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From the bestselling coauthor of Wittgenstein's Poker, a fascinating tour through the history of moral philosophy
A runaway train is racing toward five men who are tied to the track. Unless the train is stopped, it will inevitably kill all five men. You are standing on a footbridge looking down on the unfolding disaster. However, a fat man, a stranger, is standing next to you: if you push him off the bridge, he will topple onto the line and, although he will die, his chunky body will stop the train, saving five lives. Would you kill the fat man?
The question may seem bizarre. But it's one variation of a puzzle that has baffled moral philosophers for almost half a century and that more recently has come to preoccupy neuroscientists, psychologists, and other thinkers as well. In this book, David Edmonds, coauthor of the bestselling Wittgenstein's Poker, tells the riveting story of why and how philosophers have struggled with this ethical dilemma, sometimes called the trolley problem. In the process, he provides an entertaining and informative tour through the history of moral philosophy. Most people feel it's wrong to kill the fat man. But why? After all, in taking one life you could save five. As Edmonds shows, answering the question is far more complex—and important—than it first appears. In fact, how we answer it tells us a great deal about right and wrong.
First made public on the enormously popular Philosophy Bites podcast, these entertaining, personal, and illuminating conversations are presented in print. The result is a book that is a taster for the whole enterprise of philosophy, and gives unexpected insights into hot topics spanning ethics, politics, metaphysics, aesthetics, and the meaning of life.
Arguments about ethics often centre on traditional questions of, for instance, euthanasia and abortion. Whilst these questions are still in the foreground, recent years have seen an explosion of new moral problems. Moral and political clashes are now as likely to be about sexuality and gender and the status of refugees, immigrants and borders, or the ethics of social media, safe spaces, disability and robo-ethics.
How should we approach these debates? What are the issues at stake? What are the most persuasive arguments? Edited by best-selling philosophy author David Edmonds, Ethics and the Contemporary World assembles a star-studded line-up of philosophers to explore twenty-five of the most important ethical problems confronting us today. They engage with moral problems in race and gender, the environment, war and international relations, global poverty, ethics and social media, democracy, rights and moral status, and science and technology.
Whether you want to learn more about the ethics of poverty, food, extremism, or artificial intelligence and enhancement, this book will help you understand the issues, sharpen your perspective and, hopefully, make up your own mind.
From the author of Wittgenstein's Poker and Would You Kill the Fat Man?, the story of an extraordinary group of philosophers during a dark chapter in Europe's history
On June 22, 1936, the philosopher Moritz Schlick was on his way to deliver a lecture at the University of Vienna when Johann Nelböck, a deranged former student of Schlick's, shot him dead on the university steps. Some Austrian newspapers defended the madman, while Nelböck himself argued in court that his onetime teacher had promoted a treacherous Jewish philosophy. David Edmonds traces the rise and fall of the Vienna Circle—an influential group of brilliant thinkers led by Schlick—and of a philosophical movement that sought to do away with metaphysics and pseudoscience in a city darkened by fascism, anti-Semitism, and unreason.
The Vienna Circle's members included Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap, and the eccentric logician Kurt Gödel. On its fringes were two other philosophical titans of the twentieth century, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper. The Circle championed the philosophy of logical empiricism, which held that only two types of propositions have cognitive meaning, those that can be verified through experience and those that are analytically true. For a time, it was the most fashionable movement in philosophy. Yet by the outbreak of World War II, Schlick's group had disbanded and almost all its members had fled. Edmonds reveals why the Austro-fascists and the Nazis saw their philosophy as such a threat.
The Murder of Professor Schlick paints an unforgettable portrait of the Vienna Circle and its members while weaving an enthralling narrative set against the backdrop of economic catastrophe and rising extremism in Hitler's Europe.
In the summer of 1972, with a presidential crisis stirring in the United States and the cold war at a pivotal point, two men—the Soviet world chess champion Boris Spassky and his American challenger Bobby Fischer—met in the most notorious chess match of all time. Their showdown in Reykjavik, Iceland, held the world spellbound for two months with reports of psychological warfare, ultimatums, political intrigue, cliffhangers, and farce to rival a Marx Brothers film.
Thirty years later, David Edmonds and John Eidinow, authors of the national bestseller Wittgenstein’s Poker, have set out to reexamine the story we recollect as the quintessential cold war clash between a lone American star and the Soviet chess machine—a machine that had delivered the world title to the Kremlin for decades. Drawing upon unpublished Soviet and U.S. records, the authors reconstruct the full and incredible saga, one far more poignant and layered than hitherto believed.
Against the backdrop of superpower politics, the authors recount the careers and personalities of Boris Spassky, the product of Stalin’s imperium, and Bobby Fischer, a child of post-World War II America, an era of economic boom at home and communist containment abroad. The two men had nothing in common but their gift for chess, and the disparity of their outlook and values conditioned the struggle over the board.
Then there was the match itself, which produced both creative masterpieces and some of the most improbable gaffes in chess history. And finally, there was the dramatic and protracted off-the-board battle—in corridors and foyers, in back rooms and hotel suites, in Moscow offices and in the White House.
The authors chronicle how Fischer, a manip-ulative, dysfunctional genius, risked all to seize control of the contest as the organizers maneuvered frantically to save it—under the eyes of the world’s press. They can now tell the inside story of Moscow’s response, and the bitter tensions within the Soviet camp as the anxious and frustrated apparatchiks strove to prop up Boris Spassky, the most un-Soviet of their champions—fun-loving, sensitive, and a free spirit. Edmonds and Eidinow follow this careering, behind-the-scenes confrontation to its climax: a clash that displayed the cultural differences between the dynamic, media-savvy representatives of the West and the baffled, impotent Soviets. Try as they might, even the KGB couldn’t help.
A mesmerizing narrative of brilliance and triumph, hubris and despair, Bobby Fischer Goes to War is a biting deconstruction of the Bobby Fischer myth, a nuanced study on the art of brinkmanship, and a revelatory cold war tragicomedy.
In 1766 philosopher, novelist, composer, and political provocateur Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a fugitive, decried by his enemies as a dangerous madman. Meanwhile David Hume—now recognized as the foremost philosopher in the English language—was being universally lauded as a paragon of decency. And so Rousseau came to England with his beloved dog, Sultan, and willingly took refuge with his more respected counterpart. But within months, the exile was loudly accusing his benefactor of plotting to dishonor him—which prompted a most uncharacteristically violent response from Hume. And so began a remarkable war of words and actions that ensnared many of the leading figures in British and French society, and became the talk of intellectual Europe.
Rousseau's Dog is the fascinating true story of the bitter and very public quarrel that turned the Age of Enlightenment's two most influential thinkers into deadliest of foes—a most human tale of compassion, treachery, anger, and revenge; of celebrity and its price; of shameless spin; of destroyed reputations and shattered friendships.
The central topic for this book is the ethics of treating individuals as though they are members of groups. The book raises many interesting questions, including:
- Why do we feel so much more strongly about discrimination on certain grounds – e.g. of race and sex - than discrimination on other grounds? Are we right to think that discrimination based on these characteristics is especially invidious?
- What should we think about ‘rational discrimination’ – ‘discrimination’ which is based on sound statistics?
To take just one of dozens of examples from the book. Suppose a landlord turns away a prospective tenant, because this prospective tenant is of a particular ethnicity – arguing that statistics show that one in four of this group have been shown in the past to default on their rent. That seems clearly unfair to people of this ethnicity. But we are routinely being judged in this way – not just on the basis of our ethnicity, but assumptions are made about us and decisions taken about us based on our gender, religion, job, post-code, hobbies, blood-group, nationality, etc. Now suppose that another landlord turns away a convicted criminal, arguing that one in four of convicted criminals have been shown to be unreliable rent payers. Is our intuition the same as before? Should it be?
This book is suitable for all students of philosophy, especially those with an interest in applied ethics.