DAARIO: Everyone has a choice. Even slaves have a choice. Death or slavery.
DAENERYS: So what else can I do?
DAARIO: Marry me instead.
DAENERYS: Even if I wanted to do such an inadviseable thing, I couldn’t.
DAARIO: Why not? You’re our queen, you can do as you like.
DAENERYS: No. I can’t
DAARIO: Then you are the only person in Mereen who’s not free.
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.
One of the best bits about the IB Philosophy course is that it keeps philosophy ‘real’. I don’t mean that to sound quite as ‘street’ as it does but the arrangements ensure that the academic side will never become too separated from the real world.
Unfortunately SQA (Scottish) Philosophy does not have this link, although there are plenty of good teachers out there trying to forge it, and doing this despite massive time pressures. As someone who believes that philosophy too separtate from ‘real’ life is just plain boring I try to ensure that my students get this link better than their examinations authority.
Every year I ask my exam and core classes to find their own examples of musicians, filmmakers and artists ‘doing philosophy’. The sources they bring are invariably brillliant. Here are a few:
thanks to a colleague for this one…
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…
I used ‘Yellow’ by Nathan Sawaya as an IB Philosophy Core Theme Paper 1 exam Stimulus a couple of years ago. I didn’t know a great deal about him but having watched the short video on youtube, I’m more convinced that his work would be an excellent thing to discuss in ib philosophy as well as in ToK (Theory of Knowledge).
You could talk about the relationship between maths and art in ToK, and even discuss topics like determinism and Sartre’s understanding of nothingness in the ‘What makes is ‘us’?’ section of the course. Awesome.
“You could have freed me yesterday, or tomorrow. I think you came to me now before this boy is put to the knife because you knew I’d counsel restraint. You came to hear me say it because you believe it yourself. You’re not a man who slaughters innocents for gain or glory.”
For those of you that have read Sartre’s Existentialism & Humanism (click below for this section) this advice may sound very similar to something Sartre wrote in refutation of traditional normative ethics. Sarte’s point was that all action originates in freedom, even if that freedom is used to convence oneself that on is not free. We’ll talk about it in class, but this could be a great IA stimulus…
In series three of ‘Game of Thrones’ there is a subtle but clever illustration of a criticism of the idea of God that was made by German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach . Feuerbach thought that theology was essentially anthropology, that is to say that when people speak of ‘God’ they are in fact speaking of some reflection or perhaps amplified ‘projection’ of what the know of humankind. He says:
God is man, man is God.
The idea is that the infinite Geist of Hegel is not something that originates outside of us but something that is grounded in our wishes, desires and understandings of ourselves.
In Game of Thrones this idea is particularly clear during the wedding ceremony of Edmure Tully and Roslin Fray (above). The icon at the front of the ceremony is the seven pointed star and the wording of the wedding vows include:
In sight of the seven.. say the words “Father, Smith, Warrior, Mother Maiden, Crone and Stranger, I am hers and she is mine…
It’s almost as though the whole concept of The Seven and even the concept of ‘everythingness’ has its origins in the experience of living in the seven kingdoms.
Click on the image above to see the wedding.
Okay so not Nietzsche, but perhaps his Genealogy… I’m always trying to get my IB philosophy students to summarise difficult passages in t shirt slogans… it’s a bit lame but it totally helps them to be brief and precise enough to get ace marks…
Anyway I recently discover this phrase in one of the old IB marking schemes, and I kinda like it…
Genealogy traces the moral version of each strand back to pre-moral sources
The ‘strands’ of which it speaks are the threads or elements that are woven together in Christian (Western?) morality and, as it says, Nietzsche’s mission is to show that each of these threads has a non-moral origin. Thoughts?