Monthly Archives: June 2010

Saving Dogmeat

First encounter with Canigou/ Dogmeat
Image by Jamiecat * via Flickr

For those who are not familiar with video games, Dogmeat is an animal character in Fallout III. He is, of course, based on the character of the same name from the earlier game. This character is, of course, based on Mad Max’s dog. If none of this makes sense to you, suffice it to say that he is a dog in a violent video game.

Back when I was playing Fallout III, I ran across Dogmeat and “rescued” him (he helped out by killing  few bad people), thus making him a companion. This gave me the option of bringing him with me into various dangerous situations, abandoning him, or leaving him in the relatively safety of my modest hut in a post-apocalyptic town. Like most gamers, I usually shamelessly exploit NPCs (non player characters-those controlled by the computer) and allow them to soak up damage for me. However, I elected to leave Dogmeat at home, safe from the virtual dangers of the radioactive wasteland.  Being a philosopher, I wondered a bit about this choice and have been thinking about how this relates to ethics on and off since then.

The main point raised by this, at least as I see it, is whether or not we can have moral obligations to such virtual beings. Or, to put it another way, is it possible for there to be virtually virtuous acts regarding such virtual entities or not? Interestingly enough, I found that perhaps the best philosophical fit for the situation could be found in Immanuel Kant.

In his ethical theory Kant makes it quite clear that animals are means rather than ends. Rational beings, in contrast, are ends. For Kant, this distinction rests on the fact that rational beings can (as he sees it) chose to follow the moral law. Animals, lacking reason, cannot do this. Since animals are means and not ends, Kant claims that we have no direct duties to animals. They are classified in with the other “objects of our inclinations” that derive value from the value we give them.

Interestingly enough, Kant argues that we should treat animals well. However, he does so while also trying to avoid ascribing animals themselves any moral status. Here is how he does it (or tries to do so).

While Kant is not willing to accept that we have any direct duties to animals, he “smuggles” in duties to them indirectly. As he puts it, our duties towards animals are indirect duties towards humans. To make his case for this, he employs an argument from analogy: if a human doing X would obligate us to that human, then an animal doing X would also create an analogous moral obligation. For example, a human who has long and faithfully served another person should not simply be abandoned or put to death when he has grown old. Likewise, a dog who has served faithfully and well should not be cast aside in his old age.

While this would seem to create an obligation to the dog, Kant uses a little philosophical sleight of hand here. The dog cannot judge (that is, the dog is not rational) so, as Kant sees it, the dog cannot  be wronged. So, then, why would it be wrong to shoot the dog?

Kant’s answer seems to be rather consequentialist in character: he argues that if a person acts in inhumane ways towards animals (shooting the dog, for example) then his humanity will likely be damaged. Since, as Kant sees it, humans do have a duty to show humanity to other humans, shooting the dog would be wrong. This would not be because the dog was wronged but because humanity would be wronged by the shooter damaging his humanity through such a cruel act.

Interestingly enough, Kant discusses how people develop cruelty-they often begin with animals and then work up to harming human beings. As I point out to my students, Kant seems to have anticipated the psychological devolution of serial killers.

Kant goes beyond merely enjoining us to not be cruel to animals and encourages us to be kind to them. He even praises Leibniz for being rather gentle with a worm he found. Of course, he encourages this because those who are kind to animals will develop more humane feelings towards humans. So, roughly put, animals are essentially practice for us: how we treat them is training for how we will treat human beings.

In the case of virtual beings, like Dogmeat,  they are clearly and obviously lacking in any meaningful moral status of their own. They do not feel or think. They have no independent existence-they are just code in games. As such, they lack all the qualities that might give them a moral status of their own.

Oddly enough, these virtual beings would seem to be on par with animals, at least as Kant sees them. After all, real  animals are mere objects and have no moral status of their own. The same is true of virtual beings.

Of course, the same is also true of rocks and dirt. Yet Kant would never argue that we should treat rocks well. Perhaps this would also apply to virtual beings such as Dogmeat. That is, perhaps it makes no sense to talk about good or bad relative to such virtual beings. Thus, the issue is whether virtual being are more like animals or rocks.

However, I think a case can be made for treating virtual beings well. If Kant’s argument has some merit, then the key concern about how non-rational beings are treated is how such treatment affects the behavior of the person engaging in said behavior. So, for example, if being cruel to a real dog could damage a person’s humanity, then he should (as Kant sees it) not be cruel to the dog.  This should also extend to virtual beings. For example, if being cruel to a virtual dog would damage a person’s humanity, then he should not act in that way. If being kind to the virtual dog (in this case, saving Dogmeat) would make a person more inclined to be kind to other rational beings, then the person should be kind.

Interestingly enough (or boringly enough), this sort of argument is often employed to argue against people playing violent video games. The gist of such arguments is that they can condition people to behave badly in real life or at least de-sensitize people. What Kant’s argument adds to this is that it would seem to grant virtual beings the same sort of indirect moral duties that he claims we owe to animals. If Kant is right (and I am right in bending his theory) then I did have an indirect duty to save Dogmeat.

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The State & Discrimination

Equality
Image via Wikipedia

One rather important subject is the role that the state should play in regards to discrimination. Put roughly, this is a question about the extent of the scope of the state’s power to regulate citizens.

I will be begin with the obvious: the state certainly seems to have an obligation to prevent discrimination in agencies and organizations that are under its direct dominion. This would include the military as well as civilian organizations like NASA and ESA. The basis for this is that a democratic state founded on a principle of equality seems to be obligated to provide equal opportunity to its citizens. To exclude certain citizens on illegitimate grounds would be to rob them of the rights of other citizens in an unjust manner and this would, obviously enough, be wrong.

Moving to a bit less obvious realm, there is the public realm that is not directly part of the state. This would include private schools, private companies, other business entities and so on. On one hand, it could be argued that private entities should be able to exclude whoever they wish. For example, female only gyms should be allowed to legally exclude men (which they, in fact, do). On the other hand, even private entities enjoy the benefits of the state and are under its umbrella, so to speak. As such, if they accept the benefits of the state, then they cannot discriminate against the citizens of the state.

Of course, a private entity could refuse all the goods of the state and this would presumably allow them to discriminate.  In short, they would withdraw from the public realm and into the purely private and personal realm. Of course, they would have to refuse everything-road access, police & fire protection, and so on. In fact, they would actually have to leave the state. But then they would be free to do as they wished.

One area where the state seems to have no right to intrude is in the case of purely personal, private relationships. To use an obvious example, a beautiful woman might refuse to date poor or ugly men. She might even refuse to date black men, white men or Jews.  While this would be discrimination, this is entirely within the realm of her private, personal life. As such, the state has no business being involved. Of course, buying into this principle would also involve accepting that many existing laws that limit private behavior would need to be repealed.

Of course, the border between the personal and the public can be debated. For example, suppose that the woman mentioned above runs her own escort service. While she can freely refuse to date ugly men, black men, white men, or Jews does she have the right to refuse a client simply because he his ugly, black, white or a Jew? On the face of it, she would be acting in the public realm (in a business context). As such, she would no longer be operating within the realm of the purely private and personal.

However, some folks do argue that businesses should be largely left alone by the state. In a true free market economy, one might argue, the business realm would be a private matter (they do not call it “private sector” for nothing). As such, businesses could elect to refuse to do business with or hire certain people. Those who are fond of a totally free market but who are not so keen on discrimination would probably argue that discriminatory businesses would be sorted out by the invisible hand. After all, they would be denying themselves customers and employees. There is also the matter of the impact of such policies on the reputation of the business.

In light of the above discussion, one key matter that must be settled is the border between the public and the private. After all, the state seems to have far less right to intrude into private matters.

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Orientation & Choice

May Hansen celebrating the vote on the same-se...
Image via Wikipedia

When people debate about topics such as same sex marriage and “don’t ask, don’t tell”  the discussion inevitably turns to whether being a homosexual is a matter of choice or not.

When discussing the matter of choice, it is important to distinguish between sexual orientation and sexual behavior. Laying aside the broader metaphysical question of choice, sexual behavior seems to be primarily a matter of choice. That is, the sort of sexual activities a person actually engages in are (with notable exceptions such as being the victim of rape) are consciously selected by that person.

Interestingly enough, a distinction can be drawn between those who chose to engage in homosexual behavior and those who are homosexuals. As one example, it has been claimed that some men in prison who have sex with other men  still regard themselves as heterosexual. To use an analogy, perhaps this is comparable to someone who sees herself as a vegetarian, but eats meat when that is the only food available. As another example, apparently some allegedly straight men participate in gay pornography because of the better pay. To use an analogy, this would be somewhat like a painter who decides to take a job as a graphic designer because he can make more money that way (yet who still remains a painter in his heart).

It must be said, however, that it might seem a bit odd for a man who has sex with men to claim that he is still straight. After all, one might argue, that would seem to be what it means for a man to be a homosexual. To use an analogy, if someone claims to be a baseball player, yet plays football rather than baseball, it would be rather odd for that person to make that claim. But, the analogy might not hold in this case.

While there is some debate about this, there are also hom0sexuals who chose to not engage in homosexual behavior, yet still think of themselves as homosexual. For example, a person might see himself as gay yet also decide to practice abstinence.  This does seem to make sense. After all, if a person can be a heterosexual and practice abstinence, then the same should be true of homosexuals.

A person might also decide to engage in heterosexual behavior to meet social expectations or to avoid being persecuted for being a homosexual.  In such cases, the person would still be gay but would be acting straight. While it might be argued that to act straight is to be straight, people can behave in a certain way while actually not being that way. The obvious short term example is acting: an actor playing the role of a scientist might have no interest in or knowledge of science. A more long term example would be a spy or an undercover police officer. As such, a person could behavior one way sexually and yet not actually be that way. Of course, the question remains as to what it means to be that way.

One easy and obvious way to look at sexual orientation is in terms of preferences. A person who is a heterosexual would prefer to have sex with someone of the opposite sex. A person who is a homosexual prefers those of the same sex. Naturally, preference can be a complicated and nuanced matter. For example, a person might think of himself as heterosexual in that he would prefer sex with attractive woman, but he might prefer an extremely  handsome man over a very ugly woman.  Of course, some might be inclined to say that if there is any scenario in which a person would prefer sex with someone of the same sex over someone of the opposite sex, then this would make them homosexual. If this is the case, then I suspect that many people would be classified as homosexuals.

Fortunately, I do not need a precise definition of homosexuality for this essay. This is because the issue being addressed is the matter of choice rather than an attempt to sort out what it is to be gay or straight. All that is really needed at this point is that orientation is primarily a matter of preference. As such, the question at hand is whether this preference is a matter of choice or not.

One possibility is that it is not a matter of choice. On the face of it, this seems to be a plausible view. As one stock intuition argument goes, most people do not seem to recall ever making such a choice. While this does not prove that it is not a choice, the fact that people seem unable to point to making such a choice does provide support for the claim that it is not a matter of choice.

In my own case, I have no awareness that I chose to be straight. I also have no awareness of selecting my preferences in regards to the type of women I prefer. For example, I have a general preference towards woman with dark hair. However, that does not seem to be something I selected-I cannot think of consciously deciding that I would find dark hair somewhat more appealing than lighter hair. As such, this preference seems to be similar to that of food preferences: I did not decide that I would like pie, I just do.

A second argument is based on the fact that if preference is a choice, then people should be able to change their preference (although this might involve some effort). So, a straight person should be able to chose to be gay and vice versa. A person can, obviously enough, test this by trying to switch his orientation. This, as was argued above, is different from changing behavior. This would require not merely behaving a different way but actually changing one’s preference in the matter. As such, if you think it is a matter of choice, give it a try and see how that works out.

A third argument builds on the second. If sexual preference is a matter of choice, it seems odd that people would not decide to be heterosexual when people were (and are) persecuted and even killed for being homosexuals. It would make no sense to endure such treatment when a person could simply decide to not be that way. Of course, this argument is not decisive. After all, people do make choices that they know will result in harm or even death. For example, people will use drugs even though they put their health at risk and risk being arrested.

Another possibility is that it is a matter of choice. Clearly, it is not a simple choice like deciding between having a Coke or a Pepsi. Nor is it easy, like setting a preference in a computer program (“click the straight button to stop being gay”). However, it could still be a matter of choice. To steal a bit from Aristotle, we become what we do. So, if a person makes choices that leads to a preference for the same sex, than that person can be said to have chosen to be a homosexual. Naturally, there might be factors that incline a person one way or another (experiences, genetics, etc.) but this is true of anything involving choice. Provided that these factors are not overwhelming, then it would seem that orientation could be a matter of choice.

If this is the case, then people could change their orientation through such means. Consider an analogy to food. When I was a kid, I hated green peppers. Or so I thought. When I actually decided to try them and made a conscious effort, I found that I liked them.

Of course, there have been foods that I did try to like and failed (like plantains), So perhaps orientation is more like that. Or perhaps food analogies are a poor choice.

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Speech Acts and Intentions

[Note: This thread was originally a social networking announcement. But a conversation developed about speech acts, so the title was changed.]

Here at TPM, we’re very keen that people should friend us, follow us and do other social networking type things towards us. So here are the relevant details:

Facebook – We have a Facebook group here. Please join!

Twitter – There are two Twitter things that you will almost definitely want to follow.

The Philosophers’ Magazine

Philosophy Experiments

The second one of these is particularly important because I only have 4 followers. Admittedly I only started tweeting yesterday, but even so – it’s embarrassing!

The vaguely serious point here is that increasingly we are using this social networking stuff to make announcements – about new articles, games, etc – so you’re missing out if you’re not plugged in.

(I didn’t really say that last bit – the plugged in thing.)

Is it Rational to be Optimistic or Pessimistic?

An optimist is someone who looks at the bright side of life and expects good things to happen. A ‘cock-eyed’ optimist is one who believes, against all the odds, that everything will turn out all right in the end. Against this, the pessimist looks at the dark side of life and expects bad things to happen. A ‘dyed in the wool’ pessimist is one who believes that everything will turn out badly in the end.

On the face of it, pessimists seems to have sober reason on their side. For the pessimist, we have to be realistic, and the fact is that everything will eventually come crashing down. Entropy takes care of the end of things, and that end is increasingly chaotic. All systems move from a more to a less ordered state, until finally, they cease to exist. Our lives are like this. We are little anti-entropy machines, and our living bodies try to keep back the encroaching disintegration. In this they are successful for awhile, but, in the end, our bodies succumb to the forces of decay and finally move to the disordered state we call death. For the pessimist, the world is a disaster waiting to happen, and the optimist is simply living in an illusion.

Some systematic differences have been pointed out between the two approaches to life. First is the old saw about whether the bottle of wine is half full or half empty. The truth is that the bottle is both half full and half empty, and it is entirely up to the person whether to be happy or sad about this. It is the individual’s choice to be happy having half a bottle left, or sad that it is half gone.

Another difference between them is that the pessimist sees negative outcomes as the norm, while the optimist sees positive outcomes as the norm. The result is that when an obstacle arises, the optimist sees it as a temporary and local problem that can be overcome. The pessimist sees a problem or obstacle as what is to be expected, and getting a good result as the exception. It might be argued that the pessimist has the right in this, because, if one predicts a bad result that does not materialize, one is pleasantly surprised, whereas, if the bad result occurs, one takes it as only what is to be expected and is therefore not so affected by it as an optimist would be.

Despite this, there is currently much discussion about the value of optimism as an operational principle. It is claimed that the optimistic person is happier than the pessimist, travels more hopefully, is healthier and lives longer. In addition, the optimist is said to be more resilient and better able to cope with life’s setbacks.

It is true that bad things can happen and often do, but the opposite is also true. The optimist does not have to be ‘cock-eyed’. It is possible to be a realist and a moderate optimist at the same time. Optimism is more about maintaining a positive attitude than anything else. Pessimists do not pursue difficult projects because they are sure that they will fail before starting. It is hard to get moving on a project when what is before one’s mind are all the things that might, and probably will, go wrong. An optimist has a ‘can do’ approach that concentrates more on success than failure, while recognizing the problems more as opportunities to make progress than as crippling setbacks.

The sort of optimism that pessimists decry is really a silly kind of unjustified belief that the future will bring whatever one hopes will come to pass. However, another kind of optimism is not a matter of belief but of attitude. It is really more about having faith in one’s own competence than a matter of belief. It is the feeling that one will be able to cope with whatever happens as it comes along.

Of course, there will come a time when one will not be able to cope with some disaster or another. However, the optimist does not let that stop him or her from acting to prevent it or to pursue some other course of action, even while knowing that eventually everything comes to nothing.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the rational choice is for optimism, despite the fact that nothing lasts and all accomplishments eventually come to nothing. I would summarize my position as long term pessimism combined with short term optimism. And since our lives are short, it is best, from a practical point of view, to cultivate optimism as a modus operandi for our lives. To expect disaster and failure as the norm may protect one from being too disappointed when things go wrong, but that is no way to live. It is always possible to look at the world pessimistically or optimistically. The choice is ours.

Beauty & Discrimination

Hooters Bikini Contest. Annual bikini contest ...
Image via Wikipedia

Dahlia Lithwick wrote an interesting essay in the June 14th issue of Newsweek about the law and beauty bias. This got me thinking about the issues she raised.

It is reasonable well established that attractive people generally have an advantage over people who are less attractive. It is also reasonable well established that some businesses discriminate against people who fail to meet up with their standards of attractiveness. For example, Hooters famously fired a waitress for being too heavy.

Currently, there is little legal protection against discrimination based on appearance. Of course, there is the obvious question of whether there should be such protection.

On one hand, it could argued that there is no need for such laws. First, such laws could be seen as intuitively absurd. A law against not liking ugly people? How absurd!  Of course, this might simply be an appeal to ridicule: the mere fact that something can be laughed at or seems silly is hardly prove that it is.

Second, there is the reasonable concern that such laws would set a legal precedent for even more laws that would lead to either real legal harms or at least to a degree of absurdity that would be undesirable. For example, what if laws were passed to prevent “discrimination” against people for being foolish. Of course, this could be seen as a slippery slope argument. Unless, of course, reasons can be given showing that these negative results would follow.

Third, there is also the reasonable concern that people are naturally biased in favor of attractive people and also biased against people they regard as unattractive.  This can be seen as being analogous to the fact that people tend to be biased in favor of people who are pleasant, friendly or entertaining while they tend to biased against people who are unpleasant, unfriendly or boring.  It would seem absurd to pass laws that attempt to compensate for the bias people have in favor of such people. If the analogy holds between looks and personality, then it would seem absurd to pass laws against discriminating based on appearance.

Despite these points, there is a rather significant reason to favor such a law. This reason has nothing to do with unattractiveness but rather to do with the notion of relevance. From a moral standpoint, to fire or otherwise mistreat a person in a professional context (for the law to cover personal relationships would be rather absurd) based on appearance would seem to be unacceptable. To use a specific example, if a Hooters Girl is doing her job as a waitress to fire her because she weighs “too much” would be unjust. After all, as long as she is physically able to perform her job, then her weight would not be relevant.

One possible reply to this is that there are certain jobs in which attractiveness would be a relevant factor. To use an obvious example, super models are supposed to be beautiful and it would be rather odd for someone of average or less appearance to argue that they are a victim of discrimination if they were not chosen to be a supermodel. To use an analogy, if a job required a great deal of physical strength or a high degree of intelligence or creativity it would hardly be discrimination if people who lacked those attributes were not hired for such jobs.

That, it might be said, can be seen as a crucial part of the matter. If appearance is a legitimate asset and actually part of certain jobs, then to hire (or not hire) people based on appearance would not be discriminatory in these cases.

Of course, there is the concern  that there should not be jobs that are based on physical appearance. Such jobs, it might be argued, are inherently discriminatory and also serve to create various problems. Feminists, for example, often present such arguments. However, it could also be argued that there should not be jobs based on other natural assets such as wit, humor, intelligence or creativity. After all, if valuing beauty is somehow wrong, then it would seem that valuing these other qualities would also be wrong.

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Self Interest

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

Image via Wikipedia

One general challenge is getting people to act properly. What counts as proper behavior is, of course, a rather contentious matter. However, it seems reasonable to believe that at the most basic level harming others is not proper behavior.

It can be argued that self interest will motivate people to act properly. The stock argument (which is based on Hobbes, Locke, and Smith) is that a rational person will realize that behaving badly is not in his self interest because the consequences to himself will be negative.

Naturally, a person might be tempted to act badly if she thinks she can avoid these consequences, which is why it is rather important to make sure that these consequences are rather difficult to avoid. In addition to this concern, there are also other concerns about self-interest as a regulating factor on bad behavior.

First, for self-interest to be a regulating factor, a person’s self interest must coincide with acting correctly. If a person’s self-interest (or what he believed is his self-interest) goes against acting correctly, then he will be inclined to act incorrectly. Not surprisingly, various philosophers have tried to argue that what is truly in a person’s self interest is to act correctly. While there are some good arguments (such as those presented by Socrates) for this view, there are also good arguments that this is not the case. Naturally, from a purely practical standpoint the trick is to get people to believe that their self-interest coincides with not acting badly.

Second, even if it is assumed that it is in a person’s interest to act correctly this will not motivate a person to act correctly unless a person knows what is in her self-interest. While it is tempting to assume that a person automatically knows what is in her self interest, this need not be the case. After all, a person can think that something is in her best interest, yet be mistaken about this. A person might be misled by his emotions, confused or wrong about the facts (to give but a few examples).

Third, even if it is assumed that a person knows what is in her self-interest and that it is in her self-interest to act correctly, there is still the question of whether the person will chose to act in accord with her self-interest or not. To use a simple example, a person might know that exercising is in her self-interest, but be unable to stick with exercising. Roughly put, a person might have knowledge but lack the will or motivation to act on this knowledge.

Thus, self-interest can play a role in regulating behavior-provided that it in accord with correct behavior, the person has knowledge and the will to act on this knowledge.

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Baseball Ethics

The Major League Baseball logo.
Image via Wikipedia

Pitcher Armando Galarraga almost pitched a perfect game.  At the last moment a player got a hit and raced towards first base. The ball was hurled to the first baseman and it came down to one critical call by umpire Jim Joyce. Joyce judged that the runner was safe. Unfortunately, a review of the video showed that the runner was, in fact, out. Not surprisingly, Joyce has been savagely attacked in various blogs. Also unsurprisingly, some people have come to his defense.

While I find baseball to be really boring and was forced to endure years of Little League, I do find this situation interesting from an ethical standpoint.

One argument given against Joyce is that he should have decided a close call in favor of the pitcher, rather than the runner. One sensible reason for this is based on considering the consequences. In such a close call situation, a call in favor of the pitcher would yield an amazing achievement-the coveted perfect game. A call in favor of the runner would not provide such an achievement. As such, when the call is so very close it would seem to be right to let the tie go to the pitcher rather than to the runner.

What is, of course, rather critical here is the fact that the call is close.  That is, there are good grounds for going either way on the call.

However, the obvious reply to this is that the job of the umpire is not to judge based on which result will have the best consequences or be a “nice” or “generous” judgment. The duty of an umpire is, as the saying goes, to call it like he sees it. As such, each call must be considered in isolation, without such external factors coming into play. To do otherwise, to change judgment based on such factors, would be a failure of duty on the part of an umpire. Put into philosophical terms, an umpire must judge based on the rules rather than the consequences.

As such, Joyce acted correctly as an umpire. However, there is a rather serious matter to consider: the video showed that Joyce’s call was wrong. As such, the pitcher was unfairly denied his achievement. Or was he?

On one hand, the video shows that the call was mistaken. Oddly enough, the rules of MLB do not currently allow for a change in a call based on an instant reply. However, this situation shows that perhaps this is a good idea. After all, other sports use this and it hardly seems that it would sully the game. Rather, it would make the game more fair.

On the other hand, the game is based on a judgment by an umpire. Those are the rules and as such, that is how the game is to be played. Umpires will, of course, make errors. But, as long as the errors are honest mistakes, then that is all part of the game. Having umpires making calls in real time and not having a video review is part of the sport and to change this, it might be argued, would be to change the nature of the game.

My own view is that MLB should go to using such a review. After all, the technology is there and it would not seem to change the game in any negative way. Or would it? To be honest, I do not have a strong opinion on this aspect. However, I do have feelings about being “robbed.”

While I have never done anything as impressive as pitching a near perfect game, I do know what it was like to be denied an important accomplishment by a miscall. Years ago, I was racing a 10K on the track and set to run my fastest race ever. As you might imagine, 6.2 miles on a quarter mile track involves many laps and people have to carefully count them. In this case, the lap count was off and an official stopped the race early. I did not want to stop-I had been counting my laps. But, when the official calls it over, it is over. Even though it wasn’t. They had to sort out the results and this resulted in some bad feelings. After all, a lot can happen in a quarter mile. Also, since the race was not of the proper length the times did not count.

On the one hand, I was not very happy about this. After all, I had been “robbed.” On the other hand, I recognized that the official made an honest mistake without any malice. As such, I realized that although it was a bad situation, I had nothing against the official. Now, if there had been an attempt to shift blame or otherwise weasel out, then I would have been rather upset. But, an honest mistake is just that and the game must go on.

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Israeli Piracy?

Jolly Roger flown by Calico Jack Rackham. Bott...
Image via Wikipedia

Israel has once again been subject to international condemnation. In this latest incident, Israeli forces attacked a flotilla of ships that were supposed to be carrying aid to Gaza. During this attack, people on the ships were killed and some Israelis were wounded. Not surprisingly, this incident has stirred up strong emotions. Some are even likening the incident to piracy.

On one hand, it could be argued that the act is one of piracy. On the face of it, attacking civilian ships in international waters and killing people seems to rather like piracy. After all, when the folks from Somali head out to sea to attack ships, they are regarded as being engaged in piracy.

On the other hand, it can be argued that the act was not one of piracy. After all, one key distinction between pirates and non-pirates is that pirates do not not operate under the auspices of a government. Of course, governments do authorize pirate-like activity, but this is called “privateering.” The moral distinction between piracy and privateering can (to say the least) be a very fine one. After all, whether a person is killed by a pirate or a privateer probably matters very little to that person. However, this can be a relevant distinction and perhaps could be used effectively to argue that the Israeli attack was not an act of piracy.

Another argument that can be given to defend Israel is based on the assumption that nations have the right to act in self defense, even in international waters. Presumably Israel regarded the flotilla as a threat and then acted in accord with that assessment.  This, of course, raises the question of whether the act was a legitimate act of self-defense or not. If the flotilla presented an actual threat, then the attack might have been justified. Even if the flotilla did not present a legitimate threat, then the attack need not be piracy. It would, however, be an illegitimate attack and hence morally questionable (at best).

It could also be argued that even if Israel was not acting in self-defense against a threat, Israel was acting in what those in charge saw as being in their self-interest. Of course, a pirate can say the same thing. They, no doubt, think that their piracy is in their self-interest. However, this hardly makes their actions correct (unless, of course, that is what makes actions correct). However, acting incorrectly at sea need not be the same thing as piracy. And, of course, it can be argued that Israel was not acting incorrectly.

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