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…’.
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…
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…
This is a wonderful clip for thinking about religion and ethics. For those not familiar with The West Wing the bald gentleman plays Toby Ziegler, a senior aide to the President. In this episode, President Bartlett is face with a decision on whether to pardon a criminal due to be executed.
Non-religious people tend to think that religious people suppose they have some sort of ‘monopoly’ on truth when it comes to ethics, but this clip shows the ‘uncomfortableness‘ of religious ethics.
A long long time ago Plato recorded Socrates posing a difficulty for all those who believe right and wrong are what the god(s) say they are. This was the position held by the young and ‘upright’ Euthyphro.
be interesting to see what you make of this… we might talk about it in class…. still, probably useful for revising when you’re sick of reading…
To my shame I only watched this recently and it was, in my humble opinion, a quite brilliant picture. Each of the main characters would be more than sufficient for an Internal Assessment or even an Extended Essay in IB philosophy.
Where to start though…? Again, this is the sort of film that will draw one’s own philosophical persuasions to the surface, but I would expect that most philosophically literate members of the audience will be prodded into reflecting upon existentialism. Perhaps because of my own areas of particular interest, I found myself thinking about the relationship between Sartre and Kierkegaard. Kevin Spacey’s character undergoes a change. He realises he is free to do what he chooses and he begins a journey towards living authentically. Despite initial impressions, there is also an ethical dimension to this change; this is most noticable when he decides not to sleep with his daughter’s friend. This authenticity is placed in stark contrast with the Colonel, who moves in across the street. He is clearly deeply unhappy and (partly due to his belief in the Divine) is an emblem of the inauthentic life – lying to himself about even his own sexuality.
There are also a number of characters living by systems, or what Kiekegaaard would have called ‘ethical frameworks’. These people spend every part of their energy trying to realise a self-created goal. This, as the Dane points out, is a project doomed to failure: either one realises the goals and find this unsatisfactory (causing despair) or spends a whole life struggling and never reaching (equally as bad). Anyway before I feel myself being drawn into my own essay I will stop. Watch it.