Some people feel distressed reflecting on human extinction. Some people even claim that our efforts and lives would be empty and pointless if humanity becomes extinct, even if this will not occur for millions of years. In this essay, I will attempt to demonstrate that this claim is false. The desire for long-lastingness or quasi-immortality is often unwittingly adopted as a standard for judging whether our efforts are significant. If we accomplish our goals and then later in life conclude (...) that these accomplishments were of no significance, then this is a sign that the desire for long-lastingness has crept into our standards. By recognizing this, and refraining from adopting an unreasonable standard to judge whether our efforts are significant, it will be to our advantage. Then, when we look back on life from an external perspective that encompasses times after humanity has become extinct, we will not conclude that our efforts amounted to nothing. Rather, we will conclude that many people made significant accomplishments that made their lives and the lives of other people better than they would have been if their goals had never been pursued. (shrink)
This collection of new essays aims to address some of the most perplexing issues arising from death and dying, as well as the moral status of persons and animals. Leading scholars, including Peter Singer and Gerald Dworkin, investigate diverse topics such as animal rights, vegetarianism, lethal injection, abortion and euthanasia.
In this paper, I present a sample spiritual exercise—a contemporary form of the written practice that ancient philosophers used to shape their characters. The exercise, which develops the ancient practice of the examination of conscience, is on the sixth mass extinction and seeks to understand why the extinction appears as a moral wrong. It concludes by finding a vice in the moral character of the author and the author’s society. From a methodological standpoint, the purpose of spiritual exercises (...) is to create a habit of thoughtfulness in the writer, and by way of teaching, to suggest one to the reader. Such a habit is important, at least, because virtue is a habit. In other words, there can be no learning of virtue itself without habituation into it. Accordingly, I frame the sample spiritual exercise with a deliberately controversial objection to contemporary academic virtue ethics and with a justification for why the spiritual exercise is important for taking virtue ethically. And I end the paper with some further remarks explaining the form of the exercise and its relevance to doing philosophy. In this way, the paper makes and illustrates a methodological point about virtue ethics based on a meta-ethical assumption about virtue as a habit, and it does this by focusing on a pressing environmental problem in the twenty-first century. (shrink)
The formation of coherent percepts requires grouping together spatio-temporally disparate sensory inputs. Two major questions arise: (1) is awareness necessary for this process; and (2) can non-conscious elements of the sensory input be grouped into a conscious perceptµ To address this question, we tested two patients suffering from severe left auditory extinction following right hemisphere damage. In extinction, patients are unaware of the presence of left side stimuli when they are presented simultaneously with right side stimuli. We used (...) the ‘scale illusion’ to test whether extinguished tones on the left can be incorporated into the content of conscious awareness. In the scale illusion, healthy listeners obtain the illusion of distinct melodies, which are the result of grouping of information from both ears into illusory auditory streams. We show that the two patients were susceptible to the scale illusion while being consciously unaware of the stimuli presented on their left. This suggests that awareness is not necessary for auditory grouping and non-conscious elements can be incorporated into a conscious percept. (shrink)
In English, as in many other languages, male-gendered pronouns are sometimes used to refer not only to men, but to individuals whose gender is unknown or unspecified, to human beings in general (as in ―mankind‖) and sometimes even to females (as when the casual ―Hey guys‖ is spoken to a group of women). These so-called he/man or masculine generics have come under fire in recent decades for being sexist, even archaic, and positively harmful to women and girls; and advocates of (...) gender-neutral (or nonsexist) language have put forward serious efforts to discourage their use. Have they been successful, and to what extent? In this paper, I review some of the main arguments in favor of abolishing sexist male generics. I then present three studies tracking the use of he/man terminology in academic, popular, and personal discourse over the past several decades. I show that the use of these terms has fallen dramatically in recent years, while nonsexist alternatives have gradually taken their place. We may be paying witness to the early stages of the ultimate extinction of masculine generics. (shrink)
In this century a number of events could extinguish humanity. The probability of these events may be very low, but the expected value of preventing them could be high, as it represents the value of all future human lives. We review the challenges to studying human extinction risks and, by way of example, estimate the cost effectiveness of preventing extinction-level asteroid impacts.
Environmentalists often recount tales of recent extinctions in the form of an allegory of human moral failings. But such allegories install an instrumental relation to the past’s inhabitants, using them to carry moralistic messages. Taking the passenger pigeon as a case in point, I argue for a different, ethical relation to the past’s inhabitants that conserves something of the wonder and “strangeness of the Other.” What Walter Benjamin refers to as the “redemptive moment” sparks a recognition of the Other that (...) allows us to engage in heartfelt mourning for them, rather than falling into the repetitive self-absorption characteristic of Freudian melancholy. This redemptive moment changes forever our relations to the world around us. (shrink)
Neuropsychological studies on hemineglect and extinction show that “neglected” or “extinguished” stimuli can access a semantic level. However, processing of these stimuli is usually not accomplished at the same level as non-neglected stimuli. These data are compatible with Perruchet & Vinter's hypothesis of the importance of consciousness in the construction of representations and knowledge.
The universe that surrounds us is vast, and we are so very small. When we reflect on the vastness of the universe, our humdrum cosmic location, and the inevitable future demise of humanity, our lives can seem utterly insignificant. Many philosophers assume that such worries about our significance reflect a banal metaethical confusion. They dismiss the very idea of cosmic significance. This, I argue, is a mistake. Worries about cosmic insignificance do not express metaethical worries about objectivity or nihilism, (...) and we can make good sense of the idea of cosmic significance and its absence. It is also possible to explain why the vastness of the universe can make us feel insignificant. This impression does turn out to be mistaken, but not for the reasons typically assumed. In fact, we might be of immense cosmic significance—though we cannot, at this point, tell whether this is the case. (shrink)
It has been claimed that the recent wave of neuroscientific research into the physiological underpinnings of our moral intuitions has normative implications. In particular, it has been claimed that this research discredits our deontological intuitions about cases, without discrediting our consequentialist intuitions about cases. In this paper I demur. I argue that such attempts to extract normative conclusions from neuroscientific research face a fundamental dilemma: either they focus on the emotional or evolved nature of the psychological processes underlying deontological intuitions, (...) in which case the arguments rely on a blatantly fallacious inference, or they appeal to the (alleged) moral irrelevance of the factors to which deontological intuitions respond, in which case the neuroscientific results end up playing no role in the overall argument. (shrink)
It has long been thought that certain key bioethical views depend heavily on work in personal identity theory, regarding questions of either our essence or the conditions of our numerical identity across time. In this paper I argue to the contrary, that personal identity is actually not significant at all in this arena. Specifically, I explore three topics where considerations of identity are thought to be essential – abortion, definition of death, and advance directives – and I show in each (...) case that the significant work is being done by a relation other than identity. (shrink)
It is argued that none of the speaker's referential intentions accompanying his utterance of a demonstrative are semantically significant but rather the associated demonstration (or some other source of salience). It is constitutive of the speaker's having the specifically referential intention - held by Kent Bach to be semantically significant - that the speaker is taking, and relying upon, his accompanying gesture (or some other source of salience) as semantically significant, making it the case that this intention is not even (...) partly semantically significant. The same is then shown to hold for the speaker's remaining referential intentions: his intention aimed at a perceived object, believed by David Kaplan to be semantically significant, as well as the intention to refer to the object that he has in mind. (shrink)
For some time, philosophers have sought a more satisfactory understanding of the mysteries of morality through a close analysis of its assumed kinship with practical rationality, via the psychological capacity of choice. It is the view in the present paper that no such understanding is possible by these means. The significance of morality has nothing to do with choice.