A dialogue on the shape of the Earth

EarthI haven’t read too many philosophical works in the form of dialogues, but what I have seemed to tend too much towards “everyone nods as one character explains the author’s views.” More realistically, it might go something like this…

Protagonius: So, my dear friend Simplexitus, we are here to discuss our theories of the shape of the Earth.

Simplexitus: Yes, or your theory, anyway. I know that you say that the Earth is round, though so large we do not notice the curve.

Protagonius: Yes. This is based on scientific observations.

Simplexitus: That may be so, but it cannot be correct. Your view has absurd consequences.

Protagonius: What would those be, Simplexitus? Continue reading

Pride-kulkue ja yläaste

PrideKävin tänään osallistumassa Turku Pride -kulkueeseen, koska olin samaa mieltä sen idean kanssa ja se oli kiinnostava tapahtuma. Siellä ollessani mietin, mitä erilaiset ihmiset mahtavat miettiä tapahtumasta. Olen kuullut joidekuiden ihmettelevän, miksi seksuaali- tms. vähemmistöt pitävät ääntä itsestään ja yrittävät olla niin erikoisia. Tiedän kyllä, mikä vastaus tuohon on. Kyse ei ole siitä.

Yksi esimerkki siitä miten asiat oikeasti ovat tulee helposti mieleen jos vain ajattelee, millaista oli kun olin yläkoulussa (siihen aikaan “yläaste”). En tiedä, kuinka paljon asiat ovat muuttuneet niistä ajoista, mutta tiedän, etteivät täysin.

Ihan yksinkertaisesti sanottuna: Yläasteella pojat haukkuivat koko ajan toisiaan homoiksi. Kaikki tiesivät, mitä se tarkoitti (tai ainakin tiesivät sillä tavoin kuin monet aikuisetkin, jotka eivät tiedä eroa sukupuolineutraalin avioliiton ja anaaliseksin välillä), mutta se oli myös vain haukkumasana. Ja vaikka olisi ollut kuinka hetero, piti varoa, ettei vain tekisi tai sanoisi mitään sellaista, että joku voisi vääntää siitä homoussyytöksiä. Ties millaista sitten oikeasti homoseksuaalisilla pojilla oli.

Kerran yläasteellemme siirrettiin vähäksi aikaa eräs poika. Minulla ei ole aavistustakaan, mikä hänen seksuaalinen suuntautumisensa todella oli. Mutta hän joutui silmätikuksi “homomaisen” käyttäytymisensä takia. Hän oli itse asiassa todella mukava ja avoin ja uskalsi olla oma itsensä, mutta hänet kiusattiin ulos siitäkin koulusta ja siirrettiin muualle. Ilmeisesti sellainen käytös oli liian normista poikkeavaa ja siksi ihmiset eivät sietäneet sitä. (Tietenkään en tiedä kaikkea, mitä tapahtui, ja tämä on vain paras arvaukseni.)

Tällainen oli siis tilanne jo koulussa. Ei ollut todellakaan niin, että seksuaalivähemmistöjen edustajat marssivat ympäriinsä kuuluttaen suuntautumistaan suureen ääneen ja halusivat huomiota. Päinvastoin oli niin, että muut tekivät koko ajan numeroa siitä, miten ei olisi saanut olla homo tai jotain vastaavaa.

Luuletteko sitten, että tämä loppuisi kouluun? Ettei siellä oppisi mitään asenteita?

Joten ei tarvitse ihmetellä, miksi vähemmistöt vaativat oikeuksia ja pitävät itsestään meteliä. Tarvitsee vain muistaa, millaista koulussa oli; eivät he sitä aloittaneet. Jos päästään siihen pisteeseen, että saa olla minkälainen tahansa eikä kukaan muu tee siitä numeroa, no, se olisi todella hyvä, mutta siellä ei nyt olla.

Vegans and humans: How not to use words

I’ve written before about how you should know whether you’re talking about the meaning of words or something else. Just now, I found myself thinking about an annoying example of how someone didn’t… and since I feel like explaining why it’s wrong, I might as well do so here and use it as an example.

The example comes from an interview on the radio where someone was talking about what it was like to be vegan. She talked about how this also involved wanting to make ethical choices towards humans, not just non-human animals. She mentioned that someone had been surprised about this and asked why, and she’d said that humans are animals too. But that had been the end of the conversation because they other person’s opinion was that no, they’re not.

I don’t know what the situation was really like. (I might even remember the details as told in the interview incorrectly.) But let’s take it as an example, and at face value: that the other person would just insist that humans are not animals, period.

Two points:

  • First, if we’re talking about the meaning of words, okay: There are basically two meanings of the word “animal”; one of them includes humans and the other doesn’t. Just because your linguistic intuition only recognises one doesn’t mean the other is invalid. And if the point is that you feel that there is some essential difference between humans and other animals, that’s at least not more accurate than to say that there is sameness, that they all belong to the same group. The definition that “animal” includes human is the more scientific one, after all. Humans are taxonomically in Animalia. (See also: The Mythical Animal.)
  • Second, why would this be a relevant point anyway? What would make humans not-animals in such a way that this would mean that humans could be treated less well morally? Of course people can base their morality on arbitrary boundaries, but why ask for that if someone isn’t doing it?

Words are just tools, but people like to use them like they’re something else — something more important than what they’re being used to talk about or that they’re otherwise doing. It’s not that word meanings shouldn’t sometimes be brought up. What you should do is to talk about what is relevant and understand what the words used are actually doing in that context.

Suppose you didn’t know about gravity…

Earth.jpgWe know things fall down because gravity pulls them down towards the centre of the Earth. Gravity is a force, or some kind of spacetime curvature that acts like it’s a force.

Suppose you’d never heard of this. And suppose, while you’re at it, that you didn’t know the world was round. Then, quite possibly, you would think it impossible that the world would be round — because the people at the bottom would fall off.

Now, since you know about gravity, you could ask, why would they? In fact, there’s no “down” in space, only somewhere like the surface of a planet, and then “down” is towards the centre. Knowing this, we can ask, why would someone fall off the “bottom” of the planet? Why assume that?

But if you never had heard of gravity and never thought about such things, it might seem obvious to you. Things at the bottom end of the planet would fall off. You’d imagine something being placed there and automatically imagine it falling off. It’d be obvious, not needing an explanation. If someone told you that wouldn’t happen without a reason, you would not, in this scenario, understand what it meant. You wouldn’t think it needed a force. You’d just think it was obvious.

Yet, of course, it wouldn’t be. Things wouldn’t just fall if there wasn’t a force.

We’re lucky to know about gravity, because it gives us such a good example. There are a lot of other questions where people consider something obvious and not needing an explanation, but really it does. There’s some extra premise, like gravity. For example, why do we often automatically assume that if someone does something bad, they deserve to be punished? That’s the kind of thing where people won’t even notice there’s a missing premiss. They’ll just jump from guilt to deserving punishment without asking why that leap should be made. Another example: how many people ask the question of why things farther away look smaller?

We don’t always need to question everything we take for granted. But sometimes we do. When that time comes… well, it’s hard to notice. But remember the example of things supposedly not needing a reason to fall down.