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March 31, 2008 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Ask a Philosopher. Is the sentence of death really a punishment? How can we discern the difference of how we authentically "feel" as opposed to how we "think" we feel? If humans didn't exist, would animals still have rights?
posted by desjardins (30 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is the sentence of death really a punishment?

I think not.

*disappears*
posted by dersins at 5:50 PM on March 31, 2008


cool site; I especially liked this Q&A.
posted by ornate insect at 6:00 PM on March 31, 2008


"Is the sentence of death really a punishment?"

I thing the death sentence is more a punishment for the friends and family of the person being executed. The executed is merely drugged and them humanely brought to a halt; the family has to live with the loss for the rest of their lives.

Now half-hanging, drawing, and quartering, there's a punishment.
posted by mullingitover at 6:02 PM on March 31, 2008


Excellent questions!

My (vastly and mercifully truncated ) answers:

1) I fear death more than being raped every day in prison for the rest of my life. I want some
pretense of control over how I die. I would fear that being taken from me.

2) How I actually feel/think I feel is irrelevant. Under duress, my perception easily trumps my
rational self. In repose this may change.

3) Rights? If I believe in a sense of cosmic justice, everything has a right to exist. Even if I'm not
there to enforce it.
posted by Dizzy at 6:10 PM on March 31, 2008


In essence, this post is a double.
posted by oddman at 6:15 PM on March 31, 2008


Nice, thanks desjardins. A fence sitter, a for and an against on the question of Santa. That Wolff fellow should pull his finger out though. [related]
posted by tellurian at 6:27 PM on March 31, 2008


The post header says it all. For myself, this kind of philosophizing appears to be rather a juvenile activity akin to wanking. (Mind you, I do enjoy wanking.) That is, it feels very pleasing to the practitioners but really has little or no effect on the rest of the world. And it shouldn't be done in public.
posted by binturong at 6:28 PM on March 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


The post header says it all. For myself, this kind of philosophizing appears to be rather a juvenile activity akin to wanking. (Mind you, I do enjoy wanking.) That is, it feels very pleasing to the practitioners but really has little or no effect on the rest of the world. And it shouldn't be done in public.

The practice of metaphysics summed up in a nutshell.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:35 PM on March 31, 2008


PopeGuilty: for a rigorously analytic defense of metaphysics, I recommend this book. It's not all gooey solipsism.
posted by ornate insect at 6:49 PM on March 31, 2008


I first took the numbers nest to the names in the right column as the ages of the panelists. The idea of asking a deep question and getting thoughtful answers from a toddler, super-centarian and a teenager was pretty intriguing. The embryo threw me for a loop, though.
posted by maxwelton at 6:57 PM on March 31, 2008


nest, nest...is there really a difference?
posted by maxwelton at 6:58 PM on March 31, 2008


Apparently not.
posted by maxwelton at 6:58 PM on March 31, 2008


Feeling pain is no more authentic than thinking that you're feeling pain.

Authentic? What a glib answer. Authentic? There is a difference between crustacean and mammalian feeling of pain. Part of pain involves thinking. Part of it involves feeling. The linking of the physical and neurological sensations of pain to emotional/limbic memory is critical to the intensity of the experience of pain (sorry, PETA lobster sympathizers...I feel your pain...and I do try to minimize the pain of the lobsters, when I kill them, once or twice a year). I believe we primates feel pain more intensely than do spiders. Or fish. Or, even, cows.

The relevance of this issue, however, is pretty far removed from the issue of: which is more painful for murderers: killin' 'em, or keeping them at a semi-tortuous residential situation for life?

Which punishment would the killers prefer? Which punishment would the victims' family and friends prefer? And: which is the more ethical? (And: which is the more efficacious in terms of lessening the murder rate? Considering that most murders are committed in white-hot non-rational emotive states, this may not even be an answerable question.)
posted by kozad at 7:02 PM on March 31, 2008


Ornate Insect: I appreciate your contributions to these topics and your tangible links. However, in the book you link to above, an online reviewer says:

"...metaphysics ...enables us to achieve reasonable answers to questions that are `more fundamental than any that can be addressed by empirical science'. This sounds to me very much like that advertisement for a well known lager, which claimed that it reached parts that other beers could not reach.

It was Bertrand Russell who said that, under the coherence theory of truth, a fairy story can be true provided it is coherent."


I have to agree with this take. I appreciate that Dickens, for example, tells the "truth" about Victorian society in his novels. The danger comes when philosophers, post-modern academics, religious folk and the like come to believe that their fairy stories are the same as the real world.

I recently read a fascinating thesis to the effect that the written word made this degree of abstraction from reality possible. Written words are symbolic but at the same time tangible artifacts in the real world. In the beginning was the word. Once stories ceased being oral and became books, some people got confused and conflated the story with the real world. Well, I'd better stop wanking now...
posted by binturong at 7:04 PM on March 31, 2008


Yes, back in the days of oral tradition, people *really* knew what was what. :)
posted by uosuaq at 7:21 PM on March 31, 2008


binturong: it may be that metaphysics mostly is, or only is, as Wittgenstein thought, a confusion inherent in, or stemming from, language (itself a question of philosophical dispute), but I'm not so sure. After all the implicit minima metaphysica of both science and common-sensism is that the world is essentially intelligible: that it exhibits causal continuity and nomological regularity (see, for instance, this book). Apart from finding a conclusion you perhaps want to find in advance through a single review on amazon, you are perhaps also providing only a strawman by saying that all metaphysical inquiry is a "fairy story": does this negative sentiment apply even to an atheistic and scientifically minded philosopher who has a background, for instance, in mathematics, and wants to re-consider just what numbers, in fact, are (i.e. how mathematics "hooks on to" the world through physics)? Such a philosopher would find a variety of views (constructivist, Platonist, nominalist, etc), and possibly no definitive conclusions, by studying the philosophy of mathematics, but the act of asking questions is often its own reward. Philosophy does not deal in certainties, but rather in conceptual plumbing: it has its uses, no more and no less, as does any other discipline.
posted by ornate insect at 7:25 PM on March 31, 2008 [4 favorites]


*strokes his small Van Dyke beard thoughtfully, taps out some ash from his pipe, and asks ponderously* What if this was not a metaphorical question?
posted by adipocere at 7:30 PM on March 31, 2008


Contemporary analytic metaphysics is closer to higher mathematics than science. Much of the effort is spent in rigorously spelling out the consequences of various assumptions, and debating which set of assumptions is most plausible. There's nothing gooey or imprecise about it at all. Maybe you think the assumptions are incorrect -- fair enough, you would be invited to offer whatever assumptions you'd like for analysis.

But contemporary analytic metaphysics is only one part -- probably the most impractical part -- of the practice of philosophy in universities today. Ethics and social/political philosophy have much more obvious practical ramifications. Logic is connected to mathematics and computer science. Epistemology and philosophy of language are connected to linguistics and other cognitive science disciplines.

It's all well and good to say that philosophy is a waste of time and we should all close up shop and go home, but that kind of deflationary approach has been tried in a number of forms over the couple thousand years we've been at it -- and the questions keep recurring.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:31 PM on March 31, 2008 [4 favorites]


Who knew that so many deep, philosophical questions could be answered in 2 paragraphs? I feel enriched.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:45 PM on March 31, 2008


...and embiggened.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:46 PM on March 31, 2008


I never said philosophy is a waste of time. More like: it's a dirty job but someone has to do it :) And if the same questions haven't been answered in well over two thousand years, doesn't that make it rather a failure? Compared, say, with science, which has answered rather a lot of questions I'd say.
posted by binturong at 7:46 PM on March 31, 2008


It's only a failure if one thinks its purpose is to answer questions rather than ask them. No two philosophers seem able to agree on much of anything, which makes it occasionally more than mildly irritating and dull, but also often highly interesting and disorienting (in a good way). I think it's a humanistic discourse that potentially strengthens critical thinking, and provides both entry into and bridging of many different disciplines (it might itself be seen as the bridge between scientific and humanistic worldviews). It's a much needed glue to the fragmented universe of our knowledge.
posted by ornate insect at 7:52 PM on March 31, 2008


1) Yes.
2) Probably not.
3) Nope.
posted by Avenger at 8:20 PM on March 31, 2008


Dear Philosopher: What came first, the chicken or the egg?
posted by homunculus at 8:55 PM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Ask a philosopher"? WE ARE ALL PHILOSOPHERS.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:55 PM on March 31, 2008


Wanking > Philosophy

I gave up on philosophy after university, but still like a good wank. Philosophy is fun for kids, but wanking is a sport for all ages.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:42 PM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


"The only perfect form of restoration would be to make so the crime didn't happen in the first place."

I'd like to see a Minority Report-style story with this as the hook. Most time-travel police procedurals focus on restoring the timeline or catching time-travelling criminals, like Timecop and Time Trax. It would be interesting to see a premise based entirely on changing the timeline and creating counterfactual realities based on that.

In other words, the villain is caught and found guilty of a murder, so they go back in time and prevent the murder. But then what happens to the criminal? Is he sentenced for attempted murder? Bonus points if they avoid the whole: "...and the baby they saved turned out to be HITLER!"
posted by Eideteker at 5:25 AM on April 1, 2008


I Meta Therefore I Am
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:03 AM on April 1, 2008


I'd like to see a Minority Report-style story with this as the hook.

Quantum Leap had an episode like that: "A Leap for Lisa". It's a pretty good one, with a few rather clever twists on the show's usual premise.
posted by vorfeed at 8:06 AM on April 1, 2008


I know about that episode. They didn't do it as a form of institutionalized justice. Part of the hook is having a society where this is the norm. What effect is there on crime when you know the crime you're doing will just be undone (assuming it's found out)?
posted by Eideteker at 8:15 AM on April 1, 2008


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