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 – Poverty Reduction Conference

Description of Experience

 

The experience was very heartwarming and enjoyable. It was very inspiring seeing all these young students buy in to the poverty reduction in BC. Seeing the young people of our generation involve themselves in causes bigger than themselves, proposes a bright future for not only British Columbia but Canada as a whole. The experience allowed students to sit in groups in the conference room, having speakers come to the front of the room speaking on behalf of their group, or club they were a part of. There were people from different cultures all sharing their own experiences and advocating for poverty.

 

Reflection

 

I did not expect this to be as hands on as it was. It was very open for discussion and every student was respectful and willing to give their opinion. In regards to what I expected, I was expecting us to listen to a few keynote speakers boring us with facts we already knew. Instead we were allowed to exercise our free speech and fresh minds, by answering certain questions and collaborating with other students in forming mind maps to portray our knowledge.

 

Connection to Academics

 

  • Define philosophy

In Philosophy, poverty is a very general topic. It is often seen in many different perspectives, arguing with it from spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical aspects. As Mill describes it through the Greatest Happiness Principle, he suggests that everybody strives for happiness. Since poverty comes in many different ways, Mill assumes a position of advocacy for the greater population of low income individuals. In his texts, he is known to argue more from a emotional point of view searching for happiness for the greatest amount of people. Philosophy in a sense, plays its part in poverty as searching for fairness as Emmanuel Kant would and his Kantian Ethics, which suggests the fairness of maxims across all humans through his focus on the categorical imperatives. Creating a more fair and just environment where everyone is seen as equal despite wealth, race, or gender, is exactly what the poverty reduction conference strives for.

 

  • Consultation fit with that definition

 

In regards to the philosophy found in poverty, as I had mentioned above the values of many philosophers can be shared to create a less povertized world. It certainly fits perfectly, as seen through Mill and Kant’s ideologies, that persevere to create the fairest and happiest society.

 

Discuss Civic Aspects of the Experience

 

Totally. In answer to the question of group discussions as positive or not, yes it indeed was. Being able to break out of a comfort zone as an individual, and seeing others do so as well creates a positive environment open for discussion and awareness to the poverty around us. The ethics and philosophy of this event, was blind to any aggressive discussion or discrimination. All individuals, regardless of where they came from and what they came from, equally shared the same hurt for the increasing poverty in Vancouver. I personally think that the success of this event, should be made more aware to individuals on campus that I am sure share the same mindset. Because in more ways than none, poverty is an issue that affects all of us, and it sees no boundaries.

Philosophy of the World – “Darkest Hour”

At the beginning of the course I defined philosophy as a subject that concerns it self with answering difficult questions that are not answerable. After taking the course I still have the same view but I now know why they are not answerable. My view still remains because Philosophy does attempt to answer questions that are difficult to answer and part of this reason they are not answerable is because it is hard for us to take one side. You either kill one person or kill three. Many of the topics we faced in class like wether it is alright to kill one person or 4 people, and wether it is morally okay to kill an animal; These are all heavy topics, and coming up with one standard answer is what makes philosophy… philosophy. To me Philosophy raises awareness about the questions we do not want to answer but it also allows us to be more aware of the implications of our decisions. 

For instance, I will use the example of a trolley problem and Kant’s theory of using people as mere means. You are in control of peoples lives. Either you kill one man or you kill 4. Either way you are killing someone. Now most of us will hopefully never have to be in this situation but if we were, we most likely will not choose to push the fat man over the bridge. However, this is the best thing to do. In the eyes of a utilitarian you try and bring the best to the most amount of people. Unfortunately, if we did choose to push the fat man, killing him we would look like terrible people. So philosophy allows us to realize that life is not straight forward and we ca not make decisions based solely off of one method, wether that be Kantianism or Utilitarianism, most of the time life includes various methods. 

However I chose my philosophical example because it challenges my definition. The “Darkest Hour” is a film about Winston Churchill and his time as Prime Minister during the Second World War. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the various decisions Winston faced and made, which were questioned by many. One of the main focal points of the movie is how Winston planned the rescue of Britain’s troops from the shores of France, using thousands of civilian boats. Through out the movie the decisions churchill makes are rather utilitarian – focusing on the greater good. In one particular instance Churchill has to choose between sending 4000 troops (meaning they will all most likely die) distracting the Nazi troops away from Dunkirk giving the remaining British troops a chance to retreat saving over 300,000 members, or the troops from Dunkirk retreat while the Nazi troops get closer and closer threatening the island of Britain, but saving the lives of those 4000 men. In this case, Churchill chooses to use the 4000 men as mere means to save the other men. At first many of his colleagues can not believe the decision he is making yet at the same time he is doing the right thing. He does understand though the implication of what he has done and struggles personally with it. Through out the movie each decision that is made is done to consider the greater good, and is always a controversial decision. I used this example to demonstrate that in extreme cases using one philosophical method/theory can work, but what remains is that we still have a difficult time taking one side- Churchill shows this in the film when he is split between his personal struggles and what is best for the country. 

I am thankful in my life that I do not have to make decision about choosing between the lives of people. Instead I am faced with the decision on what to do in the future. This is something I find extremely difficult. There are various things one can do in life but they do not always bring happiness to you. Focusing on what brings you happiness and on what will bring you what you want in life do not always add up. The choices I have to make are hard and I’m never quite sure which one to make. It’s almost more difficult to make decisions about your self than it is about others. This comes back to choosing one philosophical theory, or choosing a balance between several, I don’t think you can be happy going only one direction.

Option A: Why is the One Ring evil? Philosophical analysis of Good and Evil

The Lord of the Rings, written by J.R.R Tolkien is the most influential fantasy novel of 20th century. One of the central theme of the book is the struggle between the good versus evil; of the war between the ‘free people’ of the Middle-earth against the dark lord Sauron. While the book does describe the military battle between the armies of the good and the armies of the evil, struggle is better shown through how various characters interact with the One Ring. In the book, it is not the wise wizards, the immortal elves, nor the valiant warriors that resist the evil of the Ring. The ones who show the most resilience to the Ring are the Hobbits; simple folks from peaceful, rural society of Shire. This begs the question why is the One Ring considered evil and what is the goodness in those Hobbits that allow them to better resist the Ring?

 

Before considering the struggle between good and evil presented in Tolkien’s work with philosophical view point, let me first explain what I think philosophy is. To me, philosophy is the process of finding answers to the questions. I do not mean the questions that can be answered by researching the relevant facts or performing experiments to gather data. I mean the questions that cannot yet be answered definitively: What is good? What is bad? Are there absolute truths or only relative truths? What is a soul? What does it mean to know? What is the purpose of life? How does the world work? The questions explored in philosophy need not remained unanswerable forever; indeed, many branches of philosophy have been moved from philosophy proper to give birth to branches of science such as physics. The Doctor of Philosophy in physics uses scientific methods to support hypothesis to answer questions regarding laws governing the physical world. However, the hypothesis in the philosophy proper cannot be supported by gathering and analyzing empirical data. In philosophy, one’s conclusions must be defended using logic and sound arguments to withstand the opposing views. In my opinion, by exploring currently unanswerable questions, philosophy allows mankind to expand our mind and explore the unknown.

 

The view that the philosophy is about exploring difficult questions is shared by many philosophers throughout the history. Plato, through his depiction of Socrates in Euthyphro, explored the unanswered question of “What is piety? That is an enquiry which I shall never be weary of pursuing as far as in me lies” (Plato, Euthyphro, p.16). The Socrates/Plato wanted to explore what it is about pious act that makes them pious. This question remained unsolved at the end of the work, yet through Socrates, Plato claims that he will never be weary of pursuing such questions; the questions that are worth exploring even without being able to come up with an answer. Another Greek philosopher, Epicurus, emphasized the importance of prudence in his teaching. Epicurus taught that to live happiest life, one need to maximize pleasure and minimize pain through philosophy (Epicurus, Letters, p.1). One important essence of this happy life is to explore the unknown. Only those who are prudent enough to look for answers can triumph over the primal fear of unknown. Those who decide to believe in popular myths rather than philosophically approaching difficult questions continue to suffer fear of not knowing and cannot achieve the pleasurable life (Epicurus, Doctrines, p.2). In modern times, philosophers such as Mill and Kant explored the question of morality. In the introduction to Mill’s Utilitarianism, Mill acknowledged that the question he was about to explore has been discussed since the dawn of philosophy for more than two thousand years without a universally agreed answer (Mill, Utilitarianism, P.1). Even though he knows the question at hand have been failed to be answered for a long time, he nonetheless does his best to present his hypothesis and provide arguments and counter-counterarguments to support his stance.

 

While Tolkien himself explicitly stated that there are no allegories or hidden meanings behind his work (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, p.xvii), it is but natural for readers to find meaning in author’s work even when there are no such hidden messages from the author. And, as someone who is studying morality in philosophy class, it is but natural for me to find application of Mill and Kant’s idea of morality to the evilness of the One Ring. In Tolkien’s work, the One Ring is evil because it contains the power of Sauron. And Sauron is evil because he served Morgoth. And Morgoth, in turn, is evil because he rebelled against the creator. But, as Socrates did in Plato’s work, let us not be satisfied with the mythical answer and rather try and assess what it is about the Ring itself that makes it evil. Through his character Gandalf, Tolkien explains that the One Ring contains the power to “rule over the others” (Tolkien, p.68), giving its possessor the ability to bend the will of the others to serve him. Applying Mill’s utilitarian approach, from the past examples of tyrants and dictators, we know that forcibly ruling over others against their will result in great pain and unhappiness. According to the Greatest Happiness Principal, something that causes more pain and unhappiness than pleasure and happiness is evil (Mill, p.2). The evilness of the One Ring can also be assessed using Kantian approach. The One Ring’s main purpose is to gives the power to turn others into mere means to achieve its owner’s goal. According to Kant, any action that treats another human being as a mere means is evil (Kant, Metaphysics, p.8). Using Epicurean teaching, we can infer why Hobbits show greater resilience to such evil. While the Hobbits do not live the ideal Epicurean life, as they love feasting on excessive amount of food, they are also simple people who does not understand nor desire great ambitions. When the Ring tempted Samwise Gamgee with the power to restore burnt and barren world back into green fields, Sam was able to reject the temptation because what he truly wished in his heart was a small garden he could tend with his hands. This is in accordance with one of Epicurus’ main teachings; be free of vain desires for grandness (Epicurus, Letters, p.3). By being accustomed to living a “good”, simple life that is free from vain desires, Hobbits were able to resist the evil of using others as means to server their own goal.

 

The paper looked at an example of philosophy that could be found in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Asking questions like ‘was that villain actually evil?’ or ‘were the protagonists actually justified in their actions?’ is a good example of philosophical activities we do in everyday life outside of the philosophy class. I am doing philosophy when I am in shower or in bed, asking absurd questions like “what if we are living in matrix?”, “are there really aliens out there?”, or “what happens after we die”. Whenever I pass a moral judgement on someone’s action or try to decide whether buying that material good can bring happiness in my life, I am doing philosophy. According to my view of philosophy, whenever I explore questions whose answers cannot be found in textbook or laboratory, I am engaged in philosophical activity.

 

 

References

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. Print.

Everyday Philosophy

There are countless things in the world that could be considered philosophical – some more obvious, like a blog for example, and some more discrete like everyday activities or movies. When I think of an everyday activity that is philosophical, walking the dog comes to mind. This example stems from knowing many people who have pets, and taking care of them requires tasks like going for a daily walk. There are different reasons as to why people have dogs, as well the things they do while taking the dog for a walk which ties into philosophy without consciously knowing. Imagine taking your dog to a public park knowing your dog is well behaved, trained, and at no risk of causing harm to others.  However, the park has signs all around stating that dogs are required to be on leashes at all times. The sign is therefore stating a law that one must follow when walking their dog. For some reason though, this law has not stopped many people therefore making those who do allow their dogs off leash to test their morals and consider why people do not abide by such rules. The act of walking a dog has purpose and reasoning behind it, and how one decides to conduct this action speaks to their moral values and objectives.

Before entering this course, philosophy was not something I had given much thought towards. Through conversation, I assumed philosophy was concerned with critical thinking and could also be considered as wisdom. I have since learned that a philosophy can provide a framework for the basis of decision making and choice rationale. It allows one to have a sense of what to do, and why to do it. For example, what should someone do when told not to eat a piece of cake? Philosophy instills values as to why one would want to eat the cake and provides us a rationale to base this decision from. My understanding of philosophy has grown since the beginning of the course. Learning that there are many philosophers with a wide range of perspectives and differentiating theories that has impacted how I view decision making in everyday life. I have learned philosophies may provide a perspective on how individuals should view success in life, and have grown a deeper understanding for those whose views differentiate from my own based on different philosophies. For example, I never would have imagined studying the topic of death in philosophy and debating different perspectives on this topic of whether it was good or bad. For me, philosophy requires individuals to think critically and form decisions based on one’s values, meaning, and purpose toward life.  While I had originally sensed that philosophies would involve some degree of critical thinking, my knowledge has continued to expand and grown to understand that one’s moral values may be strengthened and exemplified within a philosophy.

Much of what I think of philosophy ties into the work of Epicurus and Mills. The work of Epicurus was centered around establishing a life purpose and a goal in which all humans strive to live in a life of static pleasure. His philosophy provides rationale for the desires one should seek in life through understanding of one’s views and virtues. Epicurus’s perspective highlighted that all humans should seek happiness and this is achieved through established virtues, wisdom, temperance, courage and justice. Epicurus argued that if one could live in static pleasure the state of life would be complete. This is similar to the perspective I had come into the course with when considering philosophy to provide life with meaning and wisdom. This is where I find my understanding of philosophy to also tie into the philosophy of Mill who started to distinguish right from wrong, giving morality to one’s life. Mill was concerned with making decisions based on creating the greatest amount of pleasure which is what Epicurus says we ought to live for.  Thus, Epicurus provided the foundation for understanding the purpose of life (seek static pleasure), and Mill’s provided the how (make decisions that result in the greatest amount of pleasure). When we make the right moral decisions, we are completing the goal of life. Both philosopher’s theories fit with my personal views in seeking happiness and provided a foundation of understanding how to rationalize and navigate daily decisions that contribute towards a common goal for all humans.

When looking at the example of walking a dog off leash at a public park, there are many aspects that can be considered  philosophical. Taking a dog for a walk not only benefits the dog, but also the owner in some way or another. The owner may choose to walk the dog because it makes the dog more tired thus making the owner have more pleasure not taking care of the dog constantly at home later on. Therefore, the owner is maximizing the pleasure of the dog, as well as themselves to not feel like their dog is a continuous hassle. In this instance, pet owners have made a decision to break the law based on their own personal philosophy. For some, this decision could be based on considering the happiness of the dog as the primary concern. It may be understood that the happiness of the pet is maximized without a leash, thus providing a philosophical rationale for this decision based on the values of the individual. Maximizing the pleasure of the dog also brings pleasure to the owner, which is the ultimate goal of life based on some philosophical views. If the owner feels as though they do not want to hold the leash and this will make them happy they are to do so to achieve the goal of life which is pleasure. While walking the dog may seem like a simple task, the moral decisions behind the action are what would be considered as philosophical as one conducts actions with purpose towards fulfilling one’s life objective and achieving the main goal of pleasure.

        Walking a dog, and choosing to restrict a pet with a leash are decisions embedded in one’s personal conscious or unconscious philosophy and view towards life.  Another decision I make everyday that could also be considered philosophical is whether or not I should go to class. Though the decision may be quite obvious to some, for me it is not. When considering the definition of philosophy, in which I say is to give purpose to life through the goal of pleasure and making moral decisions, the act of choosing to go and not to go can be philosophical. Not going to class can maximize my pleasure in that particular moment though it is not morally right to miss class. Long term, the decision not to go could cause disruption of that pleasure when material from class was missed and trying to catch up. Though some may say going to class is not mandatory, for myself maximizing my pleasure long-term and making the most moral decision would be to go, to avoid any disruption of pleasure resulting in pain. To choose to go to class or not is greatly considered on the person you are and what it is that will give you the most pleasure. Everyday activities such as walking the dog or deciding whether or not to do to class all have some philosophical aspects to them. To me, philosophy means giving life a purpose by achieving an end goal and making moral decisions towards that objective. While each individual may act uniquely based on their moral beliefs and values to act in a way that provides them with the most pleasure, this course has enlightened me to appreciate the extent of philosophical decision making that is present and embedded in everyday life.

Keystone XL Pipeline “Philosophy in the World”

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a project looking to create a system of transporting oil and bitumen, approximately 1900 kilometers in distance from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, United States. It would connect two points of an existing pipeline to shorten the distance the oil would have to be transported, from the Canadian tar sand mines to the American refineries. The project boasts an estimated 42,100 new job opportunities for its construction. However, the Keystone XL Pipelines have sparked much controversy. Some claim that the projected job creation number is largely exaggerated, farmers and environmentalists fear a potential leakage of the pipes, and indigenous populations feel that they have their rights threatened; these are the main causes of concern pertaining to the construction of the Keystone Pipelines.

“What is the Keystone XL Pipeline” by National Geographic

The issue of the Keystone XL Pipelines is as philosophical as it is political. It provokes us to question whether or not it is ethical, morally permissible, to risk the homes of indigenous peoples and the environment to boost the nations’ economy. Do the benefits received from an improving economy outweigh or justify the loss the benefits received from the environment and the cost of sacred, indigenous land?

We can approach the issue philosophically by determining if it is morally permissible to construct the Keystone XL Pipelines. We can use philosopher John Stuart Mil’s utilitarianism approach to measure the social costs and benefits derived from the construction of the pipeline, and determine if the Keystone pipeline is morally permissible. Mill’s utilitarian views prioritizes the greatest amount of happiness for the general population. It is true that many people will be hired for the construction of the massive pipeline, but the opportunity for employment is only temporary. Furthermore, if the pipelines are built, it will cause unhappiness among the indigenous populations, threaten the economy and farmers’ livelihoods if crops are destroyed due to spillage, and potentially disrupt fragile ecosystems. Overall, more people, compared to the workers that will be employed for the duration of the project, will be dissatisfied in the long run, therefore Mill would argue against the Keystone XL Pipeline system.

Some may object that we cannot count the people, who suffer from a potential leakage in the long run, as not benefiting from the pipelines, as the leakage has not occurred yet. However, Mill is a consequentialist, and judges the morality of an action by its usual consequences: “actions are right when they tend to produce happiness.” (Mill, p.7). In the case of the Keystone Pipelines, the original pipeline already has a history of accidents, the most recent spillage was recorded in November of 2017. This implies that pipelines tend to experience accidents in the form of oil leaks, so we must account for the action of building the pipeline with leakage as one of the consequences with it.

One possible method of applying philosophy to our lives is to question the morality of a situation to develop and support a personal opinion. We can more effectively support our views if we are able to identify the reason for why we feel that way. For instance, if I feel that there should be no homework assigned during exams, and I recognize the reason is because students are often stressed or preoccupied with studying, it will be more likely for me to convince my professor to not assign homework. Suggesting that, ‘we should not have homework because students are too stressed and busy,’ is more convincing than simply stating, ‘we should not have homework.’ The former phrase would have a much stronger pull for a potential argument.

Philosophy In The World -Circle (film)

For my philosophy of the world project I chose to analyze the film “Circle.” This thriller deals with questions of morals and values that are most important to humanity. The plot centers around some kind of alien abduction where 50 random individuals are placed in a room and forced with the task of killing each other off, one by one. As they begin to realize that they, as a collective group, are in control of who dies, they begin to question whose lives matter more. As they begin to understand how the system works they realize that the ultimate decision is not who should die but rather, who gets to survive.
https://www.netflix.com/search?q=circle&jbv=80070182&jbp=0&jbr=0

Philosophy is the study of knowledge, in it’s acquisition and development. It tries to answer life’s tough questions. For example, some philosophers seeks to establish a moral code which can evaluate actions on a spectrum of right to wrong. One such philosopher is John Stuart Mill, who established his philosophy of Utilitarianism, which sought to evaluate the morality of actions based on his greatest happiness principle.
This movie counts as philosophical under this definition because it attempts to answer the moral question of who should live based on our own values and principles. In dealing with the question of who deserves to live, this film illicites questions such as, are we all equal? If not, whose lives matter more? Do factors of race, sexuality, age and religion impact this decision? Mill believes that we should do whatever creates the most happiness. In this case, everyone except one will die, so it is curious how to measure happiness in this scenario specifically. In an example as such, what produces the most happiness, is saving someone who stands for or embodies the morals and values of the majority of the group. In this case, it came down to a child and a pregnant woman. Killing either of these people would decrease the overall happiness of the group because in killing a child or a pregnant woman, one is killing another in their most pure and virtuous stage of life.

One way I engage in philosophical activity outside of the classroom, is by being an over thinker. In being such, I over analyze my thoughts, often analyzing philosophically. For example, I’ll sometimes be walking in public and notice a girl wearing a really cool outfit or hairstyle and I will have an internal debate on whether or not I should say something. According to Mill, if I compliment her outfit I will be increasing the general happiness for both of us and therefore, it would be a morally good act. However, I battle with myself in whether I should actually say anything or not. This is a useless waste of energy and yet still, I worry that I will be awkward in my approach to compliment her. The time and energy I spent on overthinking often overpowers the desire to compliment the outfit and I end up not saying anything at all. This will often make me continue to overthink because I have not said anything and now I am concerned about the fact that I have not said anything. I begin to wonder if say, complimenting her is morally good, would not complimenting her be morally bad? I will often conclude that it is morally neutral because the girl was not aware that I was going to compliment her in the first place. This is just one example. I often find myself contemplating the moral value of my actions. I believe that it makes for a more interesting life. However, the constant internal argument can be quite draining.

Philosophy in the World Assignment

Groundhog Day is a 1993 comedy classic that chronicles an egotistical weatherman whom, after covering an annual Groundhog Day event, gets stuck in a time loop where he repeats the same day over and over again. The protagonist, Phil Connors, with this new-found experience, transitions from hedonism to nihilism to suicide and eventually to a utilitarian, saving the lives of those in the city and taking actions that benefit the community as a whole.

 

The definition of philosophy is often simplified into the somewhat cliché phrase of ‘thinking about thinking’ (https://www.philosophybasics.com/general_whatis.html). In a strict sense, a dictionary meaning of philosophy looks at the study of knowledge (https://www.philosophybasics.com/general_whatis.html). To me personally however, and from what I’ve learnt in this course, philosophy is simply a reflection of the base levels of human experience. It takes universal aspects of humanity, whether that be death or morals, and rigorously analyses them, building and testing hypothesis for what the optimal approaches are. For example, Mill’s work, Utilitarianism provides a framework for evaluating the morality of actions through his greatest happiness principle (Mill 2). It looks at what the usual consequences of an action are and judges the morality of an action based on the consequence that would produce the greatest amount of happiness, measured in terms of pleasure and reduction of pain (Mill 2). However, per my definition, these perspectives are in the end, hypothesis and approaches that are up for debate as well as for counterarguments. For example, Kant also provides a framework for evaluating the morality of actions through his categorical imperatives (Kant 6). However, contrastingly, Kant evaluates from the intent or will behind the action rather than the consequence (Kant 1). Also, rather than approaching morality from the perspective of maximizing happiness, he instead looks at whether the intentions behind an action are universal; this is the first formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative (Kant 6). It is the open-ended nature of philosophical perspectives that ultimately reflect its oxymoronic nature. They are universal aspects of humanity that have contrastive views and opinions.

 

Groundhog Day is an effective philosophical piece as it investigates how an individual would respond to a change in the base level of human experience. In removing death, consequence and the relentless forward moving nature of time, the protagonist is exposed to a novel experience of humanity and we are able to see how he responds and develops to this. In doing so, Groundhog Day provides commentary as to how an individual should approach life. Under the definition provided above, it is, in a sense, an experiment of various philosophical hypothesis.

 

We see initially, the protagonist, Phil, respond to the situation of repeating the same day with complete hedonism; stealing money, manipulating women to have sex with him and binging on food and cigarettes. However, this approach soon proves unsustainable, as Phil grows increasingly nihilistic and suicidal, walking in front of buses and electrocuting himself in vain as he inevitably wakes up the next morning on the same day, repeating the cycle. The film invites a philosophical analysis of why this selfish approach does not bring the protagonist happiness. One perspective is that Phil was looking only to vain, baseless desires such as greed and sex, which are insatiable by nature and do not bring true, long term happiness. This perspective would be in line with Epicurean beliefs which propone that although the ultimate aim in life should be to maximize pleasure (Cicero 1); that these pleasures should come only from necessary desires (Cicero 4). Necessary desires are those that bring pain if not fulfilled, such as friendship, food and rest (Epicurus 3). Another perspective that the film invites is that Phil does not find happiness because it is incongruent with his moral sensibilities. He is using everyone as mere means to an end, being his own pleasure, rather than treating people as ends in themselves. This perspective is in line with the second formulation of the categorical imperative of Kant, whom propones to never use people as a mere means to an end, but only as ends in of themselves (Kant 9). It is only after Phil is continuously rejected by Rita, Phil’s love interest, after spending countless days understanding what she does and doesn’t like to try and manipulate her for sex, that Phil spirals into depression. The film conveys that Phil is upset because he begins to realize that using people is not only morally apprehensible but also that he is unable to find happiness as result of this.

 

The turning point of the film centers around the character change in Phil, whom begins to find joy again in his unique situation by helping others in the community rather than selfishly focusing on himself. Phil uses his ability to exactly predict events to feed the homeless and save the lives of those in precarious positions throughout the day. Phil is portrayed as an individual whom is happier and loved by those in his community. He is also successful now in courting his love interest, Rita. Philosophically, the film presents a perspective similar to that of Mill’s greatest happiness principle. Ultimately the film conveys that, given the situations and the tools at our disposal, one should aim to maximize the happiness of those around us (Mill 2). This is similar to Mill’s perspective in that it takes a utilitarian approach to the way in which we should approach life. However, it diverts in that Mill takes this from a moral standpoint whereas the film approaches the utilitarian approach from an individual’s happiness. That is, rather than maximizing the pleasure of those around us because one should be morally obligated to do so, the film portrays that one should do so because it will make the individual himself, happiest.

 

In summation, Groundhog Day is a philosophical work because it takes a unique, fantasy situation in order to explore human behaviour and what will bring one happiness. Whilst it has similarities to the philosophical pieces studied in this course, it also provides contrasting, unique perspectives to the optimal ways to approach life. This ultimately, is what philosophy means to me. It presents unique perspectives toward how one should approach various aspects of life that are universal in nature.

 

One way in which I engage in philosophical activity outside of class is when choosing what career to pursue. Following my own definition of philosophy, I take a universal aspect to modern humanity in choosing a career and I worked through multiple potential optimal approaches in doing so. These included: what career would make the most money; which would provide the greatest work and life balance and what would be most aligned with my interest.  I would then analyse, what in my personal opinion would be most important and based my field of study for my career off of this. Like philosophy in general however, I do not expect for this to be concrete. I expect for my perspectives on what I value to change over time through my own personal experiences as well as through interacting with people with contrasting perspectives. What I hope in the end, is that my perspective on this issue will contain enough nuance and context that it will be in of itself, a unique hypothesis as to how to choose a career. In doing so, this would, in essence, capture my definition of philosophy.

 

 

Philosophy in the world assignment

Something I found interesting was that philosophy is everywhere, not just in a philosophy class or something that has “philosophy” in its name. I’ve always enjoyed video games and this one video game called “Until Dawn”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Until_Dawn peaked my interest in a philosophical way.  When I think of philosophy in a more ethical point of view, actions and consequences come hand in hand. When making a choice one must think about the consequences of the action and how it will effect themselves and others in the future.  Please read the Plot part on the Wikipedia page to know the full background of the story, in this case it is not necessary to know for the part I think is philosophical is in the game play. The game developers incorporated an interesting way to play, they included something called the “butterfly effect”, for those who do not know what the butterfly effect refers to it is when a small change  of state in a timeframe results in a larger difference in a later state. For more information please read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect . In the game you play as different characters, each with their own personality and relation, as operator of the game you have to make difficult decisions during ethical or moral dilemmas, an example would be sacrificing one character to save another. Depending on your choice it can change the behaviour of the character you saved and the one you didn’t, which later results in if they save you later on in the game based on your previous decision. There are multiple scenarios in the game, they are found through different choices you pick. I think this game relates to my idea of philosophy, how choice matters and they come with consequences. The game itself is following Utilitarianism, by showing the moral goodness and badness though choice and consequences, via the butterfly effect.

Mill  comes to mind when I think about actions and consequences,  Mill is a utilitarian who stresses on consequences and not so much about intentions. A utilitarian thinks of the greater good, the better outcome to bring the most pleasure to people while ignoring whether the intention of that action was good or bad.

Mill states,  “The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the 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.” (Mill, “Utilitarianism”, p 2) In lament terms he says that if the action brings happiness or goodness then it is considered a morally right action, in reverse if the action brings unhappiness or badness then it is considered a morally wrong action.  This relates to my definition of philosophy because I believe that every choice has an outcome and comes with consequences.

One way in which I engage in philosophical activity in my life outside of class, based on my definition of philosophy is in everyday life. Everyday I make a choice, and those choices I make have consequences, whether it be good or bad. For example the choice of getting up in the morning to go to school, my choices are if I wake up and go to school I will learn, learning provides knowledge, knowledge can result in better opportunities, better opportunities could lead to better jobs and a better life. My other choice is to stay in bed and go back to sleep, which leads to more sleep, it is healthier, loss of knowledge from not going to school, the potential of failing a test because of unknown material from class skipped which can result in a bad life. However, these are some small choices made in my daily life, they do not define how my life will go on because life is nonlinear, there are bumps on the way, and there is only so much I can control through my choices.

Discussion Summary

I focused my group discussion on the different thoughts between Mill and Kant, mostly contrasting their different philosophies when it came to what makes an act moral. First, we discussed the general ideas of both philosophers to make sure we all had a general understanding of their ideas. We mainly focused on Mill and Kant’s opinion on intentions and motives. As a group, we established that Kantianism cares very much about an intention and motive of an action when deciding if it is a moral one or not, whereas Mill’s philosophies disagree; he believes only the consequences matter and it is a moral action as long as the greatest amount of good has occurred through some action, no matter how awful the intention/motive may be.

 

My first discussion topic was “Do you think a moral action should be based on its Maxim or its consequences?” This was to just get a general idea of where people stood. Do they lean towards Kant’s view or Mills? I found out that everyone in my group (except myself) seemed to side with Kant. They seemed to think that having the intention of doing good meant more than having the intention of doing something bad, and accidentally doing good from the immoral. Personally, I lean towards Mills style of thinking whereas I believe the outcome of the action is far more important than the action itself.

 

To further the question, I presented the group with two scenarios:

  1. A company is donating money to a charity so that it has a better rep and can sell more product. They do not care about the act of donating, rather only care about growing their business and making more money. Is this moral?
  2. John wanted to kill Bill because he bumped into him at the grocery store. John kills Bill and later finds out that Bill was a serial killer who murdered ten innocent people. Were Johns actions moral? Now, what if John knew he was a serial killer…

For scenario 1, the majority of the group said that the action was not morale due to the bad intentions, siding with Kantianism. Again with scenario 2, most people said it was wrong of John to kill Bill, either way, no matter the consequences, again siding with the thoughts of Kant.

 

The second question I brought up was “Do you agree with Kant that happiness is not the highest good? That “good will” is the best thing”? I brought this question up because Mill believed that pleasure or happiness was the greatest good in life (Mill, Utilitarianism, 2) whereas Kant disagreed. Kant believed simply that good will in itself is the highest good (Hendricks, Kantian Ethics, Slide 14). The replies from the group matched the results from the first question in that most people agreed with Kant. There was one point brought up (first mentioned in lecture by Prof Hendricks) that a good will can never be bad, even if the consequences are negative. Compare that to pleasure, something which can be bad. For example, no one can be bad for trying to do the best action possible, whereas one can receive pleasure from an awful action like murder or rape. Individually, I had been leaning towards utilitarianism the whole time but even I could not get by this comment. Maybe good will is the greatest good: who knows.