Difference between revisions of "2013 Fall Proseminar Class Notes A"

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Continuing with looking at law and our obligation as citizens, I ran across Thomas Aquinas's explanation of law.  In summary it says that law is an ordinace of reason that is communicated for the common good issued by one who has the interests of the community in mind.  This explanation would explain the first line that I mentioned from Singer about how selfish nation leaders are by focusing only on their communities needs. Maybe it is in our nature to focus on our own nation's needs and safety before turning to look at helping others in need.  Just like a successful law keeps in mind the interests of the community then so must nation's leaders in order to keep their nation and their people thriving.
 
Continuing with looking at law and our obligation as citizens, I ran across Thomas Aquinas's explanation of law.  In summary it says that law is an ordinace of reason that is communicated for the common good issued by one who has the interests of the community in mind.  This explanation would explain the first line that I mentioned from Singer about how selfish nation leaders are by focusing only on their communities needs. Maybe it is in our nature to focus on our own nation's needs and safety before turning to look at helping others in need.  Just like a successful law keeps in mind the interests of the community then so must nation's leaders in order to keep their nation and their people thriving.
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Avel Diaz
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Indeed the piece written by Singer is both explicit and compelling. It is also very critical in the sense where judgment is passed onto those who do not work to help others in extreme need. Singer, from a logical stand point works to illustrate how absolute poverty is something bad, and people without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance should do all they can to help cease it. However, the argument fails to end here, for Singer argues that it is rather immoral for people to choose not to help out and allow absolute poverty to not only exist but continue to worsen.
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What is absolute poverty? Singer employs McNamara’s’ definition of absolute poverty, namely, “a condition of life so characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to beneath any reasonable definition of human decency,” to draw a distinction between absolute poverty from relative poverty. Surely, absolute poverty is most profound, and is an extremely unfortunate aspect of life that most people in affluent nations, such as the U.S. that have never experienced.
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How might have Singer come to draw the inference that it is immoral for people who can help, choose not to help put a stop to absolute poverty? Firstly, Singer asks the question of whether or not there is any moral distinction between killing someone and allowing them to die. Singer then gives a great deal of possible explanations that can distinguish the two acts, however, for Singer they both have the same result: which is the death of a person. Thus, Singer proposes that people should have an obligation to help those in need by donating either money or their time to help those living in absolute poverty. He further strengthens the applicability of this obligation by arguing that people ought to help fight against absolute poverty, unless doing so would involve the person of sacrificing something of comparable moral significance. But what is anything that is of comparable moral significance? For Singer, if a person would actually be committing more harm for himself, that  is contributing to his own debt, thus causing him to live a life of absolute poverty, by donating to those in need, then that person would be morally justified in choosing not to contribute to the fight against absolute poverty overseas. However, in most affluent and developed nations, such cases are rare. In the attempt to argue his position, namely, the obligation of people to help cure absolute poverty, Singer discusses the principle where people must do all they can to do good and prevent bad things from happening. Singer argues that if this principle is applied, then it follows that people should prevent the continuation of absolute poverty since absolute poverty too is bad. Thus, the logic behind Singer’s argument is as follows: people must prevent bad things from happening, but not at the cost of anything of comparable moral significance. Absolute poverty is bad. Some absolute poverty can be prevented by anything of comparable moral significance. Therefore, we ought to prevent some absolute poverty.
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As a logician, Singer understands that to strengthen his argument, he must incorporate counter-arguments, that is, he must reply to the objections of his proposed obligation to help vanquish absolute poverty. Indeed, Singer does so exceptionally well. He includes the objections that may discredit the strengths behind his argument. A couple objections that I would like to highlight are the arguments of an ever increasing population, and an essential elimination of a good life that all work to prevent people from giving help. Surely, these objections can have the power to motivate anyone not to contribute their wealth to help end absolute poverty. Though, these reasons are insufficient in the rejection of his proposed obligation to help those in need. And in response to the objection concerning the idea that if people were to help fight against absolute poverty, then these people would have to give up the many things that enable people to live good lives, I agree with Singer and believe that a life filled with interesting things and activities may be upheld by those only who have had a chance to experience it in affluent regions, however, for those in other parts of the world who are suffering from absolute poverty may not uphold those same lifestyles.
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Overall, Singer’s is quite convincing. What’s important to note is his employment of logic and reasoning, for it is the logic which serves to strengthen the validity and applicability of his argument.

Revision as of 23:11, 30 September 2013

Return to Philosophy Proseminar


September 11, 2013

First Post By:

Alynna Nemes

When I read Hadot's "Spiritual Exercises," I rediscovered the origin of my passion for philosophy in one simple phrase, "Know thyself" (90). Throughout the reading, the phrase takes on multiple meanings that are encompassed by the need for spiritual exercises with the goals of "self realization and improvement" (102). To me, philosophy is a journey to discover the best way to live life, while opening my mind to new perspectives that could help me improve myself. Also, it delves into other fields of study that involve contemplating, understanding, and changing human nature (history, psychology, sociology, etc.). I agree with the definition that philosophy is "a method for training people to live and to look at the world in a new way" (107).

However, this contradicts Deleuze’s "What is Philosophy,” when "philosophy is the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts" (2). Present day philosophy strays from spiritual exercises and improvement of human nature by becoming more cynical of philosophy itself, becoming lost in all the complexities of self-realization. Current philosophy has lost its own ability to enrich human nature because its modern principles are unable to correspond with humanity’s new set of ideals and beliefs, rendering the ideas of the past irrelevant or ineffective. As Deleuze notes, "Those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life are the plague of philosophy" (28). There is no dialogue and truth being fought out; philosophy has become a petty subject of arguments with no real world impact. The ancient followers of Stoicism and Epicureanism developed and answered that philosophy is meant to be lived and experienced because "there are some truths whose meaning will never be exhausted by the generations of man" (Hadot 108). Concepts within philosophy don't always have to be new; they can be practical and simple to evoke self realization. Philosophy has strayed from its roots and I hope that we can one day return philosophy back to its original spiritual exercises.

Anemes (talk)

Marshall Powell

I find the criticisms of modern academic philosophy that Hadot describes to resonate very much with what I see in my own reading. The simple and unadorned language that many of the stoic philosophers use, makes memorization and internalization much simpler than sifting through the complicated, and roundabout language of many modern philosophers. The stoics also focused heavily on recognizing the scope of one's existence relative to the universe, in order to act in a way that befits a being of little significance. Modern western philosophy is much more a theoretical pursuit than it was at the time of ancient stoic philosophers, focused more on changing perspective on specific arguments, rather than influencing a complete change in a persons practice. I strongly agree that philosophy should shape one's actions rather than bolster one's pride.

However, I believe Hadot demonstrates the weaknesses of modern philosophy in his discussion about the use of spiritual exercises. He begins by rejecting the language that people are familiar with and understand well, in favor of spiritual. His argument is that the other words people would commonly use are too narrow to fully describe what the exercises are doing, but he fails to critique his use of spiritual to the same level. Spiritual seems to be an especially bad choice because the preconceptions of spiritual that most people hold are vastly different than the idea he is trying to convey. For the use to make any sort of real sense, the definition must be so vague that it fails to say anything definitive at all. At best people will have to guess at how exactly a change in spirit will practically effect their life, and at worst it might cause a person to wholly misinterpret the meaning of the exercises Hadot describes. He seems to equate the differing ideas of philosophers of very different schools of thought as all engaging in spiritual exercise, but does not provide much evidence in most of the cases. He tries to connect what appear to be people on opposing ends of the philosophical spectrum with out thoroughly explaining the ties and without providing much critique of his claims.

These passages seems to be written by different people, because of how significantly Hadot's style varies between.


Evan Dobbs

I found that the "Philosophy as a Way of Life" reading by Pierre Hadot was very similar to the ancient philosophers of Xenophanes of Colophon and Heraclitus of Ephesus that I read for my Ancient Philosophy class. All three philosophers exert an enormous amount of emphasis on the value of "wisdom". Xenophanes seems to be one of the first to reject the common belief in the Greek Gods and that a man should be valued only his strength and his skill in battle. He writes, "...these ways are misguided and it is not right to put strength ahead of wisdom." It is amazing to me that nearly two thousand years latter philosophers are still preaching the same idea.

Like Alynna wrote, this text was a refreshing reminder of why I enjoy reading philosophy. From the get-go, Hadot discusses the lost art of "the community" and how we have lost our sense of responsibility to each other. A general concern for the "universal commonwealth" seem to be all but missing in our culture and philosophy today. I was deciding whether to use the word culture of philosophy in that last sentence and I realized they are very much similar. According to Hadot a Philosophy is a way of living, just as a culture can be. Our culture/philosophy has become inherently more selfish and self centered. This may be due to the fact, as Hadot points out, that our philosophy has changed and become a "construction of technical jargon reserved for specialists." We need to again center philosophy around the art of living. At a time when people's morals and principals aren't in accordance with virtue, we need practical, lifestyle philosophy.


Riley Peschon

Pierre Hadot's descriptions of ancient philosophical schools of thought in Spiritual Exercises represented how far our culture has fallen from the roots of philosophical practice. Hadot’s Philosophy As A Way Of Life proceeded to illustrate the direct changes seen from ancient philosophy through the Middle Ages and beyond 18th century thinkers, leading to the acceptance of a modern day interpretation of philosophical practice.

The drastic change in the treatment of philosophical practices seems to intertwine with the increase of materialism. Hadot explains the evolution (or de-evolution) of the philosophical lifestyle into a university practice. The description of nearly universal philosophical ideas such as being virtuous and ignoring what one cannot control shows that it is the people who have pushed away the lifestyle. We are far removed from the advice to "take flight every day". There is stark relevance of this concept today, as materialism and perceived image dominate society while study of philosophy has become fairly unpopular, with philosophical living hardly even discussed outside of the classroom. Alynna pointed out how modern philosophy is dangerously far from its roots and I could not agree more. A philosophy for life needs to embody one's "entire psychism". Discourse cannot be the only means towards living a good life. We must practice the discourse, for without it spiritual exercises will not be nearly as effective.

Hadot’s discussion of elevating the soul towards genuine intellect and, ultimately, a holistic view (or One) brought me back to Forms in Human Nature. Specifically, a Form of the soul's freedom. While we pursue the detachment of passion and desire from our soul, is it feasible to achieve? We are told through Stoic and Epicureanism beliefs to strive towards said detachment and imagine oneself experiencing material death. The feasibility of a mortal achieving this can be questioned, as can the feasibility of a mortal understanding Forms.


Some questions for group discussion

1st part:

  1. Why should philosophy be a "way of life" or "spiritual exercise"? Consider case against and for.
  2. How can the academic study of philosophy intersect with this more traditional model of the ancients (according to Hadot)?

2nd part:

  1. What does it mean for the identity of philosophy that it could be thought of so differently at different periods of time?
  2. Is philosophy of a form of culture?

September 18, 2013: Science and Philosophy

Avel Diaz

It seems safe to say that science is a distinct field of study that separates itself from all other forms of disciplines due to its systematic nature that is induced by the scientific method. The scientific method, as put exceptionally well by Schick and Vaughn in "Science and Its Pretenders,” “The scientific method is self-correcting, and as a result it is our most reliable guide to the truth. Undoubtedly, it is significant enough to question what the nature of science, namely, the scientific method wishes to accomplish. Surely, “Science seeks to understand the general principles that govern the universe.” Scientist’s employment of the scientific method helps to eliminate any confounding or misguided errors that could impair the knowledge of such principles. The scientific method strengthens the argument that true knowledge exists outside our senses or “faculties” that supplement our understanding of the world, for our senses aren’t infallible. What makes the scientific method an essential component to the success and validity of science? The vital aspect of the scientific method and of the pursuit of knowledge is a hypothesis that is both testable, and falsifiable. In all scientific inquires, such inquiries must be guided by a hypothesis that Schick and Vaughn agreeably maintain that without a hypothesis, there is no way of attaining the goal of identifying principles that are both explanatory and predictive. In addition, the hypothesis must be falsifiable. It is plausible to distinguish scientific theories from non-scientific ones, based upon the nature of a hypothesis’ ability to be falsifiable, for there is no way to assume a hypothesis to be correct if it doesn’t have the ability to be proven wrong. According to Sir Karl Popper, a falsifiable hypothesis is an essential component to a competent hypothesis and scientific theory. Interestingly, these are only a few insights about the nature of science, and how it is distinct from all other branches of knowledge or study.

AJ Harmond

The first two readings here seem to be broad descriptions of scientific reasoning. From both of them, it is easy to draw parallels between philosophical deductive reasoning and scientific reasoning. However, the concept of scientific reasoning and general inductive reasoning sometimes seems blurry by the account of both Schick and Giere. For example, Schick claims that, "In general, any procedure that serves systematically to eliminate reasonable grounds for doubt can be considered scientific." (166) I would say that a large majority of philosophers are attempting to eliminate reasonable grounds for doubt in order to defend their thought. I am not wholly convinced that what Schick describes, at the purely rhetorical level, is necessarily "scientific". Of course, the scientific method does necessitate physical empirical data for justification, which I believe does separate it from philosophy.

But it is possible that my own drawing of parallels between the scientific method and philosophical argumentation is partially due to the historical effect of one on the other. This, at least, is a thought that formed after I read the two chapters by Barnes. Taken together, it seems to attempt to show the growth of scientific reasoning and its effect on the philosophers of the day. Taking in mind the prevalence of scientific reasoning of our own era, its not hard to suppose that science has had a similar effect on my own philosophical thinking.

Of course, I would still maintain a healthy distance between science and philosophy in practice. What Schick and Giere demonstrate as science may overlap with philosophy (particularly when they talk about inductive reasoning) but, as I see it at least, philosophy approaches problems in a radically different way then science.

Sam Olsen

I found this website a few weeks ago while discussing with my friend who's major is better (chemistry and biology or philosophy and classics). I thought it is nice to take a gander at considering parts of our discussions last week and the articles this week are on both science and philosophy.

[1]

Aric Wokojance

I liked explanation given by Schick and Vaughn in "Science and Its Pretenders" for the scientific method. With that being said I do believe that it has some serious limitations when applied to philosophy. For example, the scientific method deals with sense experience, so if something cannot be measured it cannot be dealt with. One of the best examples of the limitations of the scientific method is God. There are many different views on God, but two extremes are people that believe in the existence of God and those that do not believe that God exists. Science has no answer to these questions. A scientist can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God therefore the scientific method is useless when dealing with topics such as these.

In defense of the scientific method it does offer a structured approach. It offers empirical data to explain its hypothesis. In addition it offers people, in theory, unbiased information.

In summary, the scientific method is very useful for certain areas of study, but in my opinion it is not helpful in answering some of the most important questions asked by philosophers. Science, for example, cannot attempt to answer ethical questions such as, what is the right and wrong thing to do.


September 25, 2013

Evan Dobbs

I like the contrast of last week's science and philosophy discussion with this week's short anthology of philosophic non-fiction. As we move away from the technical language of science, we can clearly see how much a talented author can make a reader think. When I finished reading the first few pieces of the anthology I knew the texts initiated a response and caused me to think and consider its message; however, I was skeptical if it was technically "philosophy." Normally when I think of the moral of a story I don't think of it as a philosophical message. However after further contemplation, I have realized that is exactly what it is. The process of us challenging our currently held beliefs with that of the authors, is philosophy.

It was Socrates who said that the unexamined life is one not worth living for man. Isn't that exactly what some of these deeper pieces of fiction do? They cause us to relate a message to our lives and force us to reexamine our actions, attitudes, and/or beliefs. In my opinion, fiction may even be the better, more convincing avenue to try and convey one's message. It is one thing for a philosopher to write down and spell out his beliefs in a book, full of evidence, but is entirely more effective to weave a message into a story that the reader can discover for themselves. In the movie Inception it is constantly stressed that humans can tell when an idea has been purposefully planted for them to know. The most effective way for someone to hold onto the idea is to aid their journey towards it, while at the same time letting them have some freedom to discover and develop the idea for themselves. Even something as abstract as "Death of A Moth" can be used to think about death, how close we are all to it, and how we are such a small part of this planet.

I think this also opens up film and other styles of narrative/non-fiction to be considered sources of philosophy. I was recently watching an inspirational speech on a tv show that caused me to examine certain aspects of my life.


Peter Guthrie

E.B. White’s Once More to the Lake I thought was really interesting and stuck in my head more than the others. What I drew from this selection is how cyclical life is and it even seems to support the old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same. When White returns to the lake and finds that the only thing that has changed is the tar road and when he transposes his younger self onto his son and himself into his father it shows a similarity between the events and a pattern between the generations. White uses his surroundings to prove this point by writing, it was the arrival of this fly that convinced me beyond any doubt that everything was as it always had been, that the years were a mirage and there had been no years. Later at the diner he again says there had been no passage of time, only the illusion of it again arguing the repetition in history. He talks of certain events in our past that are worth holding onto and keeping close like treasures. I think he might even be saying that there is a limit to how far we should progress; maybe there is such a thing as too much or going too far. White’s last two lines in this selection really show this cyclical idea. White, watching his son, realizes that while his son is growing up he is beginning to come closer to death. At some point his son will be a father with his own son and the cycle will continue. White uses a personal experience to show that there will always be a cycle of life and death. I think this is his main point in writing this selection but there are others in there as well.

I really enjoyed this style of writing. I think, in general, these stories were a lot easier to understand than say Kant who has a technical and complicated writing style. These stories have a point and meaning in them that is a little more subtle but far easier to wrap my mind around. However, I think I would agree with what Evan has said above. There is clearly a meaning in all of these stories but they seem to be more like moral or absolute truths like life and death. Maybe, because it is such a new style of philosophy than I am used to but it seems weird to call them philosophical works.


Marshall Powell

The really interesting thing about philosophy, that the short anthology illustrates, is that it isn't only about arguments and pushing the limits of understanding. For example, This Too is Life encourages a change in perspective softly, without stating explicitly what it is the reader is supposed to learn. This is very different than what traditional philosophic writing aims to do. Rather than stating a position, or prodding one along towards some end position with logical challenges, This Too is Life simply places one in a situation where a change in perspective develops organically. The feeling of disconnect with everything is something everyone can relate to, and so it isn't any sort of shock or challenge to join the narrator on the mental journey. There is no forcing the change. A person only needs to follow the writer down the path to see new things about reality.

To Shoot an Elephant uses setting to bring about a new understanding. As Orwell continues to develop the setting, the reader is slowly given enough information to recognize the reality of the situation. The short anthology is full of examples of philosophy done in a more comfortable way. Where traditional philosophic writing challenges one outright to look at things in a new way, or to make some change in their own life, these short writings simply encourage. Both are suited to different problems, and different readers.


Alynna Nemes

One of the pieces that I found intriguing was George Orwell's "Shooting An Elephant." At first, the reader would not consider this a story involving philosophy. Several themes presented are cultural differences, peer pressure, and how imperialism is wrong. Philosophy is hidden well within the story by disguising itself within the thoughts and action of Orwell shooting the elephant. Orwell describes how the crowd of over 2000 people blocked the road; willing him to shoot the mad elephant in order for the Burmans to attain some meat. He realizes that he is at the crowd's bidding and gives them the entertainment they seek. After seeing the agonizing and prolonged death of the elephant, he has mixed emotions. Philosophy utilizes contemplation about humanity and an individual's actions. In the words of Socrates, "to live practicing philosophy [meant] examining myself and others" (Apology). Orwell examines himself and is left feeling uneasy and anxious. He is at a crossroads internally because shooting the elephant can be interpreted as the legally right or the morally wrong action. He alone knows that he shot the elephant to avoid looking like a fool in front of the natives. Philosophy tries to understand human nature looking through morality, reasoning, etc, to find truth and wisdom. Philosophy grapples with cultivating virtues and well thought out actions to prevent rash decision making such as shooting an elephant due to peer pressure.

I prefer these stories because they seem to stay more grounded to actual human experience and have more meaning to them. Most people learn and through reading, observing, and following the examples of people whether they are fictional or real; rather than reading a thesis of pure academic philosophy that states how to view reality or live your life. Stories provide context and build connections between the reader and character that make philosophy easier to attain and can encourage more people to examine their lives and their souls.

In Dennett's, "Is Nothing Sacred," he opens with a childhood memory and song to captivate interest and give meaning as to what he will discuss further on about Darwin and God. The philosophy he will later discuss melds both storytelling and academic philosophy to presumably engage not just academics but regular folks into why his philosophical problem has importance, his stance, and debate on his chosen topic.


Riley Peschon

A Casual Sampler of Great & Modest Openings to Philosophical Work represented a quite common characteristic of philosophical writing (and philosophical thinking for that matter). The majority of the pieces introduced a question or something to be called into doubt as the primary jumping point. Following this, it would be addressed how the dilemma at hand was rather complex, leading to a specific form of designing the question in order to see through an answer (likely found at the end) that fits the criteria. This critical means of thinking is described in a brief (yet incredibly accurate when related to philosophical thinking) quote from Historical Introductions. "It is better to understand that something is so difficult that it simply cannot be understood than to understand that a difficulty is so very easy to understand." It is hard to accept something that seems simple, thus we hold it in doubt and discuss the possibilities.

I found the Willard Gaylin piece "What You See Is The Real You" to be very applicable towards the importance of acting upon philosophy. Gaylin does not acknowledge the existence of an "inner man", instead disregarding psychoanalytic data while focusing on the outer man. The outer man is what one displays and how one portrays the self. The inner man "serves your purposes alone". I found this to work well with the previously discussed notion of philosophical importance only being found in universities (or in our case, the basement of a campus building). While having inner dialogues and conversations with other philosophers is vital, one mustn't forego the act of genuinely living his or her philosophy, as this is what impacts others.

on behalf of Sam W

Among the differing stories within the anthology, I found myself drawn to two pieces in specific. First was George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” piece and second was Aldo Leopold’s piece, “Thinking Like a Mountain.” To avoid unnecessary summary of each piece I’ll just jump right in.

Orwell’s piece reminded me of the many discussions I’ve had with friends or in the classroom about morality. In the story, Orwell battles with an internal moral decision to act. He states, “As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him.” Right there, Orwell knows what he ought to do. He looks at the animal and realizes, this is worthy piece of “machinery.” He then goes on to justify that the animal must have overcome his “must” because he is no more harmful than a grazing cow. But then, as he has settled on a thought, a crowd challenged his justification. This is where it was interesting to me, and reminded my of my Ethics class and Haidt. Orwell hated imperialism. He stated that opinion at the beginning of the story. So when it comes to his duty to potentially take care of the animal, he is already finding ways around it, without stating that verbally in the piece. Why would he shoot the animal if he could find a way around it? So from his emotions, he then looks at the animal, and justifies from what he sees that the animal not ought to be shot. But, and this is a big but, his justification is challenged, and he is to go back to his original emotional being, because as Haidt claims, in the “righteous mind,” logical thinking stems from emotions. At that point, Orwell is faced with a new moral dilemma – act upon the crowds emotions or his own gut instinct. Who’s moral thinking is more just, more right? Is Orwell right for not wanting to kill the elephant? Are the Bermese people right for wanting the elephant dead? Is this a case where you assume a utilitarian stance? How do we come to a consensus? These are all the questions that came into my mind. Perhaps I’ll leave it there for discussion and quickly talk about Leopold.

I won’t put too much here only because I think that the majority of discussion can stem from Orwell’s piece, but Leopold’s piece reminded a lot of my Human Nature class. We talked about a current philosopher of the name J. Baird Callicott. Callicott is an environmental philosopher that has stemmed a good chunk of his thoughts from Leopold. An interesting topic of discussion could be our connectedness with the environment. Callicott argues that we ought to preserve the earth as best we can because we depend so heavily on the earth. That is a basic and very simple statement, but like Leopold in his piece, Callicott observes the connection and importance of the environmental world around us. We all stem from the same web of energy, so we ought to respect that.


October 2, 2013

AJ Harmond

Singer's argumentation is rather straightforward and easily accessible to non-philosophy readers (aside from maybe some of his terminology about different ethical positions) and that probably explains the popularity of the first piece and Singer overall. I have to say, I do believe the ends he is trying to reach are worthwhile. But I hold a long standing disdain for Singer. I find much of his ethical posturing to displace any sort of change. Singer's ethics are minimalist in action, which once again is probably a contribution to his popularity, in that it does not require the ethical subject to change their positions really. Maybe if your ethics are extremely conservative. But, and Singer attempts to show this in Rich and Poor, any ethical position should find giving foreign aid as an ethically important action. In other words, any decent person would really not have a problem with his argument, especially assuming one is only holding him to the full essay which ends saying that a small contribution is ethically positive. (I also have an aversion to his quantifying ethics, but his book is about "practical" ethics)

My biggest trouble with his argumentation is that he never reaches for a systemic examination of what is causing the poverty he wants to alleviate. Having been unacquainted with One World, I was hopeful that he would have a more in-depth or stronger ethical position within it. I was disappointed. I would say, from what I read, Singer is only attempting to strengthen the argument he made oh so long ago in Rich and Poor. (And like I said, it is an agreeable aim) His argument against preferring the nation state is fine, but I think he position becomes weak within his own examination. He easily dismisses the favor of the nation state when he finally arrives to it, but before that he takes up the question of family members and other, closer cohorts and his position on those considerations are vague. I'm tempted to say his own views are stronger, but in order to maintain a broader audience he once again sticks to minimalism.

But, I have been aware of Singer for some time now and so I came into the readings having already rejected a number of aspects of Singer's thought. Perhaps his arguments are more powerful when they are first read?

In any case, here is a video clip of Peter Singer giving a broad explanation of his position in the film The Examined Life by Astra Taylor, for those of you who might want to hear more about him: [2] I would highly recommend watching The Examined Life if it ever returns to Netflix, or if you are inclined to look it up online. It has a number of prominent philosophers (Cornell West, Michael Hardt, Judith Butler and Slavoj Zizek among others) discussing different aspects of their philosophy, and is a short and accessible primer to them that might be easier to sit through than reading something by them.


Samantha Olsen

In Singer's chapters of One World he mentions in both chapter 1 & 5 that nation leaders focus only on the interests of their citizens. He observes that there is an ethical obligation to not only those in our nation but all those considered human. On page 7, Singer says "We need to extend the reach of the criminal law there and to have the means to bring terrorists to justice without declaring war on an entire country in order to do it." The implications with this is determining what is universally moral. In the eyes of the terrorists their actions could be seen as been righteous. Considering that most everyone believes that terrorist acts are wrong then as humans we abide by a "higher" law that is universal over all.

If we as humans abide by a "higher" law, where did the law come from? It brings to question if there is a higher entity and if it created the univeral "higher" law. But then how do we as humans know about this law? It could've been ingrained into our heads OR we could run into the same problem that we do with science--Everything that we know came from our own understanding and thoughts, therefore nothing is outside of our own foundations that we've built. This means that somewhere in history a group of people could've thought up moral laws (i.e. killing is wrong) and enforced it onto people until it becomes a universally recognized concept, like the idea of the tooth fairy.

Continuing with looking at law and our obligation as citizens, I ran across Thomas Aquinas's explanation of law. In summary it says that law is an ordinace of reason that is communicated for the common good issued by one who has the interests of the community in mind. This explanation would explain the first line that I mentioned from Singer about how selfish nation leaders are by focusing only on their communities needs. Maybe it is in our nature to focus on our own nation's needs and safety before turning to look at helping others in need. Just like a successful law keeps in mind the interests of the community then so must nation's leaders in order to keep their nation and their people thriving.


Avel Diaz

Indeed the piece written by Singer is both explicit and compelling. It is also very critical in the sense where judgment is passed onto those who do not work to help others in extreme need. Singer, from a logical stand point works to illustrate how absolute poverty is something bad, and people without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance should do all they can to help cease it. However, the argument fails to end here, for Singer argues that it is rather immoral for people to choose not to help out and allow absolute poverty to not only exist but continue to worsen. What is absolute poverty? Singer employs McNamara’s’ definition of absolute poverty, namely, “a condition of life so characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to beneath any reasonable definition of human decency,” to draw a distinction between absolute poverty from relative poverty. Surely, absolute poverty is most profound, and is an extremely unfortunate aspect of life that most people in affluent nations, such as the U.S. that have never experienced. How might have Singer come to draw the inference that it is immoral for people who can help, choose not to help put a stop to absolute poverty? Firstly, Singer asks the question of whether or not there is any moral distinction between killing someone and allowing them to die. Singer then gives a great deal of possible explanations that can distinguish the two acts, however, for Singer they both have the same result: which is the death of a person. Thus, Singer proposes that people should have an obligation to help those in need by donating either money or their time to help those living in absolute poverty. He further strengthens the applicability of this obligation by arguing that people ought to help fight against absolute poverty, unless doing so would involve the person of sacrificing something of comparable moral significance. But what is anything that is of comparable moral significance? For Singer, if a person would actually be committing more harm for himself, that is contributing to his own debt, thus causing him to live a life of absolute poverty, by donating to those in need, then that person would be morally justified in choosing not to contribute to the fight against absolute poverty overseas. However, in most affluent and developed nations, such cases are rare. In the attempt to argue his position, namely, the obligation of people to help cure absolute poverty, Singer discusses the principle where people must do all they can to do good and prevent bad things from happening. Singer argues that if this principle is applied, then it follows that people should prevent the continuation of absolute poverty since absolute poverty too is bad. Thus, the logic behind Singer’s argument is as follows: people must prevent bad things from happening, but not at the cost of anything of comparable moral significance. Absolute poverty is bad. Some absolute poverty can be prevented by anything of comparable moral significance. Therefore, we ought to prevent some absolute poverty. As a logician, Singer understands that to strengthen his argument, he must incorporate counter-arguments, that is, he must reply to the objections of his proposed obligation to help vanquish absolute poverty. Indeed, Singer does so exceptionally well. He includes the objections that may discredit the strengths behind his argument. A couple objections that I would like to highlight are the arguments of an ever increasing population, and an essential elimination of a good life that all work to prevent people from giving help. Surely, these objections can have the power to motivate anyone not to contribute their wealth to help end absolute poverty. Though, these reasons are insufficient in the rejection of his proposed obligation to help those in need. And in response to the objection concerning the idea that if people were to help fight against absolute poverty, then these people would have to give up the many things that enable people to live good lives, I agree with Singer and believe that a life filled with interesting things and activities may be upheld by those only who have had a chance to experience it in affluent regions, however, for those in other parts of the world who are suffering from absolute poverty may not uphold those same lifestyles. Overall, Singer’s is quite convincing. What’s important to note is his employment of logic and reasoning, for it is the logic which serves to strengthen the validity and applicability of his argument.