Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What is art?

A new version of Star Wars was just released, one made through the cooperation of thousands of strangers. Star Wars Uncut is a crowd-sourced film, meaning that people all over the world recorded their own versions of individual scenes, and a team of collaborators edited them into a full-length copy of the movie. This new creation has Lego actors, little kids, cartoons, ferrets, Darth Vader as one of Charlie’s Angels, and lots and lots of people in C3PO masks. It is good-humored, irreverent, a labor of love, and mesmerizing.  It’s also, I think, a work of art.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Are people responsible for their thoughts?

Several weeks ago, a group of Orthodox Jews in Israel spat at and harassed an eight-year old girl on her way to school; they thought she wasn’t dressed modestly enough. The event recalls the more extreme 2002 case, in Saudi Arabia, when Muslim “religious police” prevented girls from escaping a school fire because the girls weren’t wearing headscarves. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times emphasizes that the demand for modest dress is not really about how young women are dressed, but about the thoughts of the men who see them. Provocative dress causes men to think sexual thoughts, the argument goes, and, as such, it should be banned.

Let’s ignore the fact that in most countries, none of the outfits in question would ever be considered provocative. Let’s also ignore the fact that the girl is Israel is eight years old and that there is something very alarming about grown men who respond sexually to someone her age. And, perhaps even more difficult, let’s pass on discussing the inherent sexism of the circumstance. Instead, I’m curious about the core claim that people can ever control their thoughts. I don’t think people can.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

[Ethical Dilemma] Who should pay the dead man’s water bill?

A man in Ontario died suddenly, right after turning on the bathroom faucet. The water ran for three weeks, resulting in a $500 bill. His daughter is asking that the utility forgive the bill but the City Council is unsure whether it will do so.

On the one hand, someone died and the city council should be compassionate; one would think that the city utility would have some kind of fund or insurance to pay for things like this. More philosophically, it seems odd to suggest that a dead person can even be said to incur charges. He or she is no longer an "agent" in the economic sense. (Living relatives are charged for funerals, not the deceased.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Can social networks be true communities?

My friend Neil died suddenly last week; I hadn’t seen him in a very long time. We knew each other well in college and then lived near one another in Boston for a few years after we graduated. We didn’t reconnect until Facebook and didn’t talk much, but we read each other’s status updates, made snarky comments on posts, and maintained a digital presence in one another’s lives. I learned that he died from another friend’s status.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Next Episode of WHY? "A House Divided: Philosophy's Deepest Fault Line" with guest Gary Gutting

For a free high-resolution poster advertising this episode, click here

WHY? Radio presents:

"A House Divided: Philosophy's Deepest Fault Line"
with guest Gary Gutting

January 8, 5 p.m. central
Listen live from anywhere in the world at and in North Dakota at 89.3 (Grand Forks), 91.9 (Fargo), 90.5 (Bismarck), and on Prairie Public radio stations across the state.
Should philosophy make things simpler or more complex? Should it describe the muddle of human emotions or simply give us the language to analyze them? The answers to these questions not only tell us what we can know, but also aligns us with of two very controversial philosophy camps. Join WHY? as we discuss one of philosophy's deepest and most divisive controversies: the battle between the "continentals" and the "analytics."