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…

When doing good seems too hard

Everyday Philosophy   Last month I argued against utilitarianism, the school of moral philosophy that seeks ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’. Utilitarianism is false because following it consistently means endorsing the idea that it’s sometimes right to choose evil means to achieve good ends. Here, though, I want to say a word against…

The ends never
 justify the means

Everyday Philosophy   Peruse the Catechism of the Catholic Church or a collection of papal encyclicals from the last century or so and it won’t be long before you find a denunciation of utilitarianism, the philosophical position that’s often summed up as being about the pursuit of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’. Utilitarianism…

Learning to agree before we can disagree

Everyday Philosophy   On discovering that I study philosophy, scientists (or people who think of themselves as having scientific leanings) often ask passive-aggressive questions about philosophy’s progress. “If science can tell us the age of the universe and give us a pretty good idea of how species evolved on earth, why can’t philosophy come up…

A need to doubt our doubts

Everyday Philosophy   Philosophy is having a bit of a moment in Ireland. It became a Junior Cert short course in 2016, and there are moves afoot to make it a Leaving Cert subject. The Philosophy Ireland organisation is running more workshops every year, in schools, workplaces and prisons. Our President made the promotion of…