Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 118

nude nymphsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Gallery removes naked nymphs painting to “prompt conversation.”

What can, exactly, science tell us about morality? Something, but not the whole thing.

Can blockchain technology be used to solve the problem of inequality? Sure, but the hell it’s going to happen…

The good news about regret.

The philosophy of mid-life crisis.

_____

Please notice that the duration of the comments window is three days (including publication day), and that comments are moderated for relevance (to the post one is allegedly commenting on), redundancy (not good), and tone (constructive is what we aim for). This applies to both the suggested readings and the regular posts. Also, keep ‘em short, this is a comments section, not your own blog. Thanks!

Advertisements


Categories: Plato's Suggestions

113 replies

  1. “My brain chemicals made me equivocate on defining what is subjective.”

    This is kind of fun.

    Like

  2. labnut: “Let’s look at it another way. Evolution created a rational social creature, homo sapiens. Our rationality allowed us to create denser, more complex social networks than ever before. ”

    I guess what intrigues me is how far back in time that switch was flipped, because almost all we’re aware of now is the finished product, languages and all, sprung from the brow of Zeus. We’ll never know the details of that conception and gestation, of course, because in a way, that was coeval with the beginning of time itself, when we started fashioning our own world of concepts and inventions, a major paradigm shift.

    Like

  3. Robin: “But I am skeptical of the idea that racist impulses are an addiction.”

    Only in a metaphorical sense: you observed that the racism tends to persist despite our pious resolve to give it up. This is also true of substance addiction, because the substance actually alter our body physically. However, people do recover from drug addiction, although they tend to speak of being “recovering” rather than “cured.”

    Like

  4. Socratic,

    You sure have a sick vision of what counts as fun… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t speak for anyone else. I am not poor, we are a median income household. But we couldn’t possibly afford to send our kids to university and also donate to charity. We have done the maths. I expect that this is not an unusual situation. But we could possibly save thousands of lives with that money.

    So we, and most people in developed countries, face that question every day, we don’t need trolley problems to clarify moral dilemmas, we have real ones.

    But, as I said, it can be resolved if it all comes down to what we want. We just have to decide which we want more. It is still not an easy decision, but at least it is a clear one.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Coel: “Evolution programmed all these sentiments into us, yet evolution is an a-moral process that couldn’t care in the least about any such distinction, nor would it have traction on anything such; therefore trying to make such a distinction is untenable.

    I think you’re confusing the development of human culture with the process of biological evolution, as if the emergence of (e.g.) Shakespeare represented an event in the history of the human genome.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. wtc,

    “I think you’re confusing the development of human culture with the process of biological evolution”

    that’s because he hasn’t read Kevin Laland’s Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. labnut: “6) Subject to an absolute lawgiver.”

    I suggest extending this to “and/or the threat of extinction,” although perhaps this would be subsumed under 4) or 5).

    Like

  9. Massimo, I meant my snarking killing both the Garth and the Coel birds with one stone this time, NOT the actual comments of either one.

    ===

    Labnut: Evolution didn’t create us “more rational.” Conscious rationality is kind of a spandrel.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Our attitudes and emotions are clearly the result of some mix of evolution/cultural development with just a little of our own volition and reasoning making some adjustments and we can’t sort them out exactly, but I don’t think it matters much in this context.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Synred

    Well, if that’s your situation, that’s your situation, but even quite poor people have been known to help others.

    Nobody can give away all their money and also keep all their money. It is a choice about how money is allocated. Of course quite poor people have been known to help others, but they had to make a choice not to spend that money on other things.

    If I gave $2,000 to an overseas charity then I would have $2,000 less to spend on my kids education. Conversely if I spend $2,000 on my kids education then that is $2,000 less I am spending on an overseas charity. Or I could divvy it up 50/50 or 25/75 or whatever.

    But if I want to give my kids as much as possible help in their education and give as much as possible to prevent people dying overseas then I can’t give it all to both.

    I would want both of them to have the full amount, but I can’t do that. Nobody can. So there is a choice.

    You are making it sound as though we could do both.

    As you describe it it sounds as black and white as the damned Trolley problem.

    What I said is that if every “ought” depends on a implicit “want” then all of these come down to “which do I want more?”.

    That is, as I said, not an easy question to answer, but at least it is a clear one.

    In the trolley problem we have a similar answer “Which of the alternatives that I can’t avoid is least repugnant to me?” which is again a clear question, but I doubt it is one that I could answer in a split second.

    Like

  12. I can’t speak for anyone else. I am not poor, we are a median income household. But we couldn’t possibly afford to send our kids to university and also donate to charity. We have done the maths. I expect that this is not an unusual situation. But we could possibly save thousands of lives with that money.

    Really? Say 10 bucks a month? 5? 1? Skip starbucks or whatever now and then?

    I gather actual poor people give more of their income than us middle class much less rich folks..though I don’t remember where I read it and it might not be reliable.

    I don’t think anybody would say you should take all the money for your kids education and give it to the poor. Maybe the Bible says something along those lines…

    Like

  13. But if I want to give my kids as much as possible help in their education and give as much as possible to prevent people dying overseas then I can’t give it all to both.

    See, right here, you force it into a binary choice. You can give some w/o giving all. Your not going to solve the problems of the world yourself, but you could still help a little.

    Like

  14. We could describe the problem thus:

    200 people are in danger of being killed. You can pull a lever and save them but if you do a couple of middle class kids will get a second rate education.

    But, as you say, it is not all or nothing. I could choose for only 100 people to get killed and the kids get a slightly better education. Or any number of degrees between of people being killed and quality of education.

    I don’t see how this makes the problem any better.

    Like

  15. Gadfly,
    Evolution didn’t create us “more rational.” Conscious rationality is kind of a spandrel.

    You have ignored the main thrust of my comment. Does that mean you agree with it? As for the ‘spandrel‘, that has become a convenient scapegoat for all that puzzles us. We paper over the cracks in our understanding by applying convenient labels.

    Like

  16. Robin, Synred,
    Nobody can give away all their money and also keep all their money. It is a choice about how money is allocated. Of course quite poor people have been known to help others, but they had to make a choice not to spend that money on other things.

    Counter-intuitively, the poor are more generous than the rich.

    In an article in The Atlantic this month, author Ken Stern details the charitable divide between the income classes. The author of “With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give,” writes that in 2011, Americans with earnings in the top 20% of income levels contributed, on average, 1.3% of their income to charity. Those at the bottom 20% donated 3.2% of their cash to charity—more than double of what their more-wealthy counterparts donated.

    A report from The Chronicle in August 2012 found people who make between $50,000 and $75,000 give an average of 7.6% of their discretionary income to charity, compared to an average of 4.2% for those making $100,000 or more. A separate report from this same period found of the nation’s 1,000 most generous ZIP codes, only nine rank in the country’s 1,000 richest areas.

    …Charity Navigators’ data, which find the rich tend to give about 3% of their income to charity, compared to the poor giving between 4% and 5% of their income and middle class donors give the smallest percentage of income at 2.5%.

    Not only do the wealthy and the poor give different proportions of their income to charity—they also give to different causes.

    “When it comes to the rich, the big areas of donation are the arts, universities and sometimes health-care organizations,” Berger says. “That is not to say they don’t give to other causes as well. With the poor, they tend to lean towards human services, direct service organizations that are focused on serving the poor. It’s how you define charity because some don’t see a hospital or museum as a charity, but they need donations to operate.”

    http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2013/04/24/poor-middle-class-and-rich-who-gives-and-who-doesnt.html

    Liked by 1 person

  17. To continue,
    Americans with earnings in the top 20% of income levels contributed, on average, 1.3% of their income to charity. Those at the bottom 20% donated 3.2% of their cash to charity—more than double of what their more-wealthy counterparts donated.

    It is worth adding that the 1.3% that the well-to-do give to charity is far easier to give, because they have more disposable income. The 3.2% that the poor give to charity is difficult, indeed painful, because they have so little disposable income.

    It seems that you need to be exposed to hardship to appreciate the needs of those who experience hardship. Help out at a soup kitchen and talk to those in the queue instead of just writing out a cheque and you will see your perspective change.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Coel,

    What do you think about the National Science Foundation awarding a $556,000 grant to a philosophy professor (Nicholas Evans at UMass Lowell) to lead a team to develop ethical code for self-driving cars? (Sort of indicates the NSF thinks a professional philosopher has the best knowledge to lead this project?)

    Like

  19. Hi Dan,

    You ignored my observation that the exact same problem arises for those sentiments you want to call “aesthetic.”

    My answer is the same. There is no objective fact of the matter and thus I don’t need an account of such facts.

    If one were to ask what the distinction is between Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, the only answer is that humans use different labels for different parts of the landscape because it is useful to do so. Thus all there is is descriptive accounts of how humans use such labels. I can give you descriptive accounts of how humans use the labels “moral” and “aesthetic”.

    wtc48,

    I think you’re confusing the development of human culture with the process of biological evolution, …

    If you’re suggesting that human feelings, values, sentiments, etc, are purely cultural and have no basis in biological evolution then I think that you’re wrong. “Blank slate-ism” is refuted by twin studies.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Robin,

    I tend to agree with synred. From what you describe I am in a similar situation, but there are many possibilities to allocate one’s money and still send some to charity. There is leeway in my daughter’s expenses, but more importantly in my own (as synred says, less Starbucks, or movies, or whatever).

    Like

  21. robin,

    “as you say, it is not all or nothing. I could choose for only 100 people to get killed and the kids get a slightly better education”

    now you are sliding into precisely the sort of extreme, imaginary thought experiment that I find increasingly less helpful in moral philosophy. Has contemplating this sort of scenario helped you at all, in your life?

    Like

  22. “As for the ‘spandrel‘, that has become a convenient scapegoat for all that puzzles us”

    On this one I tend to agree with Labnut. There is no reason to believe that consciousness and/or rationality are spandrels. And indeed quite a bit of reason to think they are adaptive, given how they affect our lives. Of course we’ll probably never known which selective pressures, if any, brought them about, but invoking spandrels as a default hypothesis is a bit lazy, with all due respect to Socratic.

    Like

  23. “It seems that you need to be exposed to hardship to appreciate the needs of those who experience hardship”

    Or perhaps becoming rich selects for people with a particular tendency to be assholes.

    Liked by 2 people

%d bloggers like this: