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What Should We Do?

by Rick Lewis

Even someone who has no interest in the meaning of language, the underlying nature of reality, the existence of God or the problem of other minds, someone who in short thinks philosophy is a load of old rubbish, will from time to time have to think about ethics. This is because life sometimes forces us to makes difficult and uncomfortable choices with significant consequences for ourselves or for other people. Some people feel that this is rather unfair of life, but it seems to keep on happening and repeated complaints have so far failed to prevent this.

Ethicists sometimes talk about fairly exotic moral dilemmas when discussing ethical problems, which is perhaps understandable – they are creating examples to make particular points more clearly. Also colourful examples spice up academic papers which might otherwise be even duller than necessary. The terminology is colourful, too. A person making some mundane choice with ethical overtones is a ‘moral agent’ which for me conjures up visions of some conscienceridden spy in a raincoat with a turned up collar. The moral choices made in real life are generally less glamourous. The girl who discovers her younger brother is sniffing glue, trying to decide whether to tell their mother, the stockbroker suddenly confronted with the opportunity to make a lot of money from information which he shouldn’t have, the hospital doctor trying to decide who should get treated and who should be put on the waiting list and sent home are all making moral decisions. Everyone, but everyone, faces moral decisions of this sort at some time and a few people, like the hospital doctor, face them almost constantly.

In this issue we have, among other goodies, a selection of articles on moral philosophy and moral choices. Will they help readers who are themselves facing difficult moral decisions? Maybe not – the sheer diversity of ethical approaches described in this issue should demonstrate how little consensus there is among philosophers on these issues, and the choice to act morally, and the choice of which way to act morally, are things which the individual in the end has to make for his or herself. But if one of those ethical approaches appeals to your values and your intellect then maybe the cost of the magazine won’t have been wasted.

The lights have been burning late in the Philosophy Now offices. Here’s what’s cooking. Firstly, the magazine will be appearing every two months from now on, rather than every three. Wish us luck! Secondly, we’re organising a series of public Round Table debates in central London on the relationship between philosophy and related disciplines – the first of these, on philosophy and religion, is reported on page 38. And finally, we’re proud to announce the first ever Philosophy Now Undergraduate Essay Competition.

Hello to Australian Readers

This is the first issue of Philosophy Now to be sold in Australia. We hope you enjoy the magazine, which has for some time been widely available in Britain, the USA and Canada, where it is read by a uniquely thoughtful, interesting and friendly bunch of people. We hope to report on events of philosophical interest in Australia, to act as a source of information on the growing popular philosophy scene Down Under, and in future to carry more articles by Australian philosophers.

We welcome letters, snippets of philosophy-related news, notices for our philosophy societies column and what’s on pages. If you know a bookshop or newsagent which you think might be prepared to sell the magazine, and which doesn’t, then do please write to us or send an email to publisher@philosophynow.demon.co.uk and we’ll try to fix it. We hope Philosophy Now will help to fill the void created by the long-term hibernation (NOT demise!) of Australia’s own Philosopher, a stylish and distinctive magazine whose rebirth we hope to report in a future issue!

Incidentally, anyone interested in joining a philosophy group in Melbourne should contact Justin Woods on (03) 9416-7620 or justinrwoods@aol.com (See – told you I wouldn’t forget! Rick)

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