Friday, 28 January 2011

The Morality Delusion

Dorothy considers
the scarecrow
In Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion, Dawkins poses the question "If there is no God why be good?" [p226].

This sounds like Karlund's comment to my post "On Atheism and Morality". But, unlike Karlund, when Dawkins poses the question he sets out to expose the 'positively ignoble' outlook of the religious. He says:
my immediate temptation is to issue the challenge: 'Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval [...] to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That's not morality, that's just sucking up
But is this really how religious people reason? Do religious people actually seek God's approval?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Importance of Psychopaths

In the comments to the previous post, we discussed the idea of the psychopath. Before I publish my next post on morality, atheism and religion, I thought I should address this idea. After all, what is a psychopath and why should we care?

Psychopaths are:
social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret [1]

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

On Atheism and Morality

Full disclosure: I am an atheist.

Awais Aftab asks "Why be moral?".

This is a question that has hounded me since I started seriously reading philosophy some four or five years ago. What reason do I have to be moral?

Aftab asserts that the question must remain unanswered because it is flawed. It suggests that one must have some self-interested reason to be moral. But to be moral is to act (or refuse to act) regardless of our self-interest. The acts we recognise as most moral are those in which we go against our self-interest, those that involve self-sacrifice. (Typically, such acts are labelled altruistic.) Aftab summarises this neatly:
Morality has nothing to offer to a selfish soul.
He goes on to say that morality must be its own reason for being moral. That's to say, if we are moral it's because it's the right thing to do. This sounds like circular logic, but I also can't disagree with it. Not yet anyway. Mainly because I'm not sure this is a circle that can be squared.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Two words on the mystery of music, from Joyce

From Ulysses [1]:
Braintipped, cheek touched with flame, they listened feeling that flow endearing flow over skin limbs human heart soul spine. [...]
 — Sorrow from me seemed to depart.
Through the hush of air a voice sang to them, low, not rain, not leaves in murmur, like no voice of strings of reeds or whatdoyoucallthem dulcimers, touching their still ears with words, still hearts of their each his remembered lives. Good, good to hear : sorrow from them each seemed to from both depart when first they heard.

Bloom (presumably) attempts to rationalise what he's hearing [2]:
Numbers it is. All music when you come to think. [...] you think you're listening to the etherial. But suppose you said it like : Martha, seven times nine minus x is thirtyfive thousand. Fall quite flat. It's on account of the sounds it is.


[1] Ulysses, James Joyce (1922), p. 262 [OUP Oxford's World's Classics edition]
[2] ibid. p. 267

On "Broken Britain" and pedantry

The Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella, has this to say on the word "broken":
One breaks things like guitar strings, bicycle chains, and glasses. That which is broken no longer functions as it was intended to. A broken X is not a suboptimally functioning X but a nonfunctioning X.
That seems fair. Vallicella points to Obama's (mis)use of the word to describe the U.S.' healthcare system.

But the most prominent use of the word here in the UK in recent times has been in the phrase "Broken Britain". It was used by David Cameron in the Conservative's General Election campaign earlier this year. What does it mean? Those without the patience for such questions may say that we shouldn't "quibble", that "we know what it means". But unless there's a clear definition we really actually don't.

An image from prepriministerial days:
Cameron, visiting an estate in Manchester
The point of such a phrase is to conjure up associations and images, to play on the emotions. In fact, the phrase is powerful and successful in the way that photographs can be — without any context, we are left baffled and end up bringing our own values (or, if you like, narratives) to bear on the image.

A phrase like this can become a rallying point, for people who believe they share the same values and that the phrase somehow articulates those values. But the point is that phrases like this don't articulate anything.

Cameron's call for a "Big Society" as a fix for "Broken Britain" may be more helpful but suffers from a similar weakness of definition. It sounds aspirational but it's a euphemism, the very vagueness of which seems to protect the government's aims from accountability and leave us busy, hotly debating its meaning.

Like Obama's "hope" and "change" of 2008, or more recently "squeezed middle" from UK Labour Leader Ed Milband, such phrases aren't supposed to articulate anything. They're designed to be pithy and catchy. The best one can say about them is that they generate debate, but unfortunately I tend to think the worst: that they're distractions which lead to pedantic posts like this one. Meanwhile, somewhere out there, there are issues that are both deserving of more precise language and in need of being debated and discussed.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Blog as Graveyard?

Orwell's grave
not too far from where I live
This past few days I've been ill. Apart from making me a bit miserable, being off work and stuck in bed also got me thinking about all the things I haven't done this year. Like keeping a blog.

Cheerfully, I said to myself: "that site's like a graveyard now". Having spoken, I then proceeded to cough for half an hour.

As you can see, I took a very long break from blogging. I put too much pressure on myself to make posts as good as possible. I've had many drafts lined up for a long time, always almost ready for people to see.

The same could be said for my writing in general. It must be time for a change in approach or attitude or something.

Comparing a blog to a graveyard's not a very apt metaphor though. After all, it's on the active blogs that posts get buried. An abandoned blog is more like an unsown field.

Or perhaps in my case more like a rundown dockyard, from which small boats no longer cast off. Time to make some little rafts to get things going again. I have to remember that even the ricketiest things will float, even if they won't actually sail.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Post-modern Policing in the UK?

Following my post on modern policing in the UK, I found this post at My Tiny Spot in which Mike fearlessly explains why police in London had no choice but to remove McIntyre from his wheelchair. He also picks up on the BBC's interview it seems:
Identified by his I.D. card - surely forged - as "Jody McIntyre, Violent Anarchist Revolutionary,” Mr. McIntyre plans to sue the Metropolitan Police Service for God knows what. Perhaps for saving his life?
As you'll see, it was all for the man's own good.

And in more good humor, following my post on pre-modern policing in the UK, here's a look at what they were predicting police of the future would look like back in 1886. Well, sort of.

Courtesy of this post from one of my new favourite blogs, The Cat's Meat Shop:

The Police (of the future)

Funny. Well, back then maybe.... Technology certainly is a game changer.

More on 1886 in particular soon.