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6 posts from May 2004

May 31, 2004

The Audible Philosopher

Via David H. at Orange Philosophy. David reports on an exciting initiative: a free audio library of classic philosophical texts.

From the project's temporary homepage:

This site is dedicated to hosting public domain readings of public domain philosophical classics. The .mp3 files in our library are licensed under the Academic Free License v. 2.0, and may be copied, distributed and edited with minimal restrictions.

The primary motivation of the project is to create a pedagogical supplement and improve the comprehensibility of the great books of philosophy. Our broader goals are described in our Manifesto. To expand our library, you only need a computer, microphone and some free software. Help us grow. To use our resources in your class, give your students our URL or link to the .mp3 files directly.

This is a great idea.

Michael Kinsley savages David Brooks

Michael Kinsley has a blistering review of
On Paradise Drive in the NYT.

The Sopranos and philosophy

A nice post from H.E. Barber on the ethics of the Sopranos. Some critics argue that there is something surprising about the fact that Tony Soprano compartmentalizes his life. Barber argues that Tony's moral code is utterly conventional.

We asked students once, in our Women and Work class, whether there was a difference between "morality" and "ethics" and, if there was, to explain what it was. After about half an hour of discussion eliciting student's linguistic intuitions, we came up with the following picture:

Morality is essentially sentimentality, an "ethic of care." It's not rational and can't be argued about: it's a matter of feelings--not either utility calculations or duty. You should be moral with your family and friends. But morality is impractical and out of place in work situtions--after all, you can't hire someone just because they need the work. In the real world you have to follow "professional ethics," the particular codes of conduct for various occupations. Morality is also not realistic in public life--you can't just give away money, it has to come from somewhere. Liberals just don't realize that businesses can't afford to give away products to people who need them or keep incompetent employees on because they need work; they don' t realize that if you tax the rich to provide handouts so that everyone will be exactly equal there will be no incentives. More generally, they don't realize that you have to be rational in work and politics so you can't afford morality.

Tony is just following the standard program: morality at home; professional ethics on the job. It just happens that the code of conduct for his particular line of work licenses extortion, drug-dealing, whoring and murder. All his troubles come about when the wall of seperation between the domestic sphere and his professional life thin--when, e.g. his gumuhs make contact with Carmella.

May 30, 2004

Leiter on the draft

As Brian Leiter points out, most pro-war intellectuals have no intention of joining up, and no fear that their children will be drafted.

This is a fair point, especially against those warmongers who question the patriotism of their opponents. There's nothing inherently more patriotic about pro-war intellectualism than anti-war intellectualism. People who advocate war in principle have no right to pose as tough guys. It's tacky.

But willingness to fight isn't the ultimate litmus test. The government hires people to do all kinds of things that the average citizen doesn't feel like doing. That's the beauty of being a citizen. I don't want to put my life on hold to fight crime, put out fires, or maintain the sewer system, either. I'd rather stay home and pay taxes. As a tax payer and a citizen, I'm entitled to a say in how my tax dollars are spent. One proposal was to hire people to invade Iraq. This is a a terrible idea, but I wouldn't call it hypocritical.

Okay, it's not fair to be quite so blasé. The armed services is an unequal opportunity employer. If everyone had the same opportunities as the average Yale student, we couldn't afford to hire soldiers. College money induced a lot of people into the armed forces. The offer is open to everyone, but it doesn't start to seem attractive unless your options are very restricted. The real hypocrisy is not that wealthy Americans don't want to fight, but rather that they don't want to purchase the services of troops at a fair rate.

[Edit May 31: The last paragraph is unclear. I'm not arguing that we should pay soldiers more, although that would be a good start. I'm arguing that it is extra hypocritical to associate one's position with toughness and self-sacrifice, when other people are actually making the sacrifices--especially if you benefit from the inequalities that prompted them to make the sacrifice in the first place.]

May 29, 2004

Blogging Etiquette for Philosophers

Thoughts Arguments and Rants: Blogging Etiquette

Brian Weatherson has a thoughtful post on etiquette for philosophical bloggers in which he raises a number of interesting questions. Is it ethical to blog about public lectures without the consent of the speaker? What about more informal settings like seminars, or small group discussions? Blogging is a new medium, and clearly, new norms must be established. Luckily, the painful process of acculturation can be accelerated by making our discourse explicit. In the interest of full disclosure, I announce the following must-haves for the next APA.

For the bloggers:


For the reticent:

The fog of war

Actual conversation from my office:

A: Mold can kill people. I'm serious.

B: Yeah. Some historians think that one of the Plagues of Egypt was actually a mold. A black mold that killed people.

A: It can get into the walls. Did you hear about the million dollar home that had to be evacuated because of the mold? They left all the art on the walls and everything.

C: It affects everyone. I think everyone in this country operates in a mental fog because of the contaminating molds in their environment.

ME: I think it's because people lie to us all the time. It takes so much effort to piece the narrative together.

B and C: Yeah. And the mold.