Jeff McMahan has shown himself to be a vigorous and incisive critic of speciesism, and he has been particularly critical of speciesist arguments that draw inspiration from Wittgenstein. In this essay I argue that McMahan’s ethical framework (as outlined in The Ethics of Killing) is more nuanced and more open to the incorporation of speciesist intuitions regarding deprivation than he himself sometimes suggests. I will also argue that a sensible speciesism can be pluralist and flexible enough to accommodate many of (...) McMahan’s arguments in defense of “moral individualist” intuitions. In this way, I hope to make the case for at least a partial reconciliation between McMahan and the “Wittgensteinian speciesists”. (shrink)
This collection of original essays, written by scholars from disciplines across the humanities, addresses a wide range of questions about love through a focus on individual films, novels, plays, and works of philosophy. The essays touch on many varieties of love, including friendship, romantic love, parental love, and even the love of an author for her characters. How do social forces shape the types of love that can flourish and sustain themselves? What is the relationship between love and passion? Is (...) love between human and nonhuman animals possible? What is the role of projection in love? These questions and more are explored through an investigation of works by authors ranging from Henrik Ibsen to Ian McEwan, from Rousseau to the Coen Brothers. (shrink)
The sci-fi premise of the 2002 film Solaris allows director Steven Soderbergh to tell a compelling and distinctly philosophical love story. The “visitors” that appear to the characters in the film present us with a vivid thought experiment, and the film naturally prods us to dwell on the following possibility: If confronted with a duplicate (or near duplicate) of someone you love, what would your response be? What should your response be? The tension raised by such a far-fetched situation reflects (...) a tension that exists in real life: that between an attraction to qualities possessed by a person and attraction to the person in a manner that transcends such an attachment to qualities. In short, this cinematic thought-experiment challenges us to reflect on what we really attach to when we fall in love: is it the person, or is it merely the cluster of characteristics the person manifests? Which sort of attachment is appropriate? Which is philosophical defensible? The protagonist Chris Kelvin’s ambivalence at encountering this bizarre possibility is gripping because it tracks our own ambivalence about such matters. Frankly most of us don’t know just how we would react to such a situation. The thought that accepting and embracing such a “visitor” involves a violation to the original person is natural and pervasive, especially if the acceptance comes with a failure to acknowledge the distinction between the original person and the “visitor”. At the same time, a deep attraction to such a person would surely also be entirely natural and perhaps even inescapable. We, like Kelvin, are torn in different directions by this (thankfully) far-fetched possibility. One philosopher who affirms that accepting a duplicate as though it were the original is the rational thing to do is Derek Parfit. His argument for “the unimportance of identity” is both powerful and radical, and though I’ll be critical of his approach, in the final section of the paper I suggest that it does offer up the resources for an intriguing interpretation of the end of this complex and ambiguous film. (shrink)
Robert Kraut has proposed an analogy between valuing a loved one as irreplaceable and the sort of “rigid” attachment that (according to Saul Kripke’s account) occurs with the reference of proper names. We wanted to see if individuals with Kripkean intuitions were indeed more likely to value loved ones (and other persons and things) as irreplaceable. In this empirical study, 162 participants completed an online questionnaire asking them to consider how appropriate it would be to feel the same way about (...) a perfect replica of a loved one, as well as other questions about replaceability. Participants who previously had endorsed Kripkean reference (n = 96) rated loved ones as less replaceable on two different measures than participants who had previously endorsed Descriptivist reference (n = 66, t(160)> 2.27, p <.02, eta2> .03). Additional results suggest that this difference extends to other targets as well and is at least partially dependent on sentimental attachment. (shrink)
Utilizing the film I, Robot as a springboard, I here consider the feasibility of robot utilitarians, the moral responsibilities that come with the creation of ethical robots, and the possibility of distinct ethics for robot-robot interaction as opposed to robot-human interaction. (This is a revised and expanded version of an essay that originally appeared in IEEE: Intelligent Systems.).
American History X (hereafter AHX) has been accused by numerous critics of a morally dangerous cinematic seduction: using stylish cinematography, editing, and sound, the film manipulates the viewer through glamorizing an immoral and hate-filled neo-nazi protagonist. In addition, there’s the disturbing fact that the film seems to accomplish this manipulation through methods commonly grouped under the category of “fascist aesthetics.” More specifically, AHX promotes its neo-nazi hero through the use of several filmic techniques made famous by Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. (...) Now most critics admit that, in the end, the film claims to denounce racism and attempts to show us the conversion of the protagonist to the path of righteousness, but they complain that nonetheless the film (perhaps unintentionally) ends up implicitly promoting the immoral worldview it rather superficially professes to reject in its final act. This charge of hypocrisy is connected to another worry: the moral conversion in the film is said to fall flat because the intellectual resources on display to support the character’s racism are not counterbalanced by equally explicit (but superior) arguments for the anti-racist position ultimately embraced by the character. In other words, just as the devil is said to get all the good lines in Milton’s Paradise Lost, in AHX the racists get all the arguments. This has been taken to be a morally problematic flaw of the film. Critics lament that Derek’s conversion seems to result not from relevant logical inferences and valid rational argumentation but from overly simplistic and arguably egoistic insights (e.g., “has anything you've done made your life better?”) combined, perhaps, with a hackneyed cliché (in prison, one of his best friends is a black person!) In this paper I’ll attempt to rebut these charges and defend the film as a powerful, and powerfully moral, work of art. I’ll be suggesting that the seductive techniques employed allow for many viewers a degree of sympathy towards the protagonist that is crucial, both for making that character’s more horrific actions especially unsettling, and also for making his eventual conversion plausible and ultimately compelling. I’ll also argue that the manner in which his conversion is presented is in fact subtler than many critics have allowed: Derek’s transformation is not artificial or implausible but is depicted as resulting from a cumulative series of emotionally powerful life events and personal engagements. It is certainly true that it is not represented in the way some would seemingly have preferred, i.e. as straightforwardly resulting from a process of gradual intellectual improvement in Derek’s reasoning on questions of race and politics. However, I’ll argue that the decidedly emotional basis of his moral evolution is both refreshingly realistic and no hindrance to accepting his conversion as rational. Finally, properly understanding the legitimacy of the emotional foundations of much moral thought will also allow us to appreciate the ways in which our initial worries about this film’s (not insignificant) ability to persuade viewers through the engagement of emotions need not, in itself, be seen as a barrier to endorsing the film as a morally praiseworthy work. (shrink)
In this essay, I argue that a proper understanding of the historicity of love requires an appreciation of the irreplaceability of the beloved. I do this through a consideration of ideas that were first put forward by Robert Kraut in “Love De Re” (1986). I also evaluate Amelie Rorty's criticisms of Kraut's thesis in “The Historicity of Psychological Attitudes: Love is Not Love Which Alters Not When It Alteration Finds” (1986). I argue that Rorty fundamentally misunderstands Kraut's Kripkean analogy, and (...) I go on to criticize her claim that concern over the proper object of love should be best understood as a concern over constancy. This leads me to an elaboration of the distinct senses in which love can be seen as historical. I end with a further defense of the irreplaceability of the beloved and a discussion of the relevance of recent debates over the importance of personal identity for an adequate account of the historical dimension of love. (shrink)
This paper offers several criticisms of the account of rightholding laid out in S. Matthew Liao’s recent paper “The Basis of Human Moral Status.” I argue that Liao’s account both does too much and too little: it grants rightholder status to those who may not deserve it, and it does not provide grounds for offering such status to those who arguably do deserve it. Given these troubling aspects of his approach, I encourage Liao to abandon his “physical basis of moral (...) agency” account of moral status and instead adopt a position closer to a traditional “speciesist” view. (shrink)
This study offers a comprehensive summary and critical discussion of Alice Crary’s Beyond Moral Judgment. While generally sympathetic to her goal of defending the sort of expansive vision of the moral previously championed by Cora Diamond and Iris Murdoch, concerns are raised regarding the potential for her account to provide a satisfactory treatment of both “wide” objectivity and moral disagreement. Drawing on the work of Jonathan Lear and Jonathan Dancy, I suggest possible routes by which her position could be expanded (...) and possibly strengthened. (shrink)
This is the first book to explore and address the philosophical aspects of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Beginning with a helpful introduction that places each essay in context, specially commissioned chapters examine the following topics: -/- * Philosophical issues surrounding love, friendship, affirmation and repetition * The role of memory (and the emotions) in personal identity and decision-making * The morality of imagination and ethical importance of memory * Philosophical questions about self-knowledge and knowing the minds of others (...) * The aesthetics of the film considered in relation to Gondry’s other works and issues in the philosophy of perception. (shrink)
In this essay I argue that the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind eloquently and powerfully suggests a controversial philosophical position: that the harm caused by voluntary memory removal cannot be entirely understood in terms of harms that are consciously experienced. I explore this possibility through a discussion of the film that includes consideration of Nagel and Nozick on unexperienced harms, Kant on duties to oneself, and Murdoch on the requirements of morality.
This essay begins with a consideration of one way in which animals and persons may be valued as “irreplaceable.” Drawing on both Plato and Pascal, I consider reasons for skepticism regarding the legitimacy of this sort of attachment. While I do not offer a complete defense against such skepticism, I do show that worries here may be overblown due to the conflation of distinct metaphysical and normative concerns. I then go on to clarify what sort of value is at issue (...) in cases of irreplaceable attachment. I characterize “unique value” as the kind of value attributed to a thing when we take that thing to be (theoretically, not just practically) irreplaceable. I then consider the relationship between this sort of value and intrinsic value. After considering the positions of Gowans, Moore, Korsgaard, Frankfurt, and others, I conclude that unique value is best understood not as a variety of intrinsic value but rather as one kind of final value that is grounded in the extrinsic properties of the object. (shrink)
The Matrix trilogy is unique among recent popular films in that it is constructed around important philosophical questions--classic questions which have fascinated philosophers and other thinkers for thousands of years. Editor Christopher Grau here presents a collection of new, intriguing essays about some of the powerful and ancient questions broached by The Matrix and its sequels, written by some of the most prominent and reputable philosophers working today. They provide intelligent, accessible, and thought-provoking examinations of the philosophical issues that support (...) the films. Philosophers Explore The Matrix includes an introduction that surveys the use of philosophical ideas in the film. Topics that the contributors tackle include: how a collaborative dream could differ from hallucination, the difference between the Matrix and the "real" world; why living in the Matrix would be considered "bad"; the similarities between the Matrix and Plato's Cave; the moral status of artificially created beings, whether one can behave immorally in illusory circumstances, and the true nature of free will and responsibility. This volume also includes an appendix of classic philosophical writing on these issues by Plato, Berkeley, Descartes, Putnam, and Nozick. Philosophers Explore The Matrix will fascinate any fan of the films who wants to delve deeper into their themes, as well as any student of philosophy who desires an accessible entry into this challenging and profoundly vital world of ideas. (shrink)