a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Month: December 2022

Do you think you can do politics innocently?

There are many illuminating ways to understand politics, but one is as the practice of attempting to shape and direct the collective life of one’s community. Those who do politics typically seek to influence the collective life of the community with what they regard as morally good objectives in mind. Hence, at least according to this understanding of politics, outcomes matter enormously.

This goes part of the way to explaining why consequentialism is an approach to morality that has such purchase in politics. Simplifying a bit, consequentialism is the view that the moral rightness of an act depends only on its consequences.

Perhaps the most well-known objection to consequentialism is that it seems to permit acts which most people believe are obviously morally wrong. Familiar examples of such acts include lying, breaking promises, failing to show gratitude or loyalty, and imposing harm on others. This implication is typically illustrated via highly unrealistic thought experiments, but let me use three quite different recent examples from British politics instead.

Should you be grateful to nature?

In this post, Max Lewis (University of Helsinki) discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy about the kinds of gratitude appropriate for our relationship with nature.

If someone provides you with a gift or does you a favor, you should be grateful to them for what they did. This seems undeniable. In fact, failing to be grateful to them would make you morally criticizable. But here’s a puzzle. Nature provides you with an abundance of benefits you did not earn and are not owed. This too seems undeniable. But, if you are like most people, you are not grateful to nature. You are like the boy in the classic children’s book The Giving Tree: always taking from nature, but never giving back. After all, if you were grateful, you would try to pay nature back.

Image by shameersrk from Pixabay

So, are you morally criticizable for your lack of gratitude? Fortunately, I think not. In On Gratitude to Nature, I argue that we do not owe nature any gratitude. Nonetheless, it can be appropriate to be grateful for nature in numerous ways.

How could paternalism ever be a good thing?


Recently, as I was discussing with a friend of mine, the conversation brought us to the issue of paternalism. Taking the bad habit of playing the philosopher’s role, I said something like “You know, paternalism is actually not always wrong.” My friend reacted very surprised – as if I had said “You know, patriarchy is actually not always wrong.” And as it happens, for her, “paternalism” and “patriarchy” were closely linked – which I had never considered before.

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