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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Saw this on Shaul B’s blog “free thought”.

[Click here to watch, if the video doesn’t show]

Made me think of the old paradoxes connected with free-will, pre-destination, time travel and the like. How far do the consequences go? What would happen if you were to fiddle with natural cause and effect?

More down to earth; how far does your responsibility go to mend the wrongs in the world? Can you at some point just pack your bags and run away? 

In the movie, I see the DJ as scared, even fearing for his sanity if he remains. Others may see him as a coward.

I believe he had two legitimate choices; either to fix everything or to dispair, return reality to its course and walk away. He could not leave the scene half fixed because then others would have suffered from his meddling. Once done he could leave because there is a limit to human capabilities.

A hasid (as a opposed to a zadik) would have stayed and cared for his street corner for the rest of his life.

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An article I saw in Technology Review. A researcher named Michel Maharbiz at the University of California, Berkeley has fitted out giant flower beetles like the one on the right with electrodes and a receiver. He can then fly them from a remote control connected to his laptop.

Dr. Haharbiz is very proud of his creations that he sees as having extensive military as well as hiumanitarian uses. The hardware on each beetle costs a mere $5 using off the shelf components that he grafts onto the creature using his expert knowledge of both biology and engineering to successfully mesh an animal’s nervous system.

I was reminded of Ray Kurzweil’s singularity. where he predicts that humans will become indistiguishable from robots within the next 50 years.

I think that this technological advance raises several ethical issues:

  1. The ability to perform ubiquitous and invisible surveillance has just taken a massive leap. While possible evil uses of a new technology has never been a good reason to prevent research, the possibility that every common fly could be spying on you and sending a constant video feed back to base is rather frightening.
  2. While I support the (controlled) use of animals for vital experimentation an I also eat animals, the idea of wiring and radio-controlling an animal for the advance of technology seems wrong to me. True the beetle has no self-consciousness and rudimentary senses, but all the same it doesn’t sound right.

What do you think?

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    I am currently reading a book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – “To Heal a Fractured World, The Ethics of Responsibility“. I enjoy very much Rabbi Sacks’ writing as he is a big rationalist a thoughtful philosopher and a great writer.

    I read a passage yesterday in chapter 8 which is about darkei shalom (ways of peace) which is Judaism’s framework for doing good to people who are outside the covenantal community. He is discussing why we do not recite a berakha (blessing) before doing mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro (commands relating to interpersonal behavior). He discusses first the option that it is because the mitzva require two to do it (the giver and the receiver) and therefor no single person can recite a blessing. He reject this and goes on to discuss a more fundamental difference between mitzvot bein adam la-makom and bein adam le-haveiro. He writes the following:

    There is an obvious difference between the two types of command. In the case of commands between us and God, what matters is is the act and the intention with which it was performed… Intention gives the act the characteristic essential to a religious deed in Judaism, namely that it is a response to a command of God. For an act to be holy, it must be designated and dedicated as holy… In that minimalistic sense, intent is necessary.

    An act between us and another human being however has a different character. What matters is not the act but the result… The point of the command is its effect on th world, on the other person, not the transaction in the soul between the agent and God….An intention defines the nature of an act, but here what matters is not the act but its outcome.Kantian or Kierkergaardian purity of will is irrelevant. We are not commanded to give to the poor primarily for the salvation of our souls, but for the sake of the poor.

    His conclusion is that mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro are not blind decrees but universal rules of conduct, who “cause blessing” rather than needing a blessing and whose purpose is primarily in their effect.

    My problem with this is a contradiction with the answer to the basic qusetion of why the world is imperfect. This he relates to in chapter 6 where he discusses tikkun olam (mending the world). The world is imperfect in order to give us a purpose of trying to mend it and get to the perfection by ourselves. If the world was perfect (like if we had no free will) then it would have no purpose because God doesn’t need robots. If the purpose of mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro was just their effect then God would have done it himself.

    I would hold that while what he says is true, it is only one side. We are given mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro in order that we will do then and in perfecting the world also perfect ourselves. If I do a good deed and it is undermined in some way so that it’s effect isn’t full, it still has value in that it has changed me. Under this explanation the reason we don’t make a berakha is slightly more subtle. If I am doing an act that is supposed to refine me, then the last thing I want to do is to stand back a second and concentrate on my kavannot (intentions) and proudly proclaim “blessed is God who commanded me to do x”. Firstly, I may have second thoughts if I think about it too much, but more importantly it will promote a smug self-conscious satisfaction that destroys all the personal effect that the act will have on me.

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    I heard ex-high-court-judge Mishael Heshin speak this morning on the radio about the morality of war. He suggested that war is pathological and inherently immoral – “you get up in the morning, brush your teeth, have a cup of coffe and go out to kill people”. He said that this is countered by the doctrine of “if someone comes to kill you, get there first to kill him” (haKam leHorgacha hashkem leHorgo). He was asked specifically about the morality of firing on attackers who use human shields and he didn’t really have an answer except that I need to save my life first.

    My answer is that it may be morally justifiable but not be wise to allow yourself to be fall into the trap of a provocation to fire on a school. We know their leaders want them to die as martyrs to boost their cause so why give them that victory? However, mistakes in judgement occur and in war these mistakes are fatal. Israeli also tanks fired the day before on their own soldiers in two incidents killing four of our own fighters.

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    Human shields

    If you haven’t yet seen confirmation from AP that there were Hamas fighters in the school in Gaza, this is what they reported:

    “Two neighbourhood residents confirmed the Israeli account, saying a group of militants fired mortars from a street near the school, then fled into a crowd of people in the streets. Israel then opened fire.”

    You can read the whole article here. The report is not pretty, the tragedy of innocent casualties is just as tragic but the context is also important.

    Incidentally, the Israel army has a YouTube site with officially released footage amongst which is this footage taken from an unmanned drone of mortar fire from a UN school.

    We have fire-power, they have tear-power. Hamas cannot defeat Israel by fighting, but they can defeat us by the power of the press and world opinion. Civilians who die in the conflict are martyrs who will go to heaven. A culture and an organization that thrives on suicide bombers and death has no problem with a few more dead children. But they know the West does.

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    Modern warfare

    Looking at reports from the media of the current warfare in Gaza, I keep thinking to myself that nothing has changed in the last few thousand years. People fight and people get killed. In those thousands of years it would seem that everything else has changed and got more advanced. Civilization and technology have changed dramatically in almost every way. Life has improved in so many ways but warfare has only got worse not better.

    What hasn’t changed is man. People are still the same as they were at the dawn of civilization. They still have the same desires and needs. They wish to live, they look for meaning, they love, hate, are happy, angry just as their forebears did 2000 or 5000 years ago. They still eat, crap, have sex, are born and die just as we always did. For all our technical and philosophical advances we are still the same creature we were.

    The difference is that now we have more power at our fingertips. More power to create, build and heal and more power to destroy.

    This has nothing to do with the justification of this war which I think is justified. It is just disappointing that we still need to fight.

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