Millions of people believe that Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God, sent to earth to teach us how to live. Many others, including some of the founding fathers like Jefferson, modern Unitarians, and a lot of people who don’t consider themselves Christians at all, aren’t convinced that Jesus is the Son of God, but think he was a great moral teacher. When they confront an ethical decision, or a morally loaded issue of public policy, they may ask, ``What would Jesus Do?”
While trying to get my C.V. in order for some university committee that wanted it, I stumbled across an article I had written for a journal called "Topoi" on the topic What’s to be done?. I think they asked a couple of hundred philosophers to write short essays. This was in 2006, but since I mostly deal with timeless topics, my views haven't changed. So I thought I would recycle it as a Christmas blog, since it's sort of cheerful and with respect to the Eastern APA, seasonal.
This week's topic is, ``Is it wrong to wreck the earth?”
I suppose the obvious answer is “yes”. The answer may be more obvious than the meaning of the question. We’re not asking if it’s wrong for me or you to wreck the earth for everyone else, but something more like whether the people that are currently alive and busy polluting the streams and rivers and oceans, warming the globe, killing off species, and the like, and thus making the earth a less agreeable place for future generations, are doing something wrong.
This week’s episode is about “Forgetting and Forgiving.” Frankly, though, the ‘forgetting’ part is sort of throw-away. You should never forget the wrongs done to you. Why would you want to? Forgiving, though, is another thing entirely. When somebody wrongs us, negative emotions can eat away at us. If we let go of our anger and resentment, we experience healing and reconciliation.
Our topic this week is the military. And we’re asking “What is it good for?” Let me start out by granting the obvious. Though a few of my most left-leaning friends think we could do entirely without any sort of military, there has never been and will never be a vast and populous nation like ours without armed services. But even if we take it as a given that any nation, especially a nation that wants to be a significant player on the world stage, is going to have a military of some sort, that still leaves lots of questions open. Here are just a few of them. Exactly what sort of military should we have -- a compact military, adequate for homeland defense and little else or a large and robust force, capable of projecting power around the globe? Who should serve in the military? Should all able-bodied citizens be compelled to serve? Or should the burdens of service be left to volunteers? To whom should the military be accountable, and how, exactly, can it be held to account? And do we civilians owe our military leaders a high degree of deference?
Kierkegaard was a very important Danish philosopher of the early 19th century. He criticized Hegel severely. But apart from not liking Hegel, he just seems to exemplify most things I dislike in a philosopher. I like philosophers who tell you what they think in a clear and straightforward manner. Kierkegaard wrote under a bunch of pseudonyms, poetically I guess, but turgidly. I think reason is the method of philosophy. Kierkegaard thinks we should accept contradictions and make leaps of faith.
Today we're asking the question: Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?
Holding something sacred is often associated with religion and God. Some things are held to be sacred because of their relation to God’s wishes and commands. I think our question is in part about contemporary mores. It's also about what sort of convincing rationale there might be for something being sacred, in our more or less secular age.
For example, we might agree that human life is sacred. For some people this is explained by God’s wishes, but others might think there's just something about human life itself. A commandment of God might be one explanation, but not the only one.
Should a sane, rational person ever believe in miracles?
We all believe that the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010. That was surely a miracle. The Giants victory was unlikely, against the odds, and surprising. And it answered the prayers of long-suffering Giants fans everywhere.
But it wasn’t a real miracle, of the sort that religious people believe in, but many philosophers and more or less scientific types are skeptical about. Real miracles require a break in the laws of nature through divine intervention or some other supernatural force.
Our topic this week is Cooperation and Conflict. Cooperation is found in many species of animals. Take dolphins, wolves, and chimpanzees. They’re all amazingly successful hunters. Why? Because they’re highly cooperative hunters. And there’s no doubt that human beings have taken the art of cooperation to levels that our animal friends can’t begin to match. Take money. Money makes possible the kind of co-operation and coordination required to make a sprawling economic system work. But it’s not just in the domain of the economy that humans cooperate. Politics, education, science---- all of them are domains in shaped by highly complex forms of cooperation. Cooperation is so pervasive among human beings that it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched to think that natural selection has specifically designed human beings to cooperate. At any rate, cooperation clearly has been and will be the key to our survival. Indeed, we need more of it than ever. 21st century humans have to cooperate on a massive scale. Otherwise the earth might burn to a crisp.
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