The Philosophy of Safety Nets

File:Mitt Romney by Gage Skidmore 3.jpg
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Achieving happiness is easy. I don’t mean eudaimonia – that oversophisticated happiness for Pinot-snuffling yuppies. I mean ordinary, practical happiness for ordinary, practical folk: utility. Achieving eudaimonia is definitely not easy; at your very approach it dances away like a will-o’-the-wisp on gossamer winds of pretentiousness. But utility? Utility is solid and graspable. In fact, Australians say ‘utility’ to refer to what Americans call a ‘pick-up truck’. A ute, we normally say. What’s more blunt and practical than that? Eudaimonia is a concept for sprinkling on your puy lentils to add that certain je ne sais quoi. Utility, on the other hand, is a concept you could change your sparkplugs with.

So, achieving ute is easy. Here’s how you do it. Start with the things you have. Now exchange them with people for other things you would prefer to have. People will participate in these exchanges whenever their preferences are different to yours. This will be often, since humans are psychologically diverse. Keep exchanging for as long as your preferences fail to be maximised, and you’ll always be getting closer to full happiness.

Continue reading “The Philosophy of Safety Nets”

The Moral Status of a War


As the last of the United States’ armed forces withdraw from their prolonged engagement in Iraq, an observer can pause to reflect and consider the moral status of this conflict. Two recent experiences – incredibly trivial though they may be – inform my analysis. Firstly, I happened to chance upon In the Valley of Elah (a 2007 film whose story aims to highlight some of the terrible psychological effects that can result from throwing young individuals into such a conflict) the other day, and I found it quite compelling. Secondly, in a recent philosophy seminar that I was overseeing, a student attempted to raise the war in Iraq as an example that might offer support for a more general point about the validity of a consequentialist justification in moral reasoning; at the time I didn’t have any knowledge of the numbers involved, so I couldn’t say much about the nature of the example as regards a strictly consequentialist calculation. Due to my role, I felt compelled to stay silent at the time, and it left me frustrated.


I shall elaborate upon this second instance first. The war in Iraq was mentioned because – so the student asserted – America’s action was a reaction to 9/11, Continue reading “The Moral Status of a War”

Government Debt and Anti-Governmentalism

The standout nominees from the Ames straw poll were one Tea Party member and someone who may as well be. They are set to make every possible opportunity out of the obvious weaknesses of their common rival, Mitt Romney, not least, as The Onion put it, his ‘dark past of trying to help uninsured sick people.’ There is a good deal of media fluff and bubble about the border issues these candidates like to campaign on – gay marriage, evolution, and other emotive distractions. But the real meat of their political philosophy comes down to one thing. They are small government people. They are seriously small government people. They are nanogovernmentalists. Rick Perry hates the idea of government spending so much he thinks quantitative easing is treason.

When a political philosophy of this extremity becomes mainstream, the philosopher should take stock. Where does all the extremism come from? The answer does not lie in economics.  According to the New York Times finance correspondent, Floyd Norris, ninety-five out of a hundred economists will say that government should be expanding rather than shrinking right now (listen to him on the NYTimes podcast, The Caucus). Even Christine Legarde has recently made a general recommendation for short-term increases in spending, balanced by long-term commitments to debt-reduction, as have George Soros and Gordon Brown.

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Getting Naked

Coppertone_sign_miami In ‘The Animal that Therefore I am,’ Jacques Derrida invites readers to reconsider the classical distinction between ‘animal’ and ‘human.’ His critique includes a playful account of nudity – a meditation on the experience of being naked in the presence of one’s pet. The investigation suggests that Mr. Fluffy’s ability to make me ‘feel naked’ (i.e., to ‘shame’ me) calls into question the ‘difference’ between us.

Recent headlines offer a unique twist to this dynamic. As the summer months warm, families across the States are struggling to decide how old is too old for their children to play in the nude. Justifications and concerns vary, but many mark the cut-off at the moment when childhood innocence dissolves into adult (or adult-like) awareness – when the child begins to ‘feel naked.’

And therein lies the difficulty. Some contend Continue reading “Getting Naked”

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