Saturday, November 27, 2010

Deep Down

In my draft essay "Ethics Beyond Sentience," I discuss mountaintop removal in Appalachia. The new film Deep Down does a very nice job getting into the complexities of the issue for the people who live in Appalachia, and the film actually has a happy ending, insofar as the people in the town/holler targeted for mining got a legal decision that de facto made mining there economically unfeasible. I also just caught wind of an article in Science highly critical of MTR. Another good piece is here. In a way, it's too bad that we need the article in Science magazine to make the practical case against MTR, since although the ecological impact surely matters to the people in those hollers, too, that doesn't seem to be the deeper (or deepest) reason to leave the mountains alone.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ethics Beyond Sentience

I've mentioned EKU's Chautauqua Lecture Series before. The new director of the series, my colleague Minh Nguyen, is launching a journal, to appear annually, that will complement the theme of each year's series, and contain articles by many or most of the (often big name) speakers and other invited essays, fiction, photography and art on the theme. This year's theme is "Nature's Humans," and I was asked to contribute a piece. With that preface, and with some trepidation, I post here a draft of my essay, "Ethics Beyond Sentience." I've worked through this a few times, enough to have hidden all its most unacceptable flaws from my own view.

In it, I work out, mainly by example, rather than systematically, a critique of the idea that sentience is the foundation of ethics--a claim most obviously associated with Peter Singer (one of this fall's speakers) and reiterated (multiple times) by another speaker in this year's series (science writer Jonathan Balcombe). I focus on two cases where respect and consideration often already are, and where it makes good sense that they are (or should be), extended beyond the limits of sentience: the dead and the mountains.

Part of my trepidation is the concern that my inner hippie gets too much free rein at the end. (And is the distance between the beginning and the end insufferable?) Thoughts about that or other aspects of the essay are much appreciated.

Ethics Beyond Sentience

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wittgenstein, Understanding, and Autism

The new piece on The Stone, "Beyond Understanding," would have been much better if the author had just used the point about "mind-blindness" associated with autism to open up the more general problem of understanding others in everyday life, rather than trying to use autism to explain those various misunderstandings (or the particular idiosyncrasies of Wittgenstein and other philosophers).

"Everyone is mad" is just too cliched for me. It seems like every mental disorder goes through a period of interpretation during which people try to suggest that everyone has the disorder to some degree. This leads to silly-sounding claims, but I can see how this kind of idea, done properly (and I'm not sure the author, Andy Martin, completely succeeds here) would help generate an appropriate kind of empathy for those who are more seriously afflicted.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hey Hey, My My...

...Rock and Roll can never die.

Or, how to philosophize with an axe. (I think you can figure out the appropriate volume for viewing this one. The audience shots are awesome.)

(I've been on the road, and thinking about what it might possibly be to do philosophy the way Neil Young plays.)

Friday, November 05, 2010

A Gustatory Corollary of the Golden Rule

On an assignment, a student offered the sensible suggestion that one might navigate the ethical mysteries of our proper relations to animals by extending the golden rule to them. This seems fine, but then I wondered about eating them (yet again). It occurred to me that perhaps one should follow the rule: eat others the way you want to be eaten.

One of my colleagues (not a vegetarian) remarked: right, and I don't want to be eaten. But (it occurs to me now): all of us will be eaten at some point, by bugs if not bears. I don't know what follows from this.