Jean Maria asked:
I am a social psychologist preparing an assessment of the popularly proposed program of torture interrogation of terrorists to present to the Joint [Military] Services Conference on Professional Ethics. Advocates of torture interrogation usually run a utilitarian argument starting from the "ticking bomb" scenario. I want to say that unintended effects of a program may be morally acceptable when reasoning from something like virtue ethics or duty, but a utilitarian argument must also attempt to account for all foreseeable effects in its cost-benefits analysis.
My questions: (1) What is the proper philosophical language for making this assertion? (2) Is the principle of double effect relevant when the intended good effect is clearly dwarfed by unintended disastrous effects?
From the perspective of policy studies, I then describe the necessary institutional effects of implementation of an official program of torture interrogation of terrorist suspects. The social breakdown of institutions and the difficulty of social repair then constitute something of a counterargument, I believe, to the simple utilitarian argument based on the "ticking bomb" scenario. However, these unintended effects, e.g., loss of citizen trust of government and compromise of the judiciary, will be minimized if the program operates under a pretense of decency or is chiefly covert. For example, during the dirty war in Argentina military police had a policy of submitting only unimportant interrogees to regular judicial procedures.
My questions: (3) Can utilitarians responsibly argue for a secret or deceptive course of action? That is: "publicly I argue for program X, intending all the while to create program Y under the authorization for X so as to minimize unintended effects." (4) Further, how much exploration of consequences can the utilitarian be required to make? (5) And is it fair to hold utilitarians responsible for a plan of repair or restitution for unavoidable bad effects of the proposed utilitarian program? (6) Or must a better alternative be proposed?
Thank you for helping me out of this muddle. I could send you a draft of my paper, "Torture Interrogation of Terrorists An Impractical Program," but this is probably more than you want to read.
The obvious utilitarian objection to torture is that once you allow it as a practice it is very unlikely that it will be confined to the very small number of cases where it might be justified and that it will become a more or less standard practice human nature, and especially official nature, being what it is, and given how much brutality there is when it's supposedly illegal. This is apart from intrinsic objections, of course. Ought a decent person to get involved in this at all? Also, do we have any evidence that it's effective as a reliable method of interrogation?
I would like to answer Jean Maria Arrigo's question with a question. Why should we automatically assume that the only utilitarian benefit gained from torturing a "ticking bomb" terrorist is the short-term avoidance of a particular terror attack, and that all of the long-term societal consequences will be bad? I don't think that is true in all societies and historical situations. Here's an extreme example: Suppose the police catch a well-known terrorist who proudly announces his knowledge of impending terror attacks that will kill hundreds of people. Let us say that the person in question has been found guilty of managing a terrorist organization by a properly conducted court of law, and that a democratically elected legislature has already passed a law that specifically allows for the supervised use of torture as a method of interrogation in precisely such circumstances. Would the use of torture in such a case really lead to "social breakdown of institutions"? It might be argued that in such circumstances, a refusal to torture would lead to a crisis of legitimacy for the government involved especially if many citizens were to die in preventable attacks. Angry citizens would demand to know why the state hadn't done everything in its power to protect them. Wouldn't such a government need to torture the terrorist in order to protect the institutions of society (as well as in order to thwart terror attacks)?
Berel Dov Lerner
I realise you asked people to respond to this question on the appropriate website, but reading the question I think it points to all that is wrong with moral theory and the attempt to apply moral theory. Would anyone with any feeling/ compassion for humanity, seriously bother to defend the torture of another human being, regardless of who they were and what names e.g. 'terrorist' we assigned to them? Do people really care if torture can be justified under a virtue ethics rather than utilitarianism etc? Doesn't this just all miss the point of human cruelty and anthropocentrism? Well, it does to me.
Eccy de Jonge
I found it difficult to answer what could have been a straightforward question about the ethical status of torture. I attribute my difficulty and Mr. Arrigo's "muddle" to the complex political and sociological context within which he chose to frame his questions. As a philosopher, I cannot take seriously the pretensions to ethical concern expressed by either the contemporary statesman or his terroristic alter ego. I simply cannot work up interest in how a given policy of interrogation may adversely affect the mystique of a modern state (its "legitimacy" in the popular mind). Modern governments and terrorist organizations are fatefully (and perhaps fatally) linked to each other; leaders of both types of organization seem to have few qualms about sacrificing innocents for "the greater good" as they see it. What qualms they may have about any bloody business are limited to the public relations downside of a misstep. Events in Moscow during the last weekend in October illustrated that rather neatly. ("If the terrorists blow up the theater, everybody dies; but if we gas the theater before storming it, maybe we cut that number in half." "Well, then, obviously we gas the theater!" "Not so fast, tovarisch. Theoretically, we can pull out of Chechnya, you know. After all, we've been oppressing Chechens for two centuries, and for what? Why not cut our losses?" "Because then the terrorists will have won, you idiot!")
As for utilitarianism and torture, we need to distinguish. According to act utilitarianism, an act of harming one or more individuals by torturing them may be morally acceptable if that act benefits more people than it harms, and cannot if it doesn't. According to rule utilitarianism, the act must be brought under a rule: an act of harming one or more individuals by torturing them may be morally acceptable only if we know that, as a rule, torturing leads to a greater number of beneficial than harmful consequences.
The problem with either form is that it presupposes the commensurability of interpersonal benefits and harms. That is, it presupposes that benefits and harms to a great number of persons are translatable into a common unit of measurement (much the way international currencies can be translated into American dollars or Euros). The advertised benefit of this translation is that we can then reckon whether a proposed course of action is likely to result in more of one kind of "stuff" than another (i.e., either more benefits than harms, or more harms than benefits). This fallaciously aggregates benefits and harms while ignoring the concrete persons to whom they accrue. Utilitarianism's inability to tote up all consequences of a proposed course of action (or to non-arbitrarily demarcate a cut-off point for considering further consequences) are side issues compared with utilitarianism's basic fallacy. The principle of double effect stipulates that the undesirable consequences are not intended (not just left unmentioned), not the means to the desired consequences, and not more evil than the intended effect is good. So, for instance, an airline representative has the right to evict a stowaway from one of its passenger planes, but not eject him at 30,000 feet, even if his certain death is not the intended consequence.
Mr. Arrigo asks: "Can utilitarians responsibly argue for a secret or deceptive course of action? That is: 'publicly I argue for program X, intending all the while to create program Y under the authorization for X so as to minimize unintended effects.'" I don't see how such subterfuge minimizes unintended effects, although it might minimize their accurate attribution. Where is even the slightest trace of moral justification?
Mr. Arrigo's question reminds me of another widespread pretext concocted to rationalize the inflicting of harm, namely, the invocation of the principle of double effect to justify abortion. Now, please note, some abortions are not homicides (no homines are at mortal risk in the very early stages of pregnancy). Furthermore, some homicides are justifiable (I'm no pacifist). What is offensive to the moral point of view, however, is the deceptive language. A woman may state that she wishes only to end her state of pregnancy, suggesting that the death of her viable fetus (when it is viable) is a possible secondary effect to which she would be indifferent. The test of her veracity, of course, would be her reaction to the placement in her arms of her healthy baby after the successful abortion, that is, the termination of her pregnancy. Due to advances in medical knowledge and technology, the pregnant woman can be relieved of her unwanted pregnancy without prejudice to the fetus. But her claim that she does not also intend the death of her fetus, in addition to no longer being pregnant, is simply not credible. To use Mr. Arrigo's formula, she is publicly invoking the right to control her body while privately intending also to destroy the living body of another. It may be that she has the right to do the latter. She should make the case. Lying only discredits any case she might have.
As for Arrigo's fifth question, a person is reasonably held responsible for what his freely undertaken actions cause, with his state of mind (e.g., coerced, depressed, etc.) being a possibly a mitigating factor. Whether or not he is a utilitarian or a Kantian is irrelevant to the issue of assigning accountability.
Deliberately to inflict excruciating suffering on a human being in the hope (it is by no means a certainty) that he will prefer to reveal certain information than to continue to suffer is to aggravate the offense of utilitarianism. Instead of merely treating him as collateral damage on the way to securing a desirable end, the torturer degrades his captive, treating him as less than human, as an egg that must be broken if it is to yield an omelet. Even if the victim of torture himself would inflict suffering on innocents, he is still a person, a self-transcender and seeker after a good life, however criminally mistaken he may be. To torture in order to extract information is to create one unit of the very horror that the terrorist threatens, thereby rendering meaningless one's own anti-terrorism. How we treat him reflects well or poorly on our own handling of the task our natures have set for us, namely, to realize a great diversity of values regularly and harmoniously, that is, to create good lives for ourselves. There is no good life without respect for persons as such. That drive to actualize the good life is a priori, if you will, prior to, underpinning, and penetrating any particular good we may seek. It is the source of duty, which ultimately is justified by certain consequences: lives worth living, but not reducible or restricted to a particular consequence or type of consequence. The prospect of the good life, however explicitly or implicitly grasped, is the intelligible unity of all our different desires that we must sort out, rank, and attempt to achieve. It is the standard by which we do those things. The achievement of any other values, however, is a function of the appreciation of the value of truth. Only he who can deceive himself about the nature of another human being can implement a policy of torture.
Around 19745 during my penultimate year as an undergraduate at Birkbeck College, London University, I had the honour, as President of the Philosophical Society, of entertaining the philosopher H.J. McCloskey who had been invited to read a paper to the assembled staff and students. McCloskey, author of John Stuart Mill: A Critical Study is well known as a writer on utilitarianism.
Over dinner at a local Italian restaurant, McCloskey told me that he had recently completed a lecture tour in Chile, one of few academic philosophers or possibly the only academic philosopher to be invited during the reign of the military Junta. Surprised at first by the invitation, he was disquieted to learn during his visit that the Junta were keenly interested in the question whether utilitarian moral theory could be used to justify torture.
Not very long after this meeting, I saw a film about Chile, which included the brief image of an electrode being applied to a woman's nipple. The film makers knew their craft. To this day, whenever I think of torture, that image irresistibly obtrudes.
On that memorable evening, as my guest and I twirled our spaghetti, I pictured McCloskey sitting round a dinner table with the Chilean Generals and their clinking medals, smoking cigars and drinking fine wine. 'A toast to John Stuart Mill!'
I would like to ask who are going to be the torturers. Is it going to be like the doctors trained in the correct surgical procedures for removing the hand, as prescribed by Islamic Law as a punishment for theft? The charge on the electrode is to be 2000 volts, not a volt more. Enough to produce excruciating pain, but not enough to cause permanent injury. Perhaps scientific research will lead to new, ever more efficient methods of torture which effect the mind, but not the body. Suitably chastened, but in the best of physical health, the terrorist (or criminal) can return to a worthwhile job and be a productive member of society.
It seems as though the questions asked by the author of this letter strike at some of the classic objections to Utilitarianism:
2)How can we be sure that the "effects" we observe are effects of one particular act or another?
3)Consider the classic example, a man who acts from a desire to kill a religious leader misfires his rifle, and instead strikes oil (an unlikely example, but one used in objection to Utilitarianism); whereas a man who intends no evil misfires his rifle and wounds or kills a religious leader. In the first case, the man clearly intended evil, but good resulted from his action. In the second case, the man intended no evil, but--nevertheless evil did result. Can we fail to hold the first man responsible for his actions? May we condemn the second man? Clearly (some have argued) our intentions figure into the normative status of our actions.
I would also like to ask whether the author of the original letter is asking about act or rule Utilitarianism, or both. This, it seems to me, would alter a possible response.
To begin with a game-theoretical scenario, we have two parties fighting for some conflicting goals. Then the natural question for each party will be, if the means it uses are effective and where to stop if the costs become unbearable.
The terrorist is no lamb. Even if we concede that his aims are just (as he claims always of course), he is bringing much suffering on the victims of his "ticking bomb". If he is faced with torture he has a choice. He could tell how to find and de-activate the bomb. If he decides not to, this is his decision for killing other people for his cause. In this respect a suicide-terrorist is at least honest setting value against value. From this derives a right of the offended to use torture as a means for defence. It's a game.
War is war and terrorism is war of a special sort but not principally different. From a philosophical point of view most if not all arguments to justify war are invalid. But the churches always have up to this day justified war, e.g. on communism or on islam. I will not enter this extended discussion now, since it is not asked for. I only mention it.
The admonition of Jesus to love your enemy, and the conclusion of Socrates 400 years before that suffering injustice is better than committing it, are meant for personal conduct, not for policy. Even Socrates was an active soldier when required to be one by the laws of Athens. Jesus nowhere condemned the soldier as such.
One main question of the questioner is, if procedures of torture interrogation cause bad side-effects to the defender itself. Argentina under the junta in the 70s is cited here. But I remember another example : There was a fascinating film (of 1971) that showed protesters against the Vietnam war in the USA fighting against "upright citizens" that found the war against communism justified and took the "peace people" as traitors to a just cause. The film was made by a protester and presented the supporters of the war as being either neurotics or uninformed or mislead or as misleading fascists. But the "upright citizens" had an argument : The presidents leading the USA into the Vietnam war were no Hitlers or Saddams but they were the Democrats Kennedy and Johnson elected by due democratic procedures which not even the opposition ever denied. Thus to follow up and supporting the war could justly be seen as a patriotic duty as long as there were no proven lies and hidden interests showing up.
Everybody has a right to oppose, but opposing an evidently undemocratic regime as that of Videla in Argentina or of Castro in Cuba or of Saddam in Iraq is not the same as opposing a democratic regime as that of the USA today at least as long as you cannot prove a misuse of power or to be lied to. Thus one has to request democratic procedures and the functioning of the institutions of "checks and balance", but one cannot request from a democratically installed and controlled government to lay open all its measures to everybody. You cannot top a democratic process and order by some super-democratic process and order of your own choice. Where will you stop then? There will always be different opinions on any topic. Democracy is a compromise. Even if Colin Powell or Kofi Annan or Nelson Mandela were presidents of the USA today, there would be some people around to hate them or to call them stupids and madmen. Thus is the nature of the world.
Thus my verdict: As long as results come up and strict and controlled procedures are observed, and freedom of the press and the judiciary is not endangered, there may be torture interrogations. The danger that "loss of citizen trust of government and compromise of the judiciary" may ensue has to be seen in relation to the danger inherent in a fundamental distrust against a government functioning by due process of law. Even the GW Bush Government is not a Hitler- or Videla- or Saddam-Government and should not be taken to be one without the greatest offence to the American voters and political institutions.
A final word on question Nr. 5 : "Is it fair to hold utilitarians responsible for a plan of repair or restitution for unavoidable bad effects of the proposed utilitarian program?"
How should that be? The whole American People had to bear the consequences of the Vietnam war, not only "the utilitarians". But as I said above : The Vietnam War was NOT brought about by some supervillains or madmen but by two Democratic Presidents correctly elected. We simply have to accept this unavoidable rest of tragedy in all human endeavors.
The following remarks are meant as a backdrop against which to orient your ideas. The argument against torture is already half lost, in my view, because you argue your case on the opposition's grounds, that makes your case all the more hard to win.
To the question 'Can torture be justified?' the answer is yes even with the best will in the world. We can exemplify this from history e.g. the Inquisition. The discussion needs to be carried on within the question of whether torture should be justified. And the answer is no. The reason being that torture is perverse. Justification for torture, therefore, in this context, is perverse, and as such, contrary to reason. If we abstract torture from this context, we are left with open-ended or closed arguments for or against torture, but the presupposition is the same on both sides, namely, that perversity (torture) can be a rational starting place for arguments (for or against it) or a rationally coherent object of thought; this latter assumes that torture, in itself, is no more or less perverse than our arguments contrive to make it. Your questions to Ask a Philosopher show you already subscribe to this in principle, if not in fact. Whether one is 'for' or 'against' the instrumental argument for torture, there is tacit agreement between both sides that torture is itself neutral, like an object in the natural world. The arguments then become tortured on both sides of the equation.
The death penalty may seem an analogous case, but it is not, because death in itself is natural, death is not something that happens to one person (the condemned) and no-one else. Death belongs to the human condition, and in the case of the death penalty, those conditions are severely straitened for a greater good (atonement for despicable crimes, safety of others, freedom from fear etc.). This is not to justify the death penalty, but to say that you cannot argue about torture as if the presuppositions are the same.
It may be objected that there are different kinds of torture that imprisonment is a torture, that solitary confinement is. But convention rules that they are punishments in lieu of something worse (the death penalty, historically). Real torture in the context of common law and convention (of 'should', again) is a perverting of these things, and as we would say, of justice.
Matthew Del Nevo
I wonder how much there is of philosophical interest in this question. It seems trivially true that the course of action suggested, like any pretty much any other course of action whose description doesn't itself imply net utility loss, might be utility-maximizing. It then remains to be asked how this implication is to be applied. (I don't see the relevance of double effect in a utilitarian context.)
Here I would suggest that state programs, as opposed to personal actions, rarely remain concealed; too many people know about them. Sooner or later the truth comes out. Even if it is later, we don't know how much later, and bad spinoff effects are likely. (Admittedly, so is the good spinoff effect of revulsion.)
Moreover, I question how often torture is needed to extract information. The problem is not the usual question about whether such information is reliable, but rather the question of whether it is needed at all. Put it this way: either you're torturing for fairly insubstantial reasons, or you're not. If you are, then certainly the fear of discovery and the spinoff effects, to say nothing of the direct effects, have great negative utility. If you're not, then consider the post-mortem analysis of 911, which indicates that the US government already had plenty of relevant information: they just didn't know how to use it or correlate it. This is a very common difficulty with intelligence services. Given such background conditions, it seems likely that, if you're know enough to have substantial reasons for torturing somebody, the information you want is very likely obtainable through a combination of the information already in your possession and other, less drastic means. These background conditions also make it unlikely that torturing for light reasons will be utility-maximizing.
For what it's worth, I would answer these questions as follows:
1. The language already used is quite properly philosophical, although any plausible theory of virtue ethics or deontological (duty) ethics would surely require agents to try to foresee unintended consequences and take these into consideration. An agent who did not do so would lack the virtues of prudence and wisdom, and would be failing in her duty to promote the well-being of others and respect their rights, etc..
2. I think the principle of double effect is always worth bearing in mind (although Jonathan Glover gives good reason to have reservations about in in his book "Humanity"). This principle says that you should not do an act the disastrousness of whose unintended but foreseeable effects dwarfs the intended good effects. On this the principle strikes me as being quite right.
3. Not publicly, since this would give the game away. It might be responsible to intend such deception privately, but the consequences of such deception would have to be taken into account. Politicians and military leaders might have to lie sometimes, but their doing so is hardly likely to strengthen public faith in democracy or their own private commitment to doing the right thing (virtue).
4. This depends on how easy it is to do so and how serious the consequences are likely to be. The consequences of many acts are easy to predict, but of course the future is obscure to us and what might happen if we start routinely torturing people is hard to predict. Again I think Glover is good on this, as he traces the spread of torture from Nazi Germany to a host of other countries as the Nazi torturers moved around the world and passed on their techniques. Torture is hard to keep isolated and under control (in the hands of 'good' regimes, for instance). Given the horror of it, I would think you would have to be very sure of yourself to recommend using torture, even in a ticking bomb case. Bear in mind also, of course, the high chance of the torture victim lying to end the torture.
5. If it's practicable it seems fair that everyone responsible should repair the damage they have done. I would not hold utilitarians in general responsible for the consequences of utilitarian policies, but government advisers, for instance, might be held responsible for the consequences of any policy they explicitly and directly advised.
6. I would think so, but the whole point of imaginary ticking bomb scenarios and some real life terrorist acts is to thwart our attempts to make sense of them and respond rationally. It is hard, if not impossible, to predict and solve these riddles in advance or in general.
It might be worth noting that, abstract theoretical commitments aside, nobody takes the doctrine of double effect at all seriously that is it is never applied consistently, but only in an ad hoc fashion concerning otherwise embarrassing or tricky issues. Peter Singer gives the nice illustration of Catholic Theologians who invoke double-effect in order to justify abortions in those cases where the mother's life is endangered by pregnancy. The death of the fetus is claimed to be an unintended side-effect of the (laudable) action that is saving the life of the mother. But, as I say, these same theologians would flinch if a double-effect justification was attempted elsewhere: If a company dumps toxic waste into a city's water supply, it is no excuse for them to say "we too believe in the doctrine of double-effect our intention was to get rid of this awful toxic waste (again laudable), and an unintended side-effect of this was poisoning the water." Likewise it might be convenient for authorities to invoke double-effect in regards to torturing people, but nobody would take that logic seriously as a principle of right-conduct in general.
In short, double-effect seems to leave the non-Utilitarian in a very uncomfortable position. For the utilitarian, the doctrine of double-effect seems indefensible, if not incoherent: it is the consequences, after all, that matter and not whether or not they were intended. Consequences that are merely likely to follow from a course of action can indeed be used to evaluate the act's rightness or wrongness.
Question (3) is more difficult. In theory the "act" or "critical" Utilitarian can countenance secret violations of rules which generally enhance happiness, but in practice this will be very difficult to pull off.
Besides the risk of the secret getting out and leading to a climate of anxiety and fear is the risk that the government will more readily set aside civil liberties the next time. A temporary restrained policy might, given time and excuses, be expanded in terms of its scope or permanence by officials who see the suspension of civil liberties as instrumentally useful. One needs to remember that the policy will not be a secret to the authorities who are party to the deception: there is a very great risk that THEIR respect for autonomy and individual security will be eroded by the experiment. Is it wise to encourage those officials to see themselves as living outside of the moral constraints expected of everybody else? This suggests a very powerful argument for never allowing civil liberties to be compromised. As it happens, the torture victim, unless silenced by death, will presumably ensure that her treatment does not remain a secret forever. Again, this could lead to fear, mistrust, and perhaps even panic.
Notice finally that the reasoning behind these compromises is exactly parallel to the logic of terrorism itself: we should do horrendous things in order to fulfill some greater objective. But perhaps amongst the greater objectives worth defending just are civil liberties.
Prof. Sean Allen-Hermanson
This question really highlights some of utilitarianism's trickiest problems. Some of your questions I can help with, but 'answers' are hard to come by in this area. Anyway, here goes: 1. "I want to say that unintended effects of a program may be morally acceptable when reasoning from something like virtue ethics or duty, but a utilitarian argument must also attempt to account for all foreseeable effects in its cost-benefits analysis. My questions:(1) What is the proper philosophical language for making this assertion?"
Perhaps something like this: "While virtue ethics, and Kantian theories based on duty, may be able to exclude unintended consequences on the grounds that morality must be based upon intentions, consequentialist theories such as utilitarianism make judgements based upon states of affairs. Therefore, an action which was intended to be good, is nonetheless the wrong action where it produces worse consequences (i.e. a worse state of affairs) than another possible action. In this way, all consequences must be taken into account when making utilitarian judgements, no matter what the intentions."
However, it is useful to note that Robert Adams has argued that utilitarianism can be used to judge motives, as the best motives are those which are likely to produce the most utility. See, Robert Adams, 'Motive Utilitarianism', in, The Journal of Philosophy, LXXII, 14, (12th August, 1976).
2. Is the principle of double effect relevant when the intended good is clearly dwarfed by unintended disastrous effects?
In principle, the utilitarian must answer 'no' to this question it is the consequences of an act which are important, not the intentions. However, we should perhaps make a distinction between making an assessment of whether an act will be, or has turned out to be, a good one, and blaming those who have committed bad acts from good motives. As a great deal of the evidence we have for assessing the future consequences of an action is either in short supply, or based upon probabilistic judgements, it is difficult to see how we can blame someone for consequences they could not foresee. Note that this is very different from claiming that we should not blame someone for consequences they did not intend. For the utilitarian, if you can see that there is a reasonable chance of bad consequence x following from action y, then you are as responsible for this as you are for the intended consequence. If you could not reasonable foresee this, or if there was only a very slim probability of such a consequence occurring at the time of making the decision, then blame is perhaps inappropriate. In this way you can commit an act which has bad consequences, and this will be judged to be a bad act, but this does not necessarily imply that you should be blamed for what you have caused. You can imagine lots of 'domino-effect' examples of this occurring.
Before your next questions, I should say a bit about the ticking bomb example you use. This is a common example, and one which has massive intuitive appeal in such a situation, the loss of one life seems to be preferable to the loss of many lives. Deontologists (rule-based theorists) such as Rawls argue though that the person sacrificed does not get some overriding benefit, and to aggregate good and bad interpersonally is to fail to take account of the "separateness of persons" (See John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 5) You might make a distinction here between act- and rule-utilitarianism. J.J.C. Smart makes the distinction as follows: "Act-utilitarianism is the view that the rightness or the wrongness of an action is to be judged by the consequences, good or bad, of the action itself. Rule-utilitarianism is the view that the rightness or wrongness of an action is to be judged by the goodness and badness of the consequences of a rule that everyone should perform the action in like circumstances." (J.J.C. Smart, 'An Outline of a System of Utilitarian Ethics', in, J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism For and Against. 1963 [Cambridge University Press, 1993] p.9) If it is accepted that this is a reasonable distinction, then we move from arguing about individual acts of torture, to arguing about the general practice of torture. From the rule utilitarian perspective, it is far easier to argue that torture as a practice should be outlawed, even though it may have good consequences in certain cases. In effect then, the price of torture becoming an accepted and legally ratified form of interrogation is so great that it is worth refusing to use it even in the few cases where it may be justifiable. This is an especially compelling argument in political terms, as politics is to some degree 'about' making rules, rather than adjudicating in specific circumstances.
3. Can utilitarians responsibly argue for a secret or deceptive course of action? That is: "publicly I argue for program X, intending all the while to create program Y under the authorization for X so as to minimize unintended effects."
This is one of the trickiest problems for utilitarianism as a political theory. The simple answer to the first question is that it appears that they could argue for a deceptive course of action on the grounds that it will produce better consequences overall. Lying is not the taboo for utilitarians that it is for Kantians. Rawls argues that principles must be "publicly accepted and followed as the fundamental charter of society "('the publicity condition') and therefore that elite cannot attempt to maximise utilitarian consequences by promoting non-utilitarian principles. (See Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 29)
On the other hand, perhaps it could be argued that the consequences overall (and we are talking in the largest sense here) of having deceit at the heart of law-making could be catastrophic. Law itself could be utterly undermined. The other tack the utilitarian can take here is to argue that there could never be sufficient guarantees that the deceit would not be broken. Although the chances may be slim, the consequences could be so awful that any possibility of them happening would be sufficient to rule out the deceit as a viable option.
There are however more benign examples where the deceit is sanctioned, or required by utilitarians suppose a recession, or a run on the currency is forecast by a government. Surely it is irresponsible to publicise this and thus intensify the problem? Once we admit exceptions though, the idea of rule-utilitarianism appears to collapse, as R.M. Hare has argued, into act-utilitarianism. If one case merits an act-utilitarian consideration to override rule-utilitarian considerations, why don't we just go back to judging all acts individually? The rule is undermined anyway.
1.How much exploration of consequences can the utilitarian be required to make? Difficult to say. In terms of assessing past actions, we can go as far as the chain of causality allows. In terms of individuals when they make the decision, they can only act upon the information that they have. If we could never act without full information regarding consequences, then we could never act. Perhaps then, you can formulate the answer to this question as "as much exploration of reasonably likely consequences as we reasonably can make." Unfortunately, this is a bit of a fudge. Obviously, my lighting a cigarette now could lead, through a complex chain of causality, to the downfall of a government, but it is extremely unlikely. The definition of 'reasonable' is always a problem for philosophers.
5 & 6. See answer to question 2 above
A final thought Some utilitarians (possibly including myself) would argue that genuine suffering is worthy of far greater moral consideration than 'mere' happiness. Also, the needs of someone suffering outweigh the needs of someone not suffering. The later might want our help, but he does not need it in the same way as the sufferer. I would therefore argue against torture in the following way. The consequences for a person being tortured are so bad that virtually no potential, uncertain, future good for others could justify them. Torture to prevent further ills may be justifiable, but due to the extreme horror of torture, there must be an extremely high degree of certainty that this will occur. Furthermore, the onus would be on the torturer to demonstrate this. Upon reflection, it is clear that this would certainly eliminate torture as a legally sanctioned practice, as the instances in which the necessary level of consequential certainty existed would be extremely rare.
I should warn you though, that this form of 'negative utilitarianism' has met severe criticisms, and is not widely accepted. However, the idea that the elimination of bad is more important than the promotion of good has something going for it.
Perhaps your best route is, after all, to argue that the bad consequences of torture overall outweigh the benefits? This is by no means a reliable argument though.
Incidentally, have you looked at, Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The making and Unmaking of the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985) This has an excellent account of the consequences of torture.
Can you please help me to understand the subjective and objective views about fox hunting, whether it be for or against it?
Jenny, this is certainly a topical question!
Fox hunting is part of a wider question of human's treatment of animals, though it also seems to have some extra baggage; these relate to questions of tradition and the way of life of those in the countryside. Of course, whose lifestyle we are talking about is another matter; not everyone in the countryside has a tradition of foxhunting.
Taking the first question about human treatment of animals, we can link this to other similar questions that pop up on the TV or in the newspapers, issues like whether or not people wear leather or use rabbits for the testing of cosmetics.
We could start by talking about rights, since we hear a lot of talk about rights in the media, and it seems that people are prepared to go to extremes in the defence of certain rights, including so-called 'animal rights'. It's worth asking what is a right, where does it derive from, and do 'rights' apply only to humans or to animals as well?
What are rights based on?
This is an important question for those who make major decisions based on the 'right' of some group or people. Think how often you hear a group or individual lay claim to some right or other...the right to life, the right to choose, the right to clean water... The list is long.
One approach to this, but by no means the only one, comes from the tradition of philosophers like Immanuel Kant, and continued by John Rawls. This founds the idea of a right in the capacity of a person to reflect on and think about an issue, before making a choice. And on the basis of this rational capacity his or her choice is to be respected.
Well, if you accept this argument about rights for people based on their capacity to reflect on their situation and make a choice that is best for them, do you think it also applies to animals?
Do they also reflect and make choices in a similar manner? There are arguments that the higher primates show something like this kind of capacity.
Another way of looking at this question is to consider animals' and people's capacity to feel pain and to suffer. This is a separate tradition but one which has been hugely influential. It seems that in 'a nation of animal lovers', many people's attitude towards animals is based on their feelings of sympathy for them; that is, to treat them in such a way so as not to cause pain to them. Or, at least (for those who eat meat, for example), to treat them in a humane manner, presumably by giving them a comfortable life followed by a swift and painless death.
On this account, we can see why some people oppose fox hunting, since they allege it causes needless suffering.
Just from these two accounts of how people should regard animals, we can get two different accounts of how we should regard the fox. You could call these two views objective, because they identify main features of animals and people, rather than looking at individual cases. They suggest to us that reasoned debate, leading to a solution, is possible.
Now, just to focus a bit more on the particular problem of fox hunting....
Presumably drawing on some kind of argument that a fox itself doesn't have any great value (it's not like a person, etc), the pro-hunting lobby often present their case as one of freedom. That is, not so much a issue of the treatment of animals but one of having the freedom to do what one wants, as long as it doesn't interfere with other people.
Here, you could say that they are asking for the freedom to do what they want to do, just as many groups in society do. The issue becomes a political one, that of the issues of one group in society, rather than a question about cruelty to animals.
You also hear arguments based on tradition, that fox-hunting has a long history. But do you think that, just because you have done something in the past, you should be allowed to keep on doing it? It's easy to think of traditions that have died out and nobody wants to bring them back; having a monarch with absolute power would be one example. At the same time, some people would argue that we shouldn't be too quick to do away with our traditions, because of their educational value and formative role in our identity. After all, there's now a big market catering to those who want to define their 'Britishness'- just look at all the history programmes on TV!
There's also a practical argument made in favour of fox-hunting, that it kills 'vermin'. Unfortunately, I don't know much about this- I guess you'd have to ask a scientist to check whether this claim is true or not!
One last 'objective' approach to fox-hunting is to ask about the character, the personality, of someone who takes part in fox-hunting. If you think that the killing of foxes in this way is cruel, then does that make someone who enjoys the hunt cruel? If someone enjoys taking part in a practice that leads to the death of a fox, does that raise doubts about their attitude towards people? Are they more likely to be, simply, 'a mean person'?
To come back to your question about subjective views of fox-hunting....
Of course, you could say that none of the above abstract 'tools' for deciding whether fox hunting is reprehensible are as relevant to what you think and feel now. Despite the very eloquent development of the two opposing views outlined above, we don't seem to have solved the issue. No argument has been produced such that it wins over one side completely- we still don't have any consensus. Although we don't have agreement, we might soon have legislation prohibiting it. But that's another matter.
Recently, I discovered the fascinating world of Kant (and Hume), mainly due to two wonderful books of Brian Magee. First, Confessions of a Philosopher has brought my view of the science of perception (psychophysics) into a much broader context. Secondly, the correspondence of Bryan Magee and Martin Milligan has contributed a lot to the question what the auditory world of the hearing-impaired (or deaf) person might be. At the University of Amsterdam we try to gain knowledge with respect to the auditory world of the hearing-impaired person by simulation of deficits. Informal listening and performance of auditory tasks by normal hearing persons with simulated hearing loss can provide insight into the world of experiences of the hearing-impaired person, and the effects of deteriorated auditory performance. Most interesting is comparing a hearing impaired and a normal ear in one person, but this combination in man is not easy to find.
Reading the books of Kant and Hume, I got stuck on some peculiar statements and some conceptual problems.
1. On the idea of being.
Descartes wrote his famous words: "I think, therefore I am." One could also state "I am, because I perceive." But is this statement valid? Suppose one could not perceive, due to a lack of all the senses. Is this possible, and can one be then? And what can such a being conceive?
2. On Kant.
The framework of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is very systematic and elaborate. It is finely structured and every branch is thought over. The formal structure is in a way very mathematical. As I understand Kant was broadly educated, including knowledge of mathematical physics.
Do you know of famous mathematicians and physicists who read Kant? Did, for example, Einstein read Kant's Critique and did he criticise him on the ideas about time and space? Are there great mathematical minds that agree with the created metaphysical world needed to describe reason?
3. On the outer and inner world.
Despite Kant's work I still do not understand how one could distinguish the outer world and the imagined world. People can never be sure unless maybe by combining different sensations, i.e. touch, vision, hearing, etc. Although, to be absolutely sure? One of the ideas around schizophrenia is that people suffering from it cannot distinguish between these two worlds.
4. On Milligan.
Magee has discussed with Milligan about the perception of people who see and do not see and the concepts they form. Kant wrote something quite bizarre. I hereby give the original German text and a translation by M.J. Gregor. I am wondering what you think of Kant's rude idea of conception of deaf people. I think he underestimates the power of sign-language, which is most probably the oldest language in the world. Moreover his 'analogue of reason' is quite an insult for all blind and deaf people. Or do I misinterpret Kant?
On the Cognitive Powers, On the sense of hearing §18.
Hearing does not give us the shape of an object, and words do not lead us immediately to the idea of it; but just because of this, and because they have no intrinsic meaning (or at most they signify inner feelings, but not objects), words are the means best adapted to signifying concepts. So a man who, because he was deaf from birth, must also remain dumb (without speech) can never achieve more than an analogue of reason.
On the Cognitive Powers, Questions §22.
Can we use the senses vicariously? that is, can we use one sense as a substitute for another? If a deaf man was once able to hear, we can get him to speak as he used to by gesturing to him, and so by means of his eyes. He also uses his eyes to read our lips, or his sense of touch to feel our lip movements in the dark. If, however, he has been deaf from birth, his sense of sight must begin with movements of the vocal organs and convert the sounds he has been taught to make into feeling of moving the muscles of his own vocal organs. But he never arrives at real concepts in this way, because the signs he uses are not the sort that can be universalised.
Kant, I. (1974/1798 &1800). Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view translated, with an Introduction and Notes by M.J. Gregor, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague.
1) You need to read Descartes again, and get a better idea of his arguments. Your objection isn't relevant; "perception" is included in thinking for Descartes. But that aside, his statement is better taken as an intuition of consciousness than anything else, I believe. Merleau-Ponty treats it pretty well in that regard in The Visible and the Invisible. As for not perceiving... do computers think? They don't perceive, anyway. But the answer to your next question depends on your epistemological position; the British empiricists would probably deny you could have thought... Descartes probably wouldn't have. For a "real" answer to that question, if we look at the effects of sensory deprivation on developing animals, it results in very severe neurological problems... but severe enough so that a human, totally sensorially deprived as both fetus and baby, wouldn't be able to think? I doubt we've ever had that situation, given that a 6-9 month fetus can sense and respond to the environment. My guess would be that degree of deprivation might very well preclude the neural development necessary for thinking.
2) Probably every one of them, especially the Europeans. I'm sure Einstein did, since he attended a German school, but I don't know what, if anything, he wrote specifically on Kant. But given other things Einstein wrote, I do not think that he liked Kant's ontology, i.e., that there is a fundamentally unknowable noumenon.
3) I assume you saw the movie "The Matrix"? It's an old problem... there's still controversy about Putnam's "brain in a vat" arguments. As for combining different sensory modalities, that's a very good idea, and ultimately the basis of consensual validation, if you think about it. However, you can also see that there is no real refutation of skepticism there. I do not believe that one can refute a strong skeptical position on this... but so what? I'm not going to try walking through any walls soon.
4) Kant was a product of his time, as are we all. As I recall, deaf people, because of their lack of language, were regarded as animals before the French invented sign language, surprising everyone. I do not agree that sign language, as a true language (i.e., with tenses, aspect, etc.), is "old" in any sense. If you remember your Greeks, language (a consequence of rationality) was considered the test of the difference between humans and animals. However, I do not believe that if Kant were aware of sign language his position would change, merely be broadened to include it as a type of language. Remember Kant's "schemas" and how abstract they are, yet how symbolic... more-or-less the equivalents of computer programs, if you wish to push the analogy. Given that, you need a symbolism to carry them, so to speak, yes? And that would be "language" of some sort. Concepts, for Kant, necessarily included those relations, as I recall.
Steven Ravett Brown
What is Lipman's philosophy?
What is Lipman's model for a Philosophy for Children syllabus?
This is a passion of mine. Contact me if what I say below is not enough.
Matthew Lipman is an American philosopher who, in the late 1960s, decided that children were not being taught how to think well, and that doing some philosophy in the classroom was the way to set this right. Together with Ann Margaret Sharp, an educator, he developed the community of inquiry method for dong informal philosophy in schools, and wrote the book "Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery" for use by such communities. Here is a description of Philosophy for Children I have published elsewhere:
Philosophy for Children (P4C) is a program that involves school children in whole class discussion on philosophical issues. It aims to improve children's thinking through introducing them to, and enabling them to investigate, many of the 'big questions'. Using the program, teachers encourage children to think more deeply about the ideas behind their schoolwork in a classroom community of inquiry. Children will then focus reflectively on their own thinking and the skills they use, thus improving them, in the meantime exploring and enhancing their own ideas and those of others in response to philosophical and other puzzles. The joint exploration of ideas leads to more cohesive shared knowledge within the group.
Philosophy for Children is based on the idea that children construct knowledge and reasoning capabilities in a community. The teacher's role is not that of supplying knowledge for children to swallow, but of providing the model of an experienced thinker to the apprentice thinkers of the class and of ensuring the level of thinking is kept high. Children set the agenda for the discussions by asking questions that appeal to them, ensuring that what is discussed is appropriate to their needs and abilities and that student questions are valued. The thinking is done within a rich context, with repeated applications of thinking techniques to diverse contexts as is judged appropriate by the participants. This improves the chances that children will be able to transfer these skills to other situations. The model of discussion allows students to drive the conversation, creating the time for proper exploration of ideas.
The original Philosophy for Children syllabus was written by Matthew Lipman and his associates at Montclair State University in New Jersey, USA. Typically, a unit of the program consists of a lengthy purpose written 'novel' or 'text', presenting a group of children (often, but not always, the characters overlap from text to text) engaged in creating their own Community of Inquiry in and out of school. The texts have philosophical hooks embedded within them; there is a central philosophical theme (or 'spine') to their inquiry, though many other puzzles are also included. This text is backed up by a Manual which highlights the philosophical issues and offers discussion plans, exercises and background notes for the teacher to use as appropriate.
Other trigger material may be used, however, such as picture books, novels, movies, newspaper articles, provided they contain a philosophical 'hook'. Using such material is becoming more common, and there is an increasing array of such material being produced. The great majority of this, in both amount and quality, is Australian produced material.
In the classroom, the teacher sets up a Community of Inquiry. The children sit in a circle so that they can see each other. A section of the text is read around the group, each student reading a paragraph unless they opt to miss out by saying "Pass". Then children's questions about the passage are gathered and written up publicly and the discussion begins. The teacher's role in building the discussion is crucial.
Prior teacher preparation
The Federation of Australasian Philosophy for Children Associations strongly recommends that all teachers who want to use Philosophy for Children in their classroom attend an accredited training course. Training courses are available through your State Philosophy for Children Association. Running a community of inquiry has many continuities with good teaching practice, but there are also some powerful distinctive features that it is difficult to learn without practice and modelling.
The teacher, as discussion leader, must have previously considered the possible lines of development of the discussion arising from the various hooks in the trigger experience, even though they cannot be sure that any particular line will be picked up by the children. This assists them in identifying the potential of remarks that students make, and can suggest the right intercessions to make to help develop them. Of course, as the agenda is set by the students and the actual direction of the discussion arises from its own dynamic, there is still considerable need to 'think on your feet'.
Running the Community of Inquiry
Once the trigger material had been presented, the Community of Inquiry commences. The major features of this method are:
1. Ask the children what they found interesting or puzzling about the story or other experience. Encourage them to make their comments in the form of a question. Gather the children's questions on the board, writing the name of the child who asked each one after the question.
2. Discuss the questions in an order decided by one of a variety of methods we might vote for the most interesting question, try to group similar questions to see the area of major interest, weed out the questions that have easy answers or which are impossible to answer on the evidence we have and so on.
3. Rules for the discussion can be decided by the community, either in advance or after some experience of the community. In one class, for example, five rules were decided on by the community before the first discussion. They were: be quiet when not speaking to the community, only one speaker at a time, listen to the speaker, don't play about, speak up loudly when you are the speaker.
4. The teacher's role is that of a facilitator. Basically, it is to provoke and model the moves made by experienced thinkers in their own best thinking, avoiding the teacher's common roles as source of knowledge and instant evaluator of student responses (the community takes on these roles). Some of the major techniques here: the use of increased wait times, avoidance of judgmental comments, the exhibition of teacher puzzlement, and the judicious use of questioning that signals the cognitive moves that might usefully be made next and concentrates children's attention on metacognition (thinking about their own thinking).
5. The impact of the physical setting of a circle on the establishment of a community is reinforced by the encouragement of participants to talk to the whole circle, or directly to the person they are answering, rather than always through the teacher. Whilst it can be necessary, especially with a newly established group, to insist on hands being raised before speaking, it is certainly an aim of the teacher to develop turn taking skills, so that the discussion follows a more normal conversation dynamic. Deciding how far to allow a noisy interchange to continue before insisting on one speaker at a time is one of the teacher's major judgments.
6. The teacher is a member of the community and hence has a duty to participate in the discussion. However, traditional roles of teachers mean that any input they make will carry greater weight than the contributions of students. Hence it is important for the teacher to hold back in matters of fact and opinion if there is a good chance that the students may come up with an acceptable answer with suitable encouragement or given time. Lipman often says the teacher should be 'pedagogically strong but philosophically self-effacing'. Of course, there are times when teacher input is just what the discussion needs; deciding when and how to do this form part of the professional judgment of the teacher, guided by knowledge of the group and the prior consideration of the issues involved. It need not, however, always be in the form of a dogmatic statement.
7. The teacher needs to encourage a recognition in the community that many questions are complex and not amenable to simple, quick answers, so time has to be provided for talking around problems. Clarification of what the problem is must be recognised as valuable, even if no answer is found; premature closure of questions is to be avoided. 8. Children must be encouraged to take responsibility for their comments and be prepared to defend, modify or change them as appropriate. The teacher needs to ensure that attacks on positions are not made or seen as attacks on the holders of the positions.
In his reply to Cathi's question (Answers 17) on the moral objectionability of murder, Tony Flood writes that "persons are the highest moral value there are".
I presume that by persons Tony Flood means human beings (I observe that in the past slaves were often not considered as persons). May I ask according to what scale of values are human beings the highest moral values there are? Is there any moral "bookkeeping" indicating the rating of values? Who grants the ratings?
I somehow knew I wasn't going to get away with a short answer! I appreciate the opportunity Jean has given me to expand upon it.
Even if all human beings are persons, it does not follows that all persons are human beings, for there may also be divine and angelic persons. I didn't "rate" values, but ranked them: I may judge A more valuable than B and B more than C, but I need not assign a number to A, B, or C. According to what scale are values ranked? According to the true scale, I hope. But what values are on that true scale, how they are discovered, and who gets to apply it are all questions for each philosopher to answer.
Why do I say persons are the highest moral values? I can only outline an answer, which I do to reinforce my answer to the original question, asked by Cathi, "What is morally objectionable about murder?" The full answer is embedded in a comprehensive philosophy, which is a work in progress. Every statement below will sound dogmatic, but I cannot write a dissertation in the limited space.
In the first place, I hope I wasn't saying anything too controversial. If someone believes there are values that rank higher than persons, values for which we would be justified in sacrificing persons, I would like to know what they are.
A person (metaphysically, not necessarily legally) is a unity, not only of experiencing, but also of understanding, judging, desiring, evaluating, deliberating, deciding, acting, creating, and loving.
A value is anything that satisfies a being's needs or desires. Values are intrinsic, or instrumental or both.
A pure intrinsic value is an experience that is valued only for its own sake. (For example, an esthetic experience.)
A pure instrumental value is an experience or object that is valued only as a means to an end, as a condition of attaining other another value. (For example, an uncomfortable but medically necessary treatment.)
Some values are mixed, that is, one seeks them both for the experience and as a means to another experience. For example, physical exercise is valued both for the intrinsic value provided by tension-relieving physical exertion (or so I'm told) and as a means to the enjoyment of good health.
A moral value is an instrumental value that is a condition of the good life. The good life for any valuing being is a life characterized by the enjoyment, and prospect of the regular or routine enjoyment, of all, or very nearly all, of the kinds of basic intrinsic goods that by its nature it desires (e.g., good health, gratifying work, love, etc). If a life is missing any basic, intrinsic good, we are inclined to withhold the description "a good life." One example of a moral value is a virtue (e.g., honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, etc.). We see the connection between honoring them and the pursuit of the good life, but we do not "consume" virtues. Likewise, liberty is a moral value: it is an instrumental value the honoring of which is conducive to the good life.
Persons regard other persons as (or as sources of) intrinsic values, as (or as sources of) instrumental values, and as (or as sources of) moral values. (I apologize for the cumbersome formulation, but if X is a source of value Y, we impute the value of Y back to X, whether or not we value Y on other grounds.)
Persons come to understand through experience that the values they can receive from persons are deeper, richer, more intense, and more satisfying than any values that nonpersons (living or nonliving, sentient or nonsentient) can provide. They also come to understand that they themselves are values or sources of value for others.
To wantonly deprive a person of his life, i.e., to murder, is to attack our individual and collaborative efforts to construct good lives, not just to bring prematurely to an end one person's effort to achieve a good life. Murder is intrinsically evil, for we are intrinsic-value-seeking beings and implicitly define the good life in terms of the possibility of our achieving intrinsic values with and through other persons, which possibility murder unequivocally negates. To condemn an attack on the conditions of the successful pursuit of the good life, even if one's own such pursuit is not immediately attacked or foreseeably threatened, is to adopt the moral point of view.
Therefore, when I condemn the murder of a stranger, I do not pretend that he or she was an actual source of intrinsic values for me (although he or she was a potential source of such values for many, and that many may, for all I know and will now never know, include me). Rather, I am acknowledging the stranger as a person, and therefore at the very least the highest possible source of values and therefore a moral value him- or herself. My condemnation of the murder of a stranger is therefore not a function of my emotions, as it would be in the case of the murder of someone who was an actual source of intrinsic values for me. (In fact, it would be psychologically difficult for me to give a "mere reason" why that murder was morally wrong. It was simply an outrage that must be avenged.)
The relatively impersonal moral outrage that we feel upon hearing about the murder of a stranger the feeling that remains after discounting empathy and fear is a function of our rational judgment that our spontaneous efforts to enjoy intrinsic values cannot be sustained if persons may be killed wantonly and with impunity.
My question stems from an observation: Often on the web especially we find defenses of philosophy or of the philosophical life that claim that philosophy is, or at least ought to be, relevant to 'real life'. My observation is that often this relationship between philosophy and real life goes only in one direction: everyday situations give rise to all sorts of philosophical problems, but once we enter the realm of philosophical enquiry, bringing the problems and their possible solutions down to earth in a meaningful way is quite a challenge. My question is about bringing philosophy down to earth in a meaningful way: What would a philosophy field trip be like?
Um... tell me, just what is "real life"? You mean, getting a job and earning money? That sort of thing? Well, take a look at what's happening, right now, in the States in the business community... the scandals, arrests, etc... you think knowing and following ethics isn't relevant to business? What about law? How do judges decide questions? And so forth.
So what would a philosophy field trip be like? Well, we go into a business and start asking questions... or look at the books. How was the business plan decided on, what are they doing now, how close to the legal edge are they willing to go... why are laws relevant, rather than ethical principles?
To school: what is being taught, and why? What about the evolution/ creation controversy... what is the science behind them, what is science; what is the ethics of teaching "creationism" alongside evolution?
To college: what about student evaluations? Is it ethical to give students control, in effect, of their teachers in this manner? What courses are being taught and why? How are they taught?
Home: how are children being raised? What are the assumptions about punishment, and their bases?
Does this begin to give you an idea?
Steven Ravett Brown
I can follow you all the way until the last sentence. A philosophy field trip? I'm not sure how that connects to your concerns. On a philosophy field trip, I imagine that one would be looking for the philosophy that arises in real life just like on the geological field trips I have run, we look for where items of geological interest arise in road cuttings, cliffs etc. For philosophy, this is something that you rightly say is not hard to do.
Maybe you mean something different. Maybe you want to look for philosophy in action, being applied to real life, rather than arising from it. Again, I don't think it would be hard to do, although you would need to develop the knack of good timing. Every time a group are trying to decide what to do about something, and someone says "Hang on, what exactly do we mean by x, or what makes x the right thing to do?", then you are seeing philosophy. In Habermasian terms, this group has moved from practical or communicative action into a critical discourse. These discussions may not be informed by quotes from philosophers, but they are often drawing on philosophical writings at many hands removed.
Generally it's much easier to have a problem than to have an answer in philosophy as everywhere else. To bring philosophical answers back to the world you first should have some. That's the main part of the problem. But theres another part of the problem you state: Like in politics, if you think you have an answer maybe others don't think so you have to implement your solution. Put simply: If you think you have found the (philosophical) formula for "a just society" you have to fight all those people who doubt or resist your solution. Going around with a machine-gun like Hitler, Stalin or the Taliban or whoever as a true believer will/ should not do.
So the natural way to bring philosophical answers back to the world is by time and by speech and writing and by "hoping for rain". Some insights have to await their time even if they are valid and no mere misunderstandings (as they often are). Think of the Gospel: Even today it cannot be "proven" that the Gospel was any help to mankind. Many think so, but others think it has been mainly a curse in the hands of hypocrites, liars and seducers. And how did the Gospel "win" over competing "gospels" offering "truth"? Since the Christian Gospel found more followers among the inhabitants of the Roman Empire than any other "gospel" in the 4th century, Constantine the Great and Theodosius the Great found it proper to use it as a new "common creed" to hold the vast empire together and made it a state religion just as Lenin made his version of Marxism a state religion for the new USSR or Hitler made his version of a national socialism the state religion of his "Third Reich" or Chomeini made his version of Islam the state religion for Iran. So this is a way to bring philosophical answers back to the world. Do you like it? No?
There is another field of application: Kepler and Newton found their formulas "by luck and Neo-Platonism" so to say. There has been one and only one planetary orbit in the time of Kepler that could be proven to be elliptical by the data gathered by Tycho Brahe that of the planet Mars. Jupiter was too far away, the Venus orbit is practically a circle, and the orbit of little Mercury is too near to the sun to be easily observable. So from only one orbit Kepler derived his famous laws. And Newton's interest was in the ways of God, not in founding "modern physics". It was mainly a theological and not a practical argument that drove him to his theory of gravitation. So this time the "gains from a philosophical answer" have been very impressive the whole of modern industrial society but they have been a case of "serendipity", not intended by the primal inventors Kepler and Newton. But this time nobody needed force to spread the "gospel" of science to the contrary some tried to stop it. Not even the idea of the modern liberal state and the human right of free speech have been welcomed by everybody. The popes Pius IX and Pius X both condemned "by anathema" most modern convictions of the French Revolution and the US Constitution as "dangerous errors" in their "syllabi errorum".
So what is the drift of the argument: There seldom is a simple "answer" or "insight" or "truth" to be brought back from the philosophers study to the eagerly waiting world, but there are lots of people around who find the offered answer wanting or otherwise objectionable or downright scaring and dangerous. And there are historical and social preconditions and forces that bring forth or suppress an answer like rain or drought bring forth or suppress the development of a sprout. Some times are not "ripe" for some answers and some times are not "ripe" for some questions either. And there sometimes is dumb luck or serendipity in finding a very great answer to a very great question that nobody has called for or even thought of.
Of course there are those "simple" cases too sometimes: There are lots of philosophical "advisers" nowadays to apply new and old philosophical insights to some problem at hand. Why do you "ask a philosopher" if not to gain some insight into the nature of some questions to make a better decision or a better argument next time? This concerns students doing their homework in philosophy, but this concerns other people and fields of applied philosophy mostly ethics too. There are lots of philosophers in ethics panels today. Many of the more than 1000 questions stated in the Pathways "questions and answers lists" so far are quite "application oriented" concerning war and abortion and suicide and sexual behaviour and religious tolerance etc.. But seldom are philosophical answers definitive and convincing. And they should not be! Life in this complex world is a permanent challenge to creative and pensive minds and should be so. If indeed philosophy arrives at "final" solutions instead of "wise" and "helpful" ones then the end of mankind is near. Man is a philosophical animal roaming free in a sometimes charming and sometimes disturbing world.
The lack of definite answers in philosophy has been called "the scandal of philosophy". Oh no! The scandal is to call that a scandal, because that shows a complete misunderstandig of what philosophy is about. Or let's say: a partial but important misunderstanding. Philosophy is somewhere between a science and an art, having aspects of both.
There can be no "single true" picture of the world neither in art nor in philosophy since part of the "truth" is in the eye of the beholder and in the question and point of view from which he approaches reality. There is no point in asking for "the" truth normally. Schopenhauer and Husserl started from this: "There can be no objective problem. Why does a fact become a problem to this thinking animal?" Nature "poses" no problems we do. The problem of "social justice" or the problem of "sin" are no "natural" problems, they are "our" problems. And if the questions and problems are in this sense "artificial", how could the answers be "natural"? So that places philosophy near the arts.
But then philosophy is no mere play with words and ideas either. There is a deep sincerity in the quest for truth of the great philosophers. In that sense philosophy is the science of our way of grappling with the world we live in. That was the position of Wittgenstein. He thought that philosophy tries "to show the fly a way out of the fly-bottle". But he didn't say if he thought this project promising. And he didn't say where the fly should go if she really got out of the bottle either.
And then: What is a "solution" anyway? To get out of the bottle is some sort of solution a Buddhist one. To get out of the entanglings of sin and tragic events by faith in Gods grace is another form of "solution". To find the right answer to a mathematical problem or to the problem of putting the "right" note into a musical composition or the right colour into a painting or the right spice into a meal are just some more examples. Boethius sitting in jail and awaiting his death wrote a famous little book on the "Consolatio Philosophiae" (The Consolations of Philosophy) the consolation to be gained from philosophy in the middle of bleak despair. Many people got comfort from philosophy like from art and religion and psychotherapy and counseling. That too is "bringing the answers of philosophy back into the everyday world." Is that nothing? Should every outcome be countable and accountable too?
Okay this is a question not related to any philosophical study but I would like to know how to prevent it...Me and my buddy every once and awhile argue/ discuss about worldly issues and many other views, perception, interpretations, and situations...it always starts with opposing view points and logical examples...but in one instance we will be arguing about a specific subject and focusing on that specific subject...and all the sudden my buddy will switch focus on the focal subject and instead of granting I have validity in the matter will break it down to a lower level, say a molecular level or that everything is based on of faith...completely deriving from his original side to the argument and taking a new one and every time can cover himself by relating his original view point to, say faith.
Seems like a no-win situation to me...and I have to grant that he is right because if I don't I will be disagreeing with my own beliefs...it seems like to me he is doing this to just win the argument or argue for the sake of arguing.
Like this evening we got into a discussion about why people argue and I said that "people argue/ discuss things to come to one agreeable truth, to weigh the facts and use deductive reason to come up with a truth not an absolute but an understandable truth". Now from what I remember through my life no-one has ever argued differently but he says "one argues for the simple reason to be frustrated" and we discussed it for a few minutes longer throwing in our proofs and he said "because people believe things through faith and that someone will have one view point and leave with that view point happily and the other the same that it is the frustration that is the key point to arguing."
Now what I didn't understand is why would he argue if he knows he's keeping his view on a subject in the end, and he said to that "because arguing is fun"...seems ridiculous to me and I know he believes differently because he has stated it in the past that he believes the same as me but when confronted he just said it was wrong for someone to keep grudges or tabs on another person like I did and that he had changed his point of view...what am I supposed to do, not grant him that he can change? I can't do that so I granted it but I know he didn't mean it...my dilemma is really how do I stray from this loss of focal point and get him to stick to the subject...heck I know that I can't...more or less how do I stop something like that from happening...if he disagrees with me and that is usually how the arguments start, not the other way around, how do I stop the argument without letting him believe he has a more valid point...I can't just shut up after he disagrees with me and if I say something like "every one has there own interpretation" he keeps going by say "well it's not an interpretation it's just the way it is"...if I shut up then it looks like he smighted me, I look like the fool...heck maybe I might have to do that but I figure you people maybe have come across something like this.
He's a slick arguer I completely grant and this happens rarely other than that he is a great guy we mess completely most of the time except for those situations so just droppin' a friend over bad arguing is out of the question...I was just looking for that queen instead of the pawn to help me out...
if this sounds frustrating and confusing too understand you now know how I feel :)
A long question and a lot of frustration. I will give it a try.
Chris suggests one theory why people argue (to reach a synthesis). Buddy suggests a different theory (to be frustrated i.e. on the downside one has not converted the other, on the upside one retains one's own belief). Chris does not see the point of this and Buddy then offers a new explanation (arguing for fun). I think in this condensed form you will see yourself what is going on here (admittedly less easy to unravel in the heat of argument).
From a philosophical/ psychological and rhetorical point of view both Chris and his buddy make some mistakes:
a) they use terms without defining them e.g. 'argument' I think if they had spent more time to compare what each understands by that term there would be room for agreement that there are lots of types of argument (e.g. dialectic argument [thesis and counterthesis result in synthesis], debate [argument with the intention to win others over to your position] etc.) The term 'reason' is used by Buddy in two different ways when he claims the 'reason' why people argue is 'to be frustrated' and then 'to have fun'. It is not totally clear what he means e.g. it could be fun to have your expectation of the outcome confirmed, or the process could be experienced as 'fun' while the outcome is also in a way 'frustrating'...
b) generalisations and arguing from a single case to the general: Both use generalisations, bad tactics since generalisations can be defeated by even one exception i.e. when Chris suggests that 'people' argue for such and such a reason his opponent basically only has to say 'I am a person, and I do not argue for that reason therefore your hypothesis is defeated.' Buddy however also uses generalisations. Both would be better off if they stated clearly what they really mean, and said: 'I argue because....'. Furthermore both generalise their own experience which is fallacious for the following reason: To argue from a single case to all cases is not necessarily valid i.e. it can happen to be true that both Socrates is mortal and all men are mortal, but 'Socrates is Greek and therefore all men are Greek' is obviously nonsense. Validity can be reached only the other way round from the general to the special case: All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal.
c) most importantly they do not before the start discuss what their objectives in the discussion are and whether in the knowledge of the other's objectives they really want to have this discussion: Clearly in this dialogue Chris behaves according to his theory (he wants to reach a synthesis) and Buddy according to his (he wants to maintain his point of view and Chris to maintain his, he wants to have fun simply from the argument, but expects no results other than that). I think one can see that these two objectives were they clearly stated at the beginning would make it clear to Chris that his objective is incompatible with that of Buddy (Buddy would not agree to any synthesis) and the result for him must be frustration, whereas Buddy might be successful (he is determinated to maintain his opinion no matter what and does not make a real effort to convert Chris, so Chris will most likely also stick to his opinion, confirming Buddy's view of how arguments should work, and Buddy derives fun from this type of argument).
On a psychological level I would say that both are engaged in playing a 'game'. Psychological games are played by people to derive some benefit usually for the sake of the emotions involved, they thrive on the emotional response (even if negative) elicited from their 'partner'. The bad thing about this is that people playing this type of game do this instead of trying to get real emotions (love, friendship, appreciation etc) and that the emotions in the game are almost always negative (the strong frustration Chris is feeling). Also these 'games' are about control Buddy is clearly controlling the process he turns Chris' propositions into a 'game' or offers outrageous or paradoxical statements as bait... Basically I would suspect any repeatedly occurring pattern that is somehow frustrating for at least one party involved of being a 'game'... The formula here is: Buddy wants attention from Chris and this is the way of getting it. Chris should realise that Buddy is not in the least interested in the topics they discuss (or rather unless they stop playing games Buddy cannot engage in serious discussion). Chris should ask himself whether he is interested enough to assure Buddy of his friendship/ attention in other ways rather than re-inforcing this 'game' behaviour. Also he should have a critical look at himself is he really only interested in the topics they discuss or is he also into game-playing?
There are ways to stop such games but they normally result in the 'game' instigator turning very angry and also you must be very persistent, because he will not give up easily.
Here is how: Ask the person: Do you expect to convince me? If the answer is no why should you continue? It is clearly a game. Or ask: What would it take to convince you of my point of view? Under which circumstances would you consider changing your mind or adapting your position? If the answer is that they would not consider anything 'enough' do not continue, you would be playing their game. Ask also: What is your objective in the discussion/ argument with me? If the objective they name is not yours as well say so and stop the discussion.
Another way is also possible Socrates was very good at that (but also in this case the outcome is normally anger) ask questions, while not under any circumstances volunteering any information or interpretation of your own, just keep asking questions.
Chris (trying to end the argument): "Everyone has there own interpretation. Actually I happen to disagree with you but I can live with you having a different opinion."
Buddy: "Well it's not an interpretation it's just the way it is..."
Chris: "What do you mean by 'the way it is' do you mean it is true? That you know it is true?"
The next move is to ask for a definition of whatever term he used i.e. of 'truth' or 'knowledge' or 'reality' (do not allow him to use examples, he must be able to come up with a proper definition, otherwise how would he be able to know the truth of the proposition he asserted in the first place or know that he knows it or what it means to say 'the way something is'? Also do not allow use of 'sayings' or generalisations persist politely that you want to understand his own, personal view, that he should share his knowledge and enlighten you also etc.)
Whatever definition he comes up with scrutinize it i.e. ask for definition of the terms used if new terms are introduced, check whether it is possible to construct an example that leads to absurd consequences or circular reasoning, contradiction etc., then ask him to restate the definition etc.
Say the answer is 'knowledge is if the content of your proposition matches the state of how things in themselves are' but how do you know how things really are? Say if I say to you 'this is a table' how do you know it is true, that there is indeed a table?' By seeing it or touching it. But you could just as well be dreaming and having exactly the same experience? Or you are like Neo experiencing the Matrix and there is no table... etc. Result: You do not know what knowledge or truth is, therefore you cannot rationally assert the truth of your original proposition, it is a belief. say the answer is 'knowledge is justified true belief' what counts as justification? how do you know/ justify that in turn? etc. see above.
Obviously you have to think on your feet to keep your opponent to the subject... so far no one has ever succeeded to resolve these questions in a way that leaves no more questions...
Whereas this sounds like a 'counter-game' to reduce the other person to a state where they have to admit to a total lack of knowledge (or flee from the discussion), it can and ideally should be also a mutually beneficial philosophizing, namely in the way that Socrates did it: Importantly at the outset he admitted to the other person that he himself did not know the definition of the term in question, and also importantly he asked their agreement to jointly investigate the matter. Socrates thought that you cannot even begin to understand things before you do not realize that your beliefs are not knowledge i.e. you must give up the false security of prejudices and half-truths and realize that you do not have knowledge. If Buddy is able to admit that (and does not give up before) Chris and Buddy may yet have some less one-sided and much more interesting and rewarding discussions.
Here some questions I am grappling with:
1) Unfalsifiability (aka non-refutability) is an unfalsifiable argument fallacious? I feel such arguments are unfair in philosophy and somewhat pointless, but would like to know if they have to be allowed anyway? (In science of course they are not allowed see e.g. Popper on pseudosciences and the requirement for testability.)
2) The sceptic argues against knowledge based on sense perception that 1. We are sometimes mistaken in our beliefs based on sense perception. 2. If we are sometimes mistaken in this way then we can never exclude the logical possibility of being mistaken in a particular moment or even at all times with regard to perceptual beliefs. 3. Conclusion: We cannot claim to have knowledge based on sense perception. I think that one could argue against this by pointing out that the sceptic in premise one claims to have knowledge (that we have made mistakes) and in the conclusion that knowledge is impossible, which is a contradiction, therefore the argument fails. Am I correct? A friend pointed out that the sceptic does not have to know in premise 1 what is true or false, just that there are mistakes, but I would ask: how does the sceptic know that? How can he even distinguish the two? Is it not ultimately by referring to perceptual evidence, the same type of evidence the argument seeks to discredit?
3) Are there things Descartes does not doubt in his Meditations? If so, does this endanger his project?
1) Non-refutability: I'm not sure what is really so bad about a non-refutable argument. If someone offers you a deductively valid, argument with true premises the conclusion will be non-refutable. This just is the point of deductive argument. What you probably mean to criticise, given your second question, is the use of premises like:
(a) Possibly, my experiences are all the result of an evil demon's malicious games, and there is no way to distinguish that situation from that in which my experiences are caused by the external objects they seem to be caused by.
This particular premise has been heavily criticised by the logical positivists, namely Ayer. Ayer argued that in order to have meaning a proposition must be either analytic (true in virtue of the meaning of the terms used) or empirically verifiable. (a), of course, is neither. Ayer concludes that global sceptical arguments against the existence of the external world fail. These types of views on meaning, if they succeeded, would provide a powerful argument against Cartesian scepticism. Unfortunately verificationist criteria of meaning suffer from numerous problems and have generally been abandoned. For example, what is the epistemological status of the verification principle:
(b) A proposition is meaningful if and only if it is either analytic or empirically verifiable.
Well, (b) certainly isn't empirically verifiable (what would count as evidence for or against it?), so the logical positivist must be claiming that it is analytic. Unfortunately this isn't a very convincing line to take. As one philosopher put it (A. Plantinga, my paraphrase): the verificationist is free to define terms however he likes. It doesn't mean that anyone else is compelled to follow his usage. In fact, many of the propositions that normal people and many philosophers find meaningful are classified as meaningless by (b) (e.g., "God made that flower", "Murder is wrong").
Given that there is no non-arbitrary way to rule out "non-refutable" propositions like (a) as meaningless I think that you will have to accept them as part of the legitimate philosophical tools that the sceptic can work with. (If (a) is not ruled out as meaningless or as a conceptual error of some kind, then it is not merely true, but is necessarily true making it legitimate for use in philosophical argumentation.)
2) The argument from error: The argument you site here is an example of a local sceptical argument. It tries to establish the conclusion that sense perception cannot result in knowledge, not that knowledge in general is impossible. The complaint you raise is that the sceptic improperly claims knowledge of:
(c) We are sometimes mistaken in our beliefs based on sense perception
because the conclusion of his argument undermines his evidence for it. This is a very complex issue; a full explanation would require far too much space to give. However, I think that your friend is roughly correct: the sceptic need not claim an epistemological status for (c). He can simply use the premise as it is not disputed by the participants in the debate. Consider the following: Suppose that the sceptic is claiming to know (c) on the basis of perceptual evidence. What would follow. Well, either he knows that (c) or does not. If he does know that (c) and if the argument is valid and the second premise true then the conclusion follows. (This option seems paradoxical but many of the contexts in which the argument arises explain the paradox away. For instance, the ancient sceptics were concerned with ethical issues, and Ayer was concerned to motivate the introduction of sense data as a logical entity.) If he does not know that (c) then it is difficult to see what sorts of things might be knowable on the basis of perceptual evidence. In short, I don't think that the sceptic needs to justify a premise like (c) in every case. It is enough that it be accepted for the sake of argument.
3) Descartes: In the Meditations Descartes find that he is unable to doubt his own existence. Because doubting is an activity that can only be carried out by a thinking thing it is impossible for the evil demon (or his naturalistic counterpart the evil doctor ready to feed experience directly into brains in vats) to deceive him concerning his own existence. This is the foundation of Descartes' positive project concerning knowledge and does not endanger that project at all.
1) I think that it is not so much arguments that are unfalsifiable. Rather, it is theories which allow their defenders to explain away apparently contrary empirical evidence. Nor am I sure that Popper's falsifiability is quite up to the task of cleanly separating science and pseudoscience as he claimed. Scientists also are prone to defending their theories against apparent empirical falsification, rather than abandoning the theory. Instead, they fiddle with the auxiliary hypotheses that surround it (see Imre Lakatos' work).
Since (many) philosophical positions do not rely on empirical evidence, I'm not sure of the relevance of this to (much) philosophical argument.
) Your reasoning looks pretty good to me.
3) Have a look at this short extract from what Friedrich Nietzsche says in Beyond Good and Evil section 16 (it is probably worth looking this up and reading some more):
There are still harmless self-observers who believe that there are "immediate certainties"; for example, "I think,"...
When I analyze the process that is expressed in the sentence, "I think," I find a whole series of daring assertions that would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to prove; for example, that it is I who think, that there must necessarily be something that thinks, that thinking is an activity and operation on the part of a being who is thought of as a cause, that there is an "ego," and, finally, that it is already determined what is to be designated by thinking that I know what thinking is....
In Popper's world and in Wittgenstein's there can be no such thing as "non-scientific" answers for any serious philosopher. If science is about sound answers to meaningful questions then the difference between "scientific" and "unscientific" realms of knowledge follows from a misunderstanding or mis-use of the concept of "knowledge". How does Mozart "know" that a special note is proper at a special place in the sonata? That is not a "how is it?" but a "how should it be?" question, asking not for knowledge in the "scientific" sense and then of course the whole concept of falsifiability is not applicable. But if you are doing theology or hermeneutics or political sociology or economics etc., then you are asking for factual and theoretical knowledge which answers to the question "is it thus and so or is it not?" Then an unfalsifiable argument generally is fallacious. Of course you can hit the nail by dumb luck, but that;s not a serious method.
The typical problem with most unfalsifiable arguments is that they either (mis)take plausibility for truth, or that they are so all-embracing that they become "true but useless" or "ultra-stable" in the sense of Popper. Most "best-sellers" in the non-fiction sector of the bookshops draw their readers by selling one plausible argument as "the truth" while in a serious textbook the argument is only one of a dozen likewise plausible arguments stated in some footnotes. And often the contrary to a plausible argument is a likewise plausible argument and not an unlikely or false one.
So the question is: What do you want to gain with an unfalsifiable argument? You change the quest for truth for the quest for assuredness or happiness. You cling to some answer that doesn't fit to the problem in question but that fits YOU. It is you that wants to be a true believer free from doubts. You are tailoring a truth that fits your requirements. That is what it comes to.
There's a dilemma here: "Real" safety can only be gained by "real" knowledge. That was the guiding idea of the philosophical and scientific quest since the pre-socratic philosophers. That was the argument of astronomy against astrology and of chemistry against alchemy: Replace idle speculation by sound knowledge.
But to make sense of the world we live in we always need some idea of "what it's all about". So we start with hypotheses and guesses. "Why is the world here and we in it? Somebody must have created this. Lets call this creator God!" Or, if there are events in our life that seem to be in a strange way patterned and strewn with meaningful hints we may call that "karma" or "providence" etc. That sort of argument is "ad hoc" and "preliminary", but at least it is "understandable". There seem to be not too many people around at any time that can stand a sceptic's world of "ignoramus, ignorabimus" ("we dont know, we never will know"). That's quite a heroic attitude. There is a mental "horror vacui": What we don't know we fill with hypotheses of all sorts to make sense of the world we live in and of our actions in this world. We need a house to live in, we don;t like to sleep in the woods under stars and storms like animals.
And this explains why people often resist replacing hypotheses dear to them by "mere factual knowledge" or by "doubts". If you make them abandon all unproven assumptions then you tear their house apieces and drive them to the woods. We all live on some assumptions every day even the sceptic when drinking and eating.
But that points to another question: There can be good and not so good assumptions, well built and not so well built houses, misleading and smart guesses. This is quite another distinction to be made. Maybe the Platonic concept of "Idea" is false and unjustified but it has guided human minds to the heavens. Maybe the christian gospel is false and unjustified but it has driven the mind of Western Man all over the world and into the modern state. Neither the Platonic concept of "Idea" nor the christian gospel are "falsifiable" in the Popperian sense but then they are no mere stupidities either. But most un-falsifiable ideas like those of Hitler and Stalin are.