Thursday, June 19, 2008

Singer's Child in the Pond: Variations on a Theme

So because I like testing-out paper ideas here...

I'm tinkering around with some variations on Singer's Child in the Pond case, trying to figure out the extents/limits of the obligations we can get (if we think we can get any) out of examples such as these. Specifically, I'm trying to get at just how much we can be obligated to do. So here are the cases I'm playing with.

Case 1:
There's a man drowning in the pond (I'm jettisoning the children bit... too many knowledge/responsibility problems). I'm on the shore, too far away to swim to get him. But there is a vending-machine-type thing next to me that offers two possible rescue-options for people who are drowning in the pond.

(a) For $100 I can have a little device teleported into the drowning man's hand (maybe he's not drowning per-se, but he's clutching to a piece of driftwood and will be drowning shortly). The device has a button on it that, if pressed, will teleport him safely to the shore.

(b) For $500 I can activate a giant crane that will reach out and scoop the man out of the water and carry him to safety.

I have only $500 with me. We can presume I am obligated to do one of these. But am I obligated to do (b) instead of (a)? Or have I discharged my obligation if I pursue (a) instead of (b)?

Case 2:
The same as Case 1 except now I have $600 with me. I opt to send the teleportation-button out to the man and he refuses to push it. He knows it will save him, at no cost or other adverse consequence to him. He just refuses to make the minimal effort required. Am I now obligated to send out the $500 crane?

Case 3:
Identical to Case 1 again (where I have only $500), but instead of a teleportation-button, the $100 sends out a rope that the man can use to pull himself to shore. (Here presume the man physically capable and that I know this.) Have I discharged my obligation if I send out the rope instead of the crane?

Case 4:
Like Case 3 except I have $600 available. I send out the rope and the man refuses to pull himself to shore. Must I now send out the $500 crane?

What if, in all the above cases, I know that the man is remarkably lazy and will quite likely be unwilling to push the button/pull himself to shore? What If I'm certain that he'll be unwilling? In cases 1 and 3 where I can only use one of the methods, must I then opt for the more expensive crane-rescue? In cases 2 and 4 when this comes true, does my foreknowledge change what I'm obligated to do once my expectations are indeed met?

Thanks for all responses in advance...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Best Philosophical Writers

So in an effort to be a better writer I'm interested a list of those you consider the best philosophical writers. William Zinser, acclaimed book editor, says that there are several writers he will always read no matter the subject matter they write about. The idea is to identify those philosophers that you think are the model of philosophical writing--whether or not you agree with their position. It might be good to include a favorite article or chapter of theirs. But most important (at least for me) is why they deserve to be on the list. What is it about their writing that makes it exceptional? I'm still working on my list but at the risk of being too hasty, I'll list a few that I've concluded are philosophers that I will try to read anytime I see one of their articles even if the subject is out of my field of inquiry. My list is probably influenced by my personal writing vices. These people are who I am trying to emulate

In no particular order:

Christopher Shields (I tend to overcomplicate my writing. Shields to me is the paragon of simple direct claims, reasons, and conclusions. He even announces his claims by saying "claim"! His new summary of Aristotle is both philosphically astute and critical but upper level undergraduates could use it.

Etinne Gilson (A thomist who is clear, concise, and doesn't have an ax to grind with analytic philosophy. He is a model of the principle of charity without being soft on his opponents.) The Unity of Philosophical Experience is his best work. Although from Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again is good as well.

Ken Greenawalt A philosopher who writes like a lawyer and a lawyer who thinks like a philosopher. As a lawyer he doesn't fill his law review articles with thousands of cases but rather can summarize complicated concepts into a few short paragraphs with clarity. Above all his prose is interesting. ) Check out his Speech, Crime, and the Uses of Language.

Harry Frankfurt I can't put my finger on it yet, but the importance of what we care about reads so nicely.

That's all for now. More as I think through this. Look forward to your own list