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Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants

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Ethics of Care

Shipping cost cannot be calculated. Please enter a valid ZIP Code. Shipping to: Worldwide. Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants makes philosophy fun, tactile, and popular. Moral thinking is simple, Ruwen Ogien argues, and as inherent as the senses. In our daily experiences, in the situations we confront and in the scenes we witness, we develop an understanding of right and wrong as sophisticated as the moral outlook of the world's most gifted philosophers.

By drawing on this knowledge to navigate life's most perplexing problems, ethics becomes second nature. Ogien explores, through experimental philosophy and other methods, the responses nineteen real-world conundrums provoke. Is a short, mediocre life better than no life at all? Is it acceptable to kill a healthy person so his organs can save five others? Would you swap a "natural" life filled with frustration, disappointment, and partial success for a world in which all of your needs are met, but through artificial and mechanical means?

Ogien doesn't seek to show how difficult it is to determine right from wrong or how easy it is for humans to become monsters or react like saints. Helping us tap into the wisdom and feeling we already possess in our ethical "toolboxes," Ogien instead encourages readers to question moral presuppositions and rules; embrace an intuitive sense of dignity, virtue, and justice; and pursue a pluralist ethics suited to the principles of human kindness.

The book's richness lies in Ogien's endeavor to do philosophy from the reality of lived experience rather than the kind of imaginary reflection that is characteristic of so much of philosophy.

(PDF) Morality and Its Limits. The Philosophy of Ruwen Ogien () | Marlène Jouan - imubydoduh.cf

It seems to me that the majority of philosophers will judge that the Baby Fae affair repays close scrutiny, even if they are not specialists in animal ethics. Some will tell you that they have nothing against the use of fictions in ethical reflection, so long as they involve rich and open-ended literary works, which lead the reader to become aware of the difficulty of formulating a moral question correctly, rather than schematic examples that tell him in advance what direction his research should take. They will perhaps not go so far as to maintain that, in order to understand the moral questions raised by our relationship to animals, we would do better to read Lassie Come Home than a somewhat absurd story about a lifeboat with dogs and Nazis, but they will not fall very short.

Others will reject such thought experiments on the pretext that they are so abstract, so far removed from reality, that from them we can deduce absolutely nothing of any interest or value regarding our own lives. Since we have to do with narratives that are simple, schematic, short, and wholly without literary merit, every imaginable manipulation of the narrative elements serving to advance moral reflection is possible.

For example, in the above story I saw fit, without feeling guilty at having wrecked a work of art, to introduce a small change into the original lifeboat scenario, by saying something about the past of the four men and the dog. It was supposed to serve as a way of measuring the respective importance in our moral judgment of belonging to a species and of individual qualities.

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There would be little sense in proceeding in the same fashion with great literary works like Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary. No doubt they too are thought experiments, since they present invented characters, in morally complicated hypothetical situations.

Yet their contribution to moral reflection seems to arise from the hypothetical situation such as the author has described it, in its particularity, with all its details and its complexities. We would therefore lose everything they are supposed to teach us if we simplified them, as in summaries in Wikipedia or in Pass-Notes, or if we strayed too far from the narrative by posing bizarre questions such as what if Madame Bovary were a man or a transsexual? Simplified fictions can obviously not play the same edifying role as great literary works.

Yet they allow us to identify more clearly the factors that influence our moral judgments, such as belonging to a species or possessing particular individual qualities. In my opinion this is a contribution that is by no means negligible.


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The second reproach we can level at moral thought experiments is that they are too abstract, too far removed from the problems people face in real life, to give us anything else but the futile, and purely intellectual, pleasure of amusing ourselves with ideas. In a thought experiment in physics, if, in our imagination, we place in fictitious hypothetical conditions a fictitious object that is too different from real objects and too far removed from real conditions, what do we get?

Science fiction at best, and at worst fictitious results that will serve no purpose at all, not even to amuse us. But thought experiments in ethics have nothing to do with thought experiments in physics! Their ultimate aim is not to help us to attain a better knowledge of reality, but to know if there are reasons to keep it as it is or to change it. Thus, precise description of the animal condition is of great importance in stimulating reflection. But it is insufficient when we ask in what direction things should develop.

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If, for example, we seriously think that animals are not things, what are the implications? Should we not completely foreswear owning them, selling them, buying them, and eating them? Would that not lead to the complete disappearance of all animals that were not wild? Is that really what we want? I do not see how, in endeavoring to shed a little more light upon these complicated moral and political questions, we could do without thought experiments.


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The most famous moral thought experiment is perhaps the one proposed by Plato, over twenty-four hundred years ago. It is evoked by Plato, and all those who have done a little moral philosophy will probably have heard tell of it. For those who may perhaps have forgotten, I will give the gist of it, though mindful that Plato specialists may well raise an eyebrow over points of detail. According to an ancient legend, a shepherd, the ancestor of a certain Gyges, found a gold ring that enabled him to render himself invisible when he turned its setting toward the palm of his hand, and to become visible again when he turned it outward.

The ring thus bestowed the power to be visible or invisible at will—and to commit the worst of crimes without being seen or detected! In book 2 of The Republic, one of the characters, Glaucon, speaks and asks us to imagine what two individuals, one assumed to be just and the other unjust, would do if each of them possessed a ring of Gyges. Would it still be possible to distinguish between them? Would they not behave in exactly the same way? Would the just man remain honest? Would he refrain from stealing from shop windows when he could do it with impunity? And what would one really think of him, if he remained honest, if he did not profit from the power the ring gave him?

Would one not take him, at bottom, for some sort of idiot, despite all the praises one would indeed be obliged to heap upon him? Suppose that we offer two persons, one honest and the other dishonest, a ring that enables them to render themselves invisible and to commit all sorts of crimes without being either seen or recognized.

The honest person will behave in exactly the same way as the dishonest person. There will no longer be any moral difference between the two of them. The only thing that keeps us from being dishonest is the fear of being caught and punished. If the honest person no longer runs the risk of being caught and punished, he will behave in exactly the same fashion as the dishonest person. Interpreted thus, the thought experiment proposed by Plato does indeed resemble a psychological thought experiment. It would not be specific to moral philosophy. It might interest a criminologist, or an economist who was conducting research into the motivations behind fraud on public transport or theft in a large department store.

Who would pay for their seat on a bus or for their purchases in a large store if they were invisible? But when we view this thought experiment as a whole, we come to realize that there is nothing psychological about it. It is a conceptual inquiry into what it means to be just or to be honest, or, more generally, into the idea of justice. In reality, the aim of the experiment is not to predict a behavior in certain hypothetical conditions, as a psychologist might do, but to clarify the idea of justice. A thought experiment in ethics can serve to show that a psychological problem is in reality a conceptual problem.

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants: An Introduction to Ethics

It is, so to speak, one of its philosophical functions. Once we have understood this, a whole range of factual questions that we could pose in regard to it become a little ridiculous. This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?