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Assistance in Dying • Earth to Trainer • To Hume Do You Refer? • Terror and Responsibility • What the f___? • On the surface of a crisis • (Un)”Warranted” Misidentification? • God blame them, every one • The Tyranny of Male Logic • Music and the Immortality of Mind • Eating Raw Flesh • Uncertainty and Hospitals

Assistance in Dying

DEAR EDITOR: It would be hard to improve on Jung’s shredding of Chappell’s panglossian casuistry, but knowing that I have incurable cancer gives the issue of assistance in dying a special meaning for me. I know approximately when, and exactly how, I will die. I will be 90 percent free of pain, but will have shrivelled to a fraction of my normal size and weight, lost all control of bodily functions, speech will be difficult and finally impossible, and I shall need constant turning to escape my own filth. Thanks to moralizers like Chappell, who make the laws for the rest of us, that will be my deteriorating condition until the truly bitter end. It is regrettable that Chappell cannot be at my bedside to explain once again how precious my life is, and about all the capacities and abilities that this life is going to make possible for me.

I’m luckier than a friend, who took over a year to die of multiple sclerosis, and who finally could do nothing except open and close his eyes. It is too bad he didn’t live long enough to read Chappell’s wonderful proofs of how precious his life, or what remained of it, was.


Earth to Trainer

DEAR EDITOR: Chad Trainer (‘Earth to Russell’, Issue 40) is a little harsh on Russell’s view on space exploration, for Bertrand Russell is probably more widely known for his humanitarian activities than for his mathematical or scientific achievements. “The love of power,” he writes in Power, “is part of human nature, but power-philosophies are, in a certain sense, insane.”

This obsession with the insanity of power as augmented by scientific development is the leitmotif of his political protests from his first incarceration in 1918 to his campaign for nuclear disarmament in his later years. One cannot prove a negative but it is interesting to speculate on the effects of his protests in the minds of the powerful who are always with us. At a time when the very existence of the United Nations is threatened by the hegemony of the USA, the forebodings of Bertrand Russell should not be lightly cast aside.

Reculer pour mieux sauter!


To Hume Do You Refer?

DEAR EDITOR: What’s in a name? We seem to have gotten Antony Flew (‘Human Freewill and Divine Predestination’, Philosophy Now March/April 2003) very hot under the collar over our paper in the April 2002 edition of Mind.

Of that paper, allegedly called ‘Hume’s Compatibilism’, Flew says, “it is remarkable that this article not only contrives to make no quotation from or reference to any work by David Hume, but also manages to avoid mentioning any philosophical question which could possibly interest anyone other than professional philosophers”. This second objection is rather peculiar given that the entire paper concerns the problem of the compatibility of free will with determinism. From later remarks it is clear that Flew thinks only a ‘professional philosopher’ would think that there is even a prima facie tension between free will and determinism. That is simply false. But it is the first objection that I really want to address.

It would indeed be ‘remarkable’ if a paper with that title made no mention of Hume. However, the paper is in fact called ‘Humean Compatibilism’. As the very first sentence of the Abstract – which Flew quotes – says, “Humean compatibilism is the combination of a Humean position on laws of nature and the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism”. ‘Humean’ here is a term of art, standardly used to denote a view of laws according to which the laws are merely exceptionless regularities. Hume may or may not have held that view; whether or not he did was so not our concern in the paper.

Flew later says that “it is strange, not to say perverse, to develop and describe as ‘Humean compatibilism’ a view different from the form of compatibilism which Hume himself accepted”. Perhaps so. But again, the very first line of the abstract makes it crystal-clear what we meant by the expression – and in particular, it makes it crystal-clear that ‘Humean’ here refers to a Humean view of laws, and not to Hume’s own brand of compatibilism. He goes on to say that in our version of Humean compatibilism, we are free in the philosophical sense of ‘causally undetermined’. We do not say this, nor does the view explored in the paper have that as a consequence. We do say that there is a sense in which, given a Humean view of laws, our actions are ‘not determined’ (since according to a Humean view of laws there is no natural necessity binding events together). But ‘not determined’ in this sense would only mean ‘causally undetermined’ if one thought that causation itself was a matter of natural necessity, and that is something that no Humean laws would hold.

Flew also says, “I myself should like to know, and will be grateful to anyone who will reveal to me, when and by whom and in what form that sense of freewill [namely ‘causally undetermined’] was first introduced.” I am happy to oblige. So far as I know, nobody thinks that ‘free’ means ‘causally undetermined’. They think so because they hold that free action requires the ability to do otherwise, and they further think that such an ability is incompatible with the action’s being causally determined. But, as I say, we do not endorse even that view in the paper, let alone the view that Flew attributes to us.


Terror and Responsibility

DEAR EDITOR: In response to the article ‘Omissions and Terrorism,’ (issue 39), I must question the validity of Ted Honderich’s logic. While I do not question his two propositions (1. that we did wrong and do wrong by our omission in allowing unthinkable losses of living-time, and 2. that wrong was done against us on Sept. 11), I do not see how the second is linked to the first, thus concluding that ‘Without that deadly treatment by us, the atrocity of the Twin Towers would not have happened.”

In order to establish this connection, Honderich must show that the men who committed the Sept. 11 attacks did so because of this omission. However, economic grievance does not seem to be the motivation of Al-Qaeda terrorists. Remember, Bin Laden has reportedly inherited millions of dollars, and his anti- American sentiment appears to be more of a religious than economic in nature. I fail to see how Americans’ wrongful neglect of poor countries such as Zambia and Sierra Leone contributed in any way to the motivations of the 9-11 terrorists.

Prof. Honderich has failed to establish any such necessary connection. Rather, he has left us with another ‘Marxist interpretation,’ this time of 9- 11, for he assumes the cause and motivation to be purely economic. But I disagree, as Marx is another famous person who may not get too many handshakes at the cocktail party.


DEAR EDITOR: As a first time reader of your publication and a decided novice in the field of philosophy, I am reluctant to immediately question the highly intelligent writers and editors of Philosophy Now. However, Professor Honderich’s ‘Omissions and Terrorism’ compelled me to respond. I can only hope I can respond with the slightest shadow of the professor’s grace with the English language.

As an American, I am confronted regularly in the news media by European and world opposition to my country’s policies in general and towards Iraq and terrorism in particular. I am not writing to defend US policy, nor to oppose it. I did not vote for the current president in the 2000 election, and I can best be described as an aggressively lukewarm proponent of current US government policy. I add this to hopefully dispel the potential dismissal of my thoughts as mere pro-American flag waving.

I respectfully disagree with the Professor. I do not believe that the hijackers on September 11, 2001 were motivated by anything other than pure hatred of the West and all the beauty and monstrosity it represents. Bin Laden betrayed the relative nature of his ethics when, in a recent taped message, he simultaneously excoriated Iraqis for being insufficiently Muslim and exhorted them to join his followers in combating the evil Americans. The hijackers themselves were middle class Saudis, not poverty stricken outsiders. Bin Laden himself is a relative of a highly-placed Saudi family, and financial connections have emerged between his group and Saudi royalty. Fanatics like Bin Laden, like many throughout history, believe in their own one true path to religious salvation, the deviants from which must be exterminated for their impiety. There is little doubt in my mind that were there no Palestinian question to speak of, Bin Laden would find another cause to stoke his rage.

Accordingly, the popular notion that Western affluence played a role in the events of September 11 is another canard I cannot fully embrace. While the twenty million years of lost humanity the professor writes of are a crime against humanity without doubt, I find it difficult to grasp how these lives could be saved. I, of course, could spend myself into poverty trying to help the world’s downtrodden, but don’t I then become one of them? If potable water and a few vaccines could give the Africans he writes of their five years, can’t we then give them Western-style job training, and McDonalds, and anti-cholesterol drugs, to extend their lives another ten or fifteen years? Bin Laden has no aching need to save the world’s underclass – his riches could have brought many times more succour than his violent strike did.

Both the sudden, violent deaths on September 11 and the slow, prolonged extermination of the world’s less fortunate are part of the constant drumbeat of human misery that no American, indeed no person, can be unaware of. But to link the two, however facile and useful to one’s chain of logic, to me does not fit what is now known about Bin Laden’s hijackers or the sufferings of the African four million Honderich considers.


What the f___?

DEAR EDITOR: I am mystified as to the intention of Ellen Miller in her article, ‘Using the F-Word in Philosophy Classes’ (PN No.39). Is it to urge that feminist issues be taken seriously in philosophy classes discussing the nature of authority, equality and freedom, or is it to claim that the discussion of these issues in this focussed way constitutes a fundamental form or branch of philosophy?

If her basic intention is the latter (and it appears to be when she comments that “feminist philosophy has been instrumental in bringing real-life social and political issues into the world of philosophy” and that “feminist philosophy can appear as a challenge to philosophy itself”) then it is hard to see what supports her claim. Normative philosophy has existed for centuries; a reading of Rousseau, J.S. Mill and Peter Singer will make manifest some of the many ‘real-life’ concerns that have permeated traditional philosophy. Similarly, a consideration of the type of knowledge acquired by the practice of philosophy has long been an important component of philosophical thinking itself; anyone familiar with the academic discipline would hardly expect it to result in absolute truths.

Certainly, let us retain the word ‘feminist’ if it serves the useful function of calling attention to a core of common concerns, and let us use these concerns in philosophy classes when they are relevant; let us be careful, however, of attaching the title ‘philosophy,’ in academic contexts, to any sort of social and political beliefs and convictions about which we feel strongly.


On the surface of a crisis

DEAR EDITOR: Alan Malachowski’s essay is refreshing in noting the need to imaginatively ‘redescribe’ the foundations of philosophy. But his talk of ‘the dark ways of modern commerce’ is problematic. Market institutions, whatever their flaws are much more open and dynamic than most traditional institutions. Their openness is reinforced by today’s high speed telecommunications. The rise of both to social preeminence reflects a revolutionary shift in values barely hinted at in ‘post-modern’ ruminations about the inadequacies of ‘modern’ thought.

In a world characterized by the historically unprecedented developments in markets, communications, the sciences, technologies, and ecology, philosophers may no longer complacently follow centuries old conceptual ruts. One may no longer continue, for example, to theorize about knowledge as if it were merely a matter of an individual’s beliefs or mental processes, or about morals as if they represented a secular sublimation of traditional religious and legal values. That merely proves the case that philosophy is dead. Deservedly. The marginality of fields like business ethics to mainstream philosophic theory is in truth a clue to their power. Revolutions tend not to come from the established centres of power, or thought. Rather, the periphery begins to overthrow the conventional wisdom of the centre. In philosophy the marginal fields hold the promise of ushering in a radically different paradigm of inquiry. One based perhaps on seeing markets, communications, and other salient features of contemporary civilization as central to any adequate philosophic inquiry into human knowledge and values.

On this reading Malachowski’s article touches the surface of an earth-shaking social and intellectual revolution. If philosophers are to really address the ‘Now’ emblazoned on your masthead, then far more radical essays are needed.


(Un)”Warranted” Misidentification?

DEAR EDITOR: I’ve heard rumours that the man behind the mask of Socrates in your ‘Dear Socrates’ column is actually Alvin Plantinga, who wishes to remain anonymous. Is this true? If it is, then all I can say is ‘blimey’.


God blame them, every one

DEAR EDITOR: I refer to correspondence in your magazine and elsewhere on the subject of Israeli academics being targetted due to the actions of the nation of Israel. Very few people support the actions of Israel, but a substantial number appear to object to blaming individual Israelis. What seems to be forgotten is that Israel is a democracy. Thus it’s citizens are blameworthy in a way that those of Iraq, North Korea and other states are not.


The Tyranny of Male Logic

DEAR EDITOR: I think Mike Alder is grandly deluding himself with regard to his self-importance as a logician, and his feeling of the worthlessness of common folk (‘The Compleate Logician’ Issue 40)

I think Mr Alder began his philosophical argument for the non-existence of God with Miss Blackmore while she was involved in making the supper. Her obsequious manner of praising Mr Alder’s reasoning suggests she was merely humouring him and was not interested in entering into a protracted debate. However, no doubt a religious and thoughtful woman, she was not prepared to relinquish her long-held belief in God just for the sake of some quiet in the kitchen. This would have seemed to her unnecessarily blasphemous.

Nonetheless, she was dutifully attempting to follow Mr Alder’s argument, while tending to the cooking at the same-time (men lack this ability to multi-task) and could not, off the top of her head, spot the flaw in it. This is not to say there was no flaw in it. Indeed, there probably was.

In real-life arguments there is very rarely a neat divide between premises and conclusion, such that we have to proceed robot-like from premises to conclusion by virtue of some immutable law of logic. We are human beings. If we are not happy we can back out any time, even at the very last moment. I do not think it is illogical to suspect there is some flaw in an argument, even feel utterly sure of it, and so consequently resist the conclusion. Words have the power to beguile – not least arguments concerning the existence of God.

I think it is instructive to note that Alder asserts that the specifics of his argument are irrelevant. This is no doubt a cover for the worthlessness of his argument – as appears to characterise all arguments concerning the existence or otherwise of God. Yet, like a characteristically blinkered and pedantic man, all becomes peripheral to the question of the logical coherence of poor Miss Blackmore and the chance to scorn her and trip her up. To suggest she was breaking some immutable law of logic (the ‘modus potens’), or even that her brain is wired differently to normal logical people, seems in the circumstances truly ridiculous. But then I do not see why we need to canonise such laws of logic in the first place, which is to pretend logic is saying something far more interesting than it does, if in fact that is anything.

Contrary to Alder’s derision of the idea of logic as a patriarchal methodology, this idea rings particularly true with me. I have my own anecdote in this respect. I remember one year, as a philosophy undergraduate, living with a genius PhD physicist who had the ability to draw me into long intractable philosophical arguments, usually concerning his claimed superiority of physics over philosophy. I found these arguments curiously seductive, every assertion of his provocative, and inviting rebuttal (or requiring explanation of some high-level piece of physics), and yet also infuriating and hellish. Before long I would long to slip off to bed and would attempt a closing conciliatory comment, perhaps even agreeing with him just to get away; in this too he would manage to find issue. Men love to argue and lay down the truth, women are more content to express their thoughts and feelings, except when needing to be assertive. Logic is, indeed, a tyrannical patriarchal construction.


Music and the Immortality of Mind

DEAR EDITOR: I’m writing concerning the article ‘Life After Death’ by Steve Stewart-Williams in Issue 39. There was a BBC series some time ago on the Mind. One episode featured a story about a Master of the Royal College of Music, a world authority on Baroque music, who had suffered (I believe) a meningitis infection in adult life. This infection completely removed his long and short term memories and his capacity to make memories. He kept a daily diary of his life from moment to moment, but had no idea who had written the entries.

However, when placed in front of a piano keyboard and members of his ‘group’, he would undergo convulsions and then be able to play the piano, sing pieces, conduct the choir. Once he had stopped playing he underwent more convulsions and became the nonmemory person again. It was explained that his being able to play, sing and conduct was a set of learned abilities which resided in a part of the brain not affected by the infection.

During his performances with his group, the man himself was involved, passionate, and apparently (to me) fully cognoscent of what he and the others were doing. He was not ‘just’ performing a learned function. So where did this degree of involvement come from if his memory does not exist? Maybe the Mind requires the Brain as a conduit through which to experience the universe and through which to interact with it. Damage the Brain and you do not damage the Mind, you merely damage the conduit so that an observer will not be able to ‘see’ the Mind in operation.

In the case of this example of the musician, I propose that his Mind used the area of the Brain that had all the ‘trained memories’ through which to express himself. Hence the Mind has an existence separate to the Brain and could, therefore, continue after the physical death of the Brain. Speculation? Perhaps. But then Steve Stewart-Williams needs to be able to show that it isn’t so.


Eating Raw Flesh

DEAR EDITOR: In ‘Moral Moments’ in Issue 39 of Philosophy Now Joel Marks objects to humans killing animals for human consumption. He states that he “… is convinced that the animals are treated improperly as a result of human omnivorousness.” However, what does he mean by ‘treated improperly’?

If he means many animals that we eat are treated miserably prior to consumption, I would agree. The animals we consume should be treated such that suffering should be minimized. Much could be done to educate meat producers to lessen suffering.

Perhaps he means that improper treatment is killing the animal? After all, the animal would live longer if humans would not take it’s life to eat it. Marks states that all of us ought to do without meat. I’m lead to believe that Marks would not condone or consider it justifiable to kill an animal just for human consumption.

Is Marks proposing a ‘universal’ rule? Is this a duty that all of man, past and present, should follow? Is there any time or set of circumstances when it was or would be justifiable to kill an animal for human consumption?

I had the fortune of living with the Inuit peoples in Northern Canada for a number of years. Interestingly, the Inuit are also called Eskimo which means ‘eaters of raw flesh’. Are the Inuit immoral for consuming animals? Perhaps they’re ‘uneducated’? What ever the reason, the Inuit needed meat to survive the harsh conditions. In fact, they still do. Is survival a good enough reason to eat meat? Is the possible extinction of a unique culture enough of a reason?

Maybe the answer is distribution of food stuffs. After all, isn’t there enough non-animal food to feed the world? Maybe. Maybe not. Additionally, what about our Inuit friends? Should they be weaned off meat? Should they be transplanted to ‘the south’ to be taught cultivation techniques? Hard questions.

Further, has Marks considered this? If the issue is to prolong animals lives or reduce their suffering, the simple fact that humans exist is part of the problem. Why? Just the fact that humans exist means that we are consuming food and breathing oxygen that could be used by other animals. We certainly would decrease the plight of the animals, if we weren’t around.


Uncertainty and Hospitals

DEAR EDITOR: We enjoyed Professor Richard Taylor’s entertaining accounts of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (Issue 37). There is little doubt that Heisenberg has ruined many aspirations of intellectual determinism at the atomic level. Like speculative philosophy, however, the applications of this principle to complex fields of public policy do not always mirror what happens in reality.

Take health care for example. Contrary to Professor Taylor’s account of uncontrollable cost inflation, throughout the world publicly funded health care has actually saved money! A study published in 1993 comparing expenditures in acute care hospitals in Canada and the United States found that while Canadian acute care hospitals have more admissions, out-patient visits, and in-patient days per capita, they spend much less than hospitals in the US (see Redelmeier and Fuchs, New England Journal of Medicine 1993: pp.772-778). In 1998 Canada’s health care expenditure was 9.3 % of the GDP, while, in the United States, total health care expenditures represented 14.0 % of the U.S. GDP – a much higher proportion than any other industrialized country (OECD Health Data 99). Yet, despite this large expenditure, 50 million people in the United States are without any medical insurance. On the other hand, the Canadian model of publicly funded health care has meant universal coverage, lower costs, and nonprofit administration. (see Inglehart, New England Journal of Medicine 2000: pp.2007-2012).

The fact is that much of the costsaving associated with publicly funded health care can be better explained by classical Newtonian physics rather quantum mechanics. Newton’s third law of motion states that “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Because actions cause reactions, this iterative process of measures and countermeasures often balances and corrects unexpected excesses. Public health care is funded by taxes, so when costs escalate, governments are forced to take cost containment measures, and these measures become increasingly firm and effective over time. In Canada, such measures include global budgeting to put a cap on publicly funded health care expenditures, whereas no such caps have ever been contemplated for private health care. As a result, cost control was achieved in the setting of publicly funded health care: first in the hospital sector, and later extending to physician services. Thus, the greatest challenges to cost control in Canada today are in the areas outside of the publicly funded health care system. This includes outpatient medications and dental care.

Professor Taylor is of course doing us a great service by warning us of the dangers inherent in shaping public policy due to uncertainty, ignorance, incompetence, greed, etc. However, a dose of scientific thinking and evidence-based public policy seems to be in order to avoid the fanciful applications of a sound principle from one discipline to another. Over-philosophizing may be fun but it can also be misleading.


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