Monday, October 27, 2014

[PHI 2200] Do animals have a moral sense?

According to Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR):
The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.
Now, experiments, like those showcased in this NOVA Science Now episode on Animal Morality, show that animals display moral and altruistic (selfless) behavior, such as sharing with others, helping strangers, and the like.

If these experiments really do show that animals have a (rudimentary) moral sense of right and wrong (e.g., a sense of fairness), would that undermine the thesis that there are no absolute or universal moral truths?

Friday, October 24, 2014

[PHI 2200] Sacrificing one for the good of many

Here are the results of the surveys we conducted in class today using Socrative:

One interesting thing to note about these results is that in both the Riots case (should you bear false witness against an innocent person to stop the riots?) and the Firing Squad case (should you shoot one person to spare the lives of the other four?) the utilitarian idea is sacrifice one to save many. But judgments about what one should do in these cases vary from 29/30 (97%) for "shouldn't bear false witness to stop the riots" to only 15/30 (50%) for "shouldn't shoot one to save four." Why is that?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

[PHI 1000] Is phenomenal consciousness illusory?

In this Philosophy Bites podcast, Keith Frankish claims that phenomenal consciousness is an illusion.

More precisely, he claims that what philosophers call "qualia" (AKA the "subjective character of experience," the "what it is like," or "phenomenal properties") is an illusion. It is an illusion, according to Frankish, insofar as qualia or phenomenal properties merely seem to be non-physical but are not really non-physical.

What is Frankish's argument for the claim that qualia are illusory? Is it a good argument?

Friday, October 17, 2014

[PHI 1000] Smartest Machine on Earth

If the mental (or mind) and the physical (or the body/brain) "are, in some sense, radically different kinds of thing," as dualism says, and what characterizes creatures that have a mind is the ability to think, then we should expect that purely physical things, like machines, would not be able to think.

Now, meet Watson.

Watson is able to answer Jeopardy questions by testing hypotheses. If that counts as thinking, then the following argument against mind-body dualism can be made:
  1. If the mental (mind) and the physical (body) are radically different kinds of thing, then machines cannot think.
  2. Machines can think (e.g., Watson).
  3. Therefore, it is not the case that the mental (mind) and the physical (body) are radically different kinds of thing.
Is this argument sound?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

[PHI 1000] "I could read it but I don't believe it"

Some members of the House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space, and Technology appear to mistrust scientists and what they say about climate change, as seen in this clip from The Daily Show.

For example, Rep. Larry Bucshon says the following:
All the climatologists whose careers depend on the climate changing to keep themselves publishing articles ... I could read [the scientific literature on climate change] but I don't believe it.
Is this a good reason to mistrust what scientists say about climate change?

Monday, September 15, 2014

[PHI 2200] The morality of the ice bucket challenge

Do you think that those who participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge are doing something morally good? That is, those who pour buckets of ice water on themselves for ALS should be praised for doing so. After all, in so doing, they are trying to support the fight against ALS.

If so, consider the following facts:

(1) Lots of water has been wasted for the ALS cause. Jason Ruiz writes:
"To put the waste this campaign has caused into simple terms, let’s just assume everyone is using a five gallon bucket. Now multiply that number by the more than 1.2 million videos shared on Facebook since June 1. Based on that assumption (5 x 1,200,000), over 6 million gallons of water have been poured out in the name of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The average American household uses 320 gallons per day, which means that based on this estimation, nearly 19,000 homes’ daily water usage has been wasted. And that’s not even taking into account that videos posted online often depict multiple people, sometimes even entire sororities or fraternities, taking part in the ice bucket challenge, often using more than one bucket per video."
(2) Water scarcity is a global crisis. According to the UN:
"Around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer today from water scarcity. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world's population could be living under water stressed conditions. With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world's population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa. In addition, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people. Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water-stressed countries of any region."

In fact, it is estimated that "every 21 seconds a child dies from a water-related illness."

Do you think that these facts put the morality of the Ice Bucket Challenge into question? If so, why? If not, why not? 

Friday, April 25, 2014

[PHI 2200] On playing the 'Playing God' card

In The Suicide Tourist, Craig Ewert makes the following comment:
There are people who will look at this and say, "No, suicide is wrong. God has forbidden it. You cannot play God and take your own life." Well, all right, fine. But you know what? This ventilator is playing God. If I had lived without access to technology, chances are I would be dead now, all right? When premature babies are born, they are given intensive medical treatment. Their lives are saved because doctors and nurses are playing God. They're saying, essentially, "God's plan was that this person would die right now. We're thwarting that. We're playing God."
And you know, they never say, "We have to stop organ transplants. We have to stop saving premature babies. We have to let them die." Oh, no. For that, it's OK to play God. It's only when it might ease somebody's suffering that, "Oh, we can't play God" comes out.
Ewert's comment can be construed as an argument as follows:
  1. If it is morally impermissible to "play God" in order to ease the suffering of a terminal patient, then it is morally impermissible to "play God" in order to save a premature baby.
  2. It is morally permissible to "play God" in order to save the life of a premature baby.
  3. Therefore, it is morally permissible to "play God" in order to ease the suffering of a terminal patient.
What do you make of this argument? Is it sound?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

[PHI 3000] The Punishment Theodicy

A theodicy is an account that is supposed to show why God is justified in allowing evil in this world. One such account is known as “the punishment theodicy.” According to the punishment theodicy, God allows natural evil (i.e., the pain, suffering, death, and destruction that result from natural processes, such as earthquakes, storms, and the like) as punishment for sin.

Pereboom, 2005, "The Problem of Evil," The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, p. 155.

Now, consider the fact that studies have shown that physical punishment is not effective and is actually harmful to kids. In light of these studies, and given that natural evil is a form of physical punishment (i.e., an action intended to cause physical discomfort or pain to correct behavior), it follows that God is allowing a discipline method that is not only ineffective but also harmful to us. That is:
  1. Natural evil is physical punishment from God. [the punishment theodicy]
  2. Physical punishment is an ineffective and harmful discipline method.
  3. Therefore, God is allowing us to be disciplined in an ineffective and harmful way.
This conclusion, namely, (3), seems to be incompatible with the concept of God as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent being. Being all-powerful and all-knowing, God could surely come up with effective and harmless ways to discipline us, if he wanted to. Being benevolent, he would want to do just that. And yet, if the punishment theodicy is true, we are being punished by God in ineffective and harmful ways. Does this mean that the punishment theodicy must be false?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

[PHI 3800] Looks can be deceiving

According to Constructive Empiricism:
science aims at truth about observable aspects of the world, but that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects. Acceptance of a theory, according to constructive empiricism, correspondingly differs from acceptance of a theory on the scientific realist view: the constructive empiricist holds that as far as belief is concerned, acceptance of a scientific theory involves only the belief that the theory is empirically adequate.
According to van Fraassen:
X is observable if there are circumstances which are such that, if X is present to us under those circumstances, then we observe it.
For the constructive empiricist, then, microscopic objects and processes that are too small for us to see with the naked eye, such as cells and intracellular process, are unobservable.

Now, instead of the too small, consider the too slow. We cannot observe with the naked eye the growth of plants, for example, not because plants are too small, but because plant growth is a process that occurs too slowly for us to notice. To observe the growth of plants, we need to use technology. In particular, time-lapse photography allows us to capture processes that occur too slowly for us to observe with the naked eye.

For the constructive empiricist, then, are slow processes that we cannot observe with the naked eye unobservable?

Similarly, consider the too fast. We cannot observe with the naked eye the bouncing of raindrops off puddles, for example, not because raindrops are too small, but because this is a process that occurs too fast for us to notice. To observe the bouncing of raindrops off puddles, we need to use technology. In particular, high-speed photography allows us to capture processes that occur too fast for us to observe with the naked eye.

For the constructive empiricist, then, are fast processes that we cannot observe with the naked eye unobservable?