Breaking down political philosophy

Everyday Philosophy An important distinction in political philosophy is that between substantive and procedural questions. If I have a substantive problem with an action, it’s because of the moral rights or wrongs of the action itself or its results. Imagine the government raised the top rate of income tax. If I were to criticise that…

Tackling faith questions at Christmas

Everyday philosophy As we celebrate the feast of Christmas, it’s time for this column to tackle the question of faith. This is a philosophy column, and so I’m not going to get into the precise nature of supernatural faith, or anything else that specifically depends on God’s revelation to us. But there’s a widespread idea…

Analogies are dying, and proper debates with them

Everyday Philosophy Analogies are a powerful aid to the truth-seeker. By comparing two relevantly similar situations, you can move from conclusions about one to conclusions about the other. Analogies can help expose inconsistencies: (‘how would you react if these accusations were being made against Bill Clinton rather than Donald Trump?’) or to help make a…

Thinking with traditions, not with tribes

Everyday Philosophy Tribalism in politics and ethics is an easy thing to criticise. By ‘tribalism’ I’m specifically talking here about tribalism about opinions: changing your beliefs in order to better conform with a group that you identify with in some way. This criticism is mostly right: I think this sort of tribalism is usually bad.…

The art of the possible

Everyday Philosophy   What’s the proper role of common sense in philosophy? In good thinking? The answer isn’t as straightforward as we might hope. I’ll begin as I often do by asking “what do we mean by common sense?” This time I’ll try to characterise it by examining its absence. We’re all familiar with cases…

The realities of moral relativism

Everyday Philosophy   Your humble columnist has encountered quite a few people who claim to be moral relativists. All of these people are wrong: not wrong to be moral relativists, but wrong in claiming that they actually are moral relativists. My contention – I know it’s a bold claim – is that no-one except a…

Morals and movies: lessons from the silver screen

Towards the end of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film (released 15 years ago now, so I hope the statute of limitations has passed on spoilers), the villainous Green Goblin confronts our titular hero with a moral dilemma. He engineers a situation where Spidey’s beloved Mary Jane Watson and a cable car full of schoolchildren are…

Learning to watch ourselves

Everyday Philosophy   George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four gave us many chilling ideas. One of the most influential is ‘thoughtcrime’. The idea of a regime so authoritarian that it would police the inside of your mind, always trying to catch out forbidden thoughts, is terrifying. Thoughtcrime elegantly describes both genuine North-Korea-style domination and more subtle forms…