More ale

There are several reasons I took the degree course I did - joint honours in Philosophy and Linguistics - but the prime one is that I really felt I wanted to study something I would enjoy rather than something that would guarantee me a better career. To be honest, my degree subject versus the line of work I'm in - software development - is usually a good talking point in interviews and has probably landed me more jobs than if I'd had a degree in Computer Science.

The recent events in Paris, leaving politics aside, were an undeniably bad thing and the recent news coverage and various (sometimes depressingly moronic) Facebook posts on the subject got me thinking about moral philosophy again. Specifically, given we see conflicts between groups of people ostensibly because they live according to different moral codes (let's ignore the fact that their motivations are clearly not based on this at all) and those codes are complex and ambiguous (some might say intentionally so), can there be a moral code that's simple, unambiguous, and agreeable?

My 6th form philosophy teacher, Dr. John Beresford-Fry (Dr. Fry - I can't find him online. If anyone knows how to contact him, I'd love to speak to him again), believed he had a simple code that worked:

Do nothing gratuitous.

To my mind, that doesn't quite cut it; I don't think it's actually possible to do anything completely gratuitously; there's always some reason or reasoning behind an action. Maybe he meant something more subtle and it's been lost on me.

Some years ago, I thought I had a nice simple formulation:

Act as though everyone has the right to do whatever they wish.


You may do whatever you want so long as it doesn't restrict anybody's right to do the same.

Today though, I was going round in very big circles trying to think that one through. It works ok for simple, extreme cases (murder, rape, theft) and even plays nicely (I think) in some grey areas (streaming movies illegally) but I really couldn't figure out how to apply it to anyone in a position of power. How could an MP apply that rule when voting on bringing in a law to raise the minimum wage?

Come to think of it, how could an MP apply any rule when voting on any law?

Then I remembered the conclusion I came to when I was nearing the end of my philosophy course: the sentimentalists or the nihilists probably have it right.

Oh well, it kept me busy for a bit, eh ;)

Note to self: I had an idea for a game around moral philosophy, don't forget it!

Tags: blog philosophy