Philosophy in The World – Sports

To me, philosophy is the search for the meaning of life. Its constantly asking the question “why?” and contemplating the world around us as well as, the nature of human thought concerning concepts of right and wrong behavior and deciding the principles of right conduct.

 

This definition connects to Mill’s theory of utilitarianism because it focuses on the foundation of morals, and the correct ways to live focusing on happiness and pleasures. This relates to my personal definition because I believe philosophy focuses on concepts that revolve around the meaning of life and the correct ways in which you should live it. Although Mill’s theory of utilitarianism focuses on what is for the benefit of the majority, this should be a guiding principle for each individual. Mill’s states, “Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” This is an effective way to determine what the right decision to make is, and way to contemplate and consider the world around us.

An activity I chose, is one I’m involved with at UBC which is track and field. Based on my personal definition of philosophy this activity would qualify because it challenges individuals morals, ethics, and integrity. Not only does it call into question morals and ethics on a personal level, it opens up the discussion to the public surrounding issues regarding morals and ethics in sport. For instance, performance-enhancing drugs is often a heavily debated topic within the sports community and is not an unfamiliar one within track and field. This violation of the “spirit of sport” calls into question the ethics behind fair play and honesty which can result in unhappiness and dissatisfaction for teammates, fans, competitors, and the individual themselves. The ethics that are ingrained in our laws and the ones we abide by in our daily lives carry over into sports, it is how we ought to be and should not to be compromised. It becomes a philosophical question when a predominant majority is using performance-enhancing drugs, is it okay if the individual partakes as well. This raises doubt in individuals moral principles because they are deciding whether or not also artificially increasing physical capabilities to be equal to competitors is right or wrong. Of course, the answer would be that it is wrong to partake because it is unfair, this is a perspective Kant would share because regardless of what the others are doing, it is still a direct violation of the rules of conduct. Despite how much personal gain the individual will obtain, the act is unjust. Shafer-Landau Exalaims in a Kantian perspective: Fairness and Justice  “When we make an exception of ourselves, we are acting as if we were more important than anyone else, and going on as if we were exempt from rules that others must obey. But we are not more important than others, and we are not exempt from these requirements.” This can be applied to the situation even though others are using performance-enhancing drugs, neither they nor the individual is exempt from following the rules.

Philosophy in the World: Slumdog Millionaire and Peter Singer

The rise of poverty in the world is at a staggering all-time high. Especially in impoverished nations where the government cannot support the population alone, and thus aid from charities is needed. A film that I saw a while back was Slumdog Millionaire. It’s about a young boy who is living in a poverty-stricken slum in India, where he ends up becoming orphaned upon his mother’s death. The life of impoverished and orphaned children is shown by slum mafia gang abductions, that result in the children being forced to become street beggars. A scene that still stuck to me after all these years is when one of the child beggars get his eyes forcibly removed by one of the gang members, in order for him to look more pitiful, and in turn raise his chances of receiving more money from passersby through sympathy. Of course, this could have been prevented, had there been an effective system of reducing poverty and taking care of orphans that come from poor backgrounds. The only means of this ever happening in countries like India is through international aid from charities, which is what I’m going to be talking about, as well as the significance of said organizations.

Coming from an Indian background, I’ve heard stories similar to the ones portrayed in the film from my parents. It is an all to real of a reality back home, because of the widespread poverty and corruption that runs rampant. Therefore, Peter Singer’s philosophy of affluence and global poverty really hit home to me. My definition of his philosophy in this context would be treat other people the way you want to be treated. Although this is usually used in terms of not bullying or berating others, I like to think of it as helping others, in a sense that you want their lives to be as well-off as yours, and if you were in their shoes, you would want to be helped as well. If we individuals that are living so comfortably in our first-world countries, that have no need to worry about slums or forced child begging, then what is the reason for us not to help support those countries where this this is a reality, in hopes of lessening the impact to those that it affects? What I’m trying to convey is that international aid is vital in these situations for the impoverished to thrive. According to Singer, “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it”. By supporting those charities in India that help the poorer communities in slums by sending their children to schools, and building orphanages for the orphans, we are essentially preventing the bad occurrences such as the gang activity to overtake those communities. Moreover, the nothing morally significant will be sacrificed from us rather than a few dollars, which to those impoverished individuals can dictate whether or not they live to see another day.  On the same note, this supports my definition of Singer’s philosophy I had stated earlier. If we somehow found ourselves in a third world country in a situation very similar to those living in the slums of India, of course we would want to be helped out of that situation. We would rely on any means necessary for us to go back to our old lives of wealth and comfort rather than living in the dangerous condition of poverty and disease that runs rampant in everyday slum life. Therefore, if we cannot bring ourselves to be placed in the shoes of someone from a slum, then why should we continue to let those individuals live the way that they are?

On the same tangent, we cannot discriminate against those living in India, just because they’re oceans apart from where we are living in Canada. This again fits in with my definition of philosophy, for it supports the idea of supporting our fellow human, regardless of where they are located. This humanitarian aspect is also explained through Singer’s arguments, as he states that “if we accept any principle of impartiality, universalizability, equality, or whatever, we cannot discriminate against someone merely because he is far away from us (or we are far away from him)”. Regardless of where the person is located, it is still our duty to help support them, just because they are humans as well, and we have no right to assume that just because they are suffering far away from us, their suffering isn’t valid, nor are their lives. In terms of Singer’s philosophy, we should donate to charities and organizations that help reduce the corruption and improve the livelihood of those living in slums. It is therefore imperative for the people living in richer nations to contribute towards reducing, and eventually eradicating the concept of slums and the human rights abuses that take place within those environments. Since Singer’s arguments essentially revolve around charity towards to poor and that it is a human right for everyone to live with a morally balanced and ethical life, we should take this into consideration and donate to charities involved with this type of work improving the lives of the impoverished. Organizations such as UNICEF, World Vision, and even NGOs strive to build infrastructure within these communities that help boost education, reduce disease, and maintain an effective policing system that prevents gang activity to take over and rule the people. In terms of the movie, the poor children that were subjected to the tortures by the gang members would be spared from a lifetime of begging if there was enough support from organizations and charities to help the lives of those orphans. In a greater sense, enough support from charities would eventually result in the slum environment to be eradicated, and those children that were shown as beggars in the movie, could’ve had a chance to live successful lives with a job and education.

Based on my definition of philosophy, I engage in food drives and donating to food banks, sponsored from my local temple. These food drives help the homeless in Vancouver through provide enough meals for them to not go hungry. The reason why I consider donating once a month is because of the assumption that if I ever were to go homeless, I would appreciate the fact that there are people looking out for me, through means of donations of food. It’s a give-and-take situation, one that can be attributed to the idea “today you, tomorrow me”. Although I haven’t really done and donations to charities internationally (mainly because I have not got the money to do so at the time), I like to give back to the community at a local level in the beginning, and as I get more experienced in supporting the poor through these types of donations, I’ll move on to a more global scale of monetary donations to charities.

Philosophy in the World: The Greatest Showman

Recently, I was on a flight back from a trip to Brazil when, in an attempt to distract myself, I decided to watch Michael Gracey’s The Greatest Showman (2017). Based on real-life occurrences, the critically-acclaimed musical follows the journey of P.T. Barnum, an American man who spends a great deal of his early life struggling greatly financially, and decides to pursue his vision of founding what we have come to know today as a circus. Barnum slowly gathers a group of performers with “peculiar talents” (such as a pair of trapeze artists and a bearded woman) to be a part of his team and, despite facing a series of obstacles and heavy criticism from many who refused to accept his ideas and branded it a ‘freak show’, he eventually finds a great deal of success with the public and finds himself personally accomplished, with a close bond with his colleagues.

This film presents to the audience, beyond a great deal of hopeful ideals of self-accomplishment and perseverance, an interesting perception of a human life and what drives and motivates one to succeed.  When looking at P.T Barnum’s tireless efforts to find personal gratification and success, one cannot help but reflect on the goals and forces that led Barnum (and, on a larger scale, lead a great number of people in modern society) to strive for what he did, and to perceive success and the world around him in the way he did. Despite there being no absolute answer, this is where engaging in philosophical thought and questioning would bring us to further understand the forces that drive an individual, what influences society and how one should choose to live their life – was Barnum’s idea of success correct? Should we all adopt his mentality? What does in fact bring individual fulfilment? I will argue that this continuous string of questioning and endless search for answers is what the essence of philosophy is. Philosophy aims to comprehend and offer explanations for the fundamentals of life and individual action – it is an endless search for an understanding of the world around us and ourselves, as well as a tool through which we seek to find the driving forces behind our existences and enhance our performances as human beings to make us as successful as possible. On an individual scale, human beings are always, even if without realizing it, engaging in philosophical activities. Personally, I always seek to remain aware of my knowledge limitations and understand why I act in certain ways and why I perceive success and the world around me the way I do. Even when at work, I always seek to performs my tasks as a cashier and produce worker as efficiently and quickly as possible – to make as many co-workers and customers satisfied and happy as possible (as Mill’s Greatest Happiness Principle, who I will be mentioning later, suggests individuals ought to act). In this sense, one notorious philosopher in ancient Greece who worked towards furthering the development of this philosophical thought was Epicurus, who greatly believed that the “highest good” in the world was the idea of living the best life one could possibly live. One should, according to him, always strive for the greatest enjoyment and personal success possible – and that is precisely what Barnum, throughout his journey, is constantly attempting to achieve. Coming from a background intense financial struggle and virtually no support or enjoyment, he grows up to find himself slowly succeeding (getting married, having kids, opening his circus, and finding financial success), and subsequently striving for even more. He does not seem to settle – he wishes to keep improving his life and make it greater and greater, which is, as Epicurus notes, the highest form of moral good that could possibly exist in our society. Further, Epicurus argues that pleasures are greatly important in one’s life, and we have both static and kinetic ones. According to him, a individual should strive for Ataraxia – a state of static pleasures, where one finds tranquility in not having any unfulfilled desires. P.T. Barnum, however, in his incessant search for more, simply finds himself not being able to possibly achieve this. He winds up focused on a series of unnecessary natural desires (wishing for more money, more public attention and expensive houses) – likely due to his lack of resources as a child -, and these kinetic (brief, momentaneous) pleasures become the thing he is most preoccupied with; he does not settle, despite having already found substantial success. Analyzing this from an Epicurean perspective, then, Barnum has, with his greed, ultimately ‘lost track’ of what he truly needs to lead a fulfilled life by prioritizing his kinetic pleasures over a life of static fulfillment. Additionally, Epicurus’ view on friendship is interestingly worth noting. He is confident in the power of such bonds to bring pleasure and improve one’s life – without the, one would greatly struggle to achieve their best life possible. Barnum, in a similar manner, appears to realize this through his life, and works to make amends with his friends from the circus (who he temporarily neglected as he saw his rise to fame). In return, they offer him their utmost support and loyalty in times of struggle, and establish a friendship that carries their way through ultimate success and proves to be a source of crucial support to both Barnum and his colleagues. Without these bonds, as Epicurus would note, Barnum would arguably never have achieved the levels of success and happiness that he eventually found.

Another philosopher that greatly works to establish and comprehend the driving ‘forces’ behind society and individual action is John Stuart Mill, who advocates for what he understands as the “Greatest Happiness Principle”. According to him, the way we perceive an action as morally right or wrong depends on how much happiness it brings to the largest number of people possible. Similarly, The Greatest Showman brings us a protagonist whose main intention is to bring joy to as many people as he can with his circus – despite temporarily losing sight of it due to selfish pleasures. Although Barnum faced an incredible deal of public backlash in the beginning of his journey – being branded a “fake” and “freak” act due to the innovative nature of his show -, he was confident in his desire to bring happiness and a distraction from pain to every person who needed it. When confronted by critics, Barnum would nobly respond with “Do these smiles seem fake? It doesn’t matter where they come from. The joy is real.” His intentions were intrinsically good and, ultimately, he did find a great deal of public acceptance – which, to notoriously consequentialist Mill, means that his actions were indeed morally good as they brought the greatest amount of happiness possible to the greatest number of people he could possibly reach. To Mill, “pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends” (Utilitarianism, 2) – and that is precisely what Barnum aims for. Ultimately, P.T. Barnum’s personal trajectory in The Greatest Showman was nothing short of a philosophical illustration of the fundamentals of one’s life and, through struggles and successes, the tools necessary to achieve a fulfilled and good life.

Works Cited:

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on justice

In many ways, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the ultimate Western. Although it might superficially seem like a typical John Wayne movie with a good-guy/bad-guy narrative extolling self-reliance, there is in fact much more going on. Essentially, Liberty Valance examines the legend underpinning Westerns – an Old West won through rugged individualism, where every man had his own code of honour – by putting it in conflict with the civilizing westward march of progress and democracy.

In the frame narrative, US Senator Ranse Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) travels with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) to the small frontier town of Shinbone for the funeral of the cowboy Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). In interview with a reporter, Stoddard explains, in a long flashback comprising most of the movie, his prior relationship to Doniphon. Back then a young, idealistic lawyer travelling west in a stagecoach, Stoddard is robbed and beaten up by the local bandit Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). He establishes in some degree the rule of law to Shinbone, opening a legal practice, starting up a school, and getting elected delegate to the statehood convention. But he cannot directly challenge Valance’s control over the town because his democratic principles prohibit the use of extralegal force.  Doniphon’s position is that violence is the only way to stop Valance, but even though he has the physical skill to confront him he refrains out of an individual sense of honour. Eventually, Valance challenges Stoddard to a gunfight, where he shoots him in the arm and threatens to kill him. But before he has the chance, Stoddard fires, settling things the old-fashioned way despite his dedication to liberal values. Based on his reputation as Valance’s killer, Stoddard wins statehood for the region (as well as winning over Hallie from Doniphon) and goes on to become a successful politician. Assuaging Stoddard’s guilty conscience, Doniphon reveals to him that he was not in fact the killer: the man who shot Liberty Valance was Doniphon himself. Back in the present, the interviewing reporter realizes Stoddard’s reputation is fake, but nevertheless decides not to publish the interview, saying ‘This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.’

What counts as philosophical activity? For me, philosophy is a pretty broad term encompassing wide swathe of scholarly theorizing about the basis of knowledge and reality. But philosophical activity can also occur outside the academy. Anyone who engages in enquiry about the fundamental nature of things is doing philosophy. In support of this definition is the day-to-day behaviour of Socrates. Although his work now forms a core part of the philosophical canon, Socrates was not well-respected by the elite of Ancient Greece. He practised philosophy not by publishing treatises but by going around Athens and asking questions about the fundamental nature of things, upturning spurious assumptions and generally annoying those around him. For example, in the Apology (written by Socrates’ student Plato), when Socrates is facing the death penalty, he not only defends himself against the charges of his accusers (namely Meletus), he also more generally examines commonly-held beliefs about a wide range of subjects, digressing numerous times to investigate the nature and role of wisdom (8–9), justice (10), rhetoric (11–12), death (15), etc. In another Plato dialogue, Euthyphro, Socrates questions the eponymous religious expert on the character of piety. Despite Euthyphro’s self-proclaimed theological knowledge (3), he is unable to come up with a definition of piety (and by extension, moral good) that does not collapse (10) under scrutiny. After this rigorous, although informal, examination on the nature of piety, Euthyphro absconds and Socrates concludes that he has gained no insight (16). Even though Socrates’s discussions were conducted orally and only later written down, his sustained examination of the fundamental facets of human existence is what makes them philosophy.

Similarly, the philosophy found in Liberty Valance is explored through cinematic language rather than written language, and as such, the conclusions drawn in the film are reached more indirectly than they would be in an academic philosophy paper. Nevertheless, the movie is as philosophical as any other work of art. In addition to exploring the psychological depth of its characters faced with the moral dilemma of how to deal with Valance, critiquing the American national mythos as exemplified by the Wild West narrative, Liberty Valance presents two differing concepts of justice, freedom, and the state. On the allegorical level, Stoddard is a stand-in for liberal democracy, progress, and society: the new America. Doniphon represents self-reliance, traditional honour, and individualism: the old West. With the death of Valance, the old frontier, caught midway in between civilization and anarchy, is destroyed and the new way of life triumphs. The film examines the old-fashioned individualist myth so common in Westerns and so integral to the American conception of nationhood, showing that a lack of societal rules and institutions is not sufficient for true freedom. As his name suggests, Liberty Valance is free in an individual sense just like Doniphon, but this absolute self-determination in itself restricts the freedom of the townspeople to live in security – one type of freedom contradicts the other. The statelessness that used to reign in Shinbone preserves justice and freedom only for those with the ability to secure it for themselves. The film critiques the individualist position on justice as insufficient to protect everyone in society. But the film also reveals an important truth about the liberal, progressive ideal of justice. Stoddard prides himself on his devotion to the rule of law and democratic principles. But the film shows that no legal system can justify itself. In other words, civilized society depends on some initial establishing act of coercion. Without the extralegal violence that killed Liberty Valance, Stoddard would be dead and the rule of law would have died with him. The new American freedom guaranteed by the state is in a way just as self-contradictory as the old-fashioned mode: freedom can only exist by virtue of a denial of freedom to those who don’t comply. Neither of the film’s two opposing heroes are good-guy figures. Neither conception of justice survives the film’s scrutiny. In a way, the viewer of Liberty Valance is left in much the same position as the reader of Euthyphro: we know what the answer isn’t. None of the definitions of piety Euthyphro presents us with are satisfying and likewise with Liberty Valance and justice. We may not have an unshakable conclusion, but we have gotten somewhere.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE WORLD ASSIGNMENT

On March 7th, along with other UBC students from different faculties and years, I participated in the UBC student consultation on poverty reduction in British Columbia. There were approximately forty people that attended. The event, hosted by the Center for Community Engaged Learning, the AMS, and local organizations such as Raise the Rates and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, took place at the BC Hydro Theatre in the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) building and lasted from 1:00pm to 3:30pm. The purpose of this event was to give students a chance to contribute to BC’s first poverty reduction plan by recording their opinions and ideas into a report that would be submitted directly to the government. After some minutes of socializing with free buffet food, the moderator began to introduce the different participants of the event: the professors, the representatives of the local organizations, the student head of AMS, and the UBC graduate students who were in charge of organizing all the information from the small group discussions and compile it into a formal report for the government. After the introductions, both the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and Raise the Rates, gave a short presentation to give us context on BC’s current policies regarding strategies to reduce poverty. During their presentation, the two representatives explained that British Columbia has one of the highest poverty rates in Canada. Although it is a rich province, they discussed how BC has never put into action a poverty reduction plan and because of that many people are still living below the poverty line; students amongst them.

Afterwards, we all separated into smaller groups on large tables and started to discuss the current problems that the BC government should address in their poverty reduction plan. In my group, we discussed issues regarding the expensive housing market, food, transportation, college tuition and many more issues. During this, along with three other former UBC students, I was able to participate and give my opinion regarding the difficulties that come with paying tuition and finding adequate, affordable housing in Vancouver.

After some time, the moderator asked for volunteers to share with the entire room some of the issues discussed during the small group consultations.

Later on, the moderator asked us to discuss solutions to these problems. After writing down and talking about possible solutions, each table was given the instruction to choose one specific issue to focus on. We were then given the chance to switch to other tables to talk specifically about one topic: housing, tuition, food and etc…

 

At the end, apart from the official document that the UBC graduate students were to produce in the following weeks, all the tables recorded the solutions discussed on large white papers using colored markers. These large papers were then hung on the wall and each person in the room was given the chance to vote on which solutions or issues were most important by placing a red sticker on them.

 

 

As an international first-year student, I came to the event with limited background on BC’s current poverty situation. I assumed that, because BC is one of the wealthiest provinces and Vancouver is one of the richest cities in Canada, then the poverty rates would be lower than in other places. Due to these assumptions, I sometimes lacked the background knowledge to answer some of my group’s questions. Therefore, I asked many questions and clarifications on the current policies and situations of every topic so that I could form my answers more clearly. During our group discussions one of the facts that struck me the most was that currently one in five children in BC live under the poverty line. After our discussion, I felt more aware of the serious poverty problems that exist in BC and felt more strongly about the urge to put into action a plan.

I believe that university students offer a unique perspective on this issue, not only because they represent the future adult workforce; but also because university students often are amongst the group of people that struggle the most financially due to the high costs of their education; therefore, they have a lot of insight on what its like to live under hard financial pressures.

 

Philosophy is a study of all systems of knowledge such as ethics, reasoning and science. It investigates the knowledge produced by all sentient beings regarding different aspects of their reality. If we break down the origins of the word philosophy, “Philo” in Greek denotes love and “sophia” translates into wisdom. [1] Philosophy therefore stands for the love of wisdom. Philosophy seeks wisdom; and wisdom – true knowledge – can only be acquired through the evaluation of past, present and future knowledge: including individual and societal systems of beliefs, morals, values, mental maps of reality, assumptions about how different beings should interact, rules of justice and more. Philosophy therefore seeks to understand what is right or wrong, what exists or what doesn’t, and attempts to answer, through logic, some of the most difficult questions about our existence and how we should live it.This definition of philosophy fits with Peter Singer’s discussion on the ethics of human relationships because, as mentioned previously, philosophy is grounded on the search for wisdom, which encompasses the investigation of ethical and social obligation of human beings.

 

In his article “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, Peter Singer states, “…suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical are bad…”(https://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm). Therefore, he argues that human relationships should be based on helping one another and therefore it is our moral duty to help others who live under those bad circumstances. He goes on to say that the help humans are obliged to provide to others should not be based on their proximity to the person in dire circumstances. Singer underscores that there is “…no possible justification for discriminating on geographical grounds…” because if one is able to provide help, by any means, to others that are far away from them, then that proves how the moral obligation of a human cannot be limited to physical distance. Singer’s main argument is that, “if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.” His discussion also touches upon the notions between moral duty and charity. In his article, Singer discusses how giving money away to help others is believed to be an act of “charity” or “generosity”. However, Singer states that giving away money, to help others who are starving or suffering, instead of using it for one’s own commodity, is a duty. Singer’s discussion redefines the societal beliefs regarding the act of helping others; therefore, it aligns itself with my claim that one of philosophy’s core areas of study is the knowledge of ethics. His revised utilitarian view, allows us to see how if we can do something to promote happiness it is our moral duty to act; and not doing anything would be morally wrong.

 

 

The experience of attending the BC poverty event fitted with my definition of philosophy –the study of knowledge claims such as that of our ethical duty – because we had to discuss why it is important to help others in poverty, talk about the injustice that some people suffer under the greed of corporations, and come up with solutions to these problems. For example, we discussed how corporations that privatize the housing market reduced the availability of social housing. This phenomenon impeded paupers ability to afford housing. In this instance, I brought up the point that because those corporations are creating social inequalities it is their moral duty to help others if they are able to; therefore a solution to this problem would be to tax them. The government could then allocate that tax money for social housing and for local organizations to help reduce the population living in poverty. During the event we also discussed how we should ethically help others, while reducing acts of discrimination, as well as stigmatization. All the issues that we evaluated in the event are tied to the overarching goal of philosophical investigation: obtain wisdom and truth in the way we ought to relate to other humans and live our lives.

 

Participating in events with other people produces better ideas, rather than discussing by oneself, because different views and opinions yield better evaluations of an argument. For instance, an idea that one strongly believes in could be disagreed upon by another or redefined in other terms, which then allows for the premises of one’s argument to be further investigated so as to obtain a more truthful knowledge claim. Moreover, different perspectives can reveal overlooked aspects of an issue. For instance, when discussing the housing market, one person discussed that student homelessness is an issue that is not very much talked about but is a serious problem at UBC. This broadened our conversation and allowed us to understand that both national and international students should be able to afford a residence in order to study. Philosophical discussions like this are very important for they bring to light what truly matters for individuals and for a society at large. We can thus learn from other people’s perspectives and opinions what is moral, just and ethical.

Works Cited:

Singer, Peter. Famine, Affluence, and Morality, by Peter Singer, www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm.

[1] https://www.roangelo.net/logwitt/philosophy-origin.html

The Philosophical Implications of “Ratatouille”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3sBBRxDAqk

 

The 2007 Disney-Pixar movie “Ratatouille” became a childhood favorite for many children upon its release, including myself.  The movie depicts a rat named Remy with an incredible talent for cooking, who lives out his dream of being a cook by using a young man, Alfredo Linguini, as a human puppet in the kitchen of a famous restaurant in Paris.  Alfredo not only uses the Remy to maintain his own reputation as a cook, but Remy is ultimately used to maintain a good reputation for the restaurant as a whole. The story portrayed in “Ratatouille” seems lighthearted and fun as a children’s movie, but its true colors are revealed when examining the role that philosophy plays in the morality of the characters.  In examining the role that philosophy plays in the movie “Ratatouille,” I realize the extent to which philosophical ethics play in seemingly insignificant aspects of our lives.

In order to understand how philosophy plays a role in the movie “Ratatouille,” I must first define what philosophy means to me.  To me, to think philosophically is to think about how to live the best and most meaningful life possible. In order to live a meaningful life, one must live by good moral standards.  Consequentially, I believe that to think philosophically is to think about the ethical implications of one’s actions. Philosophers, such as Mill and Kant, have debated the subject of morality for a very long time.  Mill was a Utilitarian, believing that the most moral actions are those that lead to the greatest amount of happiness for all those affected by the action. He believed that the only way to measure the morality of an action was to examine the consequences, no matter what the intentions were.  Kant, on the other hand, believed that the consequences of an action are irrelevant when examining the morality of an action, as the morality lies in the intention of the person committing the action. Unlike Mill, Kant believed that goodwill is the highest good, rather than happiness. While their analyses of Philosophy are different, both Mill and Kant discuss how we should go about living the life with the most good and meaning, which relates directly to the definition of philosophy that I outlined above.  Both of these analyses of philosophy can be related to the actions of the main characters in the movie “Ratatouille”.

The morality in question when examining “Ratatouille” is that of the rat, Remy, and the main human character, Alfredo Linguini.  While it seems like a harmless story of a rat living out his dream of being a famous chef by (consensually) taking over the motor skills of a shy, untalented kitchen employee, there are serious ethical implications to this plot line.  Both of these characters are lying about the identity of the cook. Remy lies in order to be able to be a chef without upsetting customers and employers, while Alfredo lies in order to keep his job in the kitchen. When examining these ethics through the eyes of both Mill and Kant, two different conclusions arise regarding whether the actions of these two main characters were moral or not.

As a Utilitarian, Mill would argue that the actions of both Remy and Alfredo Linguini are morally good, as the lie they both tell does not lead to any negative consequences to those affected by their cooking.  The customers of the restaurant love the food, which leads to happiness for everyone involved. The customers receive the happiness of eating a delicious meal, the owner of the restaurant receives the happiness of good reviews and happy customers, and Remy and Alfredo remain happy about their respective situations.  Even though their actions come from a fundamental lie, Mill would argue that this does not affect the morality of their actions, as the maintenance of the lie leads to nothing but good consequences. Thus, he would argue that the actions of Remy and Linguini Alfredo are morally good and contribute to the goodness and meaningfulness of their lives.

Kant would have a completely different approach to examining the ethics of Alfredo and Linguini’s actions, concluding that their actions in “Ratatouille” are immoral.  As Kant purely focuses on the intention of actions in order to determine their morality, he would argue that the lie on which the actions of Remy and Alfredo are based is what ultimately makes them immoral.  As part of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, it is essential for moral actions to be universalizable (Shafer-Landau, 2015). Because lying, regardless of the consequences of the lie, is not a universalizable act, as some lies negatively affect all people involved, it follows that Remy and Alfredo Linguini’s action of lying about who cooks the food is immoral.  Kant would also argue for the immorality of their actions as both Remy and Alfredo are using each other as a means to an end, which goes against the second form of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Remy is using Alfredo as a means to live out his dream of working in the kitchen of a famous chef, while Alfredo is using Remy as a means to keep a reputable job. Under the framework of his Categorical Imperative, Kant argues that an action that uses something or someone as a means to an end is not a moral action (Shafer-Landau, 2015).  Thus, he would argue that, although their actions may lead to the happiness of those involved in the situation, the actions of Remy and Linguini Alfredo are not moral actions, and do not contribute to making their lives good and meaningful.

The application of philosophical thought to the premise of the movie “Ratatouille” reveals just how deeply philosophy is embedded in our lives, even when we do not think about it.  With my newfound knowledge and understanding about ethics and philosophy, I am now able to apply my definition of philosophy to my everyday actions. Whenever I think about telling a lie, or using someone as a means to an end, I am able to critically think about the ethical implications of those actions.  This ultimately contributes to my ability to lead the best and most meaningful life that I can. Additionally, I will now never be able to watch a Disney movie without analyzing the morality of the protagonists.

Artificial Intelligence and the Search for a Better World

As technology continues to advance, a series of important philosophical considerations arise surrounding the moral use of the tools we construct. Of these constructs, none raises more interesting and pertinent questions than artificial intelligence (AI). As we increasingly make use of AI in all fields to reduce human error and promote efficiency, ethical concerns are raised: what to do with weapons that can literally fire themselves?

The 2015 open letter with over three thousand signatures from AI/robotics researchers titled Autonomous Weapons: An Open Letter From AI & Robotics Researchers implores scientists, governments, and the international community to work toward a ban on offensive autonomous weapons. The hope is that such a ban will be achieved before such weapons become the “Kalashnikovs of tomorrow” and cause untold harm to humanity. To me philosophy is the structured study of thought, the breaking down of how and why we think things for the purpose of directing our actions to the betterment of the world around us. To Mill that means finding “one fundamental principle or law, at the root of all morality, or if there be several, there should be a determinate order of precedence among them; and the one principle, or the rule for deciding between the various principles when they conflict, ought to be self-evident.” (Mill, 1) In other words, he seeks to break down thought to a single truth that justifies how and why in order to direct actions always toward the greatest possible happiness. In utilitarianism the question is, in principle, simple: what action will cause the greatest happiness? To the signatories of this letter, the answer is a ban on autonomous weapons. They argue that the benefit gained by reducing human casualties of war does not outweigh the cost of making war more palatable or the risks of an AI arms race. In making that consideration and in justifying it in this manner, the writers are breaking down our thought using utilitarian concepts to engage in philosophical activity. They measure the usual consequences of harm to human soldiers; individual suffering, familial harm, cost of treatment and so on against those that are likely to be the usual result of an AI arms race. These being the creation of tools useful for “assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.” They then let their study inform their actions towards what they see as the betterment of our world. So this letter, to all those who read it, serves as an invitation into a conversation about the ethical use of AI and an exploration of our thought on what form weapons are allowed to take and how far progress is allowed to take us.

The most common way in which I engage in philosophical activity is through personal conversations with my peers. In such conversation we begin with our thoughts on a relevant issue; should AI have rights, what is the best method of gun control, is death really bad for a cow? From that point we break down our positions into their constituent arguments and progress through those arguments, in or out of order. As we discuss, or argue, a given argument, we enter tangential discussions and pull apart our opinions on a variety of topics. To give this mental wandering purpose, and proper philosophical status, we answer the questions and resolve the arguments until we arrive at a set of new realizations about the world we live in. With that new understanding, we become better able to shape our actions toward the betterment of the world in which we live.

 

Works Cited

https://futureoflife.org/open-letter-autonomous-weapons/

         Note: As there exists no given primary author for this letter, all uncited           quotations are attributed to the single page of this letter.

Philosophy In The World – Is Doing Your Homework Morally Right?

By: Mark Epshtein

Philosophy is all around us. We think about something, it’s philosophy. We question something, it’s philosophy. We debate if something is right or wrong, it’s philosophy. Society is filled with constant dilemmas and decisions that require philosophical thought. It all began with Socrates and the gadfly but, it came to be so much more. We must think through all our actions so that we do not simply become the sheep of society. Yet, it comes down to our personal decisions on what is morally right or wrong and the concept of moral relativism that is so hotly debated and controversial. However, some simple decisions may be harder to rationalize whether they are right or wrong.

 

Is doing your homework and studying for a course morally right or wrong? This is the question that has dumbfounded almost all university and college students for decades. Despite its simple nature, the act of completing your homework has many implications. However, in my definition the act of doing your homework and studying for a course includes the action of fully completing the assigned homework by the class date, as well as being fully prepared for any quiz or test you would have in that class, using as many hours as you would need. As the amount of time to complete homework varies from person to person, I have chosen to define my act as finishing the task and being satisfied and readily prepared for the test, rather than a set number of hours. Examples of students completing this task can be found all around the UBC – Vancouver campus.

 

In order to better understand the philosophical implications of doing your homework and studying for a course, we need to define what philosophy is. Philosophy is the study of what is morally right or wrong. In the simplest sense, it is the research and thought behind whether a decision is right or wrong, based on a variety of philosophers and principles. Philosophy is best described by John Stuart Mill in his book “Utilitarianism.” Mill states that, “there are few circumstances […] in which speculation on the most important subjects still lingers, then the little progress which has been made in the decision of the controversy respecting the criterion of right and wrong” (Ch. 1). He goes on to say that the debate between the determination of what is right and what is wrong has, “occupied the most gifted intellects, and divided them into sects and schools, carrying vigorous warfare against one another” (Ch. 1). Mill means that the debate for what is morally right and wrong, the definition of philosophy, has taken up much of the time of societies best thinkers, with very little progress. He aims to put this debate to a halt with, “one fundamental principle or law, at the root or all morality” (Ch. 1). That principle is the Greatest Happiness Principle. The Greatest Happiness Principle aims to promote the most happiness, or pleasure, with the least pain, or absence of pleasure, taking into account that some intellectual pleasures provide greater happiness than physiological ones. This greatest happiness implication can only be executed to a certain point, as there are rules that outline its parameters of ethical actions. Philosophy, being the study of what is morally right and wrong, is enforced by Mill’s concept of Rule Utilitarianism, as per his book, “Utilitarianism.”

 

Under the previously stated definition of philosophy, with references from John Stuart Mill, we can easily see why the act of doing your homework and studying for a course has so many philosophical pathways. Since there are so many possible consequences of doing and not doing your homework and studying, the decision, under the Greatest Happiness Principle, cannot be specifically defined. We can take not doing your homework and not studying, for example. If you choose to do this you can get the greatest happiness in the short run, by hanging out with your friends or playing video games, but in the long run you are most likely to lose marks on an exam or test. Mill emphasizes that decisions shall be made based on their consequences and resulting happiness in the long run. So, would not doing your homework be morally wrong because of its long-term consequences? Yes. However, what if you decide not to do any homework in order to rest up and study for the final exam, and do extremely well on the final. That would mean the greatest long-term happiness would result in not doing your homework. Another aspect of this is actually doing your homework and studying. Would that imply having a good grade on the final? Some people can do all their homework but still remain miserable and unmotivated for the final exam, or even drop out of the course. Mill’s Utilitarianism, like most philosophical ideologies and principles, does not account for individual or specific situations. The answer to doing your homework and studying being morally right or wrong deals with moral relativism. In most cases, there is no unified right answer but there is a right answer for each individual faced with the question. The decision to do your homework and study is philosophical due to its many philosophical and moral implications or pathways, requiring levels of deep philosophical thought on an individual level, as, due to moral relativism, there is no morally “right” answer.

 

I am faced with moral dilemmas and philosophical thought on the daily. We all think philosophically more than we know, and due to our nature to repeat actions from which we obtain the greatest consequences, we have a hard time realizing how much philosophical thinking we actually do. Most times we act according to the Greatest Happiness Principle explained by Mill but it is sometimes we must sacrifice the greater happiness for the ethically right choice. For example, the purchase of a certain beverage, let’s say coffee, requires philosophical thought. Should I buy Starbucks or a more ecologically sustainable brand with local ties and a great community presence? If Starbucks is cheaper and better tasting it would produce the greatest happiness for me but the eco-friendly coffee shop is the right choice for saving the environment. I also face dilemmas in volunteering to help in the community versus getting paid for work. Certainly getting money for work has a greater happiness, but community service acts as an intellectual pleasure. I face philosophical decisions and thoughts every day in my life, but PHIL 102 has taught me to question the status quo and the common state of knowledge more than anything.

Word Count: 1091

Philosophy in the World:Option A

Philosophy in the world 

Philosophy I believe is a way of analyzing the world in which we live in and determining what rights and responsibilities we have to those around us. It enables us to think through the duty we hold to society as a whole. 

A recent article by the CNN reveals that last year the top 1% received 82% of the total wealth generated and that 50% of the world population saw no increase in their wealth. Political leaders to industry titans argue that wealth inequality is the greatest scourge of this generation but none it seems are willing to engage in concrete action that would reduce this wealth inequality. The early part of this century has seen the world veer from the economic collapse caused by banks ‘too big to fail’, a modern-day housing crisis that punishes first-time buyers, the normalization of the minimum wage not supporting individuals to institutionalized corruption amongst financial institutions. This is a problem that has to do with a lack of understanding of the duties that we owe to our fellow man. The modern-day economic environment does reward those with access to resources that are willing to work hard, but it also rewards those willing to cheat their way to the top and that I feel is the reason we have ended up with such disparate economic inequality. 

Peter Singer is a philosopher who has long argued for active steps taken by individuals with the means to do so to reduce economic inequality by giving away their wealth not to the point of struggling themselves but to one that allows them to sustain a comfortable state of living. In his article ‘What should a Billionaire give – and what should you?’ He lays out a means by which the top 1% of the US population alone could more than easily meet the then millennium goals for human development, in fact going on to say that there would be no reason why we should fail to meet these goals given that individuals were not being asked to reduce the quality of their life to the point that it became unbearable to live.  

The example of Paul Allen is an interesting insight into both the level of philanthropy that an individual is capable of, but also the immense state of income inequality. As Singer points out in his article, Allen has given away nearly 800 million dollars to philanthropic causes that is a sum of money that is comparable to the working budgets of small countries that a single individual has been able to give away and yet it represents just 5% of his total worth. It has been said that the human mind cannot effectively comprehend numbers greater than about a dozen before they have to count them out. The potential in just his charitable donations alone is enough to care for all the needs of over 3000 children from birth to adulthood in the developed world (CNN). 

The center-piece of Singer’s argument for private philanthropy is that we all believe in fairness and would like those with the ability to do more to help those who are suffering. The fundamental basis of human cooperation is that all lives are equally valuable. An analogy he gives is that if we encountered a drowning person and had the ability to save them, there would be an expectation that we attempt to save them. Over a billion people in the world today are living in squalor, surviving on little less than a dollar a day and often with no prospects of achieving a meaningfully better life. One need only look at the images of drowned refugees attempting to reach Europe that have dominated headlines in recent years to see the sheer desperation that drives people into the arms of the smugglers profiting from their desperation. Each live lost represented not just a loss of future potential but is an immense emotional cost on those that knew and perhaps depended on the individual. 

In the developed world we see a generation whom can no longer realistically expect to achieve a better standard of living than their parents, caught between the traps of expensive higher education, a housing market that favors sellers and entry-level job with inordinate requirements. One study shows that the average entry level job requires three years of experience (Chakrabarti 2018). In the midst of all of this we are faced with increasing accumulation of wealth by the top 1%. To use his analogy the majority are drowning and it would hardly be a burden on the rich to help speed up redistribution of wealth as has been pointed out by Singer and it would as has been pointed by some commentators (Kurzegast) be a net benefit to society as a whole in terms of the increase in human capital that would result. 

Each individual now capable of living closer to their full potential would represent an increase in the development of new products, improvements in existing products and this in turn would start a cascade in which individuals experience an increase in their standard of living driving economic growth and further enabling even more people to advance. Another consequence of this would be a reframing of the way those living in the developing world are able to regain agency. Much of the discussion around those in the developing world portrays them as a helpless people, this ignores the action they use to improved their lives with limited resources but also leads to paternalistic thinking in wider society which engenders tokenistic actions such as economic agreements that are in fact heavily exploitative of the developing countries but also wider attitudes in society of those people as deficient or dangerous leading to anti-refugee or anti-immigration sentiment. Rhetoric by individuals such as Donald Trump or his surrogates portraying Mexicans for example as dangerous criminals invading the US and totally ignoring the actual facts about immigration into the US as a whole by all people represents a major hindrance to solving inequalities. 

Much has certainly been done at the political level in the developed world to institute policies that can be described as state led philanthropism and that effort should be commended as a start. At a general level however, there are still problems as a whole with how that philanthropism is understood. The conversation does not revolve around how that aid can be optimized to enable maximum benefit towards reducing inequality but instead on how that money represents a loss to the given people of the state who could have otherwise benefitted. Certainly, there are legitimate conversations to be had about that, however, in many cases the proportion given as aid is an essentially negligible part of the states GDP and the conversation needs to be redirected towards the proven facts about income inequality and how reducing it is in fact a net benefit to all. 

As I have tried to explain above, a major driving factor I believe that hinders greater or more focused philanthropy is simply a lack of understanding about the benefits of doing so. In my own life, I have made a focus on understanding the wide variety of factors that drive income inequality. From the ethically dubious practices of (Reuters) HSBC a bank that has found itself enabling the activities of drug dealers to the unholy alliances between big business and political elites that in many cases are leading to a pay to play political system. Knowledge is power and power is the only means by which there is any hope of reforming the wider system to allow everyone to lead a better life. I am not yet at a level where I can be as usefully philanthropic as Paul Allen, however, I am able to exert the understanding I have to contribute to driving change via petitions on website change.org that allows individuals to start and sign petitions that ultimately are delivered to those currently with the ability to drive change at the highest level that is my means of attempting to create a better tomorrow for the people around me. 

Page Break 

Works Cited 

Singer, P., Prof. (2006, December 17). What Should a Billionaire Give-and What Should You? New York Times Magazine 

Viswanatha, A. (2012, December 11). HSBC to pay $1.9 billion U.S. fine in money-laundering case. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hsbc-probe/hsbc-to-pay-1-9-billion-u-s-fine-in-money-laundering-case-idUSBRE8BA05M20121211 

Vassel, K. (2017, January 9). Cost of raising a child: $233,610. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/09/pf/cost-of-raising-a-child-2015/index.html 

Chakrabarti, K. (2018, March 28). The Science of The Job Search, Part III: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3 Years of Experience. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from https://talent.works/blog/2018/03/28/the-science-of-the-job-search-part-iii-61-of-entry-level-jobs-require-3-years-of-experience/ 

Kottasová, I. (2018, January 22). World’s richest 1% grabbed 82% of all wealth created in 2017, Oxfam study finds. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/21/news/economy/davos-oxfam-inequality-wealth/index.html 

  1. (2017, December 07). Universal Basic Income Explained- Free Money for Everybody? UBI Retrieved April 06, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl39KHS07Xc

Community (Philosophy in the World)

Community is a sitcom style tv series that follows a Spanish study group in a community college, Greendale. Through the shows six seasons, many themes and topic have been explored, but one has remained constant. This theme is growing up, and community has a lot to say about it. Specifically, the show implies that there is a moral value to acquiring responsibilities beyond happiness.

Moral claims like this one are philosophical in nature. This is because  philosophy is the active questioning of knowledge. Attempting to determine the values that determine morality, therefore, would be a philosophical activity.  For example, John Stuart Mill established his own philosophy known as Utilitarianism by evaluating the morality actions by their general consequences. Specifically, Utilitarianism assigns value to consequences by the amount of happiness they usually produce. In so doing he identifies what he believes to be the absolute basis or morality, which all individuals should follow.

Community counts as philosophical under this account because it questions the notion of happiness. To do this, the show imposes values on certain choices, establishing moral values. Specifically, through its narrative, Community seems to oppose Mill’s greatest happiness principle. This is because the show puts value into decisions that cause characters pain, but give them things such as responsibility. Eventually, all the characters in the show must move past Greendale, which had evolved to a sort of dreamland where constant fantastical adventures would take place. For each of them their departure is hard but reflects a gained maturity which seems to be morally important. For example, in the episode “geothermal escapism” in the fourth season, the character Troy departs the show. Throughout the episode, he and his best friend Abed attempt to distract themselves with their usual escapism, this time with a school wide game of “the floor is lava”. Throughout the episode, the facade of their game fades, as the childish escapism that was once everything to the two seems to be useless to their happiness. Abed, still desperately clings to the chance that Troy might stay with him, but it is no use. In the final act of the episode, Abed finally comes to terms with the departure of his best friend, and in so doing is able to achieve happiness through a feeling of pride for Troy and his accomplishments. This same arc of childish escapism, giving way to reluctant acceptance is common throughout all the departures on the show, including the final episode. This motif is employed by the show to give value to maturity over childish pleasure and posits that there are moral choices in which joy is less important than other values. Specifically, the ideas of personal evolution and responsibility seem to be important. The characters in the show become very unsatisfied with their constant romps because they become repetitive, and they never evolve to more complex actions. The ideas of responsibility and growth, therefore, seem to be morally important. Additionally, there are no consequences to their actions, positive or negative. In the final seasons at Greendale, the characters come to understand this, and accept that their childish joy is not permanent.

This specific philosophical idea has influenced me greatly. When deciding my future, in terms of career path, and choice in degree, I have followed a similar maxim. Namely, I have chosen a path which is more difficult, and less expedient because I believe that there is a value to the acquisition of knowledge which is greater than that of joy and monetary gain. This is why I decided to pursue science, instead of a trade, despite the fact that I both enjoy the trades, and they would pay me more in the time of my life where I could enjoy said wealth.