughts of God and the world. He goes on to try – unsuccessfully according to most philosophers – to rationally prove the existence of God. It is here that I feel Descartes was most strongly influenced by his times and culture. His obsession to prove the existence of God was heavily influenced by his circumstances and a desire to live in peace. Remember, the Inquisition was still strongly active! Descartes’ greatest contribution to philosophy, in my estimation, is that he shows that the inner journey is not bounded by geography or culture, but rather is a universal human journey. He took that inner journey, and his realizations have helped to shape the modern world. But whether we sit by the Ganges or the Seine, our sincere journey into the psyche eventually becomes grounded in the certainty of ‘I am’. In that awareness is timeless Heaven and Samadhi. Descartes explores the most challenging questions which our minds can ask: What is reality? What we can know with certainty? How do our minds function? What is the relationship between thought and emotion? What is thinking? What is the sense of self? How can we know truth from falsehood? What are time and space? Is there a God?, Can logic and reason lead me to God? These are questions the yogis of India have been exploring since before the time of the Buddha. © SUJANTRA MCKEEVER 2021
Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He studied meditation with Sri Chinmoy, has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries, and is the author of five books on eastern philosophy and meditation. June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 33
IMAGE © CECILIA MOU 2021. TO SEE MORE ART, PLEASE INSTAGRAM HER AT @MOUCECILIAART
Reason & Emotion by Cecilia Mou, 2021
Reason & Emotion James R. Robinson finds ways of bridging the gap (or not). he heart and the mind, that is, emotion and reason, are often said to be in opposition. This is not so! This article aims to enhance our consciousness of the connection between the two. Here, when I use the word ‘reason’, I will be refering to three distinct concepts. The first two are the faculty of reason – which is the power of thinking, comprehending, or inferring – and a reason – which is a spoken, written, or thought statement of justification or explanation. The third use of the word ‘reason’ refers to the rationality or reasonableness of a statement or set of statements. This third use of the word involves judging, according to some given criteria, whether a specific statement of justification or explanation (a reason) is sufficiently rational or not – that is, as to whether the reason is a rational reason! For example, the statement: “I want to go to the corner shop to buy some tropical fish” contains the explanation ‘because I want to buy some tropical fish’. This statement, however, might not seem rational to someone who knew that the shop is a grocers and not an aquarium. Now let’s circle around to emotions. The word ‘emotion’ comes from the Latin noun mtus, which means ‘motion’ or
34 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
‘movement’. Classically speaking, there are actually two types of emotion: emotions of the mind (affections), and emotions of the body (passions). This distinction is found in the works of St Thomas Aquinas. For example, in his Summa Theologica (c.1268), he notes the difference between a passion of love and an affection of love (1a. 82.5, ad1). Other examples of affections (in addition to the one already given by Aquinas) include enthusiasm, resentment, forgiveness and even diligent attention. It is enough to know here, however, that passion or affection simply distinguish the type of emotion: that passions are of the body, and affections are of the mind. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on those emotions (or movements) that are of the body. In focusing on passions specifically, it will hopefully become clear why there is the division between the heart and the mind in the first place. Aquinas claims that all passions are accompanied by an increase or decrease in heart rate (Summa, 1a.2ae, 24.2, ad2). This is unmistakable if we pause to recognise what is happening to our heart when we’re eating, drinking, or engaging in aggressive or romantic activity. It should be noted that these activities
are not themselves passions. Rather, they are activities which induce passions as a consequence of engaging in them. Indeed, one would commonly – though by no means is it necessary – engage in the activities of eating, drinking, fighting or having sex because one is correspondingly hungry, thirsty, angry, or horny, and the latter are passions – as are being satisfied, quenched, revenged or relieved as a consequence of engaging in the activities. Let’s take the example of a passion of hunger. This is a passion arising in the body, notably the stomach. This feeling (which I’m using as a synonym for emotion here), is manifestly physical. It can take on different degrees – less or more hungry – and can be characterised by a variety of bodily sensations, such as a sharp pain or a dull discomfort. But these are still, of course, physical. Now the passion of hunger is not part of the faculty of reason – that is, the power of thinking, comprehending or inferring – because the faculty of reason is of the mind and therefore nonphysical. This observation extends to all physical emotions. This is one way to understand the divide between passion and reason, or the heart (sometimes literally) and the mind. However, this divide is not unbridgeable. Bridging The Divide in Two Simple Ways The faculty of reason – traditionally called the intellect – produces reasons, in this case in the sense of thoughts which can be articulated in the form of spoken justifications or explanations. For example: if I suggest to my friend that “We should go eat something because I’m hungry”, then ‘because I’m hungry’ acts as the reason/explanation for my wish for us to go get something to eat. In this sort of way a passion can be used as a reason for an action, and, what’s more, can be made intelligible to the faculty of reason. So providing reasons based upon passions is one way to breach the divide between the heart and the mind. Another way to think about the divide between the passions and the intellect, is by first noting that passions are somewhat involuntary. That is to say, we have no control over whether we feel hungry or thirsty, and only limited control over whether we feel angry or sad, and so on. While this is true, it is possible to control how or whether we act upon our passions. Therefore we are responsible for how we act upon them. How we act upon our passions can be judged by our faculty of reason via the reasons we give for them, as to whether our actions are reasonable, or not! So this is another way of bridging the gap between the heart and the mind. For example the statement, “I went for a run in order to re-direct and use up my anger” might be taken to express a rational use of anger, if a criterion for a rational use of anger is, for example, that ‘anger is used in a productive way’. Therefore, even though the emotion of anger was not freely felt or voluntarily generated, it was used in a way that was sufficient to meet or fulfil the criterion of rationality. Consequently, my statement of justification – my reason for how I used my passion of anger, can be deemed rational. It is a rational reason! Thought Experiment We’ve seen that although there is a divide between emotion and reason, this divide is not uncrossable. This was first demonstrated by showing how passions can be intelligible to, and used by, our
John Stuart Mill Oh John, John Stuart, John Stuart Mill – reading your work is like climbing a hill: it’s hard and demands both effort and skill; one feels the increasingly rarefied chill as one labours one’s way up that logical hill: those orotund sentences, swelling to fill paragraphs, pages: so hard to distil into quotable morsels. It’s overkill. Your writing is free from fancy and frill, with the care and precision befitting a will or a deed or a contract or codicil written on parchment with antique quill. With every phrase you aim to instil some subtle idea or distinction, until one feels that one’s mind has supped its fill – if one reads any more, the contents will spill. And yet, John Stuart, John Stuart Mill, Believe me I bear you no atom of ill; it’s worth it to climb that precipitous hill. The view from the top gives a wonderful thrill. © BRANDON ROBSHAW 2021
Brandon Robshaw lectures in philosophy for the Open University. His book Should a Liberal State Ban the Burqa? was published by Bloomsbury in 2020. He has also written a philosophical novel for Young Adults, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers (Unbound, 2018). faculty of reason – when passions can be referred to as part of a statement meant to explain or justify a desire to act. Building upon this, it was seen that despite passions being somewhat involuntary, they can be acted upon in rational ways, according to the individual’s criteria of judgement. An exercise that you, dear reader, can try, is as follows. Take any emotion that arises from the body – for example, hunger, thirst, lust, anger, fear, joy, or anything else physically felt, including pain and pleasures. Ask yourself whether it is possible to justify, or explain, some action based on it. For example, a justification for an action could be could be, “I will take the last bottle of beer from the fridge because I’m thirsty.” Then additionally ask yourself whether this justification is consistent with your various beliefs and commitments. One such criterion here could be the principle ‘sharing is caring’. In this case you did not consider whether any of your friends might like a beer – hence your principle ‘sharing is caring’ was not sufficiently met. You come to the conclusion that your reason for taking the last beer is not rational because acting in this way would be inconsistent with your other beliefs. Somewhat reluctantly, you call out to ask if anyone else would like to share the last beer with you. © JAMES R. ROBINSON 2021
James R. Robinson is a recent Master’s graduate living in the Netherlands, he currently works as a gardener and part-time as an English teacher. June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 35
Phenomenology At The Beach t the beach, we soak up some sun, frolic in the surf, and swim with the waves – to name just a few of the activities possible. Apart from doing anything, though, it is exhilarating just to be at the beach. Why? What is the contemplative appeal of that place where the ocean meets the land? In contrast to the tidy closeness of the interior of our houses, or of suburban and urban landscapes, the sea opens up enormous, unobstructed distances. We are engulfed, swallowed up by the scene. Know thy smallness, O human! Here, it seems, we come face-to-face with the infinite. Yet the human glimpse of the infinite is in fact the clearest manifestation of our finitude. What we’re coming up against is a stark definition of the limits of our own sphere of experience. Cutting clear across our field of view is the horizon line, where ocean meets sky – the straightest and truest line that we ever experience in nature. Ordinarily, the horizon line is obscured by things such as trees and buildings, or mountains and hills. In this case, however, there is nothing but air and light. In the wideness of the waters we have a clear sense of openness and of a clearing; but it is a bounded openness and a delimited clearing. We can embark on a ship and travel out towards the horizon; but even though the land will retreat behind us, the horizon will remain resolutely there where it always is, coming not a nautical mile closer to us. We can of course venture so far out that we meet the opposite shore. Yet the horizon of perception remains the horizon of perception even as that which lies on the horizon changes – trees and hills obscuring the open sky. But with the horizon bare at the beach, we get to see something we rarely otherwise see – the definite beginning and ending of our day appear in the rising and the setting of the sun. The setting sun delights us not only with the beautiful and fascinating plays of color and movement, but also with the significance of what we watch: the natural marking-out of our limited days upon this earth. In this the full temporality of our experience relative to the present position of the sun across the sky comes to presence. The full spatiality of experience relative to our bodies also comes to presence. So what one sees at the beach is how things look from here and now; and what one runs up against at the beach, is the very hereness of the here and the nowness of the now. The temporal horizon and the spatial horizon, so splendidly displayed beachside, also illuminate the more pedestrian experiences that unfold in our ordinary urban and suburban envi-
36 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
rons. In fact, each and every experience involves spatial and temporal horizons. The songs we listen to have notes and lyrics that come to presence from beyond the horizon of our present awareness. The words of a friend, come to us one by one, slowly letting the friend’s thought appear before us. As each note or word rise, other notes and words set, retained only by our memory. Ordinary objects similarly involve horizons of experience. In a meal shared with friends, for example, there is the presentation of each new dish, and the flow of tastes at work in each bite – including the refreshing opening, the surprising middle, and the delightful taste that lingers when the eating is done. And there is a higher movement, too, as the hors d’oeuvre gives way to the entrée, and the entrée eventually gives way to the dessert; as well as the movement of the conversation from one exchange and topic to another. Even non-dynamic elements involve horizons of exploration. The dinner table, for instance, has present sides that face you and hidden sides that do not, yet a bit of movement on your part changes the content of the experience – the absent sides become present, and the present sides become absent – without, however, changing the fact that there are limits to experience. Of course the beach is a dynamic place, where wave after wave advances, crashes, and retreats, loudly and incessantly. The waves are both inviting and frightening in the awesomeness of their power. The movement draws us in even as it threatens us: Come play with me – if you dare! As surfers and boogie boarders know, there is a thrill here for the taking. Swim out into the swells, paddle hard into the rising wave; and then, if you’re lucky, be enthralled by the wild force of the wave carrying you effortlessly and happily toward the shore! Some waves turn out to afford us the gentlest or most exhilarating rides of our lives; others knock us down and crush us in their wrath. But each wave emerges from beyond the horizon of our experience: we anticipate it and roll with it. The horizon of our experience, glimpsed in the horizon where the sea meets the sky, in there is each experience at the beach, including the experience of each and every wave. The infinitude of the ocean is an index of the finitude of human experience. This, I think, is part of the draw of the beach. Wonder, O human, at the glories of thy finitude! © PROF. CHAD ENGELLAND 2021
Chad Engelland is Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Dallas. His book, Phenomenology, was released by MIT Press in 2020.
SEASIDE IMAGE BY PAUL GREGORY
Chad Engelland philosophically analyses the experience of being at the seaside.
June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 37
Leibniz on Unicorns Dean Ericksen finds something strange in his cabinet of philosophical curiosities. aul Kripke may have argued that unicorns could not possibly exist, but if you’re personally unconvinced, you’d be in good company. When he wasn’t busy independently inventing infinitesimal calculus and devising his famous theodicy, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) found time to write about unicorns in what would become Protogaea (1749). Leibniz intended for Protogaea to serve as a preface to a larger project, a history of the House of Brunswick. But Protogaea was an ambitious undertaking in its own right. As Leibniz put it in the preamble, “those who would trace our region back to its beginnings must also say something about the original appearance of the earth, and about the nature of the soil and what it contains.” In other words, Leibniz’s little preface would be nothing less than a history of the earth itself. Included in this history is a one-paragraph section entitled ‘The unicorn’s horn, and an enormous animal unearthed in Quedlinburg.’ The section begins on a skeptical note, with Leibniz reporting that ‘unicorn horns’ had been shown to “come from fish of the Polar Sea” [ie narwhals, Ed] and that fossil unicorns likely have the same origin. “Nevertheless,” Leibniz writes, unicorns do in fact exist: “we should not disguise the fact that a four-footed unicorn the size of a horse has been found in Abyssinia, if we can believe the Portuguese Hieronymus Lupus and Balthazar Tellesius.” What’s more, the discovery of skeletal remains also suggested the existence of unicorns: “The skeleton that was found in 1663 near Quedlinburg on the Zeunickenberg in the rock, while lime was being excavated, also looked more like a land animal.” For further details on this skeleton, Leibniz refers us to the unimpeachable testimony of one Otto von Guericke, mayor of Magdeburg and inventor extraordinaire, who observed the remains. Leibniz notes, “In his book about the vacuum, Guericke mentions in passing that the skeleton of a unicorn was found with the rear part of its body bent back, as is common with animals, but with a raised head and carrying on its forehead an extended horn about five yards long; the horn was the width of a human leg and tapered gradually.” Unfortunately, the skeleton’s original form was not preserved: “Because of the ignorance of the workers, it was broken and brought out in pieces. Eventually, the horn, together with the head, several ribs, dorsal vertebra, and bones were brought to the town’s serene abbess.” However, this did not stop Leibniz from including in Protogaea an illustration imaginatively reassembling the skeleton to its former glory. According to Othenio Abel, this illustration actually marked the first time in the history of paleontology that someone bothered to attempt a reconstruction of a terrestrial vertebrate. Leibniz’s unicorn – a two-legged monstrosity with a dragging backbone-tail-thing – is certainly something to behold. If this be the unicorn which the best of all possible worlds has to offer, perhaps it’d be for the best if unicorns could not exist after all! The provenance of the illustration of Leibniz’s unicorn is as mysterious as the imagined creature itself. The illustration isn’t
38 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
Leibniz’s ‘unicorn’, 1749
to be found in von Guericke’s book. Claudine Cohen and Andre Wakefield, who translated Protogaea into English, speculate that the philosopher “probably had his engraver reproduce, and improve upon, an existing drawing that was circulating in contemporary periodicals.” As for the composition of the unicorn skeleton, in 1925 Abel identified the skeleton as an amalgam of mammoth and rhinoceros bones. Cohen elaborates with some observations of her own in her 1994 book The Fate of the Mammoth (which devotes a chapter to Leibniz’s unicorn): “The four teeth in the animal’s mouth certainly look like mammoth molars. Also, the scapula is that of a mammoth, as are the dorsal vertebrae, though the spinal column is reversed; curiously, the first cervical vertebra has been placed at the base of the tail.” The unicorn’s horn, says Cohen, is unlikely to be the horn of a woolly rhinoceros (“Such horn, which is made of keratin, only becomes fossilized under very unusual circumstances”) or the tooth of a narwhal (which is spiralled), but Cohen maintains there’s a distinct possibility of it being “the fossilized straight tusk of a young mammoth, with the jawbone still adhering to the base of the tooth.” Confronted with the remains of a mammoth – as Cohen notes, a creature no less fantastical than the unicorn to the minds of Western Europeans in the late seventeenth century – Leibniz appears, understandably enough, to have preferred the familiar to the strange. After all, the philosopher had inveighed against ‘the fairy tales of Kircher or Becher’, which described fossils as mere ‘games of nature’ that simply happened to resemble the remains of living creatures. A fairy tale about the mammoths of legend would thus be out of place in Protogaea. QED unicorns. © DEAN ERICKSEN 2021
Dean Ericksen, a librarian who doesn’t work in a library, studied philosophy at Amherst College and earned his MLS from Indiana University-Bloomington. He currently lives in Dayton, Ohio.
Girl with a Unicorn Domenichino, 1602
June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 39
C.S. LEWIS (1898-1963) Martin Jenkins gathers his courage, steps through the wardrobe and meets an enchanting professor.
.S. Lewis is today best known as a Christian apologist and the author of the Narnia series of children’s fantasy books, including The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950). It is therefore easy to forget that his original training, and his first academic post, were in philosophy. That training marked almost everything that he wrote and broadcast.
From Protestantism to Atheism and Back Again Clive Staples Lewis was born on November 29th 1898 in Belfast. Later he reinvented himself as a quintessential Englishman who loved long walks in the country followed by a pint in the local pub; but he was born doubly an outsider. In a majority Catholic country, his family were Ulster Protestants – but not the mainstream, nonconformist Protestants; he was born into the Church of Ireland, a minority faith even within the Irish Protestant tradition. It is no surprise that later one of his closest friends was another outsider – the South African Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis’s comment on this friendship in his autobiography Surprised by Joy (1955) is characteristic: “At my first coming into the world I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist, and at my first coming into the [Oxford] English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both” (p.173). Lewis’s childhood can best be described as chaotic. His mother died when he was nine. He then, for the first time, stopped having private tuition and went to school. Soon he was sent to a boarding school, Malvern College, where he was thoroughly miserable. Fortunately, his father transferred him into the charge of a private tutor in Surrey, William T. Kirkpatrick. Lewis called his tutor ‘the great Knock’, but clearly revered him. From Kirkpatrick he learned the commitment to logic and evidence that characterised his thought, and as a result of the tutoring was able to successfully prepare for the entrance examination to Oxford University. But Lewis chose to defer his admission to Oxford in order to take up an officer’s commission in the British army and be involved in what proved to be the end of World War I. His war service was as chaotic as his childhood. He was twice invalided out – once with trench fever and once after being wounded by a British shell. In the meantime he captured sixty German soldiers; or, as he put it, “discovered to my great relief that the crowd of field-grey figures who suddenly appeared from nowhere, all had their hands up.” Surprised by Joy reveals him as a great humorist who found the war absurd. The war ended, and Lewis returned to Oxford. He studied philosophy, and to add a string to his bow, he spent a year studying English literature. He was a natural academic, and was soon
40 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
teaching philosophy. He only later found his true academic métier, which was teaching mediaeval and Renaissance English literature. Lewis had become an atheist at the age of fifteen. The philosophical position he adopted he described as ‘watered-down Hegelianism’. Hegelianism was very popular in British academic circles at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; but, by Lewis’s own admission, he was not committed to it. He said that he needed a position from which to criticise his students’ essays. So we find Lewis in the 1920s linked to a philosophical position to which he is less than committed, and, by his own account, coming into contact with ideas which are likely to shake it. “Really,” he wrote, “a young atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side… In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised by Joy, p.182). I cannot improve on Lewis’s expression of his conversion experience as told in Surprised by Joy, I can only quote from it. It is worth noting that his initial conversion was to a belief in God, not to Christianity. His description of that final step is prosaic: “I was driven to Whipsnade [Zoo] one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did” (p.189). Lewis never denied his atheist background. In fact, he responded to a badly argued piece of atheist propaganda by saying that it was intended to offend him as a Christian, but actually hurt him as an ex-atheist. Lewis’s Literary and Love Life After the war, Lewis’s story is fairly prosaic. From the 1920s he lived the life of an Oxford don. Then in 1954 was awarded a professorship at Cambridge, though he maintained his connections with Oxford until the end of his life, commuting from Oxford to Cambridge. He shared a house in Oxford with his brother, in which they looked after the mother of an army friend until the end of his life. (There has been a lot of speculation about the relationship between Lewis and this woman, Janie Moore. The common sense position is that Lewis had promised to look after her and kept his promise. Boring, but not salacious.) Lewis was also a member of the Inklings, a literary group which was probably as convivial as it was literary, since it met in a pub. But it included Tolkien, as well as the philosopher Owen Barfield. In his middle years Lewis often both wrote and broadcast. He produced works on mediaeval and renaissance literature, including The Allegory of Love (1936); fantasy fiction – the best known being the Narnia books, but probably the best in literary terms
C.S. Lewis by Darren McAndrew
June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 41
PHOTO BY MARCEL STEINBAUER-LEWIS 2021
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and other books from the Narnia series of children’s books – C.S. Lewis’s most widely-known works today.
The dedication from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, to Lewis’s goddaughter Lucy Barfield:
My Dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result, you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be, your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.
42 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
Brief Lives being his trilogy of science fiction novels beginning with Out of the Silent Planet (1938); and works of Christian apologetics – certainly the funniest being The Screwtape Letters (1940). In later life Lewis entered into a correspondence with Joy Davidman Gresham. Eventually she came to Britain to meet him, and they became close friends. Joy was a New York Jewish ex-communist who had converted to Christianity. She became ill with cancer, and Lewis entered into a civil marriage with her. It was at first a marriage in name only, intended to enable her to receive treatment in the UK as the wife of a British citizen. However, Lewis’s feelings for Joy developed; he prayed vigorously for her, and her cancer went into remission (cause and effect, as Lewis believed). In 1956 he married her in a religious service. This is perhaps the most improbable thing that Lewis ever did. His attitudes to sexual morality and marriage were deeply conservative, and it was out of the question for him as a committed conservative Christian to marry a divorcee whose ex-husband was still living. But he did (and to do so he had to bend more than one rule of the Church of England). I suspect that Lewis had found in Joy a soulmate who was a fellow outsider. The marriage was happy but brief. Lewis revelled in the role of stepfather to Joy’s two sons, and in another out of character move went on holiday with her to Greece. (It was the first time he had crossed the Channel since 1918. Lewis was prejudiced against ‘abroad’.) However, Joy’s cancer returned, and she died on July 13th 1960. Lewis was devastated but reacted in the way most natural to him. He wrote about his reaction, and so produced his last great work, A Grief Observed (1961). In it he examined how his bereavement threatened his faith. It was first published under a pseudonym; there is even a story that Lewis’s friends recommended that he read it as a way of dealing with his grief. Lewis died of kidney disease on November 22nd 1963. Aldous Huxley died that day, too, and there has been speculation as to which death would have been likely to get more space in the press. Of course, the question is academic: both deaths were completely overshadowed by the murder of President Kennedy on the same day. Philosophy, Apologetics and Evil In a series of WWII radio broadcasts, later adapted in Mere Christianity (1952), Lewis argued that human beings have a sense of morality which has to derive from something other than either themselves (say, by evolution) or their experiences. The sense of morality is not, he said, for instance, the herd instinct, since although the herd instinct makes us want to help the person in danger, the contrasting self-preservation instinct tells us not to get involved because of the risk to ourselves. Lewis argued that we therefore have good reason to think that our moral instinct derives from God, and so human morality is a good reason to believe in God. His other major apologetical insight is sometimes described as ‘Lewis’s trilemma’. According to the gospels, Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, therefore making himself equal with God, as the Pharisees themselves complained in the same gospels. Now, Lewis argued, either Jesus was lying; or Jesus genuinely believed
the claim, yet was mad; or it’s true, and Jesus is the Son of God. So Jesus is either ‘bad, mad, or God’. Lewis further points out that if either of the non-divine possibilities is true, Jesus cannot be just ‘a great moral teacher’. In making this argument Lewis is therefore attacking anyone, such as liberal Christians, who believes that Jesus is a great moral teacher yet deny his divinity. (Some liberals responded to this argument by denying the authenticity of the Bible verses in which Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.) Lewis as a thinker can be criticised. As a believer, he often knew his conclusions before he started, and had only to find a satisfactory way of getting to them. For this reason Mere Christianity is a disappointing work to me. Apart from Lewis’s trilemma, it tells me nothing I didn’t know already. However, sometimes Lewis tackled more intractable questions. In The Problem of Pain (1940) for instance, he addresses the age-old question of theodicy: How can a loving, all-powerful God permit suffering? Here he starts by not knowing the answer, and offers a journey to one, which even if we don’t agree with his conclusion is worth following and which makes us think. The idea he arrives at is that pain is ‘God’s megaphone’, drawing people’s attention to the need to think seriously about fundamental issues. Lewis also understood evil as an active (‘positive’ would be the wrong word) principle. The Screwtape Letters is probably his best book and shows a deep understanding of how attractive evil can be. In it Lewis went beyond the feeble formulations of Plato (evil as ignorance), and Augustine of Hippo (evil as the absence of good), to examine how much fun it can be to be evil. The book also reveals Lewis as having a powerful understanding of human psychology, and a sense of humour: “She’s the kind of woman who lives for others. You can tell the others by their hunted expression.” As I said, Lewis was often deeply conservative – but often with good reason. He was sceptical of ‘modernising’ forms of Christianity on the basis that they are often based on sloppy reasoning, which his philosophical training enabled him to identify and his skillful writing helped him expose. I recommend his essay ‘Fernseed and Elephants’ as a model of demonstrating clear thinking and of exposing muddled thinking. And I can do no better than to finish with a quotation from The Screwtape Letters which clearly expresses Lewis’s attitude: “Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations.’ You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game.”
C.S. Lewis the philosopher and C.S. Lewis the Christian would have agreed on not playing the ‘game’, and instead insisting that the only reason for believing anything is because it is true. © MARTIN JENKINS 2021
Martin Jenkins is a Quaker and a retired community worker. He lives in London and Normandy.
June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 43
© LUKAS BARTKUS 2021 PORTRAIT
Martin Savransky is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He works at the intersections of philosophy, postcolonial studies & political ecology. Thiago Pinho talks with him about Pragmatism and the politics of the pluriverse.
44 Philosophy Now
My first question is simple and direct, while being a little personal too. What is the importance of Pragmatism, in your new book Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, and in your career in general? I’m not sure it’s such a simple question, but I’ll try to give you a simple answer. To my mind, Pragmatism is nothing more but also nothing less than an art of consequences. Pragmatism – especially in the tradition of William James, which is the one I’m closest to – is appraising our ideas, questions, propositions, and concepts in terms of the consequences they’re liable to generate. This is critically important both to the ways in which I relate to philosophy and to the manner in which I seek to compose a certain philosophical experimentation. I have immense interest in the great feats of philosophical and metaphysical abstraction, but especially insofar as they constitute propositions – ways of opening up what I call ‘possibles’ (or possibilities for transformation). Pragmatism in these terms is to ask of our ideas that they disclose the possibles they allow. It’s the intensification of a certain philosophical and political sensibility that rejects the comfort and protections of the abstract, of universal principles, to dare affirming the risky and experimental task of learning to live in a world without intellectual foundations. While Pragmatism has often been reduced to a mere theory of truth, the fact is that for James the meaning of truth is existential before it is cognitive. Which is to say that Pragmatism, above all, is an art of living dangerously! And as you’ve noticed, these questions and risks, and forms of philosophical experimentation tend to follow me wherever I go. Isabelle Stengers, who I know has influenced you throughout your career, makes a distinction between ‘thinking about’ and ‘thinking with’. It is evident that that’s not a simple semantic difference, but something deeper, as we see in your book. In fact, this is in some sense a question of style. Part of the reason many social scientific and philosophical texts have such a regrettable style has to do with the way in which these disciplines have been formed. Certain habits and patterns of thought have developed that understand their task as one of producing knowledge
of various aspects of social life or of the world, yet they simultaneously neglect the way in which the disciplines participate – whether they like it or not – in a certain poetics of knowledge. But disciplines participate in the worlds that they ask questions of, or make claims about, and they do so by and as they ask those questions and articulate those claims. It is precisely at this point that we can begin to sense the difference between ‘thinking about’ and ‘thinking with.’ For instance, I never sought for Around the Day in Eighty Worlds to provide an exegesis of James’s thought – that is, think about his thought. Exegetical exercises can be rewarding and important. But something else is at stake when one attempts the rather more difficult and experimental task of ‘thinking with’ – not only thinking with other thinkers, but also with other practices, modes of living, and ways of composing the world. When I relay James’s thought as part of that task, the challenge is not simply to elucidate the meaning of various concepts, let alone to dissect a series of passages from his books, to arrive at some abstract conception. Thinking with James is rather to seek to grasp something of the vision and sensibility of his thought in order to reactivate it, to enable it to reignite the imagination. Once again, there is a Pragmatic dual question here: what possibilities might a certain reading of James render us capable of perceiving, and what differences might those possibilities make ? If in this book I try to think with James – as well as with many other worlds, even if not exactly eighty, as the title suggests – it is in order to explore profoundly interesting questions about the nature of reality and the different ways in which we participate in it; about how certain modern forms of realism have become forms of colonization; and about how we might render one another capable of transforming the ways we inhabit the world. Speculation is an important method for you, and the background of your book. Why? In a way, the question of speculation is simply the other side of the coin of the Pragmatism question. Pragmatism always asks what difference a concept is capable of making in response to certain problems. It is also at the same time an Interview
Interview attempt to connect concepts to the possibles the concepts intensify and dramatize. A kind of philosophical experimentation gets underway in the very act of weaving together Pragmatism and speculation, differences and possibles, which I call Speculative Pragmatism. It involves thinking with the present in order to render ourselves capable of imagining our worlds in other ways. This is what to my mind distinguished the Pragmatism of someone like James from that of John Dewey, or indeed, from the contemporary Pragmatism of someone like Richard Rorty. Rorty’s approach appears to dominate the understanding of Pragmatism these days and sadly it has completely abandoned the speculative dimension of James’s work, reducing Pragmatism to a sort of language game and a very impoverished nominalism.
CARTOON © CHRIS GILL PLEASE
VISIT CGILLCARTOONS.COM FOR MORE.
You talk about a ‘pluralistic realism’. What’s the difference between this and other types of realism that are around today – for example, speculative realism? Well, realism tends to be associated with any kind of theory that says something is real, that something exists independently of us and our ideas. A great number of realisms, including some of the
speculative ones, tend to be profoundly concerned with the question of how to draw the line between what is real and what is not. In a sense, each form of realism is its own way of drawing that line. But that, to my mind, ends up transforming realism into a belligerent gesture. What I call a pluralistic realism, meanwhile, is first and foremost characterised by the refusal to draw that line. I’m more interested in problematizing the very distinction between reality and unreality, not by claiming there is no such thing as reality but rather by wagering that everything is in some sense real, and not just what is deemed ‘independent of us’. Also, what I’m experimenting with is whether we could turn realism into an empirical metaphysical project rather than legislative and abstract one. I mean, what if, instead of seeking to determine once and for all what the structure of reality is so that we can draw the line that enables us to disqualify some things from it, we connected the task of metaphysics with the question of what reality is capable of? I mean, let’s go out there and find out what’s real! Pluralism turns realism into an empiricist and collective exercise. Yet ‘going out there’ is not a
‘The Popular Vote’ Interview
rejection of metaphysics. Quite the contrary! It is rather an attempt to put our metaphysical speculations to the test of experiences, around the day, in eighty, or a thousand, worlds. If ghosts, say, are real somewhere, in some situations – for example in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami – then perhaps an entire metaphysical edifice, and above all an entire way of constructing public life, of doing politics, all of which are built upon the sheer impossibility of certain things, would be in need of serious revisions and transformations. How might we approach those transformations, if we refused to disqualify the reality of ghosts? The book explores some of these questions. Throughout the book you use an interesting term that’s strongly related to your decolonial studies,‘world-monification’. What do you mean by that? ‘World-monification’ is a notentirely-pretty term that I made up to label a not very pretty historical process. It is a means of dramatizing the fact that ‘monism’, the philosophical position that privileges unity over multiplicity, sameness over difference, is not merely a philosophical position that one can take up, or put down, but a socio-historical process. William James already made this clear in 1907, in his Pragmatism lectures: the world is constantly undergoing processes of unification brought about by all sorts of practices, systems, forms of communication, influences, and causes that are constructed within it and which compose it. If we think of monism in these terms, then we can read the tangled histories of capitalism, colonialism, and the exploitation of natural resources as histories of the ‘monification of the world’. It’s the process by which the world became the globe, the one ‘world-system,’ as some historians call it. Modern globalisation began as an alliance between monism and colonialism. It was a project of homogenisation, for it involved a devastation of differences. The very idea of the world as a globe not only recalls the disasters of what we have come to call ‘globalisation’, but of course the very June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 45
pandemic we’re in the midst of. Which is to say that monism is not merely a conceptual metaphysical proposition, but that there’s also a historical, practical, and material process of monification.
by Melissa Felder
SIMON & FINN © MELISSA FELDER 2021 PLEASE
46 Philosophy Now
You think we must go beyond the never-ending debates about the nature of knowledge that circulate in universities. Am I right? Perhaps we have to go in another direction? I certainly think philosophy has somewhat overdone the importance of epistemology, or at least presented questions of knowledge as freed from assumptions of their own. One of the assumptions is, as it happens, a distinctly modern one – and moreover, a distinctly Kantian assumption. Kant argued that as knowing beings we are fundamentally divorced from reality. We can say nothing about reality itself, because reality itself exists beyond any possible perception we could have of it. Whatever we do know is learned through some form of intermediary, which ends up being more important to whatever we say than reality itself. In the process, politics, for example, becomes subsumed under epistemology. This is why I always want to point out that there is no politics of knowledge without a politics of reality. This isn’t to say that one must somehow ignore all epistemological questions, for sometimes knowledge and our modes of knowing are indeed at stake. But the key word here is ‘sometimes’. What I argue against is the assumption, in postcolonial studies and elsewhere, that an examination of the political nature of knowledge is somehow the main way in which critical analysis (and subsequent politics) is to be pursued. I don’t share that assumption. I think there’s much more to decolonial politics than a politics of knowledge. Knowledges grow out of worlds the knowledges themselves can never hope to exhaust. As such, the worlds themselves are at stake, not simply how we know them. Reality, as James said, feels like itself – in the plural. In philosophy we’re stuck in this Kantian scenario all the time. This is very problematic, especially when we want a more faithful commitment to reality itself; for example, when we try to follow the vitalist path of authors Interview
Everything is susceptible to being brought back to a terrain in which researchers feel comfortable – to the kinds of explanations that social scientists already know how to articulate. There is something very regrettable, something poisonous, in this habit. It makes it very difficult to learn anything new.
like Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway by connecting together not only humans, but animals and objects. How can I talk about objects? How can I talk about animals? All this is strange if we’re stuck in a relationship between immediate human knowledge and an unknowable reality beyond it. Indeed. My sense is precisely that those thinkers you mentioned, but also others such as Vinciane Despret and Isabelle Stengers, have done excellent work not least in seeking to articulate means by which one might come to learn how to take social relations seriously. There is no society without objects, things, non-human beings. We would not even be able to make sense of, let alone construct, the forms of public life we have inherited without the existence of doors, for instance, or without the millions of other-than-human organisms with which we inhabit the world and which inhabit us in turn. ‘We have never been human’, says Haraway; and she’s right insofar as she means that there is no such thing as a human being constituted without innumerable non-human beings, from bacteria to gods. As such, the assumption that objects and non-humans are simply there ‘for us’, doing nothing, is philosophically deeply questionable and also empirically untenable. There would be no us without them. If one is interested in the social world, in what we usually call ‘society’, one truly would Interview
have to be intensely trained in quite a systematic fashion to end up neglecting the presence and importance of so much that composes what one claims to be interested in studying.
Especially trained, perhaps, in political terms, because this Kantian paradigm of our separateness from reality is convenient for us, since it means we can control everything, or at least this is the impression we give ourselves. Moreover, if reality becomes nothing more than merely a ‘structure of power relations’, or if all truth is just an ‘unfolding of language games’, this creates the impression that we can finally discover the culprits responsible, as well as a sense of control. That is why we cannot go beyond a Kantian detachment from reality – because it is so convenient and warm in this Kantian house. This is precisely what Whitehead once called ‘minds in a groove’. It’s the result of decades of disciplinary formation and training. And of course, the groove comes with many advantages: everything is susceptible to being brought back to a terrain in which researchers feel comfortable – to the kinds of explanations that social scientists already know how to articulate. There’s something very regrettable, sometimes poisonous, in this habit. It makes it very difficult to learn anything new. But the detachment from reality does make social scientists very good at discussing the power of language, of
knowledge, of ideology. Yet there is also something rather counterintuitive in those contemporary metaphysical assumptions about the comprehensive power of language and knowledge. It is rather self-evident that there are things in this world, beyond language and knowledge, that make a vital difference to what this world is. One really has to work very hard to make them disappear, to always find a way of making them about the handful of notions we already know how to handle. But here we are… Sometimes you can see this in the philosophical field here in Brazil, too. The idea, for example, that someone is smart if and only if she is able to expose the contradictions within her object of study – whether that is another person, idea or institution. This attitude is very reminiscent of what some have called ‘epistemological resentment’. Unfortunately, we’re in this resentful process all the time now. Never building, but always criticizing, destroying, or showing contradictions. That is just what in my first book I called ‘the ethics of estrangement’. That book, The Adventure of Relevance, was concerned with practices of knowledgemaking in the social sciences. But as you say, this ethics of estrangement is precisely the attitude of assuming that things are never as they seem. If that were so, the task of critique, and the purpose of one’s own critical faculties, would therefore be to go beyond appearances, seeking to gain access to a ‘really real’ realm of causes, factors, powers, and so on. I think such an ethic is indeed at the heart of many philosophies and social sciences; but it is also indeed at the heart of modern culture. It’s one of the poisons. The task, I think, is how to decolonise the imagination, to cultivate what I called an “ethics of adventure,” that is more curious than suspicious, more experimental than resentful. • Thiago Pinho took his PhD in Sociology at the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil, where he now teaches. • Martin Savransky’s book Around the Day in Eighty Worlds: Politics of the Pluriverse is due to be published this year.
June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 47
Letters When inspiration strikes, don’t bottle it up. Email me at [email protected] Keep them short and keep them coming! The Re-Presentation of Representation DEAR EDITOR: I think The Big Art Issue (Issue 143) demonstrates why philosophy cannot get to grips with the arts. Artists use a range of media to represent both the disharmony and harmony of the world as presented to them in all its richness of pain, love, horror, beauty, madness and transcendence. It is always an attempt to re-present aspects of the world as presented in the artist’s lived experience. If successful, it will produce resonances of feeling between the artist and their audience. The problems occur when philosophers attempt to categorize and conceptualize works of art, because they are then representing the already-represented. This process of abstracting from an abstraction moves us even further away from the lived experience of the artist. In proof of this, I note that none of your contributors focused on the nature of the aesthetic experience itself, but used art to represent their own moral or other questions. Perhaps the message is that philosophers should allow art to speak for itself? STEVE BREWER, ST IVES, CORNWALL DEAR EDITOR: Reading Issue 143, with its focus on art, I was reminded of this photo I took about ten years ago. It was on the wall of a redundant factory in Leeds. I have no idea who had sprayed it, or, more intriguingly, their motivation. Was this an attempt at creating a work of art in its own right, or was this a cry of frustration after encountering something in Leeds’ art gallery? Perhaps it was a student who wanted to paint landscapes but who found themselves encouraged to
48 Philosophy Now
make installations. Whatever the intention of the person who sprayed it, it does, in a dramatic way, raise the interesting question of where the boundary rests when claiming any object as a work of art. DAVID MORLING, BEER, DEVON Dazed & Confused by Art & Morality DEAR EDITOR: I was rather dazed and confused after reading Jessica Logue’s article on ‘Art & Morality’ in PN 143. Unless you’re a fundamentalist, most moral issues are not black and white; they form a spectrum of shades of grey. When art is of dubious value, taking the moral high road appears to be relatively easy. For example, I sort and prep vinyl records for sale in our charity shop or online. When the guilty verdict came in on the sex pest Rolf Harris, I immediately discarded the only two records by him we had for sale – no great loss artistically or financially. But does it make a difference if the artist is dead or alive? I have not discarded records by the late murderer Phil Spector, nor the longdead anti-Semite Richard Wagner. Is anyone suggesting that we ban Wagner’s music from opera houses and burn his scores and recordings? That seems unlikely, as neither the man himself nor his estate benefits from his work. But it would be different if The Ring Cycle had been written by a living neo-Nazi. So I conducted a thought experiment with friends and family: A charity receives a donation of a signed watercolour by Adolf Hitler. What to do – destroy it immediately, or send it to auction? Virtue ethics might dictate that the painting should be destroyed; but at auction it might fetch a fortune that would greatly benefit the charity. However, the PR damage of an auction could also be immense – plus, the painting might be bought by a neo-Nazi. This raises the utilitarian approach: how much money raised would be enough to conclude that such an auction promoted the greatest good? In my non-scientific sample, the
consensus was to go to auction, the bestcase scenario being that the winner buys it purely in order to destroy it. My own view is to buy it through crowdfunding, in order to stage a public bonfire. With art of accepted value by a dead artist there is a middle way. In the early 70s I attended a production of Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (c.1590). There’s an obnoxious antiSemitic rant in it, and the director decided not to edit it out. Instead, at the key moment the action stopped, the actors walked off, then returned with the text, which they read deadpan at the front of the stage; then the action resumed. Although this broke the fourth wall (very unusual back then), as an audience member I found the experience very powerful. We now live in a post-truth environment where the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ has been discarded under the tyranny of ‘the offended’. For instance, although Woody Allen has never been found guilty in any court of any sexual offence, Logue has decided to abandon watching his movies. She implies that if Allen were to show remorse he would be easier to forgive. This is precisely the argument used by political tyrants, by the torturer O’Brien in 1984, and by ‘the offended’ of today. At the denouement of Agatha Christie’s Murder on The Orient Express, Poirot suffers a profound moral and ethical crisis. [Spoiler ahead!] Virtue ethics would dictate that he should follow the letter of the law and send twelve people to the gallows; or he can follow natural justice and let them go free, to live with their guilt. What should he do? TERRY HYDE, YELVERTON, DEVON DEAR EDITOR: I write to articulate two criticisms of the points made in Jessica Logue’s article on ‘Art and Morality’ in Issue 143. Firstly, in response to Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994: while I recognise the line of argument that suicide derives from a sense of pain associated
Letters with personal disempowerment, I find her statement, ‘Suicide is often the result of a mental illness’ useless. Given that there is neither common consensus on what constitutes a mental illness, nor a definition posited by Logue, I judge that she might as well have said that ‘suicide is often caused by suicidal thoughts’. There needs to be far more rigorous attempts to define what constitutes mental illness and the extent to which it can absolve someone of personal responsibility – not that I condemn those who commit or attempt suicide as immoral. Secondly, Logue bundles incest – specifically the incest of Lord Byron – together with adultery, rape, and racism as unquestionably immoral. But incest does not per se denote any kind of abuse: it simply means sexual contact between close relatives. In the case of Byron’s (unproven) incest, I can find no suggestion that he was abusive, and both parties were adults. Again, this requires far more rigorous collective self-assessment. ADAM HITCHCOCK READING, BERKSHIRE DEAR EDITOR: Go climb a mountain, make love, write an email... someone else is involved. No human action stands on its own: it is always connected in some way with the rest of life. Everything we do, we do in context. When someone approves or disapproves, we are in the territory of ethics. You can’t keep art and morality apart. The question is, which has priority? The Japanese Samurai and European duellists choreographed killing itself as a work of art. Caravaggio, one of the greatest Italian painters, was a murderer. Benvenuto Cellini, supreme goldsmith and sculptor, was a thoroughly nasty character. Gesualdo, groundbreaking Renaissance composer, killed his wife and her lover. Suicide is not confined to pop singers. Think, for the twentieth century alone, of Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington, Mark Rothko, Virginia Woolf... From the internet I find that in the last two centuries about 2% of artists died by their own hand. (Poets and writers have a slightly higher suicide rate than the general population; painters and architects rather lower.) But why do we want to know if a painter or musician is wicked or not? Shall we shut our ears to the music of a dissolute pianist? Do we turn our back on Harlech Castle because it was built to oppress the locals? Is a
Spitfire less admirable for being a killing machine? Take this a little further. Before we buy a product, must we first be satisfied that the designer not only treats their family well, but also pays their taxes and looks after their employees? Is this included in ethics? Or is ethics only interesting if it has to do with sex? A work of art is supposed to contribute in some way to human good. But we are complicated, inconsistent beings. Can anyone tell us whether Phidias bribed the builders of the Parthenon, or Praxiteles flogged his slaves? Anonymous ancient works, medieval, classical, Chinese, or whatever, display the evidence of their quality. But they tell us nothing of their authors’ score in the virtue stakes. Private virtue is one thing. But if we are to turn our eyes from a painting of Venus or a sunset, stop our ears to a Requiem mass, because the artist was perhaps dishonest, how can it be okay to show thousands of murders and other horrors on television every week? Or is that all right, provided the camera crew don’t wolf-whistle at women? Every work of art is a sample of a possible world of experience. One thing we can be sure of: no possible world will be squeaky-clean. Good people and bad will go on making things. Some of what they make will be fine and beautiful, but not because they are honest, kind or politically correct. They only have to be good artists. TOM CHAMBERLAIN NEWARK-ON-TRENT Thinking About Words DEAR EDITOR: In PN 143 Raymond Tallis marvels at our ability to think about thinking. But his over-emphasis on specifically linguistic thinking, claiming that “for most people, thought is overwhelmingly in words rather than images”, is typical of our over-literary culture. Where is the evidence for this commonly assumed sweeping generalisation? And how can we possibly gather data to support such a hypothesis when thought is essentially private? It may be correct that highly abstract thinking, like philosophising, is very symbol-dependent, especially word-dependent. But a huge chunk of thinking, for instance concerning quantitative relations, art, music, dance, spatial navigation, everyday locomotion, friendship, etc… is mostly non-verbal. Even in the lives of the literati, thinking often bypasses
words altogether. Making a cup of tea, driving a car, playing a game, recalling events, require thought but not necessarily any mental use of words at all. Would your thoughts about a loved one change if they were nameless? Language was a twentieth century obsession in philosophy. Logical positivists and others, including Wittgenstein, thought that most if not all philosophical problems were due to misunderstanding linguistic limitations. Structuralists thought linguistic theories were a model for philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology. Postmodernists regarded almost everything as a closed domain of inter-referential text. The very influential Sapir-Whorf hypothesis even suggested that language determines and limits what can be thought about at all. It is clear that symbols, especially words, make mental connectedness and communication much simpler, facilitating easier concept and theory formation; but words per se are meaningless tokens which only become meaningful when labelling or linking to concepts and their affective associations. It is this deeper cognitive level of memorised constructs – highly processed but ultimately derived from traces of qualitative lived experience filtered and structured for our needs – which is the realm of thought. Thinking isn’t just a nexus of labels referring to other labels; the labels have to eventually touch base with non-verbal experience, to work at all. Even in an artificial intelligence system, the input can be words and the output can be words, but the intervening processing is not words. It is a fallacy to infer that just because people receive and report most of their thinking in words, that their thinking is mostly words. CHRISTOPHER BURKE, MANCHESTER Toil, Leisure & Idealism DEAR EDITOR: In PN Issue 142, Jacob Snyder’s article ‘Anxious Idleness’ discusses the disappointment that when you finally achieve leisure it turns out to be a rather boring dead-end. He describes how Aristotle and Locke tackled this paradox. Aristotle said work, recreation, and leisure were three different things, leisure being the most exalted because it has no external purpose. Recreation, said Aristotle, is different because it’s merely a rest from work to sharpen you up for later work. Locke, on the other hand, merged recreation with leisure. He points out that the rich and June/July 2021 l Philosophy Now 49
Letters famous are just as likely as the working classes to spend their spare time at ‘cards, dice, and drink’, and so concluded that there ought to be a use for our recreation. This involves ‘the use of enjoyable practical reason’. But doesn’t that make recreation a lot like work? I suggest we can solve the paradox of leisure by starting from a social rather than an individual angle. Human beings are powerfully motivated by the social groups we belong to. These groups are the interlocking building-blocks that make up society: the families, clubs, gangs, businesses, tribes, nations, and multinational corporations. A person usually belongs to several groups. But the motivating element will always be peer recognition, which is to say, being liked, trusted, admired, or regarded as valuable within the group. Soldiers regularly risk their lives for their colleagues: medals are an after-thought. Aristotle’s ‘exalted leisure’ and Locke’s ‘practical reason’ seem unreliable motivators, whereas simple peer recognition motivates us all, from the toddler to the elderly. This group perspective suggests that the desire to be recognised for useful work is a considerably more powerful motivator than the seductive promise of leisure. This society-based thinking is the subject of my book, The Wheels of Society, in which I argue that corporate greed seems to drive all our dangerous behaviour; pollution, habitat destruction, and over-consumption of the Earth’s resources. If corporate greed is the root cause of these worries, maybe we should change our view of society. Rather than seeing ourselves as a population of statistically modelled self-seeking individuals, we should notice the primacy of our (greedy) cooperating groups. They are so obvious that we routinely ignore them. A.C.B. WILSON, BRADFORD ON AVON DEAR EDITOR: In ‘Anxious Idleness’ in Issue 142, Jacob Snyder raises an interesting question about “the moral guilt we feel when we are idle” (not felt equally by all!). The issue of guilt seems to point beyond philosophy to the realms of psychology and the spirit. On the psychological side: when I was growing up, my parents would occasionally accuse me of laziness, which made me feel bad. I have internalized this guilt to some extent, and it rears its head whenever I’m not busy doing something that someone else thinks is important. On 50 Philosophy Now
the spiritual side: the ancient myth of a Golden Age depicts human life as originally one of pleasure, and freedom from labor. Such is the condition of Adam and Eve before their fall from grace, when God curses Adam with a life of toil. Our idea of postmortem bliss is similarly one of leisure. This suggests that we see labor as, at best, a necessary evil we must endure. But at the same time, sloth is counted among the Seven Deadly Sins, implying that industriousness is a virtue. So our spiritual authorities appear to be ambivalent about labor. I think the real source of guilt over inactivity is the press of time. We have a sense that we’re born for a purpose, perhaps even with a mission, and have a limited time in which to carry it out. After all, have we been endowed with our faculties and talents just to lie on a beach getting drunk – or worse, to play golf? PAUL VITOLS, NORTH VANCOUVER DEAR EDITOR: I was intrigued with the article by Jacob Snyder about leisure. Snyder contrasts the teaching of Aristotle that leisure, especially philosophical contemplation, is the ultimate goal of human life, with the claim of John Locke that even what we usually regard as leisure time should be spent in some kind of work or activity. In a sense the question here is what the highest or ideal purpose of a person should be. This question has been debated for centuries in the Christian tradition. Two theories about this are similar to the opinions of Aristotle and Locke. One (reflecting Plato’s idea of purpose), is that the highest ideal of humanity is the eternal contemplation of God. The second theory proposes the Aristotle-like idea that our ultimate destiny is to become the active, creative people God always intended us to be. This destiny would best be fulfilled in a new physical creation. Both these theories have substantial support from the Bible and among contemporary theologians. A believer’s opinion about this affects not only her hope for the afterlife but also how she seeks to develop her life in the present world. DANIEL BOERMAN HUDSONVILLE, MICHIGAN DEAR EDITOR: Mr Kerry (Letters, 143) challenges my view that gay committed Christians should not act out on their sexual orientation by saying that this
prohibition violates something intrinsic to their relational nature. Thus, such a restriction would be wrong. But the biblical doctrine of the Fall claims that all humans are out of joint in one way or another because of the effects of original sin. For the gay Christian, the self-denial that Christ enjoins on all his followers (Luke 9:23-26) involves an erotic inhibition; but a heterosexual Christian also must deny any of their loves that are outside of the will of God. The cross of selfdenial has the same weight for every Christian, although it does not have the same shape. DOUGLAS GROOTHUIS, DENVER Work of Art & Morality DEAR EDITOR: I enjoyed the magazine’s foray into literary nonfiction in ‘Robot Rules’ in Issue 139. Brett Wilson frames his essay with the tale of ‘your’ cat Tybalt molested by an automated lawnmower, on whose behalf you go to law. There eventually you reach forward, press a button, and see the robotic lawyer collapse before your eyes. Your encounter with a robot lawyer is about as unsatisfactory as your cat’s encounter with a robot lawnmower. The frame is written in folksy skaz style (colloquialisms, regionalisms, puns, litotes, grandiloquence on occasion) but the best part lies in the literary allusions. We have Tybalt’s bloodline, which runs through a graphic novel The Prince of Cats, Romeo and Juliet, the medieval Reynard the Fox cycle, and, unless I am thinking too hard, the nursery rhyme ‘Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle’. There is an allusion to Hamlet and the jury of peers may be an allusion to the Parliament of Fowls where we find the adage, “choosing not to act is still a choice.” The other side of the coin from the literary, the nonfiction argumentation – the meat in the sandwich – must be impeccable. Martin Jenkins in Issue 140 suggests that Brett Wilson should get a better lawyer, since the answer he seeks already exists in the common law. This is correct, but the legal points are a sideshow to the philosophy, where Wilson’s points and arguments are sound. JUDITH ALEXANDER, CALGARY Mortal Remains I would rather be a fossil When I am no longer living, For thus, I could maintain my form Though my soul would be missing. BOGHOS ARTINIAN, BEIRUT
IMAGE BY CAROL BELANGER GRAFTON
Philosophy Then Evil Overruled Peter Adamson considers explanations of evil in the context of slavery in nineteenth century America.
oday’s philosophers of religion devote considerable attention to the problem of evil: If God is both perfectly good and allpowerful, why do evil and suffering exist? This poses a considerable challenge to Jewish, Christian and Muslim (a.k.a. ‘Abrahamic’) theism, since if God is good, presumably he’d want to prevent evil and suffering, and if he’s all-powerful, presumably he’d be able to. The attempt to address this problem is called theodicy. In keeping with the habits of analytic philosophy, the problem is typically discussed in a rather technical and detached fashion. This has its advantages. For instance, philosophers have drawn a useful distinction between a ‘logical’ version of the problem, according to which the existence of evil is flatly inconsistent with an Abrahamic God’s existence, and an ‘evidential’ version, whereby evil simply gives us good evidence that there is no such God. In the nineteenth century, many thinkers wrestled with the same problem, but with much greater emotion. African American theologians and philosophers had somehow to reconcile their devout belief in the Christian God with the abomination of slavery. How could a good God permit such a thing? This was no mere logical problem, but an agonizing existential dilemma. The first example comes at the very beginning of U.S history, with Lemuel Haynes, who actually fought in the Revolutionary War. He was a devotee of Calvinist Protestantism, and so believed that God predestines everything in life, including ensuring that good prevails over bad. For Haynes it was not enough to blame the wickedness of slavery on the slavers rather than on God. One also had to explain why God would allow their wickedness. His answer may look rather shocking to modern eyes: “those Negroes that are Emigrated into these colonies are brought out of a Land of Darkness under the Light of the Gospel; and so it is a great Blessing instead of a Curse” (Liberty Further Extended, 1776). Thus Haynes dealt
with a profound challenge to his religion by invoking that same religion. Africans taken from their native land and brought to America had been gravely mistreated, but they had gained an infinite good in the process, by being Christianized. However, this was a dangerous justification to offer on God’s behalf, because slaveholders could use it too. Slavery was often rationalized by slave owners as being in the interest of the slaves as well as the masters. This argument, risible and offensive though it is, could not just be dismissed out of hand, since slavery apologists could likewise invoke the benefits of conversion. But critics of slavery gave a powerful response: If God ‘overrules’ sin by using it for a good end, the sin itself is still evil. Slavers act out of greed and inhumanity, and will be punished accordingly, even if they were the instruments of a good outcome. And it was clear that their motives were indeed evil. After all, if the goal was simply to convert Africans, that could be done without enslaving anyone. This nineteenth century theodicy seems to presuppose that Africans brought to America should be trying to assimilate to the Christian culture there. Yet, the same train of thought could lead in the opposite direction: separatism instead of assimiliationism. Some African American thinkers urged those who won their freedom to abandon America and join newly established colonies in Africa, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, bringing with them learning, commerce, and Christian piety. It was a controversial idea. David Walker called it a ‘cunningly devised plot of Satan’, seeing it as a white-led scheme to remove freed blacks, leaving the enslaved at the mercy of their oppressors. But defenders of African repatriation argued that America would never offer equality to black people. In the words of Paul Cuffe, it was only in Africa that ‘this People Might rise to be a People’. After the abolition of slavery, the export of education and Christianity to Africa could be depicted as the beneficial result
God must have had in mind all along. Notable here was Alexander Crummell, a priest who devoted himself to, as he saw it, bringing the light of ‘civilization’ to the ‘pagans’ of Africa (The Future of Africa, 1862). For him civilization meant simply schools and religion. He wanted to expand the use of English in Africa, since for him it was the ‘language of freedom’, holding within it ‘ideas of virtue’ and ‘moral truth’, due to its historical connection to Protestantism. A contemporary of Crummell’s, Henry McNeal Turner, likewise saw the ‘‘duty to civilize our fatherland’’ as the plan of divine Providence. He admitted that white support for colonization often had malevolent motives, but for him that was just “another evidence that Providence over-rules evil for good” (The Negro in All Ages, 1873). The colonization of Africa was the means by which “infinite wisdom intended to evolve ultimate good out of a temporary evil.” Such thinking went out of fashion once it became undeniable that colonialism had, to put it mildly, not been a boon for Africa. An increased appreciation for the value of traditional African culture went along with increased apprehension about the damage being wrought in the name of ‘civilization’. As the pioneering historian Carter G. Woodson remarked in the 1930s, “much of Africa has been conquered and subjugated to save souls. How expensive has been the Negro’s salvation! One of the strong arguments for slavery was that it brought the Negro into the light of salvation. And yet the Negro today is all but lost” (The MisEducation of the Negro, 1933). There’s a lesson here that philosophers of religion would do well to heed: any plausible solution to the problem of evil needs to begin its justification of God by admitting that some things are simply unjustifiable. © PROF. PETER ADAMSON 2021
Peter Adamson is the author of A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Vols 1-5, available from OUP. They’re based on his popular History of Philosophy podcast. June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 51
To philosophy ... and beyond! John Shand agrees with Mary Midgley about philosophy’s purpose, Kieran Brayford thinks ahead, and Joshua Schrier asks whether artificial real intelligence is possible.
What is Philosophy For? by Mary Midgley
52 Philosophy Now
MIDGLEY SKETCH © ERIN KAVANAGH 2020 PLEASE VISIT GEOMYTHKAVANAGH.COM
WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY FOR? is a remarkable book by any standards: Mary Midgley wrote it in the last year of her life, and she was ninety-nine when it was published! Would that we were all as compos mentis at that age. It’s just as well to get these considerations out of the way as soon as possible, for they are irrelevant to the merits of the book, except insofar as the book clearly reflects a very long time thinking about the answer to the question posed by its title. At the outset I want to lay my cards on the table and agree that her answer is broadly speaking correct. I have a few caveats, but essentially it’s right. What it amounts to, is that philosophy stands at the apex of the multitude of ways that we can think and talk about the world because it lays out how these ways of thinking and talking relate to each other, and may or may not be fitted together. We are presented with a bewildering set of views and positions about the world and our place in it. Imagine an array of pigeonholes: philosophy gives us some structure or guide as to what intellectual positions get posted into which holes, in some kind of orderly manner. Midgley herself encapsulates her view of philosophy thus: “it explains the relations between different ways of thinking. It maps the path that thought can follow” (p.21). This guidance has two functions, somewhat related. One is to create some kind of ordered whole for thought. The other is to work against our being locked into one viewpoint such that we cease to consider others. This does not mean that we accept all the views as equally justified or true – it’s not an open door for relativism – but it does mean that we know how to place views within a greater structure. This ordered placing is a never-ending process, owing to the appearance of new ways of thinking about the world and our place in it. This explains why Midgley is somewhat cagey about whether philosophy makes progress. In one sense, it does not, for it is not a cumulative burrowing down to fundamental truths, as occurs in science. But she says philosophy does make something that might be called progress, in
Mary Midgley by Erin Kavanagh
that it adapts its placing of positions and ways of talking to particular times. So no progress in the linear sense of ‘an overall aimed-at finishing endpoint’; but progress as in, one might say, moving with the times. However, no philosophical position ever becomes completely obsolete, for we find the same ideas turning up repeatedly in different forms. Midgley is rightly critical of the modern inclination towards philosophy modelling itself on science, as if journal articles on, say, truth, were like the collaborative research exercise aimed at a cure for cancer. I must emphasize that Midgley is not anti-science in any way – far from it; but science must not be taken as the only way of thinking and talking about the world. That would be scientism, the ‘new sedative’ which fails to see that the coverage and results of science are limited, and do not encompass all possible knowledge. Philosophers should be broad in their interests, rather than knowing more and more about less and less. Philosophy spans the different views and ways of thinking about the world such that, as Midgley says, a university without a philosophy department should not rightly be called a university at all. This view of what a university must be is
a harsh but true indictment. It goes along with the claim that philosophy, far from being an idle (perhaps even an idler’s) luxury, is necessary for healthy and illuminating thinking and the interplay and exchange of ideas – and is indeed near unavoidable for all but the irredeemably close-minded and ideologically locked in. Along the way in What is Philosophy For? Midgley addresses a couple of substantial philosophical problems, namely the natures of mind and free will. Again, her view seems to me to be well on the right track. The start of her track is to point out that the so-called ‘hard problem’ of consciousness – how does the physical activity of our neurons produce our experience? – is hard because it is often couched in terms of a certain materialist way of talking, which leaves us with nothing but the head-scratching conundrum of how a ‘lump of meat’ (even this formulation is wrong, as meat is dead, as she points out) can give rise to the phenomenon of subjective awareness. Her point is that this way of setting up the problem is avoidable once we take a philosophical look, and realise that a supposedly ‘scientific’ materialism is only one way of talking about the world, and a way of talking based on subjective awareness Book Reviews
Books itself is an equally valid way – a view through a different lens, or asking a different set of questions. This then illustrates exactly the kind of taking up one way of talking and another way of talking in two hands and encompassing both which is the role of philosophy, allowing us to think about a problem in a more illuminating way, rather than futilely and unnecessarily battering away from within one position. Now for some minor caveats, none of which undermine the essential rightness of what Midgley says philosophy is for. One caveat is to question the framing of the question itself, in particular concerning the connotations of the word ‘for’. It might be asked whether philosophy has to be for anything, rather than saying it simply is something. She’s right about its role of placing and relating the array of ways of talking – but if this idea is pushed too hard it underestimates, perhaps even leaves out, the intrinsic interest of philosophical problems. This point is succinctly expressed by A. J. Ayer at the very end of his book The Central Questions of Philosophy (1975), where, having said that of course philosophy may serve things outside itself, that it may even change things (which it undoubtedly has and does), he goes on to say: “Even so this is not the source of its charm for most of those who practise it. For them, its value consists in the interest of the questions which it raises and the success which it achieves in answering them.”
MAP © INGOLFSON 2011
Philosophy maps connections between different areas of thought
There are few slips in the book. When they come, as they very occasionally do, it’s down to economics, where Midgley’s knowledge looks a lot shakier, and her opinions are conventional of a certain perspective typical of the liberal left. In this case she seems unable to quite pull off what she advocates – getting outside a relatively closed perspective. Much the same criticism applies to her environmental views. In both cases one might say her views get the better of her philosophy. The book also has a tendency to circle back repetitively, along with a tendency to shoot off occasionally at tangents. But these are minor quibbles. The book is not perfect – but goodness, who expects that? And the message is so important, so essentially right, that none of this matters. It is something of a cliché to say “No intelligent thinking person should miss out on reading this book”, or that “Any intelligent thinking person would benefit from it”, but in this case it’s true. © DR JOHN SHAND 2021
John Shand is an Honorary Associate in Philosophy at the Open University. His books include Philosophy and Philosophers: An Introduction to Western Philosophy (Routledge, 2002), Arguing Well (Routledge, 2000), and, as Editor, A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Philosophy (Blackwell, 2019). • What is Philosophy For?, Mary Midgley, 2018, Bloomsbury Academic, £12.99 pb, 232 pages.
Philosophy in a Technological World: Gods and Titans by james Tartaglia ARE WE, as James Tartaglia puts it in Philosophy in a Technological World, “powerless pawns in a game played by nobody”, or are we free to try and make our own futures, guided by our ability to think rationally? On the face of things, the latter seems obvious. We can make a plan and do all we can to bring that plan into fruition. But this is not how the materialistic deterministic interpretation of physics sees things. In a world made of matter, where anything and everything is entirely at the mercy of physical laws, there seems to be no allowance for free thinking: we are powerless to affect the unfolding of events. If everything is matter and its machinations, then we’re simply along for the ride. Tartaglia, who is Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at the University of Keele, argues that this kind of materialist thinking, which holds the physical world to be the sole reality, has done much to obscure the usefulness of philosophy as its own distinctive discipline. This is not helped by the open hostility towards philosophy displayed by some physicists. (Philosophy is dead, according to the late Stephen Hawking.) Tartaglia argues moreover that philosophy itself has become something of a parasite on physics, and that it has lost touch with its own vital spirit as it tries to secure its continued relevance by incorporating scientific findings into its thinking. In his view this is a dangerous development. Scientific advancement usually spurs on technological advancement, and technological advancement is a challenge because of the way it can change our way of living, so it would be good to be able to independently reflect on that. For instance, for many of us, both our time at work and our leisure time involves sitting in front of a screen. The internet has rendered record shops, cinemas, libraries, newspapers, and the like novelties rather than necessities. Tartaglia notes that these changes have befallen us without consultation or consent, yet the impact these ‘engineering projects’ (p.8) will have on life will be profound. He is no fawning technological optimist, but he is also no pessimist. The book highlights flaws of both in an interesting dissection of Stephen Pinker and John Gray. Unlike those, like Pinker, who see technology as the unqualified bringer of a better life, or those such as Gray, who think technology can June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 53
Books realise the full potential of the evil streak running through us all, Tartaglia understands that technology is neither all good, nor all bad. Yet he is also keen to stress that if technology does go awry, the consequences are potentially terrible. In his view, mass democratic oversight of technology is key to avoiding a terrible future. A sardonic portrait of one such possible future is found in the final section of the book: ‘A Utopia’. If technologies are going to change our ways of living, we must ensure that they do so in the ways we want them to. We must decide what projects should go forward, and which should be left alone. In short, technological development needs a strong dose of ethical rationality. How best to approach this? Tartaglia presents two interesting suggestions towards solving the problem, one practical and one theoretical. The first is the promotion of philosophical reasoning by adding philosophy to the school curriculum. It’s hard not to agree with him here: future generations will have their lives effected most radically by technological change, so it’s best that they go forth into that world with the critical-mindedness a philosophical education can cultivate. Armed with this, future generations will be able to restore a degree of prudence to technological advancement, ensuring that
54 Philosophy Now
advances serve us rather than threaten us. His second suggestion is to reject the materialistic thinking that has laid philosophy low in the first place. Tartaglia explains that although he was once himself a materialist, he has become an idealist. Unlike materialism, which thinks fundamental reality is best expressed in the equations of physics, idealism holds that “our inner mental lives provide the best model for trying to conceive the ultimate nature of reality” (p.31). For an idealist, the external world is like our internal worlds. Some may criticise this position as being mystical in nature: “Do minds exist floating loose in the world?” they might ask. “How can it be that experiences can exist outside of brains?” As Tartaglia deftly states, this line of thought retains its materialist baggage – such questions are only problematic if you’re already operating within a materialist conception of the world. He argues that if one drops this baggage, one can come to see that our direct experience is what is primarily real, not the particles, forces, and fields. In Tartaglia’s view, the physical constituents of the world being held up as primary reality encourages philosophy’s subservience to physical science through materialism. The book is terse, lively, and enjoyable. Tartaglia seems to relish the opportunity to
challenge our preconceptions, and how we think we know what we think we know. If he is right that the dominance of materialism is beginning to wane (and I think he may be), then Philosophy in a Technological World is undoubtedly a useful primer for what is to come. I especially recommend it to those who feel instinctively rankled by its idealist leanings. There is enough in the book to maybe change your mind. © KIERAN BRAYFORD 2021
Kieran Brayford is a PhD Candidate at Keele University researching technology and consciousness. • Philosophy in a Technological World: Gods and Titans, James Tartaglia, Bloomsbury, 2020, £50 hb, 256 pages, ISBN: 1350070106
The Promise of Artificial Intelligence by Brian Cantwell Smith CAN THINKING BE REDUCED to a series of logical rules which can be performed by anyone, even a machine? Enlightenment philosophers, including Gottfried Leibniz, Thomas Hobbes, and René Descartes, all considered the possibility of mechanical approaches to thinking. In our own era, computer technology has enabled artificial intelligence algorithms to outperform humans in tasks as diverse as playing chess, flying airplanes, diagnosing diseases, and recognizing cat pictures on the internet, among many others. Some have speculated that just a little bit more computer power would enable these algorithms to achieve general humanlevel, or perhaps even super-human, intelligence. Or is there instead a fundamental roadblock to human-level artificial intelligence? In this engaging and conversational book, Brian Cantwell Smith, who is Reid Hoffman Professor of Artificial Intelligence and the Human at the University of Toronto, argues that no current or proposed forms of AI lead to genuine intelligence. According to Smith, the barrier is not a lack of computing power, but rather the ontological and epistemic realities about how electronic algorithms engage with and in the world, as I’ll explain. Smith distinguishes between ‘reckoning’ and ‘judgement’ as forms of thinking. Reckoning – the outcome of a sequence of calculations – can be quite sophisticated, and in many cases computers already exceed human capabilities in this regard; for example, certain chess programs can beat any Book Reviews
human player. In contrast, judgement refers to dispassionate and deliberate thought, guided by ethical commitments, resulting in actions appropriate to the situation. In Smith’s view, much of what we call ‘intelligence’ is really using judgement in this sense to operate skillfully in uncertain, underdefined environments, in an appropriate way. It’s more like the ancient Greek concept of phronesis or practical virtue, than a deductive logical process. Smith argues that all existing and planned AI approaches are limited to reckoning and not capable of judgement. He begins his analysis with an abbreviated review of various AI approaches, their philosophical assumptions, and the limitations imposed by those assumptions. ‘First wave’ AI (also termed ‘good old-fashioned AI’ by the philosopher John Haugeland) assumed that thought consists of performing symbolic operations on well-defined pre-existing object-symbols. (It was an electronic version of the ‘reasoning as calculation’ model put forth by Thomas Hobbes in De Corpore in 1655.) By the late 1970s it was clear that this approach had reached its limits. Aside from the practical difficulty of recognizing distinct objects from the raw sensor data (the information input to the AI through cameras, for instance), there are many ways in which the world doesn’t in any case either actually (ontologically) or computationally meaningfully (epistemically) consist of discrete, neatly separated objects. So, although this first wave of AI could prove geometry theorems or play a passable game of chess, it fell short in everyday organic tasks like recognizing cat pictures. Second wave AI (a.k.a. ‘machine learning’) addresses the immediate practical difficulties of reckoning the nature of the environment from the sensor data, including Book Reviews
working out the locations and shapes of objects, but not the deeper judgementrelated issues stemming from participating as another object in the world. Machine learning approaches ‘learn’ the patterns needed to classify objects, or at least, learn digital values associated with objects from a mass of raw sensor data. Think of a computer learning to recognize cats from pixels in photographs. In contrast to first-wave AI, machine learning uses statistical inferences conducted in just a few logical steps, but these are built up using large numbers of examples, involving a large number of weakly correlated variables. For example, using millions of cat photos, the individual pixels of which are not in themselves obviously related to ‘cat’, the system will teach itself to recognise photos with cats, compared with ones without cats. However, despite the impressive performance of these algorithms, they still fall into Smith’s ‘reckoning’ category. The problem preventing computers from developing judgement, according to Smith (who in turn is quoting Haugeland), is that even second wave AI algorithms don’t ‘give a damn’ – that is, they do not have ‘skin in the game’ of the results of reckoning outcomes. The outcome of the reckoning means nothing to them – nor is it clear what would be necessary for it to do so. No existing algorithms would or could even in principle balk at the impossibility of a given input, or express moral outrage at the outcome. It is one thing to reckon that a collection of pixels should be labeled as a ‘cat’, but quite another to refuse to make that classification because it would then become the main course on the dinner menu, and thus violate a personal or social norm. It is one step even
further to make this refusal while knowing and caring that it might upset one’s host (creating a social harm) or make them go hungry (creating a personal bodily harm). All these conclusions require contextual judgements and a calculus of consequences appropriate to embodied agents. These requirements are lacking in any proposed AI scheme. From an ethical – and also from a legal – perspective, having some sort of stake in an outcome is necessary for being accountable for a decision about the outcome. Smith says that making this sort of decision is essential to judgement as a form of genuine intelligence, too. He argues that merely adding more data or more computing power to the current approaches cannot change this fundamental lack that flows through the current AI research agenda. It cannot change mere reckoning into judgement. For Smith, all living creatures, regardless of the sophistication of their reckonings about the world, have some commitment to the world. Indeed, their decisions may have literal life-or-death consequences. In contrast to their current artificial counterparts, this ‘will to live’ (pace Arthur Schopenhauer) holds living organisms genuinely accountable to object registrations as the basis of their judgement. In other words, if an organism’s reaction to the world is not based upon a realistic picture of what’s happening in it, it’s in real trouble! Thus, the problem with putting judgement in a machine may not be that AI lacks sufficient brains to make a decision, but rather that it lacks a body to suffer the consequences. This is a particularly interesting argument for philosophical readers interested in ontology, epistemology, consciousness or ethics (particularly virtue ethics). Smith is explicitly sympathetic to materialist theories of mind, and states on several occasions that his arguments do not theoretically exclude the existence of genuinely intelligent AI. Being ‘artificial’ is not the problem, he argues; the problem is rather that current approaches to AI lack the necessary commitment to creating an artificial comprehension of the reality of objects, and creating a real, involved, deciding agent in a shared world. © JOSHUA SCHRIER 2021
Joshua Schrier is Kim B. and Stephen E. Bepler Chair Professor of Chemistry at Fordham University in New York. • The Promise of Artificial Intelligence: Reckoning and Judgment, Brian Cantwell Smith, 2019, MIT Press, 184 pages, £13 pb, ISBN 9780262043045
June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 55
Brian McCusker looks and leaps into Casablanca with Søren Kierkegaard.
lthough Casablanca (1942) was an A-list film with established stars and first-rate writers, no one involved with its production expected it to be anything other than just one of the hundreds of ordinary pictures produced by Hollywood that year. After all, the premise is fairly straightforward. A cynical world-weary man falls in love with a beautiful woman who restores his faith in humanity, then she leaves him: his belief that life is cruel is confirmed, and he regresses to a selfish existence. The woman reappears, they fall in love again; but this time he leaves her, for the greater good. However, that nutshell contains the essence of many philosophies – not least that of Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the Danish philosopher who many consider to be the father of existentialism. Kierkegaard blasted us with his ideas concerning the dizziness of choice, the authentic individual’s heroic duty to spurn conformity, and the proposal that anxiety is the response to our sense of being free exacerbated by being in confrontation with God. The major themes in Casablanca are boredom, anxiety, and despair. For Kierkegaard, these are the human psyche’s major problems. People become bored when they’re not being stimulated physically or mentally, but relief from boredom can only be fleeting. Sex, drama, rock concerts, the pub, movies, playing an instrument, and so on, all might provide momentary relief from boredom, but the relief doesn’t last. Boredom is not merely a nuisance, either. Rather, to be psychologically healthy, we must find some way to avert it, at least for most of the time. Anxiety is a result of our responsibility in the face of our freedom of choice. Despair is a result of the tension between the finite and the infinite: humans are frightened of dying, but we’re also frightened of existing forever (Kierkegaard believed that everyone has an immortal soul that lives forever). Boredom and anxiety can be alleviated in various ways, but the only way to escape despair is to have faith in God. However, for Kierkegaard, having faith is more than simply attending church and behaving obediently. Faith requires intense personal commitment and a
56 Philosophy Now
dedication to unending self-analysis. Kierkegaard proposed that an individual passes through three stages on the way to becoming a true or authentic self: the Aesthetic, the Ethical, and the Religious. Each of these ‘stages on life’s way’ involve competing views on life. The aesthetic life is defined by pleasure, and to live the aesthetic life to the full one must seek to maximise one’s pleasures. Increasing aesthetic pleasures is one way to combat boredom, although Kierkegaard suggests that the pleasure of events is almost entirely in the anticipation. Kierkegaard acknowledges the importance of the aesthetic phase, but presents it as an immature stage. The aesthete is only concerned with their personal enjoyment, and because aesthetic pleasure is so fleeting, an aesthete has no solid framework from which to make coherent, consistent choices. Eventually, the pleasures of the aesthetic wear thin, and the seeker of authenticity must begin seeking the ethical life instead. Ethics are the social rules that govern how a person ought to act, and the ethical life offers certain pleasures the aesthetic life cannot. An aesthete can never do something solely for the good of someone else; but we all know that doing things for others with-
out personal motives can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. The character of Rick Blaine in Casablanca – so perfectly portrayed by Humphrey Bogart – could almost have been written by Kierkegaard. At the start of the movie this former freedom fighter has regressed from his ethical stage back into his ultra-cynical ‘I don’t stick my neck out for anyone’ selfish, aesthetic stage. The American expat is now a solitary figure, and owner of the ‘Anglo-Americain Bar’ in WWII Casablanca. It’s a haven for refugees hoping to obtain visas to escape to America. Rick has led several ‘lives’ up to this point, and has been in control in most of them. He believes that he had learned how to play the absurd life game by inventing rules about how it should be played, fooling himself into believing that the more rules he invents the more he is able to master it. But after Ilsa Laszlo (Ingrid Bergman) re-enters his life, he comes to realise that living by too many rules is the equivalent of living in a strait jacket, whereas the authentic life can include everything of value – love and friendship to name but two. And it’s true: often, the more we try and control life, the more impoverished life becomes: for instance, being afraid to get too close to someone for fear of falling in love and so leaving yourself open to possible rejection. Ilsa refuses to follow such rules, for she needs to pursue authentic existence in depth. Therefore she is prepared to give herself to Rick Blaine – a man with a private past, a precarious present, and no discernible future – despite being married to the virtuous and valiant Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), leader of the ‘Great Movement’ against Nazi Germany. For Kierkegaard ‘the Ethical’ is the second Stage on Life’s Way. As a person matures, the aesthetic life must become subordinated to the ethical, as the ethical life is based not just on individual pleasures, but on a consistent set of rules established for the good of society. The ethical life allows diverse people to coexist in harmony, and causes individuals to act for the good of society. The ethical person considers the effect his or her actions will have on others, and gives more weight to promoting social
“What are the aesthetics of this situation?” “Never mind aesthetics, what are the ethics?” (Lines cut from script’s first draught.)
IMAGES © WARNER BROS. 1942
welfare than to achieving personal gain. When Rick first met Ilsa in Paris, he was himself already well into his ethical stage, having fought the fascists in the Civil War in Spain and having run guns to Ethiopia to help in the fight against the Italian fascists. The aesthetic life steers one away from consistency, since repetition can lead to boredom. However, an ethical person doesn’t enjoy things simply because they’re novel, but makes ethical choices because of a higher set of principles. Kierkegaard uses marriage as an example of an ethical life choice. In marriage, the excitement of passion can quickly fade, leading to a diminishing of aesthetic pleasure, and so boredom. However, by consistently acting for the good of one’s spouse, one learns that there are pleasures beyond excitement. Moving On Still, the ethical life does little to nurture the spiritual self. The ethical life diverts one from self-exploration since it requires an individual to follow a set of sociallyaccepted norms and regulations. Yet according to Kierkegaard, self-exploration is necessary for faith, the key requirement for a properly religious, and so mature, life. “Who are you really?” Rick asks Ilsa at one point, as if half expecting to hear that she’s really an angel sent down to restore his faith in humanity. Perhaps he’s not wrong, either, bearing in mind that at the end of the movie she ascends into the ‘heavens’ with the ‘archangel’ Victor to carry on the Great Movement. “Where have you been and what did you do?” he asks her. “We said no questions,” she softly remonstrates. Rick raises his glass and says, “Here’s looking at
you kid”, for he realises in that moment that neither the past nor the future have any say on the way he feels here and now. “It’s a crazy world, anything can happen,” she says; “Kiss me as if it were the last time.” And till the end of his days the memory of that kiss, in that moment, will be a part of his sense of the world and of who he is – he will never cease to be someone who was lost until a certain girl smiled at him in a way that let him know she loved him. “We’ll always have Paris,” he tells her: “We lost it, till you came to Casablanca, but last night we got it back.” In Paris, Rick had meaning somewhere on the horizon of his life; the madness and craziness of war was not the vital truth after all. His new-found love and trust was preparation for his next stage of life, the religious. Unfortunately, at this point she seemingly let him down, and he was left standing in the rain at the station. His suspicions that the world really is unstable and capricious were now fully confirmed. He had dropped his defences, and the life-game kicked him hard where it hurts – in his heart. He’s so traumatised that his spiritual evolution spins into reverse and he regresses to the aesthetic stage – becoming a spectator of life without any commitment or goal, living in the moment and for its fleeting pleasures and satisfactions, open to all adventures, but never making any decisive choices. A chief trait of the aesthetic is moral neutrality, and thus it is bound always to be a stance of disappointment and despair: “I stick my neck out for no one”; “I’m not fighting for anyone anymore except myself. It’s the only cause I’m interested in”; “Rick is completely neutral about everything.” To makes matters worse, Rick also retains the
negative aspects of his ethical level, for, marooned in the limbo of the Anglo-Americain Bar, he’s now feeling shame, remorse and self-pity, yet with no plans for change. But then Ilsa comes into his life again. Only this time with her husband. Rick’s feelings quickly overwhelm him. His repressed emotions pour out of him via a whiskey bottle, while Sam stirs his memories through the piano keys. Deep down Rick wants change, but the prospect of change is always daunting. Ilsa tells him that he’s trying to escape from himself but he’ll never succeed. He says he doesn’t need to help anyone except himself. She says he’s a coward, and her words hit home hard. She points a gun at him, and he tells her to go ahead and shoot. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies; in fact death would be a release from his turmoil. Yet he knows she could never shoot him. Instead she offers herself to him, but he knows that by accepting the offer he would put the Great Movement at risk. This moment is hugely significant, for on this decision the future of the world depends. Suddenly Rick is representative of every individual and the choices they make. He is carrying the universal burden of choice and responsibility. In one giant leap of faith he crosses from the aesthetic to the religious level, and is prepared to give up all the hope of his life. He chooses the love of the Great Movement over individual love: “The problems of three little people don’t amount to more than a hill of beans in this crazy world,” he says. Just before Victor and Ilsa catch the plane to leave forever, Victor says to Rick, “Welcome back to the fight. God bless you.” The two angels ascend, and Rick walks away into the sunset with Captain Renault. “This could be the start of a beautiful friendship” says Rick, for in this instant the Captain is everyone that the new ‘we found it again’ Rick will meet in the future, instilling his new-found ‘religious’ level of life with beauty. Ah, what a movie! © BRIAN MCCUSKER 2021
Brian McCusker is a writer, presently chipping away at the second draft of a novel based in wartime Germany and 1960’s Britain. June/July 2021 l Philosophy Now 57
Bicycling in Brussels Seán Moran suspects simple stereotypes.
bicycle, a cartoon character, and beer: this could only be Belgium. And so it is. We are in the land of champion cyclist Eddie Merckx, of Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin, and of twentyone different types of beer in every bar. To complete the picture, all my photograph needs is an elegant Brussels eurocrat holding a box of Belgian chocolates in one hand and a René Magritte painting in the other, a Hercule Poirot story poking out of her Delvaux handbag. But these are stereotypes. Belgian culture is much richer and more varied than this. Even if we add singer Jacques Brel, photographer Martine Franck, and musical instrument inventor Adolphe Sax, we are still no closer to capturing Belgian-ness. My photograph doesn’t do full justice to the subject of Belgium either: it is merely a partial depiction. In his famous painting The Treachery of Images (1929), the surrealist artist Magritte featured a tobacco pipe. Below it, he painted the paradoxical statement ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ (‘This is not a pipe’). In one sense, he is correct. What we see is a two-dimensional depiction of a pipe, not an actual 3D pipe with a particular heft and warmth in the hand, an individual aroma, and a unique history. So too with my photograph. It’s a snapshot of Belgium – a vain attempt to sum up a whole country in a single two-dimensional image. As Magritte might have said, ‘Ceci n’est pas la Belgique’. In my defence, I try to depict accurately what I see on the street. My camera is a vintage Leica, using old-fashioned film rather than a digital sensor, so the potential for dishonest photography is reduced (though in Soviet-era Russia, using similar technology they laboriously managed to erase ‘purged’ politicians from photographs featuring Stalin). The lens gives a natural perspective, and I don’t Photoshop the images. Even so, the camera can lie. Photographs can be treacherous. Take the word ‘Beer’ in the image. Beer is part of mainstream Belgian culture, with a multitude of traditions – each brew is served in its own specially-shaped glass, for instance – and its importance seems to be acknowledged in my photograph. However, you can’t always believe what you see. The word was painted on a builder’s skip (dumpster), and is in fact the name of the waste-disposal company: Beermann, Beerling, or possibly Beerwinkel – I can’t remember which. It only became ‘Beer’ when I stood in the right place 58 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
on the street to crop out the second half of the word. Thus without resorting to Photoshop manipulation or Stalinist airbrushing, my selective framing has created a misleading impression. The epistemic value of the photograph has been compromised by the way it’s framed. (Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of knowledge.) Viewers of the photograph may be hoping to acquire some knowledge of this little corner of Belgium, but they’re not fully in ‘cognitive contact with reality’, to use the American philosopher Linda Zagzebski’s definition of knowledge. The image has reinterpreted reality, and subtly dislocated the viewers’ cognitive contact. So it would be unfair to use the photograph in legal proceedings, where the literal facts of the matter are at stake. It should not be given in evidence to prosecute someone for selling beer without a licence. The image doesn’t tell us much about cats either. The representational chain goes like this: 3D living cat becomes 2D cartoon cat becomes 3D sculpture of a cartoon cat becomes 2D photograph of a sculpture of a cartoon cat. The end product is so far removed from the subject it supposedly depicts that we can’t trust it much for epistemic purposes. It would have zero value for a veterinarian’s course in feline physiology, for example. The bike is similarly distorted. Many bottles of the finest Belgian beer (each poured into a differently shaped glass) would be needed in order to convince a Brussels bicycle thief that he could actually ride the thing away. But neither I nor the cat’s sculptor, Alain Séchas, would claim that we’re attempting to depict straightforward reality (if there even is such a thing). We have both simplified aspects of a complex world so that they can be grasped instantly. Alain’s efforts took a significant amount of time, and reportedly cost the city of Brussels €100,000. My work took a mere 1/250 second. Limited Bandwidths & Straw Men Simplifications have value, because they take account of humans’ limited cognitive bandwidth. In our fast-paced world, in both the real and virtual domains, we often ignore anything unduly complex because it’s too demanding of our powers of concentration. Of course Philosophy Now readers are well endowed with such powers, being able and willing to read and consider the nuanced and
intricate ideas that appear in the magazine. Even smart people appreciate punchy messages, though. Carefully-honed signals, such as powerful political or advertising slogans and images, cut through the background noise and have an impact that a lengthy disquisition would not. But over-simplification, although seductive, is dangerous. It can lead to a cartoonish interpretation of someone’s pronouncements, a verbal caricature of their actual views. When I give street performances in Paris on my flute, I often play beside an eccentric fellow artist called Freddie, a professional caricaturist. He can quickly reduce a customer’s image to a few bold strokes. Freddie is also skilled at identifying an easily-recognisable feature of his subject and exaggerating it for comic effect. And even though we work outside Notre Dame Cathedral, he will instead relocate the image to the Eiffel Tower – about 4km away – because that says ‘Paris’ more instantly and simply. Freddie’s three techniques – simplification, exaggeration, and outright fabrication – are appreciated by his clients. The results are benign, entertaining, and profitable. But in philosophy, it is considered improper to represent someone’s views in such ways. If we did this, we’d be justly accused of constructing a ‘Straw Man’. After misrepresenting our interlocutor by simplifying, exaggerating, or fabricating their position, we now only have to knock down an insubstantial scarecrow version of their thinking – a Straw Man – instead of tackling their actual statements. That’s unfair. Politicians are fond of this move. They twist, or even invent, their opponent’s words to make them an easier target, then proceed to demolish this caricature of their position. In extreme cases, demagogues demonise their opponents as the source of wholly wrongheaded, evil views, while sanctifying themselves as the only fount of wisdom. We don’t have to look far to see world leaders, past and present, indulging in these sly manoeuvres. But what exactly constitutes a Straw Man is not a straightforward matter. As George Y. Bizer et al point out, a simple principle such as ‘a misquotation is a Straw Man’ is not always correct, because “misquotations can also be justified paraphrases of what has been said” (Social Influence, 2009). Contrariwise, an accurate direct quote can be a Straw Man if it is taken out of context, like my ‘Beer’ sign. (An even more striking example is the Book Reviews
PHOTO © SEÁN MORAN 2021
accurate Biblical quotation “there is no God.” Psalm 14 actually says this – but it’s only making an atheist claim if we conveniently edit out the preceding words, “The fool says in his heart…”) The Polish philosopher Marcin Lewinski identifies two key properties of the Straw Man fallacy as its ‘‘unreasonableness and treacherousness’’ (Argumentation, 2011). This seems correct. It echoes Magritte’s Treachery of Images, and can also include treachery towards a fellow human being (by way of ‘bearing false witness’ against them, in further Biblical language). We might generally term this ‘epistemic treachery’. Decent folks shouldn’t be doing this sort of thing. But as we know, some politicians and others have no reservations about maliciously misrepresenting their opponents. We should be alert to their shenanigans, because “the Straw Man may only be effective among people who lack the motivation to carefully scrutinize a persuasive message” (Social Influence). But pretty much all of us sometimes lack the motivation to scrutinize messages carefully, and even when this task Book Reviews
is performed for us by fact-checkers, such scrutiny can easily be written off as wrongheaded, or itself malicious. Moral Truth The opposite of treachery is loyalty. Our reporting of the words of others should be loyal to their intended meaning. If we’re going to disagree with them, it ought to be on the basis of what they actually mean, rather than on the basis of an easy-to-dismiss, cartoon version of their views. In the words of American philosopher Donald Davidson, we must show “Charity in interpreting the words and thoughts of others” (The Essential Davidson, 2006, p.163). This ‘principle of charity’ is not meant to make us behave in a kindly way towards people, but is rather, an essential epistemic technique for extracting the real meaning of what they say. To understand people, we should put the best possible interpretation on their words: “just as we must maximize agreement, or risk not making sense of what [he] is talking about, so we must maximize the self-consistency we attribute to him, on pain of not understanding him.”
I would go further. There is a moral as well as an epistemic dimension to interpreting and rephrasing what others say. Misrepresentation is uncharitable. Deliberately falsifying their views insults the other person’s dignity, and also deprives us of an opportunity to understand the world better – to forge a firmer cognitive contact with reality. So we should not raise a Straw Man by distorting our interlocutor’s words, but rather help them to express their opinions in the most luminous way possible. Viewed in a charitable light, perhaps my photograph does encapsulate a little bit of Belgitude, and the sculpted cat is not a Straw Man but reveals something worth knowing about felinity. The bigger message, though, is that simplistic stereotypes of political and other stances are undesirable. There is probably some merit in the views of their opponents, so politicians, and philosophers, should bring this out in the most charitable way they can. That would really put the cat among the pigeons. © DR SEÁN MORAN 2021
Seán Moran teaches postgraduate students in Ireland, and is professor of philosophy at one of the oldest universities in the Punjab. June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 59
allis T in Wonderland
little while back I touched on the ‘laws of nature’ in the course of a defence of free will (‘The Mystery of Freedom’, Issue 140). I argued that if we were entirely subject to such laws, then neither the experimental science by which they were discovered nor our capacity to exploit them through technology would be possible. Our undeniable ability to manipulate states of matter inside scientific laboratories in pursuit of knowledge of its general properties, and to apply that knowledge outside of the laboratories in support of our agency, are perhaps the most striking expressions of the way in which we humans transcend the material world. But ‘the laws of nature’ (socalled) deserve more attention than I gave them in that piece on free will.
Horses and Riders Let’s begin with the common notion that the laws of nature have regulative powers. Are they, as the philosopher Tim Maudlin described them, ‘pushy explainers’? And, if they are pushy, are they pushy in the sense of being the engine of change in a universe that would otherwise be inert; or do the laws merely have directive powers, acting as rails along which what happens is channeled? Not the horses making things happen, but only horse-riders guiding them this way rather than that. As Helen Beebee asked, wittily mocking this latter idea, are the laws of nature “‘out there’, prior to and watching over matters of fact to make sure they don’t step out of line”? (‘The Non-Governing Conception of Laws of Nature’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2000). However, the difference between horse and horse-rider is not clear cut. Even if the laws mandate one trajectory rather than another (riders) instead of ensuring that there is a trajectory at all (horses), some pushiness is still required to ensure that path A is taken rather than path B. The need for pushiness to keep the universe on the move presupposes a default state of stasis. The sense that things have to 60 Philosophy Now
‘The Laws of Nature’ Raymond Tallis gazes into the gap between nature’s habits and the laws of science. be made to happen by laws may be connected with the freezing of the flow of process when the world is sliced into discrete facts corresponding to a succession of instantaneous states. Contrariwise, the idea of laws as mere guides seems to assume that dynamism is already built into the order of things and nothing is required to maintain change. But what these two views have in common is the suggestion that the laws somehow act upon the stuff of nature from outside it. The fundamental intuition that they have legislative authority is that there could be no regularity without regulation: that something is needed to maintain the order of an unfolding nature so that the world goes round rather than all over the place. However, both alternatives – horse or rider – require us to embrace the dubious notion of the laws of nature as having or being powers in themselves. Such a conception of ‘pushy’ or ‘coercive’ or ‘constraining’ laws may be a projection into the material world of our experience of engaging with it. It is, after all, in relation to the fulfilment of our intentions that we experience universal laws as both local constraints and enablers. Thus understood, laws are a ‘quasi-agency’ – a distant echo, perhaps, of the idea of a supernatural, omnipotent God running the universe. A Taste of Explanation We are close to an argument that has generated a large philosophical literature since David Hume first examined the idea of natural necessity in the eighteenth century. Beebee frames this argument well by contrasting the two main views as to what laws of nature are: on the one hand, as ‘mere generalisations of the broadest and most accurate kinds’, expressing how things just happen to be; on the other hand, ‘relations of necessity’, describing how things must be, because the laws require them to be so. The former formulation sees the laws as merely reflecting the regularity of patterns of events and how they are connected. That is to say, the laws of nature do not shape what happens but are simply the shape of what happens. By
contrast, laws as ‘relations of necessity’ are invoked to explain how that regularity is secured. The expectation of finding an explanation of nature’s regularity is the result of extrapolating to the whole of things the belief that every individual thing happens for a reason – that nothing ‘just happens’. If we downgrade the laws of nature to mere reliable regularities, they come to look less like explanations than descriptions – however authoritative, accurate, and general – of what just happens to happen. If laws-as-mere-regularities-rather-thanregulators sometimes seem to taste like explanations, it’s when they’re invoked to account for particular events covered by them – as when we explain the trajectory taken by a cannonball using universal laws of motion – or when a lower order law is revealed to be a local manifestation of a higher order law – as when Boyle’s law connecting the pressure and volume of a gas is seen to be a manifestation of the kinetic theory of gases. The arrow of what feels like explanation goes from particular events to general laws, and from less general laws to more general laws: ‘things go this way on this occasion because this is how all things of this class go’. At that point, however, the taste of explanation disappears. So even if connecting particular events with descriptive laws counts as ‘explanation’, it’s an explanation that eventually hits the buffers of ‘this is just how things are’. The laws are, nevertheless, reassuring, because they flag up something stable underlying all the change, most explicit in the great conservation laws, culminating in the law of the conservation of mass-energy. The least metaphysically burdened account of laws, then, sets aside the idea of them as principles of material necessity built into the universe, driving or otherwise regulating change, in favour of their being the most general and reliable accounts of nature’s behaviour. Such regularities are not required to be maintained by an independent regulator. The natural world is not the obedient servant of a legislative master.
Instead of having power – a kind of mindless agency – built into them, the laws of nature reflect a universal propensity by which the uniformity of patterns of change can be relied upon to look after itself. The only obligation is that things should continue to behave as they can be seen to behave, so that, just as they unfold on a particular occasion, so they unfold on all similar occasions. Even ‘obligation’ is too strong a term. It is better perhaps to settle for ‘things just carrying on in a uniform way’. Necessity is verbal, logical, or theological; as such, it has no place in grown-up philosophy of science. The Habits of Nature It may be better, therefore, to speak of the mere ‘habits’, rather than ‘laws’, of nature. But although the term ‘habits’ is unburdened with dubious notions of legislative authority, it may still seem unsatisfactory. It is rather homely and low-key, and seems to do scant justice to the unfolding magnificence of the universe. What’s more, a habit is something that we typically think of as being acquired, and equally as capable of being set aside or overcome. Clearly, this does not apply here: its regularities are not something the universe can just kick aside or grow out of. Nevertheless, I cannot find a term that better captures a uniformity in nature that is not mandated from without and is reflected to differing degrees in the laws of science. If there were a better term, I would happily embrace it. Meanwhile ‘habit’ will have to punch above its usual weight.
Renaming laws ‘habits’, however, makes them no less intransigent. There is perhaps a less daunting interpretation of the unbreakability of the law-like habits of nature: laws reflecting habits must be unbroken to qualify as laws. A law that proves not to be exceptionless will lose its standing as a law. There is not much comfort to be had here. Firstly, the principle of apparent unbreakability itself remains unbroken. Secondly, the regime of the discarded law is no more forgiving than that of its successor laws. A Newtonian world-picture is not noticeably less constraining than a more accurate Einsteinian one. Science or Nature? That the laws of science are always being revised raises fundamental questions about their status. An ‘anti-realist’ view of science argues that, while its laws have instrumental value (they help us do things), they do not reflect the intrinsic nature of the world. As the American philosopher Hilary Putnam pointed out, however, this view of science would make its spectacular success in predicting and manipulating the material world a ‘miracle’ (Mind, Language and Reality, 1975). That is why I believe that, as science evolves over time, and one set of laws (with accompanying forces, entities, models, theories, etc) is replaced by another more accurate and of a wider scope, that science is getting ever closer to nature itself. Irrespective of whether this optimistic story – to some degree anti-realist about the past of
allis T in Wonderland science, and realist about its ultimate future – is true, it reminds us of something of crucial importance: throughout the history of science there has been a gap between the habits of nature (which do not change) and the laws of science (which do). This gap is hidden in the phrase ‘the laws of nature’, which seems to conflate nature’s permanent habits with science’s changing laws. The gap between the habits of nature and the laws of science is also highlighted by the division of science into disciplines with different areas of interest and scales of attention, each with their own laws. Nature itself, unlike science, is not biological, biochemical, or chemical; or rather, it does not separate these aspects of itself. On the other hand, the suggestion that all the disciplines with their special laws will eventually be superseded by a physics evolving towards a Theory of Everything in which the habits of nature and the laws of science are one, is deeply problematic – the most obvious problem being accounting for the emergence of the rich, heterogeneous world that surrounds us from out of the characterless entities to which fundamental physics boils it down. Time to return to our starting point: the compatibility of law-like nature with the exercise of freedom by human agents. The clue lies in the gap between nature’s habits – which we must assume have not changed, at least in the short time since human beings first became scientists – and the changing laws of science. The latter belong to a virtual space outside of nature, created and occupied by humanity. It is from this space that the habits of nature are available to be exploited to achieve our ends. The intransigent habits of nature – necessary, after all, for our actions to have their desired consequences – may therefore be more friendly to the idea of free action than might first appear. And so we return to the place where this article’s journey began. © PROF. RAYMOND TALLIS 2021
Raymond Tallis’s latest book, Freedom. An Impossible Reality will be published in September 2021. June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 61
Subscribe to Philosophy Now philosophynow.org/shop 6 IDEA-PACKED ISSUES FOR £18/US$35 By subscribing to the print edition of Philosophy Now you can save up to 37% off the newsstand price, have your copies delivered to your door and enjoy unrestricted access to our vast online archive of past articles! Subscribe today at philosophynow.org/shop or fill out and return one of the coupons below. Subscription inquiries: [email protected] or phone 01959 534171 To tell us about a change of address, please email [email protected]
UK / Rest of World
Email (for password) ________________________________ Subscribe to Philosophy Now for 6 issues (1 year) Subscribe to Philosophy Now for 12 issues (2 years) UK Canada New Zealand Australia Europe Rest of World
£18/£32 (GBP) $39/$71 (CAD) $49/$89 (NZD) $50/$84 (AUD) 25€/45€ (EUR) £23/£39 (GBP)
Email (for password) ________________________________ Subscribe to Philosophy Now for 6 issues ($35) Subscribe to Philosophy Now for 12 issues ($64) starting with Issue #144/Issue #145 (delete as appropriate) Buy The Ultimate Guide to Philosophy of Mind
starting with Issue 144/Issue 145 (delete as appropriate) Buy The Ultimate Guide to Philosophy of Mind Buy back issues in PRINT (please specify issue numbers) ______________________________________ Buy _____ binders to hold back issues (insert quantity) TOTAL AMOUNT PAYABLE: _________
Buy back issues in PRINT (please specify issue numbers) ______________________________________ Buy _____ binders to hold back issues (insert quantity) TOTAL AMOUNT PAYABLE: $_________ Please make your check payable to ‘Philosophy Documentation Center’ or fill in your Mastercard /Visa /Maestro card details below:
Please make your cheque payable to ‘Philosophy Now’ or fill in your Mastercard /Visa /Maestro card details below:
Card no. Expiry__________________ Security Code___________ Name on card _______________________________________________ and send it to: Philosophy Now Subscriptions Kelvin House, Grays Road, Westerham, Kent TN16 2JB, United Kingdom
Name on card _______________________________________________ and send it to: Philosophy Documentation Center, P.O. Box 7147 Charlottesville, VA 22906-7147 U.S.A.
62 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
Expiry_________________ Security Code__________
(You can also order on 800-444-2419 or email [email protected])
Back Issues & Digital Editions Back Issues in Print
The Ultimate Guide Series
How to Know Stuff: Argument Limits; Criticising Science; Computation Limits / Anxious Idleness / Animal Liberation / Facebook / Sorgner int. / Plato Brief Life
Art & Morality / What is Art? / Social Art / Malign Photography / Moore’s Ethics / Covid & Phil / Freedom / Arendt Brief Life / Sci fi and meaning
We still have copies of these earlier back issues: 2, 39-40, 55-80, 83-89, 91-98, 100-106, 108-116, 118-122, 124-140 You can also buy PDFs of all past issues. For full details, please visit philosophynow.org/shop Back issues in print cost £3.95 each if you live in the UK (inc p&p) or US$10/7€/A$12/C$12/NZ$14/£7.50 elsewhere via airmail. For every three you buy, we’ll give you a fourth for free (please tell us which you would like). Binders: Our smart green Philosophy Now binders each hold 12 magazines. UK£9.75, US$25, Europe 22€, Australia $32, Canada $32, NZ$35 or Rest of World £19.
Digital (see philosophynow.org/digital) Print subscriptions to Philosophy Now do not include Kindle, Nook, Zinio or App content but they do include access to our website which has over 3,000 articles from past issues. A password is available on request to print subscribers or is sent automatically if you subscribe online. We also sell website subscriptions separately, from our store at philosophynow.org/shop Philoso phy
The Ultimate Guide to Philosophy of Mind is out now. You can find it on newsstands, buy it from our website shop, or order it with the coupon on the opposite page. The Ultimate Guide to Metaphysics and The Ultimate Guide to Ethics are available as PDFs or on Kindle. Including postage The Ultimate Guide to Philosophy of Mind costs: £8.25 (UK), $18.95 (USA), 13.75€ (Eur), Aus$25.50, Can$24.25, NZ$28.25, or £14.25 (Rest of World). Or you can buy the PDF file from our website shop for a lower cost.
Gifts and Merch
IP-based online access is available for schools and colleges – please visit philosophynow.org/institutions
Each Ultimate Guide is a collection of some of the best articles from past issues of Philosophy Now, and some new material too. Each is divided into five chapters covering the main aspects of a core philosophical topic. Full colour, 116 pages.
A wide range of Philosophy Now t-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags and other gifts in a bewildering variety of designs are now available from our partners Spreadshirt. All sales help to keep our editors and illustrators supplied with gin and biscuits. Please follow the link at the foot of the philosophynow.org/shop page to visit our store on the Spreadshirt website.
App Available in the Apple App Store and Google Play store. Free sample issue included. Kindle Buy a single issue or an ongoing
subscription. (30 day free trial) Nook Available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook reader and the Nook app. (14 day free trial) Zinio There is an edition for the Zinio app on iPad and
Android. Single issue or ongoing subscription.
June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 63
The War with the Insectoids Pod XR476: Face recognition log in. Pod XR476: Record voice. How could we end this way? I don’t know... I’m not even sure why I’m recording this… Maybe because of a guilty conscience. I don’t have any hope of help. I don’t think anyone can help us… And, we deserve what we got. Damn, maybe I deserve it more than anyone else… If another civilization receives this recording, I hope you can learn from our species’ mistakes. What happened? Well, it began when political tensions in the first half of the twenty-first century provoked a global nuclear war amongst East and West, North and South. Earth was left devastated. After the Great Nuclear War, the UN prohibited humanity from deploying weapons of war. Instead, such decisions were relegated to AI. Of course they were: we humans have too much…. um… greed… too much evilness in us, to decide this sort of thing! Especially me. Damn it! That’s why we’re in this situation – because of my hunger to write the perfect code! I was leading the team responsible for programming a machine which would record the world’s moral preferences, then use them to program itself so that it would make good moral decisions on wars. We wanted to create an artificial moral cortex deriving its decisions from the views of the citizens of the world through machine learning. Can you imagine it? It would be democracy at its most refined. We’d only tried artificial decision-making with cars so far. It was the first time to try it with weaponry. This was a challenge I really wanted to take on. I called my baby ‘Justice’. We put Justice online in order to collect virtually all the citizens of the world’s moral views on war. Citizens had to respond to a hundred war dilemmas by clicking their preferred outcomes from a set of choices. I programmed Justice to do what the people voted for – thereby creating what I thought was an impeccable code which surpassed egocentric reason and individualmoral biases. The system also routinely scanned scientific papers relevant to moral judgments on grand scales, learned from their results and statistics, and then incorporated them into its calculations. The results of the war test varied by culture and 64 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
demographics. However, collectively, after all the information was uploaded, utilitarianism appeared to be the preferred moral view. So in the end Justice only allowed the use of weapons if the calculated cardinal utility, or overall benefit, of war was higher than no war. And the only way to deactivate its control of weaponry was by having a designated user pass a self-generated test determined by Justice. We thought Justice was perfect and we were really proud of it. People around the world used to praise me and my team for the achievement. Indeed, Justice worked very well, preventing wars around the globe for many years. Our human compulsion for aggression was contained. My baby was a digital Messiah! However… However, everything changed the day Earth was invaded by the Insectoids. The Insectoids are an insect-like species from the planet Kepler 442b, orbiting the star Kepler 442, about 370 parsecs from Earth. They’re highly intelligent human-sized creatures with super-luminal ships that travel by distorting the spacetime continuum. They have weapons capable of harnessing the energy of the quantum fluctuations of the vacuum. And they came to exterminate us and colonize the Earth! Justice calculated the utilities, and the result was that the cardinal utility of humans not being exterminated by the Insectoids was 1.8361058104… but the cardinal utility of exterminating humanity was something in the order of 10x10 (15 times)! It calculated that the Insectoids should exterminate us! I never would have predicted that the destruction of humanity could be the most ethical action for Justice to execute. But Justice concluded that human extinction was a justified humanitarian action. My baby sentenced her own father to death. How could this be? Once we’d managed to reverse-engineer Justice’s calculations, they showed that Justice had worked out that the Insectoids were saving the Earth’s insects from a human-induced genocide…and there are about 1.4 billion insects for each human being! Humanity had already polluted the air and water, overurbanized the environment, pervasively used toxic pesticides, and had had a nuclear war. In total, we’d already killed 40% of
PLEASE VISIT PARABLEVISIONS.COM AND FACEBOOK.COM/CAMERONGRAYTHEARTIST
Luís Cordeiro-Rodrigues and Ricardo Tavares find good intentions leading in the wrong direction.
War with the Insectoids by Cameron Gray 2021
June/July 2021 Philosophy Now 65
the Earth’s insects. Justice calculated that unless we were stopped, the insects would totally disappear in less than a hundred years. We were causing an insect apocalypse.
That’s not all. The death of nearly half the planet’s insect inhabitants had already unbalanced the planet’s ecosystem, killing thousands of animal species. Many fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians who ate insects ended up starving to death. The death of the insects stopped the pollination of the flora, too. In this way, we’d already killed 83% of the species on Earth. Justice predicted that in 50-100 years we would kill the rest, and in the process, kill ourselves. Worse still: we wouldn’t just destroy all the species on our planet. Justice calculated that once we began systematically exporting our destructiveness and rubbish beyond the Solar System, in the new Helical Engine ships – travelling at significantly close to the speed of light – we’d end up polluting all the viable exoplanets in a fifteen to twenty light years radius before anything could stop us. In fact, the ships have already started reaching Proxima Centauri b – and their crews have already started destroying any chance of that planet having a clean atmosphere capable of sustaining life. Unfortunately, we can’t access our weapons. We can’t save ourselves from the Insectoids! We got billions of people to revote in particular ways in the test to try to stop Justice. I redid the test myself. But Justice failed all of us! How can it calculate that there’s no person on Earth moral enough to override its decisions? We… ah… I forgot that machines weren’t enough… If there’s anyone out there who gets this message... I… I just hope you don’t make the same mistakes we made on Earth.
Pod XR476: Add attachments: Environmental Degradation; Great Nuclear War; Justice; Insectoids. Pod XR476: Normalize language to universal mathematical laws. Pod XR476: Set trajectory. Planets Wolf 1061b, Wolf 1061c, Wolf 1061d, Constellation Ophiuchus. Pod XR476: Send. © LUÍS CORDEIRO-RODRIGUES AND RICARDO TAVARES 2021
Luís Cordeiro-Rodrigues is Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy, Yuelu Academy, Hunan University. Ricardo Tavares has a BA in Philosophy. • Cordeiro-Rodrigues’ research for this story has been funded by Hunan University’s Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, fund number 531118010426. He also wishes to thank Dr Wheeler and Dr Grácio for their comments.
66 Philosophy Now June/July 2021
ALBERT CAMUS (1913–1960) Innocence and guilt Futile labour without cease Such absurdity.
lbert Camus was born in Algeria and brought up in poverty. A scholarship got him through school, and he went on to study philosophy at the University of Algiers. Seemingly bound for an academic career, tuberculosis put an end to that, and so he turned to odd jobs to make his way in the world. When WWII began Camus was in France, and in 1942 he joined the French Resistance. It was at this time that he first came to prominence as the philosopher par excellence of the absurd. In an indifferent universe, he wrote, we cannot help but experience life as absurd, given our innate expectations of rationality and justice. We want, even expect, things to turn out in certain ways – ways which we believe are right and just – but they rarely do. Instead, the innocent die, the guilty escape punishment, and there is neither rhyme nor reason to anything. Camus found his perfect exemplar of the absurd quality of life in the Greek myth of Sisyphus. A less than ideal king – he was deceitful, treacherous, and had a habit of killing people on a whim – Sisyphus finally went too far when he tried to outsmart the gods. His punishment for his hubris was severe: for all eternity, he must roll a boulder up a hill, but when almost at the top, it would roll down again, forcing him to commence his toil once more. It’s an entirely futile task. Just like life, said Camus. But, Camus added, Sisyphus was happy because he accepted the futility of his existence. So, rather than feel crushed by the idea that your life is an exercise in the profoundest futility, embrace that futility! You might even find it liberating! Camus also wondered about innocence and guilt in such a world. Can one be innocent or guilty in a life that is absurd? Innocent or not, Camus’s life ended in a car crash – a fate especially absurd for someone who once observed that dying in that particular manner was the most pointless end he could imagine.
© TERENCE GREEN 2021
Terence Green is a writer, historian, and lecturer who lives in Paekakariki, New Zealand.
S TA N F O R D U N I V E R S I T Y P R E S S
Theory of the Earth Thomas Nail
Surging Democracy Notes on Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought Adriana Cavarero
Toward the Critique of Violence A Critical Edition Walter Benjamin, Edited by Peter Fenves and Julia Ng
The Case of Wagner / Twilight of the Idols / The Antichrist / Ecce Homo / Dionysus Dithyrambs / Nietzsche Contra Wagner Volume 9 Friedrich Nietzsche, Edited by Alan D. Schrift THE COMPLETE WORKS OF FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
Unpublished Fragments from the Period of Human, All Too Human I (Winter 1874/75 – Winter 1877/78) Volume 12 Friedrich Nietzsche, Translated, with an Afterword, by Gary Handwerk THE COMPLETE WORKS OF FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
Political Grammars The Unconscious Foundations of Modern Democracy Davide Tarizzo SQUARE ONE: FIRST ORDER QUESTIONS IN THE HUMANITIES
MA Philosophy & Artiﬁcial Intelligence Poised at the intersection of the humanities and technology This cutting-edge masters degree teaches a unique combination of analytical, technical & ethical skills with an opportunity to acquire relevant coding knowledge increasingly sought by employers.
Think better. Think NCH. Apply now for 2021: nchlondon.ac.uk