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 in the World Option A: The Philosophy of Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty is an animated comedy tv series in which nearly anything can happen. The writers of Rick and Morty draw heavily on nihilist and existentialist philosophic views and use cosmic horror to explore the insignificance of human life within the universe. By exploring nihilism in a comedic way, Rick and Morty helps the viewer to feel at peace with their insignificance and in a paradoxical fashion empowers the viewer. Through the philosophy of cosmic nihilism, Rick and Morty demystifies many deep-rooted fears of the unknown, and takes on difficult existential questions, such as: “is my life significant?”. However, before we get to the answer to this question according to the show (hint: no!), lets define philosophy.

What is philosophy exactly? To me, philosophy is the reflexive study of the essential questions of the universe, and the interrogation of how one’s existence fits within the universe. I believe that through practicing philosophy, one can confront the things that they are uneasy or unknowledgeable about and begin to rationalize them, in order to bring greater peace to their existence. Within my definition, practicing philosophy can involve discussion and productive argument on any matter with the intent of demystifying it, meditation on one’s troubles, analysis of the value of human life, and political activism (such as arguing for why we should have human rights), non-exhaustively.

Socrates is an excellent source to look at when attempting to define philosophy. While his definition that “[a] philosopher’s mission [is to] search… into [oneself] and other men” (Plato, “Apology” 8) is slightly narrower in scope than my more universal definition, the practices he associates with philosophy are quite similar. While his definition may exclude looking into existential questions as a primary goal, it does still encompass discussing existential questions with other people, as Socrates was often seen doing with the men of Athens. Given that argument (and discussion) was a pillar of philosophical activity to Socrates, let’s talk about it!

Productive argument is something that I am very passionate about, and Socrates is perhaps the most famous arguer in all of history. While productive might be used lightly when applied to some of Socrates’ arguments, such as his discussion with Euthyphro on the definition of the word “pious”, where he constantly baits Euthyphro into contradicting himself all the while sarcastically mocking him (Plato, “Euthyphro”), his strategy of sparking philosophical discussion with whoever will listen displays his intrinsic desire to enlighten himself and others. And that, being the enlightenment of oneself and others, is what I too believe the productive goal of philosophy is. To quote Socrates, “[philosophy is] the greatest improvement of the soul” (Plato, “Apology” 9), meaning that he believes there is nothing better one can do to reach intellectual enlightenment, as well as spiritual enlightenment if you seek it. Therefore, philosophy is a way of studying the world whose practice provides enlightenment and knowledge to oneself at the cost of interesting and productive discourse with oneself and other people; hardly a cost for such great benefits!

Now that we have a good idea of what philosophy is, we can apply it to Rick and Morty. The YouTube channel Wisecrack has many excellent videos on the philosophy of Rick and Morty, and one that I have linked as follows contains an entertaining and concise overview of cosmic nihilism, which is the prevailing philosophical view within the show. Here is the video, in which the portion on Rick and Morty begins at the 8:25 mark:

Within this video, cosmic nihilism is defined as “[a] hyper-rational [philosophic school of thought], which argues that there is no truth or meaning to be found in the universe” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsotfzGpby8). While this sounds rather gloomy,  to the contrary my opinion is that cosmic nihilism is one of the most empowering philosophical ideas in existence. If there is no meaning to be found in the universe, then “there isn’t anything on which to ground ethics,” and “if there is no value on which to build an ethical system, then one is free to do whatever they want” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsotfzGpby8). What could possibly be more freeing and empowering than that?

While in practice a philosophy that tells you that nothing matters and that you can do whatever you want might not be a healthy foundation for your life, as Michael Burns writes for Wisecrack: “nihilism [isn’t] about giving up completely, but rather… [offering an approach] to moving forward in a largely uncertain world” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsotfzGpby8). This is the reason that the potentially depressing topics tackled by Rick and Morty end up empowering the viewer; one does not need to fully adopt nihilism, but only to find comfort in facets of it that move them, such as the reassurance that they are fully autonomous and unrestricted beings, or the knowledge that the answer to the question “is my life significant?” is “no!”. To me this answer is wonderfully empowering, as it frees the mind from the dark existential musings which have the potential to eat away at you, and allows you to focus on the things you have control over. If nothing matters, then you have just as good a reason to live your best life as not, except you can now, having accepted that nothing matters, live your best life free from the burden of the existential questions of the universe!

To demonstrate one of the countless practical applications of philosophy, I will now discuss one way I engage in philosophical activity in my life, which is through what I consider to be my favourite hobby and biggest passion: music. I absolutely love critically engaging with the music I listen to as well as analysing how it can challenge my ways of thinking. As far as philosophical activities I partake in through music, I thoroughly enjoy discussing the meaning and value of music with other fans, as Socrates enjoyed discussing the meaning of life with the citizens of Athens. I also partake in meditation during the act of listening to music, which is another method of philosophical practice under my definition. One can listen to music that fits whatever mood they are in, and which speaks to whatever problems they are facing, or questions of the universe one is attempting to interrogate at any given time. This extreme level of flexible applicability turns music itself into an always-ready partner in your own private philosophical discussions, and makes music one of the best ways to interrogate the universe through looking within oneself.

I hope that my definition of philosophy can be of service to you as you attempt to interrogate and de-mystify the questions of the universe. I also hope that you can see how the deceptively simple activities in your life, such as watching cartoons like Rick and Morty, can provide deep philosophical insights into the nature of your existence, and can empower you to live your best life. Socrates would be proud of your insights, knowing that his legacy still lives on in the 21st century.

Philosophy in the World: Star Wars

 

Philosophy of Death in the Star Wars Saga

Throughout the Star Wars films, concepts of life and death have always been prevailing themes. Often they are contrasted by the opposing views of the Sith and the Jedi; where the Jedi embrace death and the Sith seek to control it. Views on life and death are heavily debated topics in philosophy, with strong arguments to be made for either side. Philosophers such as Plato and Epicurus support the Jedi mindset of not fearing death, whereas Nagel argues against this school of thought. These philosophers make cases for how we should live our lives, this is what philosophy is to me. Philosophy is the study of our actions and beliefs and how they pertain to the universe, using philosophy helps us determine how we can best live our lives. I have found examples of philosophy in the Star Wars series. The movies follow the lineage of the Skywalker family and their battle between the light and dark sides of the force. This essay will use philosophy to analyze Anakin Skywalker and how his fear of death drove him towards the way of the Sith.

To understand why Anakin left the Jedi, we must understand why they could not give him what he wanted – control over death. Epicurean philosophy is a prominent way of thinking in the Jedi order. Epicurus teaches us to not fear death as once we are dead there is nothing to experience. We will not feel bad nor good as there is nothing left of us to feel. The Jedi teachings slightly mirror this philosophy in that once you pass you become a part of the force, however, instead of feeling nothing you join your loved ones as being part of the force. To them, death is not to be feared, as your life force lives on within the universe. As seen by Obi-Wan, Yoda, and even Luke, their passing is peaceful and undisturbed.  Yoda encapsulates the Jedi view of death when he says “Soon will I rest, yes, forever sleep. Earned it I have” (The Empire Strikes Back). The Jedi view death as a peaceful slumber, a view that is postulated by Plato in The Apology.  The acceptance of death as something that is inevitable allows Jedi to embrace it once it comes, as opposed to the Sith who either want to control it or live forever. Anakin’s character arc, in the prequel movies, arises from his internal struggle. He is a Jedi so he must accept death, yet he wants to prevent it for his loved ones like a Sith. This is antithetical to his son Luke Skywalker who is the epitome of what a Jedi represents. Luke’s way of life reflects Epicurean ideals beyond that of not fearing death. Epicurus suggest that in order for happiness we must live modest lives with only the bare necessities and occasional luxuries. Luke does just this by opening a school where he lives with his pupils and teaches them the Jedi way. This is reminiscent of Epicurus’ school of life that he opens in Athens to teach his philosophy. When Luke passes it is similar to his masters Obi-Wan and Yoda where he peacefully joins the force. Unfortunately, Anakin cannot subscribe to this way of thinking as the loss of loved ones is too great for him to bear.

Like Nagel, Anakin sees death as the ultimate loss. Life is all we have, it is the highest good a person can obtain, to experience living, therefore the loss of that life is bad (Nagel). Anakin relates to this in that he does not want to lose his love, Padme. Where the Jedi see death and joining the force as good, Anakin sees it as the deprivation of life. He is the most powerful Jedi in the Star Wars universe yet he cannot control the death of his loved ones. This pushes Anakin in search of a power that can prevent death itself. He is promised this power by becoming a Sith and denouncing the Jedi. “He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” (Revenge of the Sith) While Nagel believes it is rational to fear death as it is a bad thing, he would disagree with Anakin’s extreme obsession with it. The fear that Anakin harbors over death is unhealthy and has taken control over his life. While there may be debate over whether death is good or bad, most can agree that Anakin’s actions out of his fear are unjustifiable i.e. his murder of innocents. This view is expressed through Socrates in Plato’s The Apology.

There are many lessons to be drawn from The Apology, specifically Socrates’ views on death and what is morally permissible. When Socrates is put on trial before Athens he explains to the jury that death is not good nor bad since as humans we do not know what awaits us on the other side. What we do know for certain is what is morally good or bad in this life. Socrates’ uses the analogy of a soldier abandoning their post in order to save their own life. Most would deem this morally impermissible as the soldier has a duty towards protecting their city. “A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong.” This lesson can be applied to Anakin. He does not know for certain whether death is good or bad for his loved ones i.e. Padme may not be as afraid of death as he is. However, Padme does fear the actions Anakin has taken to try to keep her alive. She denounces the path he has taken to the dark side, even if it is to save her. By trying to keep Padme alive, Anakin has left his post as a Jedi. He is no longer a protector of peace, but an instigator of violence. These actions would be immoral in Socrates’ perspective.

The Star Wars universe is deep and expansive, through the use of philosophy this essay has been able to analyze the series in a different light. To recap, Epicurean philosophy is a core belief of the Jedi order, and Luke Skywalker champions this ideology, however, Anakin Skywalker’s views better resemble that of Nagel in that he fears death and thus cannot accept the Jedi way. Using Plato’s apology, Socrates explains to us how Anakin’s actions are morally impermissible despite his fear of death. I have been able to engage in philosophy in my everyday life by loosely following the Epicurean way of life. By prioritizing necessities, such as school, I am able to derive more pleasure from activities I enjoy like spending time with family and friends. My views on death have also remained the same. I agree with Epicurus that fearing death is useless as it just gets in the way of living.

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.

Philosophy in the World – Romantic Comedies

Love is an abstract concept that can be thought of in a philosophical manner. In today’s popular culture, love is presented in many ways. One of the ways is through the media of film, in particular the romantic comedy genre. Romantic comedies typically depict heterosexual male and female characters falling in or out of love while dealing with other “realistic” scenarios. Although these movies can be seen as pointless and time wasting, I believe they have an important place in the philosophical discussion about love.

Watching the love story of two characters unfold inspires us to think about our own experiences with love. The mere act of beginning to question these abstract concepts of life is what philosophy means to me. Philosophy is the refusal to settle on a set definition. It is the continuous questioning of life’s unknowns in an attempt to understand them. As Socrates said in Plato’s Apology, “the unexamined life is not worth living” (13). Socrates prided himself in constantly provoking thought in other people (Plato 10). By constantly questioning and pushing the analysis of life he actively engaged the general public in philosophical thought. While comparing a romantic comedy to Socrates philosophy is slightly far fetched, I do believe that in some sense they achieve the same thing. Although each entity has a different motive, both Socrates and romantic comedies force people to think about an abstract concept of life, in this case romantic love.

While watching a romantic comedy, one might take the “whacky” character situations and apply them to their own lives. One might think to themselves “what would happen if I fell in love with my best friend?” or “what would I do if I suddenly realized that the person I want to be with was the one I despised this whole time?” This self questioning and quazi-realization is the beginning of philosophical thinking. Watching a romantic comedy will most likely lead to making a drastic philosophical conclusion; however, in my opinion anything that inspires one to think about an abstract concept like love has philosophical merit. Carrie Jenkins argues in her book “What Love Is and What It Could Be” that we must question and ponder love in order to fully understand the romantic situations we find ourselves in (10). Even a small amount philosophical thought will further our understanding (Jenkins 10).

Although romantic comedies never gave me the fundamental advice I needed to go into a relationship, nor have they made me come to any grand philosophical conclusion, this genre of movie inspired thought in me. My preteen philosophical questioning about love and relationships came from this. As I have fallen in and out of love my idea of what love is has changed. But every time I go back and watch one of these “silly” movies to pass the time I find myself taking a moment to consider the film I just consumed. I continue my questioning of therefore further my philosophy about love.

 

Works Cited

Plato. Apology.

Jenkins, Carrie. What Love is and What It Could Be. Basic Books. 2017.

Philosophy in the World: Option A – Star Wars

 

Philosophy is very much a big part of my life, because George Lucas’ movie franchise Star Wars has philosophical undertones, despite its sensational and inconsequential nature. I have often engaged in philosophical diatribes with my friends and family, sometimes about Star Wars, sometimes not. I would usually talk about philosophy during idle conversations, while during a car ride, on the phone, at the dinner table, or over the internet.

To me, philosophy is a hypothetical guide, or a set of rules for a person’s way of life or lifestyle. I can relate this definition of philosophy to the Roman philosopher Epicurus, who believes in seeking pleasure and avoiding as much pain in life as possible (Anderson 2006, 2). To be more specific, Epicurus believes that a person should free themselves from pain and suffering and live a happy life (Anderson 2006, 2). The philosophies of Epicurus can be seen in many of his ideas, such as his concepts of pleasure and pain. Thus, Epicurus promotes a lifestyle of hedonism, a life of pleasure without pain. In this post, I will first give an overview of Star Wars and how it connects to my definition of philosophy, then I will discuss the Jedi Order and their philosophical beliefs and connotations, then I will end with the Sith and their philosophical beliefs and connotations.

With this in mind, I believe that Star Wars includes philosophy, as it is a major element in the plot and themes of the series that is often overlooked by fans of the series choosing to talk about action scenes, bad acting, and/or internet memes spawned from the franchise. Philosophy in Star Wars can be seen mainly in the two fictitious organizations in, the Jedi Order and the Sith Order, who wield and manipulate a supernatural energy known as the Force (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1977). The Jedi Order believes in harnessing the light side of the Force (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1977), while the Sith Order believes in using the dark side of the Force (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1977). This distinction is important, because the alignments of these two organizations with the Force are a microcosm in their philosophical beliefs.

The Jedi are described by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, who calls them “guardians of peace and justice” for “over a thousand generations” (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1977). For many years within the Star Wars universe, the Jedi were continually in conflict with the Sith Order, particularly because the ideologies and philosophies practiced by the Sith are complete opposites to that of the Jedi (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, 1999). As the Jedi utilize the light side of the Force, they are commonly depicted and perceived by the audience as the “good guys”; the heroes of the story. This is also accentuated by the fact that the both of the main protagonists, Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker in the original six films are aligned with the Jedi. Anakin Skywalker becomes a Jedi when he is just a child (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, 1999), and Luke Skywalker becomes a Jedi at the age of 19 (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1977). Due to the nature of Episodes IV, V, and VI as films, this notion of the Jedi being the heroes is relatively unchallenged, it is not until the prequel trilogy consisting of Episodes I, II, and III that were released 1999, 2002, and 2005 respectively that the moral superiority of the Jedi starts to be questioned by Lucas and the audience.

The Jedi Order emphasizes a near complete suppression of emotion, especially concerning the feelings of anger and attachment (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, 1999). Instead, an ideal Jedi would be a stoic individual who fights for peace and justice. However, this is not to say that the Jedi were not allowed to be compassionate human beings (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Jedi_Code). When presented to the Jedi Council, Anakin Skywalker was soundly rejected by the Council, because he was deemed too emotional after he expressed worry for his mother, who was a slave in his home planet of Tatooine (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace). Despite this, Anakin was still allowed to become a Jedi, but due to the Jedi’s strict philosophy on emotional suppression, he never received the emotional support the he so desperately needed in his times of pain and suffering. Thus, he became emotionally unstable, unable to control his strong emotions.

The other members of the Jedi also did not know how to deal with emotional problems as well. When Anakin asked the Jedi Master Yoda because he had an emotional problem, Yoda replied with this: “Fear is the path to the dark side [of the Force]. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering” (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, 2005). Instead of giving Anakin emotional comfort and good advice on how to solve his problem, Yoda essentially recites the Jedi Code to Anakin, possibly making the problem worse for him. The failings of the Jedi Order and its philosophies as described in the Jedi Code had eventually left Anakin dissatisfied with the Jedi, and so he eventually joined the Sith Order and turned to the dark side of the Force, with the help and meddling of Sith Lord Darth Sidious, otherwise known as Supreme Chancellor Sheev Palpatine (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, 2005). Ironically, it is through the faults of the Jedi way of life that end up creating their demons.

The Sith Order was originally founded to oppose the Jedi and their adherence to the light side of the Force, by believing in philosophies that directly contradicted the Jedi philosophy (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Sith). In the original six movies, the Sith are always portrayed as the villains and the main antagonists of each of the films. As such, the Sith Code emphasized passion and the rejection of peace, as well as embracing all of one’s emotions such as anger, greed, and hate in order to become powerful (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Sith). In Episode VI, Darth Sidious, or now Emperor Palpatine tells Luke when fighting him “Good! Let your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you” (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi). Palpatine attempts to provoke Luke into killing him, but Luke refuses to do so.

The Sith also believed in “purifying” the weak to make them become strong, through their concept of the Rule of Two. This meant that in the Sith Order, only two Sith Lords were allowed to exist, a master and an apprentice (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Sith). In this relationship, both the master and the apprentice look for weaknesses in one another. If the master was incompetent, the apprentice could overthrow the master and take their position, and if the apprentice was incompetent, then the master could have them replaced with a more worthy apprentice (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Sith). This belief greatly resembles the Darwinist theory of “survival of the fittest”, and reflects the cruel and unforgiving nature of the Sith. Consequently, it is because of these harsh beliefs and heinous acts across the galaxy that lead to their downfall. The Jedi may have had their flaws, but they had eventually defeated the Sith (Lucas, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi).

I define philosophy as theoretical guidelines on how people should live their lives. I believe Star Wars has elements of philosophy through the Jedi Order and the Sith Order, because the Jedi believe in peace, justice, and emotional suppression, with the Sith believe in conflict, cruelty, and the acceptance of all emotions as well as passions. The characters in the films show this type of philosophy in theory and in practice, as described by Jedi Masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker, and also Sith Lord Darth Sidious. Despite the rich and detailed philosophical beliefs of the Jedi and the Sith, philosophy in Star Wars may still end up being ignored by critics and fans of the series alike, because of the nature of Star Wars as a film series, as well as its integration and permeation of the franchise within North American pop culture.

Bibliography

Jedi Code. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Jedi_Code

Kazanjian, H. (Producer) & Marquand, R. (Director). (1983). Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi [Motion Picture]. United States, Lucasfilm Ltd.

Kurtz, G. (Producer) & Lucas, G. (Director). (1977). Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope [Motion Picture]. United States, Lucasfilm Ltd.

McCallum, R. (Producer) & Lucas, G. (Director). (1999). Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace [Motion Picture]. United States, Lucasfilm Ltd.

McCallum, R. (Producer) & Lucas, G. (Director). (2005). Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith [Motion Picture]. United States, Lucasfilm Ltd.

Sith. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Sith

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.

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.