Category “Arbitrary”

What I thought about Sam Harris’ TED talk

I have now been asked my opinion on Sam Harris’ talk, ‘Science can answer moral questions’ (TED talk, Feb 2010), so often that I can no longer withhold it without losing serious face.

Harris’ core idea is not new, although it may be packaged to appear like it is.  The basic form of his argument is that of Utilitarianism, in that ‘during moral decision making, something gets maximized’.  Accordingly, many of the arguments that can be brought to bear against Utilitarianism can be leveled against Harris’ model.

But what is it that gets maximized?  This is one major problem.  Using the analogy of Harris’ ethical landscape,  what determines the ‘evil’ depths of valleys, the ‘virtuous’ heights of mountain summits?  And, more importantly, what is the decision to use a particular measure (‘happiness’/’utility’/’human wellbeing’) grounded on?

Take for instance Harris’ wild exclamation: “Why is it that we don’t have ethical obligations towards rocks?” Don’t we? You see, Harris wants to normalize his ethical landscape with humans as the measure.  But how did he come to decide on this particular weighting?  And how to determine how, for instance, Argentinian army ants weigh in vis-à-vis anopheles spp. mosquitoes?

Also, Harris understates the importance of knowledge.  You see, for his system to find application, we first need to know what the landscape looks like.  But as pointed out by G. E. Moore over a century ago, this involves very difficult, usually impossible, predictions about future consequences.

Lastly, it needs to be said that Harris’ talk was unnecessarily inflammatory, and did not paint a fair and representative picture of opposing viewpoints, not to mention Islamic culture [as if there were such a unified thing].

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Foucault’s Project

“In what is given to us as universal, necessary, obligatory, what place is occupied by whatever is singular, contingent, and the product of arbitrary constraints?”

– Michel Foucault, The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, Volume 3: Power.  Ed: James Faubion, Tr: Robert Hurley et al. (New York: New Press, 2000).

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Jefferson Idling

“Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp
and observing as far as my eye can see.”

– Thomas Jefferson, 1781

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Why I dropped out of the System

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Running safety sweep on the Smith River

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Won’t you remember the days of slavery?

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How does this make you feel?

Spectrum: World Press Photo Awards

Rina Castelnuovo, Israel. A Jewish settler throws wine at a Palestinian woman in Hebron in the West Bank. Holy to both Jews and Muslims, the city is often the scene of violence. Castelnuovo captured the attack while photographing a celebration of the Jewish festival of Purim. Rina Castelnuovo/Reportage by Getty.”

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Psychrolutes marcidus – “not funny”‘

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Hoopa Chess

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