Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Does ought imply can?

Some philosophers think so. After all, what would be the point of demanding someone ought to do something if he can't? But it seems to me that the story of Sisyphus at least interpreted by Camus challenges this. There are somethings you ought to do even if it is doomed to failure. Perhaps building a perfectly just society or becoming a moral sage are two of these impossible ends.

A bit of chauvinism

Philosophers often face the peculiar position in any discussion with another academic that they will understand far more about their interlocutor's discipline than their interlocutor will understand anything about philosophy. However, I see many philosophers of science be quite diffident in dealing with scientists even when the topic is more philosophical in nature in regards to some science. I will be advocating more confidence and maybe a kind of chauvinism. I do think philosophers of science often understand their respective sciences more than the scientists themselves. Scientists do understand what they do obviously quite well, but they often are mired in the details and do not have a comparative and general overview of just exactly what the fundamental nature of what they are doing consists in. Philosophers of science do have this overview and should not feel presumptuous when talking about the more philosophical aspects of some scientific domain as they are usually well informed about the discipline itself and the body of philosophical literature about the philosophical aspects of it.

I've seen interviews with many physicists such as Feynman and Susskind who shamelessly will pontificate on all sorts of scientific matters outside of their area of specialization. Feynman talking about social science, Susskind about morality and evolution etc. They clearly have no clue. Physicists generally seem to have fewer qualms about discussing things outside of their expertise proclaiming all sorts of nutty things about them. Philosophers of science should do the same but the difference now is that at least philosophers of science are usually well-read and competent in the science they philosophize about.

Here's an interesting related story: Once Feynman supposedly said (paraphrasing) of the philosophy of physics "a physicist needs the philosophy of physics like a bird needs ornithology." A well known philosopher of science famously responded "If a bird could understand ornithology, it would come very handy to him.


Julian Assange is charged with several sex crimes in Sweden one of which is a very serious charge of rape. He allegedly had sex with a woman while she was asleep. This constitutes rape in Sweden and I believe in the US (and other civilized places). One of the debates within current feminist theory is what constitutes (informed) consent. The classical definition is that someone consents if they are capable of denying consent but does not do so or explicitly does so. If she is incapable of rendering consent such as if she is asleep, underage or drugged, e.g., and a man takes advantage of her, that is de jure rape. But there are varying degrees of capability for rendering consent. Someone may be semi-conscious etc. In such a state, the perpetrator's intent (whether he is justified in an expectation of her to consent if she had been conscious) may play a role in whether or not it is rape. His expectations may be justified on a pattern of previous behavior from from their relationship or from explicit consent such as if she willingly tells him to drug her and render her unconscious to have her way with her. Why she would do this is something altogether irrelevant; perhaps she has a weird fetish but if she chose to give consent to this, it seems to me to be not rape even though she would be unconscious and unable to stop the act before it starts or mid coitus. This is because he would be given reasonable expectations that she would consent had she been conscious. This, of course, doesn't mean he could do anything he likes to her sexually, just what he has reasonable expectations that she would consent to.

In certain cases it may be better to have an intermediate category for crimes that are not as serious as rape but still sex crimes (such as sexual assault) which border vague cases may be classified as.

I think the charges very serious and I had always been angry at the "progressives" like The Young Turks, Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann demeaning these charges and dismissing them when the facts are not yet available. If true under the right circumstances, it is rape, it wouldn't even be a vague instance of rape in this case if she had been completely asleep, and Assange need to pay for that if that had occurred.

Daily affirmation

I wonder if people would be more forgiving of each other's transgressions if they realized that some of these transgressions are an escape from some kind of misery, if only momentary, rather than an attempt at an unfair advantage.