Sunday, October 30, 2011

Vigdis Broch-Due: "Animal In Mind: People, Cattle and Shared Nature on the African Savannah"

A nice read. This is an interesting charge against progressive Western animal rights/welfare ranging from Bentham to Nussbaum [edit: I should have said something like "a charge that is surprising, perhaps questionable in its purported scope"]:
Here we have to remind ourselves that these discourses, admirable as they are, inevitably uphold the firm species barrier between the human and the animal: the animal remains definitely and completely “other”.
I wonder whether this is quite fair. However, it certainly seems right that the personal attitude toward animals of someone like Singer (as expressed in Animal Liberation where he says that he doesn't in any particular way love animals) is worlds apart from the attitude of Broch-Due's friend Emong, who sacrifices practically everything he had to save his bull.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Honesty and Pedagogy

Is this good pedagogy?
About 100 students [in introductory logic] were told to convince the campus that it [a claim that the campus dining services would be going 100% vegetarian and local] was real by whatever means they thought would be most effective.
I've heard of things like this before. A year or so ago (I think) a law professor started a rumor that one of the Supreme Court justices was stepping down, to prove a point about how quickly unverified rumors spread.

But what does the exercise above prove/teach? How bad the non-logic students at Smith College are at assessing arguments? How to be a sophist? Perhaps what the "lesson" is is one of the things the students are expected to reflect upon?

But what about the climate of campus trust? How long can a prank like this go on before it sets up a situation of reduced trust? What if the school does make a big, controversial change? Who can the students trust? I don't want to overreact, but I also think these are serious questions. If you think lying (and fooling others, etc.) is generally wrong, then can students learn to care about the truth by engaging in an activity where they deprive unwitting others of it? (Would something like this pass IRB? Does that matter?)

Monday, October 24, 2011

James Shaw, "Truth, Paradox, and Ineffable Propositions"

Just out in PPR. The first two sentences have me hooked (though it appears to be a long, tough read):
There is a natural and quite reasonable assumption to make about what it is possible to express in language—roughly: everything. In this paper I want to present some reasons for thinking this assumption might be false.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Klemke on Wittgenstein's "Lecture on Ethics"

I recently came across, and finally read, an old-ish (1975) paper by E.D. Klemke called "Wittgenstein's Lecture on Ethics." Ever read it? What a hoot! Klemke really doesn't like Wittgenstein's LE!

In short, he argues that Wittgenstein provides no support for the claim that "no statements of fact can ever be or imply statements of absolute value" or for the claim that "all significant judgments are factually descriptive; hence there can be no significant ethical propositions." More generally, Klemke points out that Wittgenstein's arguments rest on a dubious criterion of meaningfulness and on the questionable fact-value dichotomy. These latter are intelligent points.

His paper, however, is book-ended with a very strange vitriol; Wittgenstein, he says, offers no argument. He will not argue that Wittgenstein is wrong--only that he has offered no argument, and his ideas rest on perhaps "outdated" (read: positivistic, I think) assumptions.

One might think that it would be enough to stop there. But here's how he concludes:
I conclude that Wittgenstein's "Lecture on Ethics" is of no worth whatever for ethical inquiry and that the manner of philosophizing which it exhibits is despicable.
I wonder whether The Journal of Value Inquiry would let such a paragraph pass editorial review today.

In Wittgenstein's defense, Klemke argues at a couple points that perhaps the only justification for basic claims that Wittgenstein makes is that they are self-evident to him--such as that "all states of affairs are [evaluatively] neutral." But all Klemke says is that this is not self-evident to him; he offers not a single example that would count against what Wittgenstein says. Why isn't that despicable, too? Strange. (What was going on in 1975?)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Competent Judges

I always forget how hard it is to teach J.S. Mill on "quality" until I'm in the middle of class. Hard because it's not clear at all what "quality" is. (That always makes me think about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.)

However, I had a little breakthrough in thinking about who counts as a "competent judge" in questions about which of two pleasures is higher. Mill says, as you will recall:
If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account.
Many students take all this to mean that the higher pleasure of any two is the one that most people prefer, but this way of putting is it misleading, I think. What I've probably not ever stressed enough is that Mill's point is that in order to be a competent judge, you have to have experienced the pleasure of both kinds. So, if you never got pleasure from reading Shakespeare, you're not a competent judge of the pleasure of reading Shakespeare. Ditto for NASCAR, Mozart, heroin, and the rest.

Stressing this seems to make Mill's point more interesting, and makes clearer, I think, why it isn't just elitist posturing. (Because someone who has never taken pleasure in a NASCAR event is not a competent judge of the pleasure of watching NASCAR.)

This is perhaps an obvious point about reading Mill, but it's one that I, at least, have found easy to overlook. I think this is because Mill isn't just saying, "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it"--which is something we've all heard before, and close to what Mill is saying--but something quite different. Roughly: "Don't knock it 'til you've cultivated an ability to take pleasure in it and done so"--which is different from "trying it," since you might try something and just take no pleasure in it. And that could just be an odd fact about you.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Forthcoming: Integrity and Struggle

"Integrity and Struggle" has been accepted by, and is now forthcoming in, Philosophia.

Thanks to those who have offered comments, suggestions, and support.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Now Available: Philosophical Topics 38:1 (Ethics)

Co-edited by myself and Edward Minar. Ordering info here. Enjoy!


Learning to Love
    Christopher Cowley

Minding What Already Matters: A Critique of Moral Individualism
    Alice Crary

Murdoch the Explorer
    Cora Diamond

Fitting-Attitudes, Secondary Qualities, and Values
    Joshua Gert

Moral Authority and Wrongdoing
    David Levy

Oughts and Cans: Badness, Wrongness, and the Limits of Ethical Theory

    Judith Lichtenberg

Impartial Respect and Natural Interest
    Sabina Lovibond

Moral Argument Is Not Enough: The Persistence of Slavery and the Emergence of Abolition
    Nigel Pleasants

Ethics and Private Language

    Duncan Richter

Does Moral Theory Corrupt Youth?

    Kieran Setiya

Monday, October 03, 2011

Conviction & Certainty (Draft)

This little "meditation" puts together some of the ideas from recent posts. Either the end is silly, or it manages to function as a "reminder" (which is an idea I explore briefly within). As always, comments appreciated.

Up next (I think): "The Courage of Conviction."