Empiricism part 2, or: Philosophy as infrastructure design

So far, all the philosophical posts in this blog have had the same goal: to counteract philosophical ideas that are already in circulation. For example, the post on compatibilism was a counter to incompatibilists like Sam Harris:

You seem to be an agent acting of your own free will. The problem, however, is that this point of view cannot be reconciled with what we know about the human brain.

Harris is a neuroscientist, so I trust what he says about the human brain; but when he tells us what “cannot be reconciled” with what, then he is doing philosophy, just as much as we compatibilists are doing philosophy when we say the opposite.

Some people say they don’t want to get involved in philosophy, but it is surprisingly hard to avoid. You can stay away from the card-carrying philosophers, but then you might bump into Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov:

‘But what will become of men then?’ I asked him, ‘without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?’

or the movie The Matrix:

You know, I know that this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, do you know what I’ve realized? Ignorance is bliss.

or the physicist Lee Smolin:

… the Anthropic Principle (AP) cannot yield any falsifiable predictions, and therefore cannot be a part of science.

We’ve seen (here, here and here respectively) how philosophers have found fault with the opinions in bold type, and offered other (and I would say better) opinions in their place. We could describe that as remedial philosophy: philosophy as therapy. But is that all there is to the subject: correcting other people’s philosophical errors?

In this post I want to see whether philosophy can take the lead, on topics where we previously had no opinion. Continue reading

Hypocrisy in general, utilitarianism in particular

Somewhere a moralist is preaching: “It is wrong to buy brand XYZ running shoes, because they are made in sweatshops where the conditions are so appalling …”, and at this precise moment a receipt falls out of his pocket: proof of his purchase this morning of a pair of XYZ running shoes. It is plain for all to see.

What will happen next depends on the venue. Continue reading