Moral particularism is often defined as the view that there are no universal moral principles. This is sometimes defended by appeal to examples, such as that of lying to a Nazi officer. Defenders of moral principles either bite the bullet and insist that lying is always wrong, or revise the principle in question to include clauses such as ‘unless a murderous Nazi is asking questions’.
Nobody knows how many clauses a principle can withstand before it becomes meaningless. Luckily, it doesn’t matter. The real issue doesn’t concern the possibility of true moral generalisations, but whether such principles can…
There is a famous thesis in moral philosophy that has come to be known as the ‘guise of the good’. According to this ancient doctrine — which remains popular to this day — we only ever desire things that we perceive as being good, in at least some respect. As Socrates puts it in Plato’s Meno: “nobody wants to be wretched”. The problem is that what we take to be good may only be so apparently. We accordingly often pursue terrible things, mistaking them for good. On a stronger version of the doctrine, we not only desire the apparent good…
Doing Nothing in the Time of COVID-19
In the wake of COVID-19, memes asserting that, for the first time in history, we could save the world by doing absolutely nothing went (ahem) viral. The notion that one can achieve a great good by doing bugger all is blindingly attractive. How cool would it be if heroism not only begins at home, but gets to stay there, putting its feet up, watching Netflix, and occasionally donning a mask to pop out for emergency pizza? Not all heroes get to wear masks or stay at home though, because not all heroes can…
I recently heard someone affirm, as if this were common knowledge, that the essence of language is to communicate propositions. When I questioned this assumption, another person interjected that language was by definition the communication of propositions. I thought I’d entered some weird sci-fi novel in which the very notion of language had been artificially constrained for the purposes of some dystopian plot development but, alas, I was merely at an academic workshop.
Friedrich Nietzsche described his books Human, All Too Human and Thus Spoke Zarathustra as ‘a book for free spirits’ and ‘A Book for All and None’, respectively. What did he mean by this? A clue may be found in his uses of ‘we’ to pick out — and where necessary create– the groups to which he belongs:
‘we northeners’ (Beyond Good and Evil § 48); ‘we free spirits’ (BGE § 61); ‘we first born of the twentieth century’ (BGE § 214); ‘We scholars’ (BGE § 204); ‘We artists’ (The Gay Science § 59); ‘we [good] Europeans’ (GS § 352, BGE…
(with Aryeh Younger)
‘Who will guard the guards themselves?’ asked the Roman poet Juvenal. For many today, the answer is to replace guardians altogether with blockchain technology. Blockchains are designed to be resistant to data modification, with each storage block (viz. record) containing an unalterable cryptographic timestamp. As such, the chain of block can act as a transaction ledger without being overseen by any overarching authority. Originally created to underpin the bitcoin cryptocurrency, it was only a matter of time before other industries began to use it.
A vegan sausage by any other name would smell as sweet. Yet France has recently amended its agriculture bill to ban the use of so-called ‘meat and dairy terms’ to describe plant-based products that serve as meat substitutes. These include patties made from soybeans, and dairy alternatives made from oats, coconuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and soy.
’Tis the season of goodwill and cheer, but not many listeners over the past decade have found sufficient reserves of either to forgive Bob Dylan’s 2009 seasonal offering Christmas in the Heart. A sign of the Great American Songbook albums he had yet to record, Dylan delivers his cantankerous brand of easy listening that is hard to listen to like some kind of post-apocalyptic Cringe Crinkle.
(with Richard H.R. Harper)
Forget the Turing test. Alan said it best in a neglected paragraph of the original paper in which he first proposed his test:
The original question, “Can machines think?” I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted (442).
Turing’s 1950 prediction was not that computers would be able to think in the future but that we would…
There are reasons why robots and other machines behave as they do at any given time. Knowledge of how they were programmed, combined with knowledge about the environment in which they behaved will give us their structuring and triggering causes, respectively. Information about each of these is, individually of jointly (depending on our standpoint and interests) crucial to the explanation of their actions.
I have argued elsewhere that reasons why we act should not be conflated with the reasons for which we act, but all I shall presume here is that the latter are at best a subset of the…
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hertfordshire and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.