The scientific jury is still out on whether our species is unique among social mammals in being able to conceptualize mental states—other species, such as chimps, dogs, scrub jays and dolphins, may have some modest capacity in this regard.
As a traveler with volition to soar beyond guidance, you implore me to recalculate. The world spins beneath the satellite’s gaze and all roads re-converge. In four miles, affirm again that there exists no exit. Hell is other commuters.
I suppose, as a poet, among my fears can be counted the deep-seated uneasiness that one day it will be revealed that I consecrated my life to an imbecility. Part of what I mean—what I think I mean—by “imbecility” is something intrinsically unnecessary and superfluous and thereby unintentionally cruel.
Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor is Canada's best known and most widely read contemporary thinker. In books like Sources of the Self and A Secular Age, he has attempted to define the unique character of the modern age. He maps the fault-lines in our modern identity, and points to both the pitfalls and the promise of our condition. Charles Taylor has also been active in politics, having run four times for Parliament during the 1960s. IDEAS producer David Cayley surveys Taylor's thought in a series of extended conversations.
The column you’re reading is at least in part the result of an accident – a happy one, I hasten to add. A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a panel with the philosopher Christopher Hamilton, discussing the question of whether a world without pain is an appropriate goal for mankind or whether pain serves some additional positive purpose other than the obvious biological one of directing us away from things that might harm us (a topic, perhaps, for a future column).
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I care about nothing. Meaning I care about the ongoing argument about the meaning of nothing, not that I don’t care about anything. One has to be careful in discussing nothing.
"Das Adam Smith Problem" — that problem was put to us a century-and-a-half ago by a German economist (August Oncken, little known today except for that memorable phrase), and we are still wrestling with it. At issue is the apparent contradiction between The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments — between the political economist and the moral philosopher.
When we think of those opposed to homosexuality – which still sounds weird to me, like opposing left-handed people* – or stem-cell research or euthanasia, we tend conclude they’re justifying themselves because of religion. But, as with almost anything underpinned by religion, the pendulum swings both ways: religious people also support these. And, perhaps without energy or recognisable ability to justify their moral decisions, many often fall back on their god’s say-so to provide a foundation for their otherwise empty assertions that certain things are right or wrong.
The latest issue of the Journal for Applied Philosophy contains an excellent article by Ebert and Machan on what’s known as ‘the predation problem’. To summarise; the predation problem is supposed to demonstrate, via reductio ad absurdum, that animals cannot have rights because, if they did, moral agents would be required to defend animals against other animals.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” You can’t argue with that typically straight talking piece of food advice from Michael Pollan, best selling author, celebrated journalist and long time real food advocate.
Another Pollan favourite of ours: steer clear of “edible food like substances” – all the things we eat that are no longer the products of nature but of food science.
An outstanding example of research in the Piagetian tradition is the work of Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg has focused on moral development and has proposed a stage theory of moral thinking which goes well beyond Piaget's initial formulations.