Philosophy Bites interviews philosopher Helen Beebee on The Laws of Nature and Beebee continually revisits the metaphor of a fragile glass throughout the interview as she builds this poetic line of thought:
When you say a glass is fragile, you’re saying something about how it’s going to behave in certain kinds of situations. If I say, “Oh be careful that glass is fragile,” you know that I’m telling you not to drop it on the floor, or to dry it very carefully, or whatever it is, because to be fragile is to be disposed to break in certain kinds of situations.
Are politicians responsible to a different moral code? Are there extreme situations where even non-politicians might follow a different moral code than they otherwise would? These are the issues at the heart of the philosophical problem of “dirty hands,” which is also the subject of this typically thought-provoking episode of Philosophy Bites. Of course the first example that comes to mind is the 24-esque ticking time bomb scenario, but philosopher Tony Coady teases out a more nuanced case he dubs “extrication morality,” in which a political succsessor might be forced to extend the moral wrong of his predecessor into his own administration rather than immediately reverse it and risk further harm to the public.
During a recent episode of Philosophy Bites on Genocide, philosopher Chandran Kukathas began his dissection of exactly where the crime of genocide resides by presenting two alternate perspectives on the structure of groups. In a collective, each individual member of the group benefits the whole, and the whole benefits each of the individual members. They are inextricable. In a corporation, the group and its members are separate things with occasionally distinct motivations and objectives. The type of structure you assign to an ethnic group, a religious group, or a national population affects how you frame, legislate, and ultimately prosecute the crime of genocide.
As promised, here’s a list of all paradoxes discussed by Peter Cave in this episode of Philosophy Bites: Liar’s Paradox, Zeno’s Paradox, a paradox of murder more legal than philosophical (but nonetheless reminiscent of the third story from one of the greatest opening sequences of any movie ever which recalls this 1994 Internet meme), Russell’s Paradox (or the Barber Paradox), Poisoned Chalice (or Kavka’s Toxin Puzzle), the Surprise Exam (or Unexpected Hanging Paradox or Bottle Imp Paradox), and Buridan’s Ass. Cave’s book, This Sentence Is False: An Introduction to Philosophical Paradoxes, comes out later this year. In the meantime, a lengthy list of paradoxes is available here on Wikipedia.
I decided to start posting a bit more this week after I realized over the weekend that I now have more items saved to recommend to you in the future than all the total items I have previously recommended to you in the past. This is an attempt to balance things out a bit. Realizing I’ve done 20 posts in four days, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Lydia Davis’s fantastic story “20 Sculptures in One Hour” from her collection Varieties of Disturbance (mentioned on L&UL here), which I cannot seem to find online but, believe me, is well worth a read.
Here’s a good snapshot of the super-short story from an interview with Davis:
Lydia: An hour is a long time, but if there are 20 sculptures that you have to look at within an hour, that’s 3 minutes per sculpture, which isn’t a long time at all. And yet, three minutes can end up feeling like a long time…
Interviewer: Sounds like Zeno’s Paradox.
Lydia: I love Zeno’s Paradox!
Now reminded of paradoxes, I’m resolving to make my first post tomorrow (#21, if you’re counting) a long-overdue list of all paradoxes mentioned by Peter Cave on this episode of Philosophy Bites dedicated to the subject. Stay tuned.
“What I want to be able to say, in the end, is that friendship is incredibly valuable in life, and in fact is not just valuable but absolutely necessary—that you can’t live without it—but that its value, distinct as it is, is not the “values” that our moral behavior exhibits or expresses. A whole other set of values—which we have tended to neglect in philosophy—is involved in friendship, and I believe these [neglected] values are also involved in the arts and in our attitudes towards the arts. To put it very bluntly and very roughly, the values of morality are values that depend on our commonalities: the similarities we have among other people and the similarities we want to create among us. The values of friendship are exactly the opposite: they are the values that distinguish us from one another, that make us distinct and interesting individuals, the values that differentiate one person from another.” Princeton Professor Alexander Nehamas speaking on my favorite podcast Philiosophy Bites draws parallels between friendship and the arts and aligns friendship with the individual, opposing it to morality, which is a common (or shared) state. In other words, books make friends, but not every book will make any friend. However, despite the fact that we are disinclined to read some books, and we may not even be friendly with someone who would, morality dictates that we should accept and respect them regardless.
On a recent episode of Philosophy Bites, I heard Donna Dickenson refer to the longstanding Common Law practice that once something is removed from your body it becomes designated as “res nullius,” or “no one’s thing.” During the interview Dickenson mentioned the seminal Moore case, which challenges this idea. The case is summarized by Wikipedia as follows: “[In 1976] John Moore underwent treatment for hairy cell leukemia at the Medical Center of the University of California at Los Angeles under the supervision of Dr. Golde. Moore’s cancer was later developed into a cell line that was commercialized, and the court ruled that Moore had no right to profits from the commercialization of anything developed from his discarded body parts.”
Philosophy Bites has a wonderful episode with Derek Matravers on the definition of art (iTunes). Metravers argues that it’s just as dangerous to have “an arbitrary collection of objects” as it is to have “a collection of objects for arbitrary reasons,” so while the definition of art is a bit of a moving target—like the definition of marriage—it is nonetheless the result of a process whose reasons are important. He argues, “I think philosophers should get in there and dispute some of the reasons currently operative in th art world. The art world gets away with not defending those reasons.” He also makes the argument that as we get older and our leisure time is scarcer, the reasons for why something is art by definition must become increasingly material to us.