171 posts tagged philosophy
..By contrast, an existentialist or a liberal like myself would argue that what makes it ‘so much easier’ to harm others than to benefit them is not technology but the global scale on which we now have to contemplate regulation of big business, the weakness of our current laws to punish harmful corporate greed in this relatively new global economy, and the reluctance of powerful individuals to choose human decency over profit. These are moral failings precisely because they are within our human power to control. Savulescu and Persson claim that we ‘naturally’ focus on the immediate future, and ‘can only’ empathise with our immediate circle of friends, and “our natural moral psychology does not provide us with the means to prevent” these moral failings. Existentialists call these kinds of naturalistic explanations or excuses ‘bad faith’. If they were true, and we really were incapable of doing otherwise, then these self-centered behaviors would cease to be moral issues. Essentially it would mean that there is no moral dimension to our lives and we were deluded to suppose there is.
But there is nothing natural or inevitable about our tendencies to myopic tribalism. With education, human beings can and do have empathy for others, and do take responsibility for the long-term effects of their actions. The ecological movement has formed a subculture where over-consumption and pollution are taboo, and it is attempting to re-educate the wider culture. Many people who have not been biochemically morally enhanced already make small but significant sacrifices every day in order to help others or to avoid harming them or the environment. As Savulescu and Persson themselves illustrate through their story of ‘the tragedy of the commons’, the only reason these morally responsible people do not make a more significant impact is that their selfless behaviour is not adopted by a sufficient number of others. Instead, as in their story, the majority continue to over-exploit the common resources. But this is a moral failing, and should be treated as blameworthy rather than as inevitable or ‘only natural’. Where the majority in a culture choose to treat the over-exploitation of resources as taboo (as opposed to ‘natural’ or even praiseworthy, as in our culture) it soon reaps the material benefits. Savulescu and Persson use the tragedy of the commons to say that it is irrational to behave responsibly unless we can trust a sufficient number of people to do the same; and since we can’t trust the majority of people to behave responsibly, they conclude that we can only make the majority behave morally by using ‘chemical moral enhancement’ as a supplement to education.
Thanks for sharing this, re-quoting myself has a certain self reflective loop about it, a fractal.
Humor in academy?
What is the core, immutable quality of science? It’s not formal publication, it’s not peer review, it’s not properly citing sources. It’s not “the scientific method” (whatever that means). It’s not replicability. It’s not even Popperian falsificationism – the approach that admits we never exactly prove things, but only establish them as very likely by repeated failed attempts to disprove them. Underlying all those things is something more fundamental. Humility. Everyone knows it’s good to be able to admit when we’ve been wrong about something. We all like to see that quality in others. We all like to think that we possess it ourselves – although, needless to say, in our case it never comes up, because we don’t make mistakes. And there’s the rub. It goes very, very strongly against the grain for us to admit the possibility of error in our own work. That aversion is so strong that we need to take special measures to protect ourselves from it. If science was merely a matter of increasing the sum of human knowledge, it would be enough for us all to note our thoughts on blogs and move on. But science that we can build on needs to be right. That means that when we’re wrong – and we will be from time to time, unless we’re doing terribly unambitious work – our wrong results needs to be corrected. It’s because we’re not humble by nature – because we need to have humility formally imposed on us – that we need the scaffolding provided by all those things we mentioned at the start.