Jan. 3rd, 2007

sylvar: (Default)
I've been assisting [profile] turtlebat23 with her applications to grad school; I am, after all, a librarian, so I've been identifying articles that would interest her.  In the process of doing that, I've learned a bit about philosophy myself.

One thing I've learned is that philosophers use language in a very peculiar way.  They tend to redefine existing terms, define new phrases, and expend great effort in avoiding any possible misunderstanding.  Most philosophers, for example, would feel quite at home with a sentence like this:
"By 'want' I am going to mean a electrochemical state in the brain of A corresponding to which the indeterminate but possible future condition at time t of having fries with that is judged, whether explicitly or without deliberating, by A to be preferable to the possible future condition at t of not having fries with that, without regard to whether the possession or consumption of fries would be beneficial to A's health, whether the portion which A may have reason to believe would be served in the former possible future condition would be compatible with either or both Aristotelian moderation and Singerian concern for unnecessary consumption by the affluent, or whether there is truly something of intrinsic value in the value size, and without regard to whether A is truly free to decide whether or not to have fries with that, or (on a higher-order evaluation) to determine A's own desire to desire, not desire, or be indifferent to the prospect of having fries with that."
Another thing I've learned is that although philosophers have been Thinking About Ponderous Stuff for a very long time, they seem to have decided only relatively recently to try to underpin their work by creating a foundation (or, for you Kantians in the room, a Grundlegung) on which the rest of their deductions can safely rest.  And as far as I can tell, there's remarkably little that has been really accepted by almost everyone as having been conclusively demonstrated; many philosophers would agree that it would be permissible if not downright obligatory to mislead a terrorist in order to save a million lives, though some (notably Immanuel Kant) believe(d) that lying was never morally permissible, even under comparable circumstances.  The only sensible response I'm aware of to the problem of foundational knowledge is Gödel's incompleteness theorems, and tenure committees probably aren't interested in hearing that it's mathematically impossible to establish that we know (simpliciter, as they say) anything -- that it's turtles all the way.  Which is probably why people keep trying to do it anyway.

For that matter, there are some surprising topics which seem not to have been settled at all.  Hyperintelligent beings are deeply interested in whether, and how, color exists -- what it really means to say that a particular rose is red when viewed by a bog-standard human being in ordinary sunlight: is redness a property of the rose?  This seems straightforward to me: the rose has the inherent quality of absorbing some wavelengths of electromagnetic energy and reflecting others, to (and at) various degrees, and human observers who have sensed various complex waveforms with similar characteristics have pigeonholed that cluster of experiences as 'redness'.  Perhaps there's something I'm failing to understand here.

When I realized this week that I was getting interested in philosophy, [info]turtlebat23 thought that it would be great if I got a PhD in it too.  But I convinced her that it would be tricky trying to get both of us employed at the same time, in the same location, in a field with so few jobs available.  Instead, I'll probably try to pick up as much philosophy as I can so that I can be a great research assistant and editor.  It won't be my Real Job, but it'll be fun.

Speaking of that Real Job, it's long since time for me to go to sleep.  I should be walking into the office about seven hours from now.
sylvar: (Default)
...and now I'm awake again, and already wondering what kind of work has been done on this sort of thing.

What kinds of altering one's consciousness do we have moral permission for?  Would a neurotypical person have the moral right to use memory-enhancing drugs?  Would a person with a mental illness have the moral right to use 'corrective' (antipsychotic, antidepressive, etc.) drugs?  For that matter, would a person with a mental illness have some duty to use corrective drugs?  Is there a right and/or duty to use psychedelics?  What about the moral right to use memory-suppressing drugs following a traumatic experience?  Does it matter whether one hacks his own brain for the purpose of entertainment rather than success or service to humanity?  Does it matter whether one alters or extends one's cognitive functions by nanotechnology, chemical supplements, or simply reading thought-provoking books?

If I were to get into philosophy on my own, I think this would be an area of interest.  I'll have to come up with a suitably outrageous scenario to illustrate the topic, of course.  Perhaps a society of music lovers has kidnapped a great violinist and wishes to force her to take experimental but effective drugs that will make her into the greatest violinist that the world has ever known, for the purpose of benefiting humanity by creating transcendently beautiful recordings that will stimulate a new burst of interest in the fine arts.  Would she have the moral right to refuse to do so?  Later, when she had been released, if she reconsidered the idea, would she have the moral right to take the same drugs?  What if the motive were merely to profit by selling the recordings?

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