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My wife wants to retire to a gated community. I find the phrase to be an oxymoron, and believe that the whole gated project is morally flawed; for example, it can lead to us vs. them thinking, social stratification, etc. Is there an argument here, or just a personal preference?

Nice question - I wish philosophers thought more about questions related to domestic choices like this one! No doubt the disagreement between you and your wife could reflect variations in personal preferences that are morally defensible. Some can tolerate noisy environments, others prefer solitude, and so on. And on its face, there's nothing objectionable in wanting living conditions that reflect such preferences. But there does seem to be something more than personal preference at issue. I'd encourage you to research this yourself, but based on what I've learned about gated communities, they tend to be very homogenous with respect to who lives there. For one thing, the homes all fall within a narrow price range, generally toward the higher end of the income scale. They also tend to be less varied with respect to religion and race. In and of itself, these facts may not be problematic: Sometimes individuals with similar backgrounds opt to live in close proximity, as in many Jewish ghettos and 'Chinatowns...

I am interested in the slippery slope. Must I accept that the first instance or "slope event" that gives rise to the argument is in itself without much consequence? Or, can I argue slippery slope AND insist that the first instance (developing a parcel of public land, for example, that will result eventually in all the virgin land's demise) is a mistake?

A slippery slope argument in ethics typically has the following form: If we were to deviate from the status quo in which X is disallowed and instead allow for X, allowing for X (which need not itself be morally objectionable or worrisome) will lead to Y, which is morally objectionable or worrisome. Therefore, we should not deviate from the status quo and allow X. You ask whether the proponent of a slippery slope argument must hold that the first instance is "without much consequence" or if they can instead see it as a "mistake". As the above form indicates, slippery slope arguments generally assume that the deviation from the status quo that 'sets in motion' the slippery slope is not in itself objectionable or worrisome. Dialectically, the point of slippery slope arguments is to concede to one's opponents that the reform in question is not morally objectionable or worrisome, but argue that we ought not to pursue because doing so will lead us down a slippery slope to an objectionable or worrisome...

Is consequentialism utilitarianism?

The usual way of understanding their relation is that utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism. Consequentialism holds that the only facts about an action that matter to whether the act is morally permissible, etc., are facts about the acts' consequences — roughly, how good an act's consequences are. Utilitarianism offers an account of the relevant good, namely, well-being or happiness, so that, according to utilitarians, the only facts about an action that matter to whether the act is morally permissible, etc., are facts about the acts' consequences for well-being or happiness. (Note that it is possible to be a consequentialist without being a utiltiarian: so long as one holds that there are consequences of an act unrelated to its consequences for well-being or happiness that matter to whether the act is morally permissible, etc.)

Is it consistent to oppose the death penalty on moral grounds, and also believe that life in prison is actually worse anyway?

I’m not sure I fully grasp the motivation behind your question, but here’s a guess as to how you may be reasoning: A punishment can be ethically indefensible if it is too severe, either in its own right (50 years of continuous physical torture, say) or in proportion to the seriousness of the crime (a decade in prison for petty theft, for instance, would be excessive). If life in prison is worse than execution, then if the death penalty should be opposed because it is too severe, then we should also oppose life in prison, since if the death penalty is too severe, and life in prison is (by stipulation) worse, then life in prison must also be too severe. So if this reasoning is correct, then either (a) both the death penalty and life in prison should be rejected on moral grounds for being too severe – a position that some may hold but many will reject on the basis that life in prison is not necessarily too severe (b) the death penalty must not be as bad as we think, and should not be opposed. Before...

Is suicide immoral?

This is a question with a long and disputed history. My own article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy outlines some of the main moral arguments surrounding the permissibility of suicide: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/suicide/ There's a long of history of religious anti-suicide arguments. I don't find these convincing as moral arguments, even granting the theistic assumptions on which they rest. And while I find Kant's position that suicide violates duties to oneself plausible, let's set that aside and treat your question as equivalent to 'does suicide wrong others?', I think the fairest answer is 'it depends.' The most credible argument for the immorality of suicide is that it harms specific others -- family members, etc. — who are are harmed psychologically or materially (a child whose parent's death via suicide deprives her of her parent, for instance) and who have come to rely upon the suicidal person in various ways. As I lay out this role-based obligations argument in the SEP...

What might be the impact, if any, on philosophical theory or practice is we found life elsewhere in the universe?

Funny you should ask this: The philosopher Tim Mulgan just published a nice article exploring this question, particularly its ethical and meta-ethical implications. Here's Mulgan's piece: https://aeon.co/essays/how-the-discovery-of-extraterrestrial-life-would-change-morality

A friend of mine committed suicide recently, and I find myself instinctively trying not only to understand why she did it and the cause and effect of how it happened, but trying to impose meaning -- trying to work out what the "significance" of her death is, and looking to sum up her whole life the way a funeral celebrant might, and say these are the patterns and themes and shape of it, this what it amounted to, this is what it represented, these are the takeaway ethical messages for your own life. But is there really any significance in suicide, is there any point to asking what it means, or is it senseless, like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn or any other physical event or act? And is it disrespectful to try to interpret meaning into someone's life or death or reduce their life to a moral lesson? The process not only feels a little bit like a lie, but also like it objectifies them and takes away from their humanity.

You are obviously grappling with your friend's death, and I appreciate the sophistication and sensitivity evident in your question. I think it's crucial here to distinguish the meaning or "significance" of suicide from the meaning or significance of your friend's suicide. It's important that we resist what I think of as the easy mystification of suicide. There is an unfortunate tendency to infer from our inability to understand a particular suicide or to imagine ourselves engaging in the act ourselves that suicide is unfathomable, incomprehensible, or beyond reason. The truth is we understand a fair bit about the causes of suicide, have growing knowledge of how to prevent it, and so on. We should not let our emotional reaction to suicide -- whether it be shock, dismay, anger, whatever -- lead us to treat suicide as a "senseless" or trivial act. That said, what we know about suicide in general can be difficult to extrapolate to particular people and cases. Individual people are in certain ways more...

Not sure whether this question would fall under philosophy or psychology (both perhaps) but I was always curious why it is that children love video games but hate homework. Cognitively they are pretty much the same. They challenge the child to think critically to solve a problem, and provide a sense of reward when completed, so why is one cherished while the other despised?

Looks like a psychological question with philosophical implications! Difficult to say for certain, but I would venture that the difference comes down to the nature of the reward. Unless a child is a professional video game player, playing the game has no rewards beyond the satisfaction of playing. The child is moved to play by intrinsic motivation . In contrast, in most cases, the rewards of completing one's homework are largely extrinsic , stemming from the praise a child gets from parents or teachers for completing it, grades, etc. And there's an abundance of evidence that the nature of our motivation for engaging in an activity shapes how rewarding or worthwhile we find it: Activities we perform for their own sake are experienced as more rewarding or worthwhile than activities whose rewards lie outside it (in social esteem, income, and so on). This is why most of us find play more gratifying than work, even when play is hard work! Edward Deci https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_L._Deci has...

Are rights just an idiom for really strong moral rules? (By "really strong," I mean that these rules typically take precedence over other rules.) For example, when we say that someone has a right to life, is that just another way of saying that it's immoral to kill people? Or are rights supposed to be somehow different in kind from other moral rules?

Some philosophers (utilitarians most notably) would agree that rights are "an idiom for really strong moral rules" that typically (though not necessarily) take precedence over other moral considerations. In the language made popular by Ronald Dworkin, rights function as "trumps," i.e., to have a right is to be protected against certain kinds of mistreatment even if that mistreatment would have very good consequences. So (for instance) a right to a fair trial is a right to be judged on the basis of certain procedures and evidence even if suspending those procedures might have very good consequences. But many philosophical advocates of moral rights would likely assert that while rights are really strong moral rules, when we say 'she has a right to X' we are saying something more than 'it would be immortal not to provide her X'. Rights are personal entitlements, claims to be treated in particular ways by others. Talk of rights thus seems aimed at capturing our sense that individuals are morally...

Any reason someone could give for why they love me renders me replaceable. For instance, if they love me for my appearance, intelligence, kindness, well, there's always someone more attractive, smarter, kinder. So, all things being equal, they ought to trade up to a better model if presented with the choice; or if God is the most perfect example of all desirable traits, then they ought to love God and no one else. I'd like to ask the panel: in contrast to loving someone because of some quality that they might or might not be the best exemplar of, does it at all make sense to love someone in their particularity, ie simply because they occupy a certain position in the time-space continuum? Or does that make a nonsense of the concept of love? Or is it silly, in the first place, to look for reasons for love?

I don't know about loving someone thanks to their position in the time-space continuum, but yes, we can and do love people for their particularity, as you put it. It's important to distinguish what sparks love for someone and what sustains it. It's certainly true that we cannot love just anyone. We vary in the traits we find attractive or lovable. When we first encounter someone, their attributes are what sparks our love for them. But love has a history, and as loving relationships develop or evolve, we often come to love someone less for their attributes than for the person that they are. It's then that the beloved seems irreplaceable, for only that person will have their distinctive set of attributes, etc. Christopher Grau's article "Love and history" (https://philpapers.org/archive/GRALAH.pdf) is very good on this subject. Bennett Helm's article on love in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/love/) is a good place to get a foothold on the philosophical issues...

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