A pretty beautiful song that could well be the stimulus for an awesome IA on Nozick’s ‘experience machine’ thought experiment. Does it work? Should we not get in the machine because we truely crave a reality beyond our ‘expectations that…’.
I have this weird tradition, that when ever I head of on a multi-day trip skiing or climbing, and I think I might have a few hours down time, I take the same book in my pack. It’s happily called Sickness Unto Death and every time I read I start to think I missed much of the point the previous time. Anyway, this time I decided I need to put more Kierkegaard in the core theme section of my IB Philosophy course. This year I began to think a bit about the CAS part of the diploma, wondering if there was a way to help it delver the sort of end Kierkegaard would have hoped for. I wondered if we actually give students the opportunity to find a cause for which they would live and die. Obviously that’s a scary big goal, in fact it gets scarier the more you think about it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what if…
For those of you studying IB Philosophy, or taking Higher but interested in going beyond the simplicities of the course, John Nolt’s Environmental Ethics for the Long Term has an excellent section on philosophical arguments in ethics.
Section 2.2.1 has one of the best explanations of the “is/ought” fallacy I have ever read. Using the terms ‘prescriptive’ and ‘descriptive’ to refer to premises that respectively contain or do not contain a sentiment of something being right or wrong, he uses the phrase ‘prescriptive reasoning’ to refer to an argument where (at least) one premise and the conclusion include some sort of moral valuing.
Of course an argument can be valid and sound if it contains no moral sentiments (1), and one which has ‘moral’ or ‘ought’ premises might lead to a valid and ‘ought’ type conclusion (2).
all volvo cars have a steering wheel
my car is a volvo
therefore my car has a steering wheel
one should intervene when one person is abusing another against the latter’s will
‘abusing another against their will’ is what happens in sex-trafficking
therefore you should be acting against sex-trafficking
Of course one might object to the ‘truth’ of each of the premises here, but if one did agree with both then it would commit you to the conclusion. This is an example of what Nolt calls ‘prescriptive reasoning’. The problem is when someone tries to move from purely ‘descriptive’ premises to a prescriptive conclusion. This is the is/ought fallacy. The example used by Nolt is the use of Social Darwinism by the Nazis, simply because the ‘strong’ or ‘fittest’ survive it certainly does not follow that one should act in a way to make this happen.
Allowing this ‘prescriptive reasoning’ to stand is not the same as believing it to be sound. In fact it can be particularly difficult to spot problematic premises. Consider the following:
We ought to eliminate suffering.
The only feasible way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate all sentient beings.
Therefore we ought to eliminate all sentient beings.*
*Nolt, J Environmental Ethics for the Long Term (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015) 39.
thanks to a colleague for this one…
Many an IB Philosophy Internal Assessment could be written on the discussions of Ricki Gervais, Steve Merchant and Karl Pilkington. My usual favourite wou be to write on virtue ethics using the below quotation, but here’s another possibility…
In series 2 of Idiot Abroad Karl mentions that he and his dad used to go ‘collecting’ slates…
RG: oh right so you were thieving then…
KP: nah it’s natural… You can’t nick from nature!
This stuff’? Oh, ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic “casual corner” where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of “stuff.”
Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada.
One of the philosophers I would love to talk about more in IB Philosophy is Emmanuel Levinas. I always feel a bit like I’ve ‘sold short’ my students when we get to revising and haven’t talked about this profound thinker who sees a potentially exciting and all-changing link between phenomenology and ethics.
The above is on Issuu and you can read the entire introduction…