University of California, Santa Cruz
The concept of Natural Goodness is Philippa Foot’s moral appropriation of Michael Thompson’s analysis of the logical representation of life forms. Campagna and Guevara (C&G) have taken over the concept of Natural Goodness and applied it to their project of developing a new language for conservation in hopes that their application of it in this domain can help bring out what the philosophically empty notion of nature’s “intrinsic value” would otherwise communicate. They think that a new language toward this purpose will help shape our ethical thinking about conservation, and specifically they are interested in a language that can answer morally significant questions like “What is lost when a species goes extinct?” This paper reviews C&G’s project, both their motivations and the details and application of their theory thus far. I then point out that a crucial shortcoming of their work to date is that they have yet to address the issue of how we know, or how we are in touch with the value of Natural Goodness. In other words, what justifies us in claiming that the concept of Natural Goodness carries within it a moral value at all? I suggest that an Aristotelian conception of human virtue points toward affective perceptual capacities as the ground for knowledge of the moral value of Natural Goodness. I connect this to some of the insights put forth by Kant in his third Critique, arguing that the appropriate affective state for being in touch with the moral value of Natural Goodness is the feeling of disinterested pleasure. I consider some potential objections to my appropriation of Kant’s philosophy to this specific end, and I close with a Wittgensteinian word on the limits of language in communicating ethical or moral values generally.1 (more…)
Throughout history, philosophers have retained a special place in our collective imagination even where interest in them has faded. Take Descartes or Nietzsche, for instance. Neither philosopher’s books would be considered standard material for the modern reader, yet through a few well placed witticisms the identities of these men have made lasting impressions on the Western mind. We see these impressions everywhere, from when we describe our relationships as ‘platonic’ to when we recite anecdotes about ancient Greeks dying in fits of laughter or Catholic priests turning out to be atheists all along. Our culture is, in other words, laced with titbits of philosophical history despite relatively few of us knowing much about it. We become acquainted with philosophers almost by osmosis.
In light of this, the leading question of Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting’s upcoming project is all the more striking—can you name any women philosophers? Regrettably few of us can, and for this we’re not to blame: our history books simply fail to mention them, and thus any culturally conceived idea we have of ‘a philosopher’ tends to be a male one. In the recently funded Philosopher Queens, however, two young researchers aim to dismantle this idea in their invaluable collection on women philosophers of history. Taking time out of their preparations to catch up with The Oxford Philosopher, we learned a bit about what was to come. (more…)
Michael B. Fielding
Author of The Sailboat Diaries
What books would you bring to a desert island?
This question has been asked on many occasions, yet few people actually run the experiment. The question encourages us to think in unfamiliar ways. In everyday life, our choice in literature might seem a rather mundane dilemma because if I pick up a book and don’t enjoy reading it, I can simply exchange it for another. The desert island scenario thus forces us to imagine a different system of values from which we derive novel evaluations based on the unfamiliar terrain. It’s a fun game to play, but without the first-hand experience of being alone in the middle of nowhere, it can be hard to give much weight to our resolutions. (more…)
University of Liverpool
This is the first in a series of musings
from the University of Liverpool’s Michael Hauskeller.
What do we mean when we ask about the meaning of life? Does the question even make sense? Grammar may suggest it does, but grammar is a very unreliable guide. Perhaps the question ‘What is the meaning of life’ is not at all like ‘What is the speed of light?’ or ‘How tall is the Eiffel Tower?’, both of which make sense and can be answered. Perhaps it is more like ‘Which colour does the number seven have?’ or ‘What are the exact measurements of this thought?’, neither of which can be answered since we cannot make sense of them. In these cases we cannot understand what is being asked, not because we are not clever enough but because the questions themselves are incomprehensible—numbers have no colours and thoughts no spatial dimensions. (more…)
University of California, Berkeley
1. Hello, this is your brain, reading about your brain, reading about your brain
Consider the following question: why are we conscious?
I get it; pondering consciousness sounds like an activity only enjoyed by nerds, people who are high, those of us who have found a moment of post-yoga stillness, or people who fit in all three categories at once. But notice that we do not tell our heart to beat or our cells to grow, we do not have to think about focusing our eyes, and we do not consciously will our bodies to inject adrenaline into our bloodstream when something scary happens. These things happen more or less automatically, and if such highly complex tasks can happen without our attention or willpower, why should other complex tasks—like choosing what to eat for breakfast—require conscious awareness? How hard is choosing which flavor of yogurt to eat? And do we really need to be conscious to determine that we should peel a banana before biting one? (more…)