Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Misunderstanding Philosophy

A philosopher once had the following dream.

First Aristotle appeared, and the philosopher said to him, "Could you give me a fifteen-minute capsule sketch of your entire philosophy?" To the philosopher's surprise, Aristotle gave him an excellent exposition in which he compressed an enormous amount of material into a mere fifteen minutes. But then the philosopher raised a certain objection which Aristotle couldn't answer. Confounded, Aristotle disappeared.

Then Plato appeared. The same thing happened again, and the philosophers' objection to Plato was the same as his objection to Aristotle. Plato also couldn't answer it and disappeared.

Then all the famous philosophers of history appeared one-by-one and our philosopher refuted every one with the same objection.

After the last philosopher vanished, our philosopher said to himself, "I know I'm asleep and dreaming all this. Yet I've found a universal refutation for all philosophical systems! Tomorrow when I wake up, I will probably have forgotten it, and the world will really miss something!" With an iron effort, the philosopher forced himself to wake up, rush over to his desk, and write down his universal refutation. Then he jumped back into bed with a sigh of relief.

The next morning when he awoke, he went over to the desk to see what he had written. It was, "That's what you say."

An enjoyable joke, if I do say so myself. However, I do think it reflects a misunderstanding that many people have of philosophy that makes them dislike it.

In my experience, it seems that many people don't like philosophers because they think philosophers are very egotistical. Philosophers just spout out their own beliefs about everything and look down upon those who disagree.

But this is not the case, at least for good philosophers. Good philosophers won't usually just rant about their own beliefs, but will instead look at the beliefs of who they are talking to and try to make sure their beliefs are consistent and what other beliefs should perhaps follow from what they currently believe.

For example, a good philosopher won't generally argue something like..."I think that Socrates is a man and that he is mortal. You should to!" Instead, philosophers will instead argue like..."Oh, you think that Socrates is a man? Oh, you also think that all men are mortal? Well, given your own beliefs, you ought to think that Socrates is mortal, and why you ought to think this has nothing to do with what I, the philosopher, thinks about Socrates." So it's not like good philosophers will try to have others believe certain things just because they themselves believe it. That would be a mere appeal to authority, which philosophers themselves even recognize as being a fallacy.

Oh, and one other quick point that this jokes also brings up that other people seem to erroneously think: "That's what you say" is not a counter-argument.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Quick Thought on an Argument Against Homosexuality

So it's not one of the more popular arguments against homosexuality, but one that I've heard is this: If everyone was a homosexual, the human race would become extinct because there would be no more offspring. Therefore, homosexuality is immoral.

Three responses come to mind to shoot this argument down:

First, it's not true that the human race would stop if everyone was gay. This is because we have the technology now to get women pregnant without sex being involved, with artificial insemination.

Second, even if everyone was gay and we didn't have the technology to reproduce with heterosexual sex, I think that if the survival of mankind depended on it, gay men and gay women would have sex with each other a small amount of times even if they didn't really like it in order to create offspring to keep the human race alive.

And third, there is an implied premise in this argument that goes something like this: If everyone being X means the human race would die out, then X is bad. But I don't see why that is such a good way to judge whether something is right or wrong. Think about this: Priests aren't allowed to have sex. So if everyone was a priest, the human race would die out. Should we then conclude that being a priest is immoral?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Euthanasia...particularly with pets

Had some experience with putting a pet to sleep recently. So, of course, it got me thinking about the topic a bit more philosophically. Probably because it helps me to think of the subject in a bit more of a detached way. But for whatever reason, here I go.

First thought, having a belief in something like a pet heaven. I don't think I'll take a stance on the afterlife in this post. What I am concerned about is how the belief in the afterlife will affect whether or not someone goes through with an act of euthanasia.

Belief in the afterlife can help others feel better after having lost someone, whether it's a person or a pet. If you think the deceased are in some kind of heaven, instead of just not existing anymore, it'll probably make you feel a bit of better. Whether or not this afterlife actually exists is not important (for the purpose of making one feel better anyway). What's important is just the belief in this afterlife, since it's the belief itself that makes one feel better.

However, when deciding if one should euthanize someone, whether or not such an afterlife actually exists is important. If one of your main reasons for thinking that someone should be euthanized is that they'll be going to heaven instead of staying in this world and suffering, then the truth of whether or not such an afterlife exists is important. If the afterlife does not actually exist, then one should not factor in the existence of the afterlife when considering euthanasia. If the afterlife does not exist, one should just consider if it's better to go on living while suffering, or not exist at all. These are less comforting options, but it's important to be honest if you really want to make the right and informed decision.

Similar reasoning applies to thinking of euthanasia as killing. Trying to separate euthanasia as something different from killing in one's mind can help make one feel better about euthanasia. But again, if euthanasia really is killing, one ought to think of it like killing before making the decision whether or not to euthanize someone. This is not to say that euthanasia is not a just killing, but most likely, it is a killing nonetheless and it should be considered such before making that big decision.

It's a shame that weighing the truth may make someone feel worse than if they just believed whatever made them feel the best. But perhaps it is better than looking back one day and realizing that you made the wrong decision because you did not look at the problem honestly.

That said, it can be very hard to do, and I don't know if I could (or even really want to) make myself do it if I were really in situations involving euthanasia...