Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Fracking Debate

We're discussing environmental ethics in my class this week.  One issue that I find fascinating (and to be a good model for how to think about other environmental issues) has to do with hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). It's difficult to find reliable, unbiased material online dealing with the environmental/moral issues related to fracking.  Here is a song critical of the drilling process.  And here's the trailer for Gassland, a documentary/film from 2010 that is similarly critical of fracking. Of course, there are those that contend that fracking isn't so problematic. For example, see this interview on What do you think about fracking?  Is this a morally acceptable way to extract natural gas?  What argument(s) do you find most compelling?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Food Ethics

We'll be discussing some moral issues related to food in my class this week.  A plethora of fantastic books and articles have been written over the last few decades wrestling with such issues.  Michael Pollan is a famous author/journalism professor worth checking out.  Among other things, he wrote Omnivore's Dilemma and  In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. He's written a number of interesting pieces for the NY Times.  Here's one on eating animals. Students in my class should read this article, since we'll be discussing these issues later this week.

Speaking of the NY Times, Mark Bittman (who had a food/recipe column for a long time called "Minimalist") gave a TED Talk which I think is simply fantastic. His talk is on what's wrong with the way we eat (and his claim is that we eat too much meat, too few plants, too much fast food, and too little home-cooking).  He contends that what we eat is putting the entire planet at dire risk.  What do you think about Bittman's arguments?  Are you persuaded?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Louis CK On Our Obligations to Others

We chatted yesterday in my class about how much we might owe others--especially those suffering from famine and lack of medical resources, education, etc.  I mentioned that Loius CK makes an argument that resembles some of the arguments we considered in class.  Here's the relevant clip.

Do you think he's right in claiming that it's evil--and we should interpret this as "it's not morally permissible"--for him to continue driving his Infinity?  That is, that he's obligated to sell it and donate the proceeds to those that are in dire need? If so, what implications does this have regarding your life? Are there things that you have or services you enjoy (e.g., expensive shoes, Netflix, etc.) that you should really do without so that you can help those in dire need?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Measuring Well-Being and Utilitarianism

We discussed a number of interesting issues today in class.  One set of issues has to do with the difficulty of measuring well-being and how this might make for trouble for utilitarianism.  What do you think is the strongest way of putting this problem?  Is there an example that helps illustrate this problem (e.g., from Russ Shafer-Landau's book or from our discussion in class)?  How serious do you think this problem is for the utilitarian?  Comments related to these questions are most welcome.


We had a brief discussion about libertarianism in class yesterday as part of our discussion of ethical egoism.  I thought some of my students would find this article of interest.  It's from New York Magazine and it's entitled "The Trouble With Liberty."  There are a number of other fantastic resources on the web (both in support of and against) libertarianism.  Probably the most philosophically rigorous is the entry on the topic in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Why Should We Care About Psychological Egoism?

Psychological Egoism is the theory that all human actions are aimed at avoiding some personal loss or gaining some personal benefit.  I've found it surprising that so many philosophy textbooks for ethics courses have a chapter or two devoted to this theory, since it's merely a descriptive/psychological theory and not an ethical theory.  Even if it were true, why should ethicists really care?  Russ Shafer-Landau presents an interesting argument for why we should:
(1) If psychological egoism is true, then we can't be altruistic.
(2) If we can't be altruistic, then it can't be our duty to be altruistic.
(3) Therefore, if psychological egoism is true, then it can't be our duty to be altruistic.
(4) Psychological egoism is true.
(5) Therefore, it can't be our duty to be altruistic.
As Shafer-Landau suggests, the upshot of this argument is that "most of what we take for granted about the ethical life would turn out to be mistaken" if psychological egoism is true. So maybe I've been hasty in thinking that ethicists shouldn't concern themselves with this theory.  I'm curious what readers of this blog think about psychological egoism (generally speaking) and about the argument above (more specifically).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Autonomy and Hedonism

Shafer-Landau considers a number of arguments against hedonism (the view that happiness or pleasure is the only intrinsic good) in the second chapter of the book I'm using for my introductory ethics class. Here's one of these arguments:

The Importance of Autonomy Argument
(1) If hedonism is true, then autonomy contributes to a good life only insofar as it makes us happy.
(2) Autonomy sometimes directly contributes to a good life, even when it fails to make us happy. 
(3) Therefore, hedonism is false.
The argument is clearly valid, but are the premises true.  I'm mainly concerned with (2) (since (1), as Shafer-Landau suggests, is difficult to deny).  Do you think that autonomy contributes to a good life--that is, it makes one's life go better--even when it fails to make that person happy?  Why might someone reject this claim?  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Companion Website For Textbook

Those of you in my PHIL 241 class this summer will want to check out the companion website to the book we're using.  It's available here and has a variety of helpful resources like self-quizzes for each chapter, a glossary of key terms (in PDF), and links to related material on the web.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

An Argument For Ethical Skepticism

I'm teaching an introductory ethics course this summer and we're reading Russ Shafer-Landau's The Fundamentals of Ethics. In the introduction, he considers ethical skepticism and mentions that some people think that ethics is just in "the eye of the beholder" or that it's "a bunch of make believe."  Here's one argument he considers for embracing this kind of skepticism about ethics:
(1) If there were a universal ethic, then that would make it okay for some people to impose their views on others.
(2) But that's not okay at all.
(3) Therefore, there is no universal ethic.  
What do you think about this argument?  Are the premises true?  How might someone respond to this argument and what do you think about such a reply?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Writing Philosophy Papers

I'm about to start teaching an introductory ethics course and thought it would be helpful to mention that there are some fantastic resources online about writing philosophy papers.  Here are a few:

If you know of especially helpful resources like these, feel free to mention them in the comments thread of this post.  Thanks!  

Monday, July 8, 2013

Helpful Data Related to Publishing

Some of you might not know about Andrew Cullison's very helpful page that has data on a variety of philosophy journals (e.g., average review time, average time to publication, etc.).  If you're contemplating submitting a paper to a journal, it's worth consulting his website.