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If a philosopher or any thinking individual thinks an act is moral or not, then should that apply to everyone in the world equally including his own family members? Suppose he thinks performing in pornographic films is not immoral, then should he think any less of his daughter who decides to do so?

Morality is generally taken to be different from subjective taste. If I think something is right then that claim is taken to apply to everyone, whether they know it or otherwise. I may respect those who differ from my opinion, but still think their action is immoral. Whether someone is in my family or not is irrelevant.

What would a consequentialist say about acts that have seemingly moral dimensions but no apparent consequences? For instance, it seems wrong to wish for something really bad to happen to someone (e.g. to be hit by a car), but if this wish has no impact on what actually happens, it seems it cannot be wrong due to its consequences.

Well, having bad feelings about other people may not directly impact on them, but it impacts on us, and this has consequences. For example, the more we contemplate their undoing the more we accustom ourselves to think approvingly of others suffering and this might well weaken our disapproval of such suffering. It may well be that we do nothing to bring about such suffering, but it is difficult to believe it would not have an effect on us. To give an example, my negative feelings towards a group of people might not result in my treating them in any way differently from anyone else, but if others act in line with my feelings it would be less easy to disapprove. Even if this never happens, I change as a result of my feelings and become a different sort of person, and this is certainly an effect.

Recently, the NFL has become embroiled in high profile cases of domestic violence by its players (most notably, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson). Many critics demand that the league suspend or otherwise discipline the guilty parties. But why, in general, should an employer be expected to address bad actions by its employees when those actions fall outside the scope of work-related duties? What business is it of my employer's whether I commit crimes when I leave work?

I suppose the argument is that anyone who might serve as a role model for young people has to abide by a higher moral standard than everyone else. If he or she misbehaves and is tolerated by their employer, that might suggest to those who admire them that such behavior is acceptable. That might encourage others to indulge in it. Provided these rules are made clear to all sides I cannot see that any great injustice results.

Philosophers: Is an artist's intention in a painting relevant to the assessment of the quality of the painting (or any work of art, for that matter)? Or is art to be assessed by itself? -Preston

I don't think anyone argues that the intention of the artist is linked with the quality of a work of art since if that was true my doodles are comparable to the best work of Leonardo da Vinci. It has been argued that intention is linked with the meaning of a work of art, while others think it is irrelevant what the artist had in mind. I tend to agree with the idea that intention is irrelevant except in a historical sense where we are trying to understand how an artist operates. We can often assess objects aesthetically knowing nothing of the artist, the time they were made, for and by whom, and so intention cannot be a significant factor in appreciation of art.

I just finished watching Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, and it was easily amongst the top five of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. I use the word "beautiful" because any other superlatives like "great" doesn't seem to reflect the aesthetic dimension. In fact, if the film had been entirely non-fictional and the cameras had captured real actual events of sexual torture, I would not think any differently of it. Does one's taste of the beautiful reflect upon the viewers morality and is that important? Is beauty more important than morality or vice versa?

I don't know the film , but on many accounts of beauty one should separate ideas of morality from those of aesthetic appreciation. We can often find something beautiful yet also disgusting, although it is not easy to keep these two responses separate from each other. This does not mean that beauty is more important than morality but that we can suspend our principles in one area when we are concentrating on the other. Often that involves concentrating on some aspect of the object while ignoring its wider implications, which would perhaps put it within some other and less agreeable context. It might be said that the more sophisticated one becomes aesthetically, the more one is able to dissociate judgments of beauty from those of morality.

My concerns about the disproportionate civilian casualties in the Israeli-Gaza have fallen on deaf ears among my friends. "There's no moral equivalence between the two sides," they respond. "If Israel has to kill innocent civilians to get at Hamas attackers, sobeit." Their argument seems to be that Hamas is much more "evil" an entity than a self-defending Israel, but I am not certain that Israel did enough to mitigate those civilian casualties. That "moral equivalence" argument seems like a rhetorical hand-grenade that makes actual discussion impossible. Am I being soft-hearted or soft-headed when I question the morality of Israel's response to Hamas'attack? Please, if you can, point me toward sources who have addressed this question. Thanks so much. Scott F. W.

I know what you mean. There is the position that there are no circumstances at all in which one is entitled to harm the innocent, in which case both sides were wrong. Was one more wrong than the other, and if so would this sort of justify killing the innocent? If someone is hitching a ride on the back of his grandmother's wheelchair and decides to attack me, am I entitled to resist when it might involve harm to his grandmother, who is not an assailant? What the Israelis said is that they were not trying directly to kill civilians, but like in the grandmother case, innocents were cynically put in harm's way by their assailants. That is what since the dawn of time weaker armies always try to do, since direct confrontation with the enemy would result in obliteration. Very little fuss was made of the blanket bombing of German and Japanese cities in World War Two, although in these cases civilians were directly targeted. So it is difficult to see why Israel should come under especial opprobrium for...

What's the source of the authority that parents commonly have over their children? For example, sayings like "My house, my rules" suggest that children and parents have a kind of agreement: in exchange for the food and shelter which their parents provide, children agree to follow orders. However, I'd guess that most people wouldn't really want to endorse this kind of justification. What then?

But normally we do regard ourselves as liable to respect the rules of whoever is offering us hospitality. This is not absolute of course, and children might see themselves as in a different position. They did not after all ask to be born, although after being born it is no doubt convenient for them to have somewhere to live and someone to provide for their food and general supplies. Once they have reached an age where they can make their own decisions about where they are to live we can ask them to accord with the policies of the care provider, or else. Not that such a request is likely in most cases to be met by anything other than contempt, but it is always worth trying, I suppose.

What does it mean to be healthy? Is healthiness intrinsically good and ill health intrinsically bad? When we consider ourselves to be in good health, it seems like we are referring to a linked but disparate set of qualities such as 1) absence of pain generally and normal levels of environmentally-caused pain, 2) ability to experience normal range of pleasures, 3) lack of any bodily impediment to a full range of behaviour, and 4) absence of indication of impending issues which may lead to 1, 2, 3 or death in the future. Those are, at any rate, the qualities that I link with healthiness (though maybe it doesn't capture some issues, such as discomfort, as distinct from pain). Pain seems to be more basic and primitive than illness or health but why is it bad to be in pain? Pain is not a reliable indicator of damage to the body; it is just a feature of consciousness that has its own qualitative characteristics. Buddhism-as-therapy encourages detachment from the experience of pain in order to observe it as a...

Certainly, since even if drinking excessively is bad for us, we may choose to enjoy the sensations associated with it at the risk of future damage. She may decide that she will forego prudence for the sake of present pleasures. We do not have to want to be healthy, there are experiences associated with sickness that some people value. Some philosophers are said to have welcomed the onset of blindness since this may enhance their ability to think without distractions. It has to be admitted that there is something rather tedious about being healthy. Yes, everything is working properly but why should we find that interesting? When one asks someone how they are and the reply is that all is well, it is difficult to know how to continue, whereas if they have a variety of interesting conditions afflicting their body a whole range of conversation then can emerge. Where would Job have been without his family disasters and his boils, what would he and his "comforters" have had to discuss? Would God have...

I have just finished Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, and like so many find the purely wicked Judge Holden the most fascinating character. And there are other wicked characters that fascinate. But pure goodness doesn't seem to make for that kind of interest, in fiction anyway. Assuming you agree with this, maybe you have some ideas why this is so? Would be interested to know them.

You are right, one often thinks that the denizens of Hell would make for much more entertaining company than those of Heaven. I don't know the book you mention, and to a large extent this is a psychological rather than philosophical question, but it probably has something to do with the fact that we are attracted to complexity in personality. We know how people are supposed to behave and if they do so they often seem to lack depth, as though they are following some formula for action. Evil people, by contrast, are relatively unpredictable, since they are not likely always to be evil, and not in the same way, so they tend to exhibit a variety of behavior that is rather intriguing.

One of the major criticisms that many cite against increased spending on "social safety nets" in America is that individuals in other countries are much worse off than even the poorest in America. While I have always been very supportive of policies that increase social mobility and economic opportunity, I have often found troubling countering this argument. While one could invoke such principles as equality or special compassion for fellow Americans, I can't seem to invoke another argument for why we should care so much about the plight of poor Americans. Does such an argument exist? Or are we forced to rely on those aforementioned principles, which not everyone may accept?

The proposition that countries with safety nets have poorer poor people than those without is generally false, but even were it true there would need to be some connection between the safety net and the level of poverty before it could be concluded that this was a relevant issue. It would have to be argued that safety nets are bad for the economy and so bad for poor people. This might be true but even if it is that does not mean that there is no way of devising a safety net in America which would avoid the link. We should care for poor people because they are people and they are poor, in the same way that we should care for sick people because they are people and they are sick. The issue is not whether we should care for them but what is the best way of going about it.

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