[Topics: Moral Knowledge, Moral Realism, Pragmatism]
The Morality Pageant:

On the Relative Attractiveness of Moral Realism and its Alternatives

 

Introduction:

William James Sketch by M.R.P. - moral realism - nihilism - pragmatism

Sketch by M.R.P.

Looking back at my school days, I remember a Ph.D. student in the philosophy department remarking on the differences between moral realism (the system of thought that says that there exists a literal, objective morality) and its alternatives by appealing to the consequences of holding each belief. The moral realist, he underscored, has the advantages of being able to say that society is making moral progress, and that some societies have been immoral at different times, such as Nazi Germany and slaveholding America. Moral relativists, moral nihilists, and all related parties, he pointed out, have no such recourse. So, surely, even if one is convinced that moral realism is false, this student concluded, it might be better not to mention that conviction ‘in polite company.’

In fact, the article by James Rachels which I discussed last week makes some very similar statements in its singular effort to refute cultural relativism. But is it true that believing morality is not truly objective is somehow uglier or less desirable than believing that there is an objective morality? To explore this, I will take a closer look at both sides.

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[Topics: Moral Knowledge, Moral Realism, Pragmatism]
The Morality Pageant:

On the Relative Attractiveness of Moral Realism and its Alternatives

was last modified: May 12th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle, 2009]
All’s Unwell that Only Ends Well:

The Inconsistent Meaning of Life in Slumdog Millionaire

 

Danny Boyle Sketch by M.R.P. - Slumdog Millionaire - analysis, meaning of life

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

The notion of an overarching, providential justice overseeing and directing all human events, while out of vogue in modern philosophy, remains a huge influence on popular culture. That this sort of determined or corrective justice acts not just generally across time, but within a given life, is a particularly attractive thought to the creators of the fictive tales of the film industry. The reasons for this are myriad, bringing to both content creators and audiences an appeasement of their desire to see good things happen to good people; their desire to see bad things happen to bad people; and their desire to witness miraculous or incredible events.

The 2009 Academy Award winner for Best Picture (and other categories) was Slumdog MillionaireSlumdog Millionaire, a case-in-point of the populace’s penchant for fictionalized treatments of karmic justice, as directed by Danny Boyle. This concept of overarching justice can be understood by its relation to the philosophical topic of internal meaning. For a human life to have internal meaning, it must be good for the person who lives it and it must include worthwhile activities (for a more detailed account of meaning, see this encyclopedia entry). Ultimately, Slumdog Millionaire seems to put forward a short-sighted account which contends that a life can be internally meaningful if it contains worthwhile activity and if, by way of some kind of providence, it ends up being good for the person who lives it.

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[Film: Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle, 2009]
All’s Unwell that Only Ends Well:

The Inconsistent Meaning of Life in Slumdog Millionaire

was last modified: June 20th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Papers, Please, Lucas Pope, 2013]
Coherent Contradictions:

Exploring the Literary Qualities of Papers, Please from the Perspectives of the New Critics and the Russian Formalists

 

Introduction:

The self-sufficiency attributed to literature by both the New Critics and the Russian Formalists is indicative of an approach to art which renders legible, through close study, work in many fields aside from literature. Indeed, the practice of ‘close reading’ the relative coherence and ironic interplay of a work’s constituent elements can be as demonstrably successful in parsing a video game as it has been in parsing other contemporary subjects, such as film, painting, and photography.

The 2013 indie game Papers, Please, created by Lucas Pope, is perfectly amenable to analysis in this mode. This deceptively simple game centers on a middle-aged, male player-character who lives and supports his impoverished family in the dystopian country of Arstotska in 1982; he is an unwilling government employee staffing a border checkpoint, tasked with sifting the paperwork of would-be emigrants for discrepancies (as seen in fig. 1, below). Papers, Please is an expression, through both typical literary elements and unique ‘gamely’ elements, of the paradoxical situation of human agency within mechanical, menial work—and of power, even political power, within the disenfranchised individual.

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[Game: Papers, Please, Lucas Pope, 2013]
Coherent Contradictions:

Exploring the Literary Qualities of Papers, Please from the Perspectives of the New Critics and the Russian Formalists

was last modified: March 15th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells, 1896]
Coping with Scientific Understanding:

Discoveries that can Forever Alter Worldviews in H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau

 

Unlike the other most prominent early writer of science fiction, Jules Verne, who focused his fiction primarily on courageous adventure, scientific discovery, and multifaceted characters like Captain Nemo, H.G. Wells’ fiction often focused on dark themes, political allegory, and social commentary. For this reason, the most widely read of Wells’ fiction among modern audiences are those which allegorize situations or possibilities that seem most relevant today, such as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Invisible Man.

But my favorite work by the man, and one of my favorite books overall, is one which is more often regarded for its potential in the horror genre than for its literary content: The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells. A number of films have presented The Island of Dr. Moreau as horrorThe Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells or actionThe Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells, and it even had a segment in the The Simpsons‘ thirteenth “Treehouse of Horrors” episode. The film adaptations (all quite loose) are almost universally regarded as terrible, or else are enjoyable primarily for their B-movie charm and missteps. But the book is a truly remarkable one, and tugs at anxieties that many of us will understand far too well.

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[Work: The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells, 1896]
Coping with Scientific Understanding:

Discoveries that can Forever Alter Worldviews in H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau

was last modified: April 29th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Evolutionary Biology, Moral Obligation, Morality]
The Macroevolution of Morals:

On Fundamental Morals from Societal Evolution, and Morality as Both Objective and Not Objective

 

Introduction:

Charles Darwin Sketch by M.R.P. - MRI Scans of Brain - morality - evolution - James Rachels - C.S. Lewis

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

There is a lot of fascinating scholarship going on in science and philosophy concerning how human morality relates to evolution. Scientists report altruistic behavior in animal communities, and high correlations between specific parts of the brain and moral action; philosophers explore the moral implications of human evolutionmorality - evolution - James Rachels - C.S. Lewis; and both groups do much, much more. Still, the debate is ongoing about whether morality is an objective, universal, literally existing thing or a set of parameters which do not exist in any relevant sense of the word. Much like the compatibilists who illustrate how free will and determinism are not necessarily mutually exclusive, I would like to explore how morality could be both objective and not objective.

The purpose of really good philosophy, and really good philosophical education, is to encourage logical, careful, clear thinking. So, in the interest of at least attempting to do philosophy well, I will try to trace an intuitive explanation of these ideas. Such an explanation, while less scholarly, seems more likely to fuel thought and discussion (much like this instructor teaching Plato with sandwiches) than exhaustive argumentation for the position.

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[Topics: Evolutionary Biology, Moral Obligation, Morality]
The Macroevolution of Morals:

On Fundamental Morals from Societal Evolution, and Morality as Both Objective and Not Objective

was last modified: May 12th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski