Jan 31, 2014

Solutions to "intuiting about philosophy" - part 2


5. Does a person have a right to complain about the religious practices of his neighbors if the sound of these practices is reaching his home, loudly? Does this mean that he is being intolerant? Is this morally wrong?

Abhishek: Main branch - Ethics. This is because the question deals with morality and behavior. Specific branch - Normative ethics and Meta-ethics and Descriptive ethics. This is because the questions considers whether that person ought to act in a specific way (normative ethics); evaluating the rightness or wrongness of that action - morality (meta-ethics). It also considers whether that person has a "right" to act in a particular way, i.e. - people's views about the action (descriptive ethics).
Me: It is broadly stemming from Ethics or the study of the rules of behavior in a society. However, this goes more to the applied area of Praxeology where human action is studied in the context of its consequences on a larger societal setup as also the consequences of setting rules to be followed by certain components of society. Praxeology deals with areas like politics and economics where we discuss about not the behavior of one individual person, but a whole community. Note that if the individual X suffering on account of his neighbors (Y's) loud prayers, decides to engage in conflict or call the cops, then ANY such individual in that community must get the same right. (Unless the community has agreed that some members are ethnically superior to others, as is the case in ethnic dictatorships or nations with strong and fanatic religious majorities) If yes, then any other individual (Z) may protest about X's practices, which may be subtle, but the very idea that X eats meat (just an example) on the "holy" days can be intolerable to Z ... and so on. Taking this reasoning further we see that the issue of tolerating someone's culture/behavior, as long as it does not intentionally harm us, is an essential in a multi-cultural environment such as India. Now maybe you see the link to Politics. 
All the same tolerance with no limits can be considered a sign of weakness by some and can lead to deliberate attacks on the tolerant. This in turn necessitates conditions on the governance of the community. This raises questions of whether religion (or God) are / are not above the country. This also raises issues of economic stability which again have a bearing on the rules of governance. So you see, it is not an individual's moral choice alone, although every individual has a right to protest (in a democracy) against anything "intolerable". It is more of an issue to be resolved by the whole community or the government that represents it.

6. Is it appropriate to feed lots of chocolates to a chimpanzee to see if the chimp starts suffering from diabetes?


Abhishek: Main branch - Ethics. This is because the question deals with morality and behavior. Specific branch - Normative ethics and Applied ethics. This is because the questions considers whether that person ought to act in a specific way (normative ethics); and whether this action is moral in a particular with respect to a particular issue (clinical or medical ethics in this case) (applied ethics)
Me: Personally, I would be glad to have the chimp be tested in order that my diabetes can be eventually treated; or to think of it, I would actually feed the poor chap with lots of chocolate, which I am sure he would enjoy to the sweet end. But that's all from personal experience and desires. Now lets think professionally. ;)
Would I like to be in the chimp's place, suppose an superior alien race wants to test a virus? So this is a question pertaining an action by some humans and supported by a larger group of humans, either knowingly or otherwise. However, it is an issue where the individual has to take a decisive stand and its consequences need not affect the larger society directly. So we can rule out Praxeology or any other applied areas. This is Ethics, sub branch - Bioethics. The issue here is about how much we understand other forms of life and value life as a whole. It is at a deeper level how we evaluate the value of something which is not really tangible or direct, viz., the idea of Man's superiority and hence benevolence against his efforts for solutions (which may or may not materialize) to further his survival. This goes to the extent of discussing whether Man gets to play God. Read some essays by Peter Singer. Try doing this free course by Singer to get some perspective.

7. Is it 'OK' to mimic Shah Rukh Khan (dance or speech or fashion) because you adore him? Girls may choose Katrina Kaif.


Abhishek: Main branch - Ethics. This is because the question deals with morality and behavior. Specific branch - Normative ethics and Descriptive ethics. This is because the questions considers whether that person ought to act in a specific way - imitating a particular actor/actress (normative ethics), based on people's views about the action (descriptive ethics).
Incidentally, the part of the question that stated that a girl may choose Katrina Kaif is an example of descriptive ethics. Girls choosing an actress to imitate while boys choosing an actor is based on people's views about gender. Normative ethics would also involve asking whether it is okay for a boy to imitate Katrina Kaif? And a girl to imitate Shah Rukh Khan?
Me: I realized that I should have used a newer role model than K-K-K-Khan uncle, but I guess you get the point. Mimicking someone is the natural method of learning new things - when you are a baby, that's how you learnt to speak or move or dance (well you weren't really a baby then, I suppose) - when you grew older, that's how you learnt to socialize, to dress-up, etc. - when you get really old, you still use it now and then to learn new physical skills or complex tasks or to blend in. But you see, the dependence on this method as against deliberate cognition - analyse, classify, reason, discriminate, synthesize, hypothesize, verify, justify, ... - should decrease as you grow more mature. 
So you see, the issue is largely about what you feel is acceptable in society and hence what you should or not do. This is again Ethics, but as all of the students who answered so far have pointed out - Normative Ethics. What is the norm, i.e. standard of social acceptability? How should I behave to blend in more? As also, what do I think is heroic or idealistic? This last part usually depends upon the social norm, but need not be always so. So as long as it is a questions of and for an individual, it is normative ethics.
Now further on, while taking a decision about whether it is "OK" to do so, you end up dabbling with meta-ethics as well. If you extend the question to society at large and for all individuals, i.e. should all barbers trim the hair of youngsters in the Khan or the Kaif style and therefore should all heads of school make this a part of the school dress code, etc. you are questioning "whether it is right to act as per the norm" OR "should the norms be enforced". I am sure some of my students who had the misfortune of watching my hands work synchronously with my scissors, from very close, wouldn't dare support the allowance of fashion as a norm. In essence here you could go as far as to question, whether a philosophy which support / opposes normative thinking, is the better one. 
Coming to Abhishek's final comment there: There is indeed a connection between Descriptive and Normative theories wherein it is the people's views which eventually create the norm and you could question whether it is appropriate for a girl to dress like a boy or vice verse. 

8. What is a joke? What makes us laugh?


Abhishek: Main branch - Aesthetics. This is because the question deals with the study of art and beauty. Specific branch - Nature of Art and Aesthetic Judgement and Aesthetic Taste. This is because the question deals with what a joke is (nature of art), whether we consider a given something to be a joke based on our understanding of what a joke is (aesthetic judgement), and whether we find the joke funny - whether we appreciate it (aesthetic taste)
Me: Yes Abhishek & Aparna, it is Aesthetics and no Aparna it is not ethics, although it does raise ethical questions, such as whether we should laugh a certain community based on some of their common characteristics, etc. Humor is usually associated with the idea of difference or oddness, particularly with the difference in something or someone which makes the thing or person appear wrong in the given context. For instance imagine me hogging chocolates instead of the chimp, (Oh I'm loving it) or Abhishek dressed up like Katrina, or a plump chap slipping on a banana peel. Feels funny doesn't it. "How silly can these people be", "How weird would that look", etc.
Now think of the same in a different context: The great and handsome and muscular me (as I actually am) eating a chocolates with an air of gracefulness. (how sensuous - you would say) Abhishek dressed like Katrina when he was 2 year old. (Ohh! how cute - you may say) Plump guy slipping on the peel and hitting his head into a coma, and wait it minute - its your uncle!!! (now try laughing)
So you see, humor is an issue of evaluating the effect of certain situations on people and determining which ones they would find odd / wrong / weird, but without a feeling of personal involvement. It is a process of evaluation of the psycho-epistemology of people. (why you feel that which you feel) The degree of laughter and hence the degree of the humor presented as an art-form has to be evaluated on the basis of the metaphysics of the artist and the audience. (what do they think is unreal / unnatural, hence humorous)
 So here goes the first assignment. Abhishek you gave really good answers; Satya and Aparna - well tried - next time elaborate your thoughts; and everyone - put your thoughts in the comments (FB or blogger) for all to see and discuss. Thus Abhishek, you get a reward - You are hereby allowed (even at the peril of losing face) to wear ANY costume at the official ceremonies of the IPO (Please try to be more confirming, ;) ). 

So long. Stay tuned for the next assignment. (in a day or two ...)