Monday, May 9, 2022

Alastair Norcross' Scalar Utilitarianism


Alastair Norcross is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, specializing in normative ethics, applied ethics, and political philosophy. He is a defender of utilitarianism and "regards all natural rights as nonsense."

Norcross maintains that consequentialism does not offer a criterion of right action and it does not answer the question of what we are morally required to do, or what actions are right or wrong. Instead, it only offers a ranking of the moral value of actions. It tells us that action A is morally better than action B, but it does not tell us how far down the scale of goodness moral acceptability extends. 

The consequentialist cares about promoting values which come in degrees. In his 2020 book Morality by Degrees: Reasons without Demands, Norcross articulates and defends his approach to ethical theory or scalar utilitarianism. He argues that the basic judgments of morality are essentially comparative: alternatives are judged to be better or worse than each other. Scalar utilitarianism is not concerned with values of right and wrong, but rather addresses actions as comparatively and contextually better or worse in terms of their consequences. 

In Norcross' view, the consequentialist plays into the hands of his deontological opponent if he makes the distinction between right and wrong actions central to his ethics.

Norcross denies divine authority because he contends that any moral theory can be made to bow to "divine command."

In a 2019 interview, Norcross was asked, "If you could ask an honest omniscient being one question, what would it be?"

He responded with this question: "Is there continuation of worthwhile conscious existence after physical death? I’m pretty sure the answer is no, so I wouldn’t be too disappointed to hear that. But if the answer is yes, that would be worth knowing."

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Conflict Between People or Policy?


Batwa iron smelting in Buhoma, Uganda.

The conflict between people and policy is seen in stark terms in Uganda where the Batwa people have been forced off their traditional lands to preserve the habitat of Mountain Gorillas. Known as “pygmies”, the Batwa now live in misery as conservation refugees and are in danger of disappearing, even as gorilla numbers recover. The younger Batwa have no memory of life in the forests, but the elderly still yearn for the days of plentiful hunting and wild fruits.

Mathew Otineo of Kenya wonders if environmentalists care that the Batwa paid the ultimate price to save gorillas.

In 1991, nearly all of the Batwa were forcefully evicted, often at gunpoint by rangers from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The three forests were designated as national parks to protect the endangered mountain gorillas who shared them with the Batwa. Never mind that the Batwa weren’t a direct threat to the gorillas or other endangered species.

Having never adopted formal systems of land ownership, the Batwa lacked title to their forests. Clearly taking advantage of this, the government of Uganda did not compensate them and abandoned them on the edges of the forests, with neither land nor the skills with which to make a living outside the forest.

In the years that followed, many of the Batwa died, threatening the survival of the tribe itself. Of those that survived, many fell into drug abuse, begging and prostitution. They soon had the highest HIV prevalence rate of any ethnic group in Uganda. This is exacerbated by limited access to healthcare and education. Only 10 percent of Batwa children in Uganda are in formal education.

Alongside these losses must be added the greater loss of contact with the home and legacy of their ancestors, which for most of the younger generation is now alien. The only legal way for a Mtwa (singular for Batwa) to enter the forest now is as a guide, on the so-called Batwa Experience at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, in which they re-enact the ways of their ancestors for curious tourists.

The mountain gorillas of Uganda, on the other hand, have gone on to multiply. They now number over 400, accounting for nearly half of the over 1,000 now living in the wild. The species is no longer listed as critically endangered. The sacrifice of the Batwa people to the cause of great ape conservation has paid off.

The government of Uganda charges tourists up to US$700 to observe the gorillas in their habitat. Practically none of this money ends up in Batwa hands.

From here.

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Taliban Has Not Changed

Afghan girls go to school in the western Afghan city of Herat on March 23.

When the Taliban returned to power, they promised a softer rule compared with their first regime from 1996 to 2001.

However, the Taliban has returned to its former repressive ways. They have imposed restrictions on women, banning them from many government jobs, policing what they wear, preventing them from traveling outside of their cities, and visiting medical facilities without a chaperone. 

Taliban militants have erected posters in some areas to inform residents of the new regulations. In other places, insurgents have driven around with loudspeakers and made announcements at mosques.

Sara, a 17-year-old student, says the Taliban shut down her school in the district of Aqcha, in the northern province of Jawzjan, after the militants captured it two weeks ago. 

Adeeba Haidari, age 13, feels as if she is in prison. She is one of thousands of jubilant girls who flocked back to secondary schools reopening across the country for the first time since the Taliban seized power in August.

But just hours into classes, the education ministry announced a reversal that left schoolgirls feeling betrayed and the international community outraged.

“Not only me but everyone you asked believed that the Taliban had changed,” said Adeeba, who briefly returned to Al-Fatah Girls School in the capital, Kabul.

“When they sent everyone back home from school, we understood that the Taliban were the same Taliban of 25 years ago,” her 11-year-old sister Malahat added.

“We are being treated like criminals just because we are girls. Afghanistan has turned into a jail for us.”

Read more here and here.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Jordan Peterson's Resignation

Jordan Peterson / Wikimedia

Jordan Peterson's assessment of the university culture:

"We are now at the point where race, ethnicity, “gender,” or sexual preference is first, accepted as the fundamental characteristic defining each person … and second, is now treated as the most important qualification for study, research and employment."

Jordan Peterson has never been afraid to call out stupidity. His frank countercultural thinking has cost him dearly. Recently he resigned from the Canadian university where he has taught since the late 1990s.

“I recently resigned from my position as full tenured professor at the University of Toronto,” Jordan Peterson wrote in a bombshell op-ed for the National Post.

Peterson's fame long ago outgrew the halls of Canada’s oldest college, where he has researched and lectured since the late 1990s in spite of every slur and scandal.

“I had envisioned teaching and researching at the U of T, full time, until they had to haul my skeleton out of my office,” he writes. “I loved my job.” Nevertheless, Peterson’s title will soon be downgraded to professor emeritus — and how long he lasts in that role is uncertain, judging from his rationale for stepping down.

Read more here.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Breivik Unchanged, Seeks Parole


Now age 42, Anders Behring Breivik seeks release from prison after serving half of his 21-year sentence. He spends his days in a three-room cell, playing video games, exercising, watching TV, and taking university-level courses in mathematics and business.

A prosecutor in Norway said on 20 January (2022) that Breivik is "a very dangerous man" and therefore a poor candidate for release after 10 years in prison, as Norwegian law permits.

On the final day of a three-day parole hearing, prosecutor Hulda Karlsdottir said in her closing argument that Anders Behring Breivik "has not shown any genuine remorse in court" and his behavior there is part of a "PR stunt."

"In the clear view of the prosecution, Breivik's request for parole should not be granted," Karlsdottir said.

Breivik is being treated leniently though his sprees of violence remain unprecedented in Norway. He killed eight in an Oslo bombing in 2011, and then stalked and gunned down 69 people, mostly teens, at a political summer camp on the island of Utoya.

During a three-day parole hearing this week, Breivik renounced violence, but also flashed a Nazi salute and espoused white supremacy, echoing ideas in a manifesto he released at the time of his killing spree. The outburst was familiar to Norwegians who had watched him deliver rambling diatribes during his partially televised criminal trial.

A psychiatrist who has observed Breivik since 2012 testified Wednesday that he can't be trusted. A prison official told the judges hearing the parole request "there is an imminent danger" that, if released, Breivik would again commit serious crimes.

Breivik is a mentally ill person who believes he has done nothing wrong and doubtless would continue his acts of terror against perceived enemies. He lives by his own Nietzschean logic.

Breivik once said, "As for the Church and science, it is essential that science takes an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings. Europe has always been the cradle of science, and it must always continue to be that way. Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I'm not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a monocultural Christian Europe."