Sunday, 29 November 2015

Terrorism, Love and Delusion

In this posting I want to look at terrorism. As a philosopher rather than a psychologist I won’t consider the means by which potential terrorists might become radicalised, instead I will consider one of the conditions which might make some people might susceptible to radicalisation. Terrorists are sometimes seen as idealists, albeit with warped ideals. I will argue that ideals are vital to us as persons and that if someone lacks ideals that this lack creates a condition in which she becomes susceptible to radicalisation.

Usually the ideals that are important to a terrorist are grand political ideals. I’m interested in the time before she acquires such grand ideals, I’m more interested in the mundane ideals that shape people’s everyday lives. I want to link ideals mundane or otherwise to what someone loves. I will assume as Harry Frankfurt does that someone who loves nothing at all has no ideals (1). An ideal is something someone finds hard to betray and as a result limits her will. Love also limits the will. Love need not be grand romantic love but can simply be seen as ‘caring about’ something in a way that limits the carer’s will. I would suggest if someone loves something this something forms a sort of ideal for her as she must try to ensure the thing she loves is benefited and not harmed. If this wasn’t so she would remain indifferent to her supposed beloved rather than loving it. It is impossible for someone to be indifferent to her ideals. However accepting the above doesn’t mean that ideals have to be grand ideals, indeed someone’s ideals can be quite modest.

I now want to argue that ideals, as defined by what we love above, are essential to us as persons. According to Frankfurt someone without ideals

“can make whatever decision he likes and shape his will as he pleases. This does not mean that his will is free. It only means that his will is anarchic, moved by mere impulse and inclination. For a person without ideals, there are no volitional laws he has bound himself to respect and to which he unconditionally submits. He has no inviolable boundaries. Thus he is amorphous with no fixed shape or identity.” (2)
Let us accept that ideals are essential to us as persons and I would suggest that someone without ideals has a sense of simply being. I would further suggest that this sense of simply being is one that most people would find unbearable. According to Christine Korsgaard human beings by their very nature are condemned to choosing (3). Someone without ideals has no basis on which to choose and as Frankfurt points out is ruled by impulse and inclination. It seems the combination of the need to choose even if that choice is an unconscious one and the lack of a basis for that choice is what makes simply being, simply existing, unbearable.
If one accepts the above then the need to love something, have ideals, expresses a quite primitive urge for psychic survival. I would suggest that in some cases this need to love something creates the conditions which makes some people vulnerable to radicalisation. Of course this need to love something might be met in other ways, perhaps even perhaps in such mundane ways such as keeping a pet. However the young, perhaps especially young men, want to feel important and perhaps this feeling causes them to prefer grand rather than mundane means in order to satisfy this need. In some cases the combination of the need to love and feel important makes some people especially vulnerable to radicalisation.
I now want to argue that choosing to be a terrorist in order to satisfy the primitive urge to love something is a form of self-delusion. It is a self-delusion due to the nature of love. Love is not simply a matter choosing to love. According to Frankfurt, “love is a concern for the well-being or flourishing of a beloved object – a concern that is more or less volitionally constrained so that it is not a matter of entirely free choice or under full voluntary control, and that is more or less disinterested.” (4) Now if we accept Frankfurt’s position then when someone chooses to become a terrorist in order to satisfy her urge to love something she is deluding herself. Love is not a matter of choice and it is impossible for someone to choose to love in order to satisfy this need. Of course such decisions about choosing to love are usually unconscious ones but nonetheless they are still decisions and as a result remain self-deluding.
It might be objected that I am exaggerating the importance of the need to love and underestimating the need to feel important. I will now argue even if this is so, which I don’t accept, that some of the same considerations apply. To terrorists the feeling of importance is connected to violent action. Terrorists want to be considered as heroes by some people. I have previously defined a hero as someone who chooses to recognisably benefit someone else or society in ways most people could not, in addition her actions must be beyond the call of duty and must involve some real sacrifice on her part, see Hobbs and Heroes . Now what motivates a true hero is a need to benefit someone else or society, it is not to satisfy some need to be seen as a hero. Some who pushes someone into a river in order to rescue them certainly isn’t a hero. Someone might choose to become a hero but if the motivation for her actions is a desire to be a hero then she is deluding herself about her actions even if this desire is an unconscious one because no real sacrifice is involved. Indeed it is even possible to argue that someone who resists her desires to be seen as heroic might be better seen as a hero even if a minor one.
Let us accept that one of the conditions which makes some people susceptible to radicalisation is a sense of simply being, simply existing, due to a lack of ideals. Other conditions may play a part but what might be done to alleviate this condition? Unfortunately there seem to no easy or quick solutions because real ideals must be acquired rather than given. In spite of these difficulties I will offer some rather tentative solutions. Firstly good parenting; good parenting should always involve love. Some deprived and inarticulate parents find it hard to give or to express their love even if they are excellent parents in other ways. Some parenting skills can be taught but loving can’t. It follows we should encourage social conditions conducive to the emergence of love. Perhaps also we should actively encourage policies that promote happiness, see action for happiness . Secondly education must be more broadly based. Education should not only be focussed on the skills valued by employers but also on the skills that help all pupils to flourish. For instance the skills needed in sport and music should not be considered to be on the educational periphery. Education should be broad enough so that all have the opportunity to acquire skills to enable them to be good at something rather just acquire skills that are good for employment. Even if ISIS can be defeated by other means or collapses due its inherently stupid doctrines the solutions outlined above would remain useful in building a more cohesive society.

  1. Harry Frankfurt, 1999, Necessity, Volition, and Love, Cambridge University Press, page 114.
  2. Frankfurt, page 114.
  3. Christine Korsgaard, 2009, Self-Constitution, Oxford University Press, page 1.
  4. Frankfurt, page 165.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Autonomy and Beneficence Revisited

I have previously argued that if someone asks me to buy him cigarettes and I was not going to be significantly inconvenienced that I have reason to do so. I assumed that he was an adult fully aware of the dangers of smoking. I am a non-smoker and believe smoking is harmful. However I also believe in giving precedence to respecting autonomy over acting beneficently. Recently a posting by Michael Cook in bioedge has caused me to question my position. Cook considers the case of a North Carolina woman called Jewel Shuping. Ms Shuping wasn’t born blind but was convinced that she was meant to be blind.  According to her doctors she had Body Integrity Identity Disorder. A psychologist gave her some counselling and after this failed gave her some eye-numbing drops before washing her pupils with drain cleaner. Cook asks was the psychologist right to destroy his patient’s eyesight even if she freely requested him to do so and was happy with the result of this treatment? The case of Shuping is an extreme one, however let us assume I am a carer for someone who becomes housebound and unable to buy the cigarettes he had previously enjoyed. Let us further assume that I buy these for him for a number of years and that eventually he develops lung cancer. In this situation am I partly to blame for his condition or have I only been respecting his autonomy? In this posting I want to examine the way in which we should respect someone’s autonomy. This examination is important for as Cook points out it has wider implications in difficult contexts for informed consent such as gender reassignment surgery and euthanasia.

Why did I argue that if it didn’t inconvenience me that I should buy a smoker a packet of cigarettes when he asked me provided he was an adult and fully aware of the dangers involved? I argued by doing so I was respecting his autonomy. Most people would object that my buying someone cigarettes has nothing to do with respecting autonomy. Respecting someone’s autonomy to most people simply means not interfering with someone doing something he cares about provided that by so doing he doesn’t harm others. If this is all it means to respect autonomy then respecting a smoker’s autonomy gives me no reason to buy him cigarettes when he asks me to do so. Let us accept informed consent is based on respect for patient autonomy. It then also follows that Shuping’s informed consent gave her psychologist no reason to acquiesce to her wishes. He might of course thought he was acting beneficently.

I now want to argue that the account of autonomy outlined above is an incomplete one. I will argue that a more complete account means that someone’s autonomous wishes must carry some weight for me. Let us suppose someone asks me to do him a favour and that doing so would not significantly inconvenience me. If I respect him I must feel it would be better to satisfy these wishes, provided by doing so I do no harm. If this was not so I would be indifferent towards him. Being indifferent to someone is not compatible with showing respect. At this point it might be argued that satisfying someone’s wishes has more to do with acting beneficently towards him than respecting his autonomy. However I would reject such an argument. I can act beneficently towards my dog by satisfying his needs but this doesn’t mean I respect him. I may of course love my dog but love differs from respect. Respecting someone as a person means accepting him as the sort of creature that can determine his own future. Respecting someone as a person means accepting what he determines to be his wishes must have some sort of weight for me. If I see someone as the sort of creature who can determine his own future but give no weight to his wishes then I am indifferent towards him rather than respectful. It does not of course automatically follow on from giving weight to his wishes that I have to satisfy them. Doing so might may harm others or cause me significant inconvenience. However it does follow that if I respect someone as a person and can satisfy those of his wishes which do no harm others without any significant inconvenience that I have reason do so. It further follows a more complete account of autonomy requires satisfying someone’s autonomous wishes provided these wishes do no harm to others or cause significant inconvenience.

Let us accept this more complete account of autonomy. If we accept that informed is based on respect for autonomy then I would suggest Shuping’s psychologist did have reason to acquiesce to her demands. It might be objected even if Shuping’s desire did have some weight him that her psychologist should not have acted as he did due the harm caused. Cook poses the question,

“Was the psychologist right to destroy his patient’s eyesight if she freely requested it, was happy with the treatment, and was living in psychological torment because she could see.”

Let us assume that Shuping would have been satisfied if the psychologist had blinded her but that he didn’t do so. Perhaps he believed his refusal to act was in her best interests. However if he did this he might be accused of epistemic arrogance. Moreover he might be accused of failing to respect her autonomy because he is failing to see her as the sort of creature who could make her own decisions. If the above is accepted then when respecting someone else’s autonomy requires that ‘the doing no harm condition’ should be replaced by ‘doing no harm on balance’. At this point it might be objected that such a concept of autonomy is far too demanding as people cannot always decide what on balance does no harm and we should retain the simpler condition of doing no harm.

I now want to argue we should accept the condition of ‘doing no harm on balance’. Let us assume that embedded within our thicker account of respecting autonomy is the simpler Millian account. Let us assume our smoker makes an autonomous decision to buy cigarettes. It follows that if I respect his autonomy that I should not act to stop him buying cigarettes by hiding his wallet according to the Millian account. Now let us now assume that he has broken his leg and that it would not inconvenience me to buy him the cigarettes. However I believe the cigarettes will cause him harm and refuse. In both scenarios I can prevent this harm by refusing to buy cigarettes when he has broken his leg and by hiding his wallet when he hasn’t. In both of these scenarios the outcome doesn’t change. If I hide someone’s wallet then I am acting to block him from exercising his autonomy. And if I refuse to buy him cigarettes I am omitting to act. A discussion of autonomy is an unusual place for the act’s/omissions controversy to occur. Does the difference between acts and omissions apply in this context? Indeed is there any real difference between acts and omissions in practical deliberation, see Julian Savulescu’s posting in practicalethics . In both of the above scenarios we are aware of the effects of our choice of behaviour. Christine Korsgaard argues that “choosing not to act makes not acting a kind of acting, makes it something that you do.” (1) I would suggest provided Korsgaard is correct then if someone chooses to act or chooses to omit to act that there is no meaningful difference between acts and omissions. It is still possible that acts and omissions might differ provided ones actions are ones he is fully conscious of and are omissions are unconscious choices. However is such a difference one between acts and omissions or a difference between degrees of consciousness concerning our behaviour? The above suggests to me that when it comes to respecting autonomy there is no meaningful difference between acts and omissions. It follows if I believe smoking will harm the smoker but refrain from hiding his wallet but refuse to buy him cigarettes I am acting inconsistently.

What conclusions can be drawn from the above? Firstly that a purely Millian account of autonomy is an incomplete account. A more complete account means that respecting someone’s autonomy requires that one must sometimes act beneficently towards him provided so doing does not harm him on balance and does not cause significant inconvenience. Autonomy and some forms of beneficence are linked. Of course I accept that someone might have other reasons to act beneficently which are independent of respecting autonomy. Secondly it follows I should buy the smoker his cigarettes. Lastly it would seem Shuping’s psychologist acted correctly. I am somewhat reluctant to accept this conclusion. Perhaps in cases in which the stakes are so high there must be some doubt as to whether one is in fact causing no harm on balance and the precautionary principle should be applied. Nonetheless in spite of my reluctance I am forced to conclude that provided he was sure he was causing no harm that on balance Shuping’s psychologist was acting correctly.

  1. Christine Korsgaard, 2009, Self-Constitution, Oxford University Press, page 1.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Emerging AI and Existential Threats

AI is much in the news recently. Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt believes AI is starting to make real progress whilst others such as Nick Bostrom believe AI might pose an existential danger to humanity (1). In this posting I want first to question whether any real progress is in fact being made and secondly examine the potential dangers involved. Before proceeding I must make it clear I don’t deny AI is feasible for after all human beings have evolved intelligence. If intelligence can evolve due to natural selection then it seems feasible that it can be created by artificial means however I believe this will be harder to achieve than many people seem to believe.
At present computing power is rising fast and algorithms are increasing in complexity leading to optimism about the emergence of real AI. However it seems to me that larger faster computers and more complex algorithms alone are unlikely to lead to real AI. I will argue genuine intelligence requires a will and as yet no progress has been made to creating for or endowing AI with a will. Famously Hume argued that reason are the slave of the passions. Reason according to Hume is purely instrumental. It might be thought that better computers and better algorithms ought to reason better at the very least. I would question whether they can reason at all because I would suggest that reason cannot be separated from the will. In the present situation seems to me that better computers and better algorithms only mean they are better instruments to serve our will, they don’t reason at all. The output of some computer program may indeed have some form but this form doesn’t have any meaning which is independent of us. The form of its output alone has no more meaning than that of a sand dune sculpted by the wind. However sophisticated computers or algorithms become if the interpretation of their output depends on human beings then they don’t have any genuine intelligence and as a result I believe it is misleading to attribute AI to such computers or algorithms. Real AI in this posting will mean computers, algorithms or robots which have genuine intelligence. Genuine intelligence requires reasoning independently of human beings and this reasoning involves having a will.
Let us accept that if some supposed AI doesn’t have a will that it doesn’t have any genuine intelligence. What then does it mean to have a will? According to Harry Frankfurt,
“The formation of a person’s will is most fundamentally a matter of his coming to care about certain things, and of his coming to care about some of them more than others.” (2)
For something to have a will it must be capable of ‘caring about’ or loving something. If computers, algorithms or robots are mere instruments or tools, in much the same way as a hammer is, then they don’t have any will and real AI is no more than a dream. How might we give a potential AI a will or create the conditions from which a potential AI will acquire an emergent will? Before trying to answer this question I want to consider one further question. If something has a will must we regard it as a person? Let us assume Frankfurt is correct in believing that for something to have a will it must be capable of ‘caring about’ something. Frankfurt argues that something
“to whom its own condition and activities do not matter in the slightest properly be regarded as a person at all. Perhaps nothing that is entirely indifferent to itself is really a person, regardless of how intelligent or emotional or in other respects similar to persons it may be. There could not be a person of no importance to himself.” (3)
Accepting the above means that to have a will is essential to being a person. It also suggests that if something has a will it might be regarded as a person. This suggestion has moral implications for AI. Clearly when we switch off our computers we are not committing murder however if we switched off a computer or terminated an algorithm which had acquired a will we would. I will not follow this implication further here.

Let us return to the question as to whether it is possible to seed a potential AI with a will or create the conditions in which it might acquire one. If we accept Frankfurt’s position then for something to have a will it must satisfy three conditions.
  1. It must be able to ‘care about’ some things and care about some of them more than others.
  2. It must ‘care about itself.
  3. In order to ‘care about’ it must be aware of itself and other things.

Before being able to satisfy conditions 1 and 2 a potential AI must firstly satisfy condition 3. If we program a potential AI to be aware of itself and other things it seems possible we are only programming the AI to mimic awareness. For this reason it might be preferable to try and create the conditions from which a potential AI might acquire an emergent awareness of itself and other things. How might we set about achieving this? The first step must be to give a potential AI a map of the world it will operate in. Initially it need not understand this map and only be able to use it to react to the world. Secondly it must be able to use its reactions with the world to refine this map. If intelligence is to be real then the world it operates in must be our world and the map it creates by refinement must resemble our world. Robots react more meaningfully with our world than computers so perhaps real AI will emerge from robots or robot swarms connected to computers. However it seems to me that creating a map of the things in our world will not be enough for a potential AI to acquire emergent awareness. For any awareness to emerge it must learn to differentiate how different things in that world react to its actions. Firstly it must learn what it can and cannot change by physical action. Secondly and more importantly it must learn to pick from amongst those things it cannot change by physical action the things it can sometimes change by change by simply changing its own state. A potential AI must learn which things are aware of the potential AI’s states and perhaps by doing so become aware of itself satisfying the third of the conditions above. Meeting this condition might facilitate the meeting of the first two conditions.
For the sake of argument let us assume a potential AI can acquire a will and in the process become a real AI. This might be done by the rather speculative process I sketched above. Bostrom believes AI might be an existential threat to humanity. I am somewhat doubtful whether a real AI would pose such a threat. Any so called intelligent machine which doesn’t have a will is an instrument and does not in itself pose an existential threat to us. Of course the way we use it may threaten us but the cause of the threat lies in ourselves in much the same way as nuclear weapons do. However I do believe the change from a potential AI to a real AI by acquiring a will does pose such a theat. Hume argued it wasn’t “contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to scratching of my finger.” It certainly seems possible that a potential AI with an emerging will might behave in this way. It might have the will equivalent to that of a very young child whilst at the same time possessing immense powers, possibly the power to destroy humanity. Any parent with a young child who throws a tantrum because he can’t get his own way will appreciate how an emerging AI with immense powers and an emergent will potentially might poses an existential threat.
How might we address such a threat? Alan Turing proposed his Turing test for intelligence. Perhaps we need a refinement of his test to test for good will, such a refinement might called the Humean test. Firstly such a test must test for a good will and secondly, but much more importantly, it must test whether any emergent AI might in any possible circumstances consider the destruction of humanity. Creating such a test will not be easy and it will be difficult to deal with the problem of deceit. Moreover it is worth noting some people, such as Hitler and Pol Pot, might not have passed such a test. Nonetheless if an emerging AI is not to pose a threat to humanity the development of such is vital and any potential AI which is not purely an instrument and cannot pass the test should be destroyed even if this involves killing a proto person.

  1.  Nick Bostrom, 2004, Superintelligence, Oxford University Press
  2. Harry Frankfurt, 1988, The Importance of What We Care About. Cambridge University Press, page 91
  3. Frankfurt, 1999 Necessity, Volition, and Love. Cambridge University Press. Page 90.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Do Same Sex couples have a greater right to Fertility Treatment?

Emily McTernan “argues that states have greater reason to provide fertility treatment for same sex couples than for heterosexual couples” (1). She bases her argument on the premise that greater access to fertility treatment for same sex couples will encourage a diversity in of ways of life and that this diversity is a social good. In this posting I will argue that she is mistaken and that same sex couples do not have a greater right to fertility treatment.

In what follows I will restrict my discussion of fertility treatment to IVF. McTernan argues that IVF cannot be justified as an element of general healthcare. Healthcare she assumes should be concerned with disease and infertility is not normally a disease. She defines disease as an adverse deviation from normal species functioning and this deviation is a deviation from what is statistically normal given someone’s age and sex. Of course there are exceptions.  A women with a specific problem such as blocked fallopian tubes has a disease and using the above definition has a right to fertility treatment, has a right to IVF. However for most couples, especially if the women is older, infertility is not a deviation from what is statistically normal, and as a result most couples do not have a right to IVF based on a right to healthcare. I agree with McTernan.

Accepting the above of course doesn’t automatically mean people don’t have some right to IVF or that the state shouldn’t provide IVF. After all the state provides such things as libraries, parks and sports fields. Accepting the above only means that the states provision of IVF should compete with the states’ provision of libraries, parks and other things which help its citizens flourish. Let us accept that the state should provide some funding for IVF commensurate with other requirements it has. McTernan argues that within this provision same sex couples should be prioritised in order to encourage a diversity in ways of life.

I now want to argue that McTernan’s argument is unsound and that in allocating IVF we shouldn’t prioritise same sex couples. Firstly I will argue McTernan’s reason for such prioritisation is unsound and secondly present an argument against any such prioritisation. McTernan believes that we should encourage diversity in ways of life. Offering priority in access to IVF to gay couples might increase diversity in child rearing. However if diversity in ways of life is an unqualified good then perhaps the state should reform the law on bigamy and even encourage polygamous marriage as by doing so it would encourage different sorts of relationships. Few people would support such a reform but even if such a reform could be justified other examples could be imagined to show that not all diversity in ways of life are good. Nonetheless let us accept that diversity is sometimes desirable, is a qualified good. It follows diversity in child rearing might be such a qualified good and hence should be encouraged. What exactly does McTernan want to increase diversity in? Does she want to increase diversity in child rearing or simply diversity in relationships? Child rearing involves loving, safe guarding, nurturing and guidance. I don’t believe McTernan wants to change these basics. It follows she wants to increase a diversity in relationships. However the state could also encourage a gay lifestyle, in order to increase a diversity in relationships, by tax incentives. Few would support such a proposal. Such a proposal seems to be mistaken for surely the amount of diversity in sexual orientation in a society should be determined by people’s natural inclinations rather than by government policy. Accepting the above means of course if sexual orientation in a society should be determined by people’s natural inclinations rather than by the state that the state has reason to permit gay marriage. Accepting the above also means the state has no reason to prioritise access to IVF for gay couples.

Gay couples cannot have children unaided by anyone else. It might be suggested that this fact means gay couples should be prioritised in accessing IVF. However even if gay couples cannot have children unaided by others IVF is not the only option open to them if they want to have children. Both male and female same sex couples might be able to adopt a child. Male couples might also use surrogacy and this need not involve IVF. Female couples can use AID. It seems to me the fact that gay couples cannot have children unaided does not mean they should be prioritised in accessing IVF.

I now want to argue there is a second reason as to why gay couples should not be given greater priority in accessing IVF. My argument is based on fairness. Let us assume that gay couples are given greater priority in accessing IVF. It might then be objected such prioritisation is unfair. Fairness requires that everybody’s needs are considered. It does not follow of course that everybody’s needs should be satisfied equally. However it does require that if some peoples’ needs aren’t satisfied equally that some reason can be given for this. Let us assume that people have a need to have children who are genetically related to them. Let us consider a gay and a heterosexual couple both of whom are unable to conceive children without IVF. Both couples have the same need. Fairness requires that if the needs of these couples are satisfied unequally that there that some reason can be given for this unequal satisfaction. The need of both couples are identical, to have children they are genetically related to. If the needs of both couples are the same then any reason given for unequal treatment must depend on the outcomes for any children so conceived or some benefit to society. The outcomes for any children depends on the parenting skills of the couples involved. Perhaps for instance either gay or heterosexual couples make better parents. However there seems no evidence to support such a reason. Perhaps then society might benefit from unequal satisfaction. It is difficult to see how society might benefit except for promotion of greater diversity, but I have argued above that whilst society must permit greater diversity it should not try to alter the natural diversity occurring within it. In conclusion it would seem that the encouragement of a diversity in ways of life does not give us a reason to prioritise IVF for gay couples over heterosexual couples. It further seems that fairness requires that all couples are given equal priority.

  1. Emily McTernan, 2015, Should Fertility Treatment be State Funded? Journal of Applied Philosophy, 32,3. Page 237

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Philosophy of Rudeness

In this posting I want examine rudeness. It might be thought that rudeness is of minor concern to society and hence not of any great philosophical interest. I believe rudeness should be of greater concern to society. For instance, consider the former Chief Constable of Northumbria Police who resigned over alleged rudeness to senior colleagues, see the guardian . It also seems possible that rude and aggressive behaviour, rudeness and aggression seem to be linked, might make teaching more difficult. Lastly it appears that someone’s creativity and willingness to help others might be damaged by rudeness, see the psychologist . It follows there are some reasons as to why rudeness should be of concern to society. It further follows that if philosophy can say anything meaningful about rudeness that rudeness should be of philosophical concern.

What do we mean by rudeness? Rudeness might be defined as a lack of manners or being discourteous. In what follows I won’t deal with etiquette and mainly focus on someone being discourteous. What then do we mean when we say someone acts discourteously? One can’t be discourteous to oneself, discourteousness applies to relationships. Someone acts discourteously in his relationships if he focusses solely on his needs and wishes without considering the needs, views and wishes of others. Such a definition of discourteousness seems to be too broad. For instance someone might not consider the needs, views and wishes of others due to ignorance. Rudeness, acting discourteously, might be better defined as knowingly not considering the needs, views and wishes of others. It might be objected this definition remains too broad as there is a difference between acting selfishly and acting rudely. My objector might then proceed to suggest that real rudeness means someone not only not considering the needs, views and wishes of others but also making explicit his lack of consideration and perhaps even his contempt for them. In response to my objector in what follows I will argue that knowing selfishness is a form of rudeness. I would further respond that my objector is really pointing to more explicit rudeness rather than proposing a different concept.

Before proceeding let us be clear what the above definition entails. It must include a lack of consideration for the views and wishes of another and not just his needs. If only needs were involved I could be rude to my dog by not considering his need for exercise. However the above definition remains inadequate. For instance I could ignore my sleeping partner’s needs, views and wishes but my lack of consideration would not be a case of rudeness. Let us modify our definition of rudeness; rudeness might be defined as someone knowingly not considering the needs, views and wishes of another and at the time of this inconsideration the other being aware of this inconsideration.

Accepting the above definition means that rudeness and morality are linked. However differences remain between acting rudely and acting immorally. Morality very roughly consists of someone considering the needs of others and acting to meet these needs provided he judges or feels action is appropriate. Acting rudely only involves a lack of consideration. It follows rude behaviour need not necessary be immoral behaviour but that rudeness is on the road to immoral behaviour. Let us consider an example. Suppose I knowingly fail to consider ways to get my partner to work, when her car has broken down and that she is aware of my lack of consideration. Clearly I have acted rudely. However whether I have also acted immorally depend on the circumstances. If I had an important doctor’s appointment then I have acted rudely but not acted in an immoral manner. However if I only want to sleep a bit longer and a little less sleep would not harm me and I fail to run my partner to work then I have acted both rudely and acted in a slightly immoral way. It is also true that behaving in an immoral way towards someone need not be rude behaviour. I can behave in an immoral way when the subject of my bad behaviour is unaware of my behaviour. For instance if a charming sociopath might use his charm to further his own ends without consideration of someone’s needs then he may be acting immorally but he is not acting rudely.

I now want examine the causes of the lack of consideration which seems to be an essential element of rudeness. Firstly someone might attach great importance to his self. Secondly he may lack empathy. This second reason might explain why it appears men on average display greater rudeness than women. In what follows a lack of consideration refers to a knowing lack of consideration when those who are not considered are aware of this lack. Someone’s needs will refer to his needs, views and wishes.

The first cause I wish to examine is when someone overvalues his self-importance. Such a person when deciding on how to act focusses solely on his own needs. If someone focusses on his own needs and these needs don’t affect others then he is acting prudently rather than rudely. However if someone focusses on his own needs without any consideration of the needs of others, when his needs affect their needs, he acts rudely. If someone always bases his actions on his own self-importance then I would suggest he fails to see others of equal importance. But his failure has an additional element he fails to recognise something essential about his own nature, he fails to recognise his nature as a social animal. Such a failure damages both the relationships which help foster society and him personally.

The second important cause of rudeness is that someone lacks empathy. I must make it clear by empathy I mean associative rather than projective empathy. A sociopath can project himself into the minds of others and understand the feelings of others. He might use this understanding to experience pleasure in the pain of others. Associative empathy means someone experiences the feelings of others. It seems to me a rude person might have projective empathy but that he does not have associative empathy. I should make it clear at this point that I don’t believe only having projective empathy necessarily makes someone into a sociopath. It makes him indifferent. It also gives him one of the tools a sociopath needs. I would suggest a lack of associative empathy damages someone as a person as he lacks an essential element needed in the makeup of social animals.

I have argued that whilst rudeness is not always immoral it is on the road to immorality. I further argued that rudeness damages a rude person’s status as a social animal. I would suggest that for the most people being a social animal is a good. It follows rudeness damages people. At the beginning of this posting I gave three examples which pointed to rudeness damaging society. What then can be done to combat rudeness? One thing that might be done is that society should become less accepting towards rudeness. What is entailed in being less accepting? Less acceptance means not being indifferent to rudeness but pointing out to rude people that their rudeness damages them as social animals. However less acceptance should simply mean less acceptance and not slip into aggressively challenging rudeness which might itself might become a form of rudeness. Secondly we must become more prepared to accept that other people are the same sort of creatures as ourselves. We must respect the autonomy of others. This means we must give priority to respecting someone’s autonomy before acting beneficently towards him. Indeed acting to satisfy our perception of someone’s needs instead of attempting to satisfy his expressed needs might be seen as a form of rudeness, see woolerscottus . Respecting autonomy means we must be tolerant of persons and their views. However this toleration should not extend to their attitude towards others if this attitude is a rude one. Sometimes we must be prepared to simply accept that our views and those of others differ and do no more, see practicalethics . Thirdly I have argued that a lack of associative empathy is one of the root causes of rudeness. It follows we might combat rudeness by addressing this lack. Unfortunately doing so is not easy, it can’t be done by simply increasing awareness or cognition. Michael Slote argues that parental love helps a child develop associative empathy (1) but even if combatting rudeness by increasing parental love is possible it will be a slow process.

  1. Michael Slote, 2014, A Sentimentalist Theory of the Mind, Oxford, pages 128-134.  

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Work, Automation and Happiness

In a posting in his philosophical disquisitions John Danaher wonders whether work makes us happy. Happiness matters to us so this is an important question. Moreover as Danaher points out increasing automation might mean that there will be less work in the future adding importance to the question. In this posting I will attempt to answer this question but in order to do so I must firstly examine what is meant by work.

Should we define work simply as labour undertaken for some economic reward or hope of such a reward? Perhaps we are lucky and enjoy such work but for many people work is a chore that takes up time they could use to enjoy themselves in other ways. Work for many people is simply a job. They work for money to enable them to do the things they really want to do, work is instrumental in allowing them to do these things. However we don’t have to define work in this way. For instance someone might work at writing a book because she wants to tell a story rather than gain financially. Someone might work in his garden simply because doing so brings him pleasure. Work, so defined, has intrinsic value. It would seem all work involves labour or effort. However we might labour for something and in this case work has instrumental value or we might labour at something and work has intrinsic value. It follows that work can be defined in two ways, either as labouring for something or labouring at something.

Let us now consider the first definition of work, work defined as labouring for something. Let us assume that the goods we seek by work could be delivered by automation. Let us further assume that these goods could be shared equitably. Perhaps in the future the state might introduce a basic income guarantee which would be large enough to allow people to obtain the goods which previously their income from work provided for. A basic income guarantee might only work provided the goods people seek are not subject to over inflation. If people want ever bigger cars, houses and even more exotic holidays a basic income guarantee might prove to be insufficient to deliver the goods they seek, it should be noted that in such a scenario work itself might provide insufficient funds to provide these goods. Such a basic income guarantee is highly speculative but for the sake of argument let us assume such a guarantee is both affordable by some future state and can deliver the goods people seek from work. In this situation it might be suggested, that because the things people value can be delivered without work and ‘work for something’ has no intrinsic value, that working would not contribute to people’s happiness.

In his posting Danaher considers one argument as to why we should reject the above suggestion. The argument he considers was made initially by Nicholas Carr (1). This argument depends on three premises. Firstly it is assumed that the ‘flow’ state is an important part of human well-being. The idea of flow has been made popular by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi.  When someone is in a flow state she is performing an activity in which she is fully immersed, losing any feeling of reflective self-consciousness and she has an energised focus. This state leads to positive emotions making someone happy whilst in the state. Secondly it is assumed that people are bad judges of what will get them into such ‘flow’ states. Thirdly it is assumed that work sometimes gives people a flow state. It appears to follow that work is desirable because it sometimes gives people a flow state which increases their happiness. It appears to further follow that vastly increased automation, leading to large scale unemployment, would be a bad thing because it would lead to a decrease in many peoples happiness even if they still obtained the goods they had previously obtained by working because they would experience a decrease in flow states. Other arguments could be made as to why work might contribute to someone’s happiness, for instance the workplace might be conducive to friendship. However in what follows I will only consider Danaher’s argument.

I now want to argue the above appearance are false. I am prepared to accept the first two premises of the above argument. Flow is an important element of human wellbeing and that we aren’t very good at judging what gets us into a flow state. I am also willing to accept that some work can sometimes deliver a flow state. If I am writing I occasionally enter into a flow state and perhaps someone who is fully engaged playing some sport might do likewise. In these circumstances someone is working at something which she believes has intrinsic value. Can someone enter into a flow state if she is working for something in a purely instrumental way? Let us assume someone works at a job she hates to support her family. In these circumstances achieving flow is not part of her goal. Nonetheless it might be suggested that in this scenario such a person might enter into a flow state meaning her work has some intrinsic value even she isn’t consciously aware of this value. It is conceivable that in these circumstances working for something has both instrumental and intrinsic value.

Let it be assumed that in some circumstances when the goods we seek are available without working for them the instrumental value of work vanishes. Nonetheless in the light of the above it might be suggested that even in these circumstances work retains some intrinsic value. Let us accept that work has some intrinsic value when we work at something we care about. In addition if we work at something we care about it seems highly probable that this work will provide some flow. However I now want to argue that the above suggestion that, if work has no instrumental value and we work at something we don’t care about or even dislike that work might nonetheless retain some intrinsic value, is unsound because such work is unlikely to provide us with any flow.

Let us accept that if we work in a completely aimless fashion at something we don’t care about that such work will not result in a flow state. Let us also accept that if work is to provide flow that this work must be goal orientated and that this goal must be something we care about. For instance someone might work to provide for her children she cares about. Let us now assume that someone works and that her only goal of this work is to obtain a flow state in order to increase her happiness. All the things she cares about can be provided by automation and that she finds the work she undertakes to be dreary. Nonetheless she persists in working with the goal of achieving flow in order to increase her happiness. I will now argue by analogy that such work would not result in a flow state. I would suggest just as we cannot choose to be in love, love is constrained, so we cannot just choose to be in a flow state. Love just comes to us and similarly a flow state only comes to us when we work at what we love or care about. Accepting my suggestion means that if automation removes the need to work for the goods we care about that continuing to work solely to obtain some flow is impossible. However I also suggested above that if someone works at a job she hates to support her family she might nonetheless still enter a flow state meaning her work has some intrinsic value even she isn’t consciously aware of this value. If work retains its instrumental value then this value might lead to it also having some intrinsic value. Accepting the above means if automation removes the need for jobs that it should be resisted as it might result in a decrease in in some people’s happiness. Indeed it is feasible it might lead to some people having an unbearable sense of simply being, simply existing.

Let us assume the advance of automation can provide the goods people seek without the need for work. Such circumstances I suggested above are highly speculative but for the sake of argument let us assume such circumstances are possible. Let us accept my argument that in these circumstances that because work provides flow and because flow benefits us that the advance of automation might damage us. I now want to argue that in these circumstances the above argument does not give us reason to resist automation Of course if automation removes the need for work and the goods people obtain by working become unobtainable we should resist increasing automation. However let us accept that automation provides the goods people desire and that the resulting increased leisure will give them time to pursue the things they want to do. Unfortunately in these circumstances some people might adopt a purely hedonistic lifestyle. Such a lifestyle might cause these people to suffer from the unbearable lightness of simply being mentioned above. Let us recall we have accepted that people in general are not always the best of judges of what will make them happy. Fortunately increased leisure will not only give people the opportunity to pursue the things they want, it will also give them the opportunity to pursue the things they care about or love. What does it mean for someone to pursue the things she loves? Clearly if she loves something she cannot be indifferent towards it, it must be important to her. If something is important to someone then it is natural for her to work at it. In the light of the above it might be concluded that some sort of work makes us happy. It might be further concluded even if automation leads a loss of people working for something it ought not to be resisted provided people can still work at something. I would suggest that automation should not be harmful provided people continue to work in the second way defined above. People continue to work at what they care about, they love.

1.     Nicholas Carr, 2014, The Glass Cage, Norton & Company

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Different Degrees of Seriousness of Rape or Different Types?

In my last posting I argued that sexual intercourse should always be undertaken in a spirit of friendship. This friendship may simply be the friendship of utility or part of a deeper friendship. The above lead me to conclude that some apparently marginal cases of rape were actually cases of rape. The first case was used by Mike LaBossierre.

“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. . . . And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.” talking philosophy

The second case I used was that of a man who had sex with his wife after she started suffering from dementia. These cases seem very different to that of a man who forcibly has sex with someone when she explicitly rejects his advances. In that posting I pondered whether this difference meant there are different types of rape. Let us be clear that by different types of rape I do not mean different degrees of the seriousness of rape when the context of a rape determines the seriousness of the rape and hence the appropriate sentence. I mean there are different but related types of rape. In what follows I will argue different types of rape is a meaningful idea.

According to the Cambridge Online Dictionary to rape someone means “to force someone to have sex when they are unwilling using force or threatening behaviour.” I would add to the above that both partners must be competent to give consent. In what follows I will refer to this definition as the standard definition. In both of the cases outlined above there was no force or coercion involved so neither would be a case of rape according to the standard definition.

In my previous posting I suggested that any sexual intercourse that does not take place in a spirit of friendship, even if that friendship is only the friendship of utility, is a case of rape. According to this suggestion both of the above cases would be instances of rape. I am assuming here the old man who had sex with his demented wife was friends with her prior to the onset of her dementia. However I would suggest that whilst affection may remain post dementia friendship cannot. Let us accept that that any sexual intercourse that does not take place in a spirit of friendship is a form of rape. In what follows such a form of rape will be referred to as minimal rape. The old man minimally raped his demented wife. What should be the consequences of minimal rape? I would argue that the consequences should also be minimal. In cases of minimal rape we should condone, disapprove of the action, but little more. Some might be outraged I should simply suggest condemnation, rape is far too serious to simply be disapproved of. In response to my objectors I would point out I am only considering minimal rape and that minimal rape is somewhat analogous to lying, with the possible exception of white lies. If I lie to someone this is not done in a spirit of friendship. We condemn lying but unless there are other aggravating factors attached to a lie we take no further action. I would suggest the same should hold for minimal rape unless there are other aggravating factors. Indeed I would suggest that whilst it would be right to condemn the old man who had sex with his demented wife we should at the same time feel pity for him.

I now want to outline second concept of rape which differs from the standard definition. According to the standard definition of rape for some sexual act to be rape it must meet two conditions. One partner must be both an unwilling participant and forced or coerced in to taking part. I want to argue that any sexual intercourse in which one of the participants is simply an unwilling partner is a case of rape. The student in the example I have used above wasn’t coerced or forced but I would nonetheless suggest she was raped. In what follows I will refer to any sexual intercourse in which one of the participants is an unwilling partner, but in which no coercion or force is involved, as unwilling rape.

However there is a difficulty with accepting the concept of unwilling rape. How do we judge when someone is unwilling? The student in above example illustrates this difficulty. She said no and at that time was unwilling to have sex, but did she then change her mind? One solution to this difficulty might be to require that both partners must agree by simply saying yes. I would be somewhat reluctant to accept such a solution. Do married couples and partners who have been in a long term relationship always have to say yes? I would suggest they don’t. Let us assume I am happily reading a book when my partner suggests we go to a movie. I go to please her. Am I going unwillingly, going against my inclinations or simply going when I don’t really want to? I would suggest there is a difference between doing something I really don’t want to do and doing something unwillingly. I would suggest If someone is unwilling to do something and competent to say no that she must express her unwillingness by saying no. If she doesn’t say no her unwillingness is open to question even if she is doing what she doesn’t really want to, her unwillingness is ambiguous. I would suggest that any sexual intercourse in which one partner expresses her unwillingness but offers no other resistance is a form of rape.

It might be objected that my suggested separation of unwillingness from ‘doesn’t want to’ is artificial. My objector might then suggest irrespective of whether someone is unwilling or simply ‘doesn’t want’ to have sexual intercourse that this intercourse is rape. Let us return to my going to a movie to please my partner when I don’t really want to. I’m doing something I don’t really want to but my partner is unware of this. My partner is not infringing my autonomy as I have the capacity to say no. Rape is about infringing someone’s sexual autonomy. If someone engages in somewhat reluctantly in sexual intercourse, but does not say no, then her partner doesn’t infringe her sexual autonomy and his actions should not be regarded as a case of rape. His actions might be regarded as inconsiderate rather than rape. The practice of friendship requires us being considerate. Being considerate requires understanding the needs of others and if we are uncertain about these needs we should seek clarification. In the case of sexual intercourse if we are uncertain friendship requires we ask for confirmation of our partners desires. In the case of the two students that because of the uncertainty, as to whether the female student changed her mind, the male student should have asked for confirmation and that his failure to do so meant that this was a case of unwilling rape.

Let us accept that unwilling rape as defined above is a genuine form of rape. To many people idea of rape involves strangers, violence and dark deserted places. This idea is misplaced as most rapes are committed by friends or acquaintances, see rapecrisis .  However in practice do all rapes, expect minimal rape defined above, involves some violence or coercion. This would mean my definition of unwilling rape would be purely theoretical. The case of the two students used above shows at least some rapes do not involve coercion nor physical violence. It follows that at least some cases of unwilling rape occur in practice. If unwilling rape is different from standard rape then this difference means we should adopt a different approach to dealing with different types of offenders.

In conclusion I want to consider how we should deal with rapists who commit minimal rape such as the male student mentioned above. Should we deal with all rapists in a similar fashion and send offenders such as him to prison as even if such offenders do no physical violence they nonetheless violate someone’s sexual autonomy. I would suggest that because only one of the necessary conditions for standard rape is necessary for minimal rape that sentencing should reflect this difference. Perhaps cases of minimal rape would be best addressed by restorative justice. Restorative justice is a process that aims at repairing the damage done by the offender. It does so by the victim and offender meeting to discuss how they have been affected by the crime and deciding what should be done to repair the harm. This process is akin to the process of forgiving. The process of forgiving requires the following steps,
1.    The victim must state how she was affected by the crime.
2.    The offender must state why he committed the offence, he must offer some sort of explanation, a narrative as to why he acted as he did.
3.    The offender must express remorse, this remorse must include accepting that his explanation for his actions was wrong.
4.    Lastly the offender must commit himself not to act in the same way in the future. His commitment must be based on his acceptance of his wrongdoing.

I now wish to consider very briefly how this process might have worked with the two students in the example I have used. Firstly the female student might express her feelings at having her sexual autonomy violated, her friendship being betrayed and being used simply as a means. Secondly the offender must explain why he raped her. Perhaps he might say he desired her and didn’t think she’d mind. The second part of his explanation sounds like an excuse but is important. It is important to consider excuses in order to understand the wrongness of someone’s actions. Let us assume the male student didn’t see himself as a rapist. Understanding the wrongness of his excuse is part of the process of him coming to see the wrongness of his action and himself as rapist. Did he really think she didn’t mind, simply assumed she didn’t mind or that his lust convinced him she didn’t mind? Thirdly he must apologise, this means accepting he was wrong, means coming to see the excuse he gave was wrong. Lastly he must commit himself not to behave this way again and his commitment must be based on a better understanding of his actions and once again an acceptance that his excuse was wrong.