COMMENSAL ISSUE 96


The Newsletter of the Philosophical Discussion Group
Of British Mensa

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Number 96 : April 1999

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ARTICLES
March 1999 : Roger Farnworth

THE IS / OUGHT DEBATE

What delight to observe the Burn-Todman show (C95/32), slapstick worthy of Laurel and Hardy in which one member of the team removes accidentally the central planks on which the other was standing.

I note that the first two responses to my question "How do PDG members derive their moral imperatives ?" are diametrically opposed. Malcolm Burn contends that 'ought' statements are conventions "ultimately derived from human decisions and human likes and dislikes" Michael Nisbet takes the opposite position "I do not derive moral imperatives, I am derived from them... am an organ of a common reason and it is no mere metaphor to say we are members one of another." I believe both positions are irrelevant. Here is an example of a creative moral act which was generated not by ethical deduction but by a process similar to the production of new ideas in science or new works of art:-

A colleague was concerned that small arms licensed for export to one African country were knowingly re-exported to another such as Ruanda or Congo which would not have received a licence. She considered that end use could be traced if a barcode was placed under the sites of a rifle so that it could not be erased. The bar code would reveal the exporter and the licence details. A rogue exporter would then be forced to buy back the arms on the local open market or be permanently blacklisted and refused export licences. After much campaigning an all party group of MP's will be considering practical methods of implementing this proposal.

Seeing that 84% of deaths from small arms are civilian casualties this moral act could save the lives of countless non-combatants. Yet the idea and it's progression did not derive from the wisdom of the tribe nor was it motivated by moral conventions derived from likes and dislikes long ago.

Roger Farnworth


Roger : as you said in an earlier issue "we’re not taking votes"; and we’re not taking sides either. Malcolm & I both oppose you for different reasons, and it’s not true in philosophy that your enemy’s enemy is your friend, so why should we agree ? I wasn’t convinced, either, that Malcolm & Michael disagreed; more a difference of emphasis. They emphasise different aspects of the individual and of society. An individual derives his imperatives in the light of his society, though is not bound by societal conventions. On the other hand, societies are at least the sum of the individuals that make them up.

With respect to your final paragraph, there’s nothing explicitly moral about a tactical solution to a moral problem. The fact that the solution is novel does not reflect on the morality.

Theo



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