Care of strangers

Back on August 30, 2004 John Quiggin posted a guest post from me Care of Strangers. He introduced it as being on the philosophy behind our stance on asylum seekers, and saying it raised some important (though not entirely new) questions about the adequacy of utilitarianism in contexts like this.

Here’s the post with minor editorial changes. More commas!

In the comments thread of an earlier post Jack Strocchi raised a number of issues concerning asylum seekers, including utilitarianism as the basis for our stance. The legal/ethical basis for our stance is central and deserves greater scrutiny, discussion and reflection. The following is not intended as a complete philosophical justification for an alternative approach, merely to demonstrate that alternatives are possible.

I’m going to start with the statement that I don’t accept utilitarianism as providing an adequate basis for public policy or law generally, but is inadequate in this case in particular.

Suddenly on this blog I feel like a pigeon amongst the cats, so I’ll base the argument mainly on my big gun, Desmond Manderson, whose views are compatible with my own.

On 24 August, 2001 Desmond Manderson, then Director of the Julius Stone Institute of Jurisprudence at the University of Sydney, had an article Care of strangers published in the AFR. He clearly understands that the law operates in a social context, and is related to philosophy and values.

The Benthamite dictum has existed in my mind as “the greatest good for the greatest number.” To me this fails to address the question of what the ‘greatest good’ consists of, and who decides. Turns out I was wrong about the quote, which should read “the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people”. This is even worse because in ‘happiness’ we have a private good, which may be different for different people. Moreover the happiness of one may conflict with the happiness of another. Indeed it opens the way for the circumstance that the pain of one or some may contribute to the happiness of others.

It is easy to argue in these circumstances that governments in decent countries should protect individuals and small groups from the tyranny of the majority. This, Manderson says, is normally done on the basis of (human) rights.

The problem with interests and rights is that both are based on the individual, albeit within a social context. That is, happiness is an individual interest, which may conflict with the interests of others. Ditto for rights, but rights must be both claimed and granted in a social context. In other words rights are socially constituted.

This may work OK within the (democratic) tribe, or by extension within the state (if it is working properly in an inclusive way) but does not as such recognise the needs of the stranger in trouble. Nor indeed does it help alienated and voiceless groups within a society.

The problem here is that we may see it in our interests (and we do) to deny strangers the means to make a claim for refuge from persecution based on basic human needs and universally recognised human rights, recognised by us too as signatories to an international convention. In effect, and actually, we turn the strangers away without listening to them.

Manderson is suggesting here that our approach, our jurisprudence, is based on the notion that society is comprised of a collection of freely associating isolates. The self and self-interest is the ultimate ground of explanation. Altruism remains as a problem, or at best an interest of some of us.

Manderson turns here to an alternative jurisprudence “built on the work of the great ethical philosopher and Jewish theologian Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995).” According to Levinas, Manderson says:

    “Our very sense of selfhood is a construction; it comes from our relationship with others, initially as a child and then throughout our lives. The ‘other’ comes ‘before’ the self because there is no self without them. We might even say that we are a mirror in which others are reflected.”

[Personally, I think the mirror metaphor is too limited, but that’s another story.]

In view of this:

    We do not ‘give’ them [others] charity (or rights) from the depths of our autonomy. We already owe them a debt, for their otherness is the very condition of our existence. We are ourselves, not just among them but because of them. Charity or kindness is not a torchlight which we hold and decide to shine on someone else. No, it is the sunlight without which we could not see anything at all.

You will note here that we have moved from questions of law to questions of philosophy, not just ethics but the ontological question of the nature of our being. The ontology behind or assumed by utilitarianism is seldom discussed.

Responsibility, the second Levinas’ concept brought to bear, is our ability to respond. In a sense we don’t choose whether to respond, merely how. We are chosen by the proximity of the stranger in need. This responsibility “comes from the ‘face to face’ encounter with another person and cannot be satisfied by the rote application of rules.”

We can choose to accept or reject our responsibility. If we accept then both we and the ‘other’ grow in humanity. If we reject our responsibility we certainly diminish ourselves and may also harm others. In the end it’s a simple argument. We are all connected and we are here to help each other. Out of that we grow and, as a matter of grace, may become happy.

Manderson concludes:

    “The fundamental test of justice is one of hospitality to the stranger. Too bad for us, but we do not have a say in the matter. In this, we are already the chosen people.”

That was Manderson’s challenge. Two days later the Tampa showed up. I’ll leave it to you to work out how well we went on the test.

If this seems vaguely familiar, I published it in a refugee context on August 28 2018. My interest now is the context of the treatment of this nation and many others in our response to the threat of the coronavirus Covid 19.

Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, in justifying the limitations of his rescue package to workers came up with a line that will form part of his political legacy:

    When you are putting these life-lines together you have to draw the line somewhere.

That was from Shaun Micallef’s MAD AS HELL this week.

Manderson actually used the story of Antigone as a foil, in an attempt

    to reframe questions of legal responsibility in the case of asylum and refugee law through the lens of Emmanuel Levinas. Using this framework, the article argues that questions of sovereignty must be recast as questions of hospitality. The fundamental test of justice is one of hospitality to the stranger. Too bad for us, but we do not have a say in the matter. In this, we are already the chosen people.

Morrison has found citizens who have been in casual work for less than half a year unworthy of assistance, also non-citizens on work visas and students.

Some have no support and have difficulty in leaving. Our attitude to crews of tour boats and foreign tourists was to treat them like lepers.

My contention is that if we deny the need of people we deem unworthy or ‘other’ we diminish ourselves as well as harming them.

52 thoughts on “Care of strangers”

  1. Brian: “My contention is that if we deny the need of people we deem unworthy or ‘other’ we diminish ourselves as well as harming them.” Quite so.
    I see part of moral development involving the expansion of what we consider to be worth moral consideration. For example, a very young child my measure good and evil in terms of the effect on themselves. Over time this may expand to immediate family/friends then extended family then….. In some cases a person’s moral consideration may expand to cover all life.
    I see Morrison as someone with very limited boundaries for moral consideration. Most refugees, people at the bottom of the pile, non-believers and people with different sexual orientation appear to be outside his moral consideration boundaries during his time as immigration minister, treasurer and prime minister.

  2. It is called low empathy JohnD. The Australian Government Cabinet is extensively very Low Empathy. In some roles LowEmps are who you would want, say, if you were being physically attacked you might want a LowEmp to come to your defence. Or if a business needs “tough decisions” when near fail LowEmps can be effective. But LowEmps have a limited impact and when things are running in balance LowEmps efforts deliver negative effects. It should also be said that HiEmps can be even more destructive under difficult circumstances (a classic case was a new NZ government incoming minister giving their police force every thing they asked for….a 50% pay rise). That is why choosing leaders is both difficult and important..

  3. Bilb: I guess there are people who, in general, are low or high emp no matter who or what they are dealing with. However, many will be high or low depending on who or what they are dealing with.
    I think good leaders often need the empathy to understand how a decision will affect a person and still make a necessary hard decision. In this case empathy may encourage the leader to look for ways of reducing the damage resulting from the decision.
    They also need to be able to make the hard decision without being crippled by the decision.

  4. That’s a very low resolution dichotomisations of care motive and intended result BilB.

    Perhaps let go of your easy, stock standard, broken record reflex pigeonholeing and realise that there are extremely caring folk with extremely different formulas to achieve better human wellbeing.

    There are so many bell curve spectrums involved that it impossible to calculate from on minute to the next because every data point can change radically.

    My default is that humans individually are, when counted collectively, intelligent and caring enough at this point to desire better outcomes for all, for the most part, in an ever upward trajectory.

    The mechanisms may vary.

  5. PM Mofrisson and Treasurer Frydenberg had the
    * good sense (because it’s simpler), and the
    * common decency (because it is fairer), and the
    * awareness of Australia’s vestiges of egalitarianism,

    to set the relief money at $1500 for every individual, no matter their religion, class, wealth, orientation or voting habits.

    I applaud that.
    Compared with “theoretical egalitarianism”, I’m for gestures of “practical egalitarianism” any day.

    Oh, of course, it’s a bloody nasty and devilishly clever neoliberal trick to lull the workers into quietude.

    That’s as may be.

    But it stands as a public policy – with substance, not merely rhetoric. Credit where credit is due. Debits will be sorted out later.

  6. You completely do not understand, Jumpy.

    This thread is essentially about risk management and consequences at the human level.

    Here is the visual expression of a (probable) psychopath

    That person feels that he is completely normal and every one around him are inferior, and yet he is held in high regard by the President and Government of the United States of America. Would you want to have this guy examining and making judgement on your asylum seeker application?

    Now here is the empathy test. The higher you score, the lower your empathy level. The problem is that just as the guy above thinks he is normal, even extra normal, no one can fully self assess their empathy level because our empathy level affects our perceptions, cognitions, human values and ethics. ie causing pain to a high empathy person is to be avoided but is likely to be seen to a Lo Empathy person as being right and necessary.

    The discussion is about whether Utilitarianism delivers fairness to fringe groups. I make the argument that to maximise fairness, those making choices about others, need to have centrally balanced personalities. Our legal system attempts to achieve this with a jury of twelve people representing a cross section of a community. in some areas though where “the Minister retains the ultimate discretion” the personality of that person becomes critical.

  7. Ok BilB, you completely understand and I am inferior.
    Nuff said you perfect individual with every inkling you ink.
    Your decisions to go bankrupt a few times rather than become an internationally recognised clinical psychologist is well appreciated.

    We need more perfectlyEpms.
    Thank you.

  8. Again, …..Jumpy,

    We need fewer or no Lo Emps in Government Cabinet positions, and in Public Company CEO roles.

  9. BilB, please forgive me for not being in total agreement regarding your what constitutes your subjective definition of “ Lo Emp” .

    I’m sure, you being Goldilocks Emp, have better mechanisms to achieve optimal universal human happiness.

    I for one need you to run for high office, the higher the better.
    Selfless as you are I sure you will given the dire peril we face.

    Bless you in advance BilB.

  10. One thing I have gleaned lately is the Uber-uselessness of taxpayer funded Global Intergovernmental bodies when the shit supposedly hits the fan
    The UN, EU, WHO, WTO, UNHCR……

    Every Nation is reacting differently with scant regard of these plushly irrelevant organisations that we’ve long thought as “ essential “.

    What do they care ?

  11. Jumpy: You seem to have morphed from the Libertarian smartarse who enjoys poking fun at those of us who are a bit left of your take on life into someone lashing out at the likes of Bilb because they don’t agree with your position.
    Am I seeing something that isn’t there or is the virus threatening the business that gives you the feeling of being a contributor or distancing you from the the people who are part of your support/socializing network?
    Cheer up mate.

  12. And there you go now Jumpying into Trump Luvin Support Mode. Trump has a mental spasm and decides to deflect attention away from his horrendous inadequacies by threatening to cancel the World Health Organisation, and you’ve extended that out to every organisation.

    That has the intelligence level of abandoning a car because it has a flat tire. Go you. Lets just totally forget the huge amount of work that the WHO does for all chronic diseases and potential epidemics it keeps suppressed.

  13. Give him a break, it’s Friday. He’s probably back on the piss. Certainly sounds like it.

  14. Actually Morrison in his briefing, yesterday, I think gave a great rap to the WHO. We were told on the Teev last night that pandemics constituted 0.8% of the WHOs business, and that it has the budget of one large American teaching hospital, ie about $5 billion.

    If you want to make criticisms, make them after this emergency is over, don’t distract them and cut the funding in the middle of an emergency.

    Trump is worried about his re-election prospects. I’m hoping he has done himself real damage this time.

    Actually, there is a very sensible article by one K Rudd on on America, China and saving the WHO. He sees leadership needing to come from Germany, France, the European Union, Japan, Canada and possibly Britain (assuming Boris Johnson genuinely believes in a “global Britain”) to save us from anarchy.

    Remember, in the GFC, Obama was going to call a meeting of the G8, as it was then, before they kicked Russia out. Rudd persuaded him to make it the G20.

    This time the G7 met, called by France, the G20 met, called by Saudi Arabia, but because of the bad attitudes of China and the US, both proved useless.

  15. Brian, the WTO has turned a blind eye to Chinese violations since China was admitted.

    As far as WHO goes, let’s ask their caring sharing Goodwill Ambassador Robert Mugabe or the people of Taiwan.

  16. WTO?

    What The Heck.


    3rd cousin of Hec on me Mum’s side I think no wait I could be mistaken, could you get me that 1920s stock catalogue off the other shelf no next to the bound editions of Smiths Weekly thanks Nurse.

  17. Brian,

    Thank you for drawing attention to the writings of Desmond Manderson; opening a fruitful avenue of thought.

    (Can an avenue be fruitful?
    Yes, indeed. In the Orchard of Ideas. Not only that: the ideas can “be fruitful and multiply”…. which is what Sokrates wished for, if not Yahweh.)

  18. Dr WHO is now trying to rewrite what the CCP did by time travel manipulation.

    NPCs do what NPCs do.

  19. In my comment @ 11:50 last night, I meant WHO, not WTO. My bad.

    Jumpy, you are just wrong. It’s true that there have been anomalies in China’s attitude to trade and the WTO.

    Whatever the Chinese say, potato head Peter Dutton will just look straight into the camera and say “China needs to be more transparent”.

  20. “Let’s ask ….. Robert Mugabe….”

    Getting into dangerous waters there, Mr J.

    Or should you go by your real name,
    *Master Ouija* of the Far Side and Beyond???

    Mr A

  21. Jumpy, leaving aside the distraction of Robert Mugabe, you said :

    As far as WHO goes, let’s ask… the people of Taiwan.


  22. BilB has identified empathy as an important consideration. I would agree, but I had something else in mind.

    Empathy is a personality characteristic. I was thinking of the value base and what it meant to be human for the utilitarian thinkers like Jeremy Bentham and JS Milne.

    I consulted Dr Google by asking ‘Who could vote 19th century Britain?’ The answer:

      In early-19th-century Britain very few people had the right to vote. A survey conducted in 1780 revealed that the electorate in England and Wales consisted of just 214,000 people – less than 3% of the total population of approximately 8 million.

    I asked ‘When did working class men get the vote in UK?’ The answer:

      The Representation of the People Act 1918 widened suffrage by abolishing practically all property qualifications for men and by enfranchising women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications.

    Ah ‘property’. The truth was that when these philosophers were talking about human rights they were thinking of men of property, plus the professions like medicine and law who would have been wealthy enough to own property in most cases.

    Joanna Burke’s book What it means to be Human points out that women had fewer rights that children or animals, that society was heavily stratified according to the ‘Great Chain of Being’ where the poor were considered trash and genetically deficient, whereas people of colour graded into animals.

    Our social aims should be for the best for all, and that when you fall back to ‘the greatest for the greatest number of people’ you are admitting defeat and in effect are creating community by exclusion.

    I’ll say a bit more about that tomorrow.

  23. Brian

    I think you’ll find that at various times in history, the views of many highly intelligent and widely read philosophers have not been reflected in either
    * social customs and beliefs, or
    * the laws of the time.

    My limited understanding tells me that one of the roles of a philosopher is to “kick against the traces” of the times she lives in, suggesting by high principle, or polemics, or even satire ( Candide) that social arrangements including political structures and laws, or everyday behaviour and attitudes might be different to the benefit of all.

    As a basic condition of practising the philosophical life, she would need as little restriction as possible on thought, communication and (if worth the effort) publication for a wider audience.

    Sokrates was put to death.
    His trial and death have echoed down the centuries from “The a Golden Age of Greece”.
    Did he corrupt the youth of Athens? Did he dishonour the Gods of the City?
    Did he live in a city, a fabled “democracy” where a huge proportion of the population were slaves holding no voting rights?
    Did he nonetheless pursue his quest for clarity of thought, so radical in his scepticism that the dialogues show him questioning – if not demolishing – every contention put forward by others? And where does that leave a thinker? Clueless? Unable to act??

    Call him a mere novelist if you will, but Mr Orwell captured the essence of 20th century totalitarian “thought control” in his 1984 with a suffocating mass surveillance that only recently has become technologically possible, but is as close a prophecy of today’s PRC as anyone wrote in the late 1940s. Of course he got some details wrong, he wrote in the bleak aftermath of a crushing European war to defeat Fascism.

  24. Where Eric failed to foretell the future was in assuming “thought control” would be a uniquely government function.
    While that is true in the PRC, the western equivalent to a Ministry of Truth is Fox News. And what little I’ve seen of Hannity, Carlson, Ingraham and Pirro would indicate there’s a helluva lot more than two minutes of hate each day.

  25. That is a great comment there at 12.09, Brian, and the following comments all really interesting. You could move that onto a thread all of its own, and good on you for “Potato Head Peter Dutton”,… a nice splash of colour, getting those feelings out with rhetorical surprise so to speak.

  26. I’ve finally set up a Chemist Warehouse account, and can now get scripts made up and delivered to my mailbox through Australia Post.

    For those who don’t know George Orwell is a ‘nym for Eric Arthur Blair.

    Ambi, I would not call him a ‘mere’ writer, but truly he is not a philosopher as such. Also François-Marie Arouet (better known as Voltaire) is mostly known as a writer. Wikipedia calls him :

      a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church, as well as his advocacy of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state.

    He wrote an awful lot and I suspect his forte was as a ‘satirical polemicist’. He was not a philosopher in terms of building systems of thought.

    A contemporary about 30 years later was Immanuel Kant, who:

      argued that space, time, and causation are mere sensibilities; “things-in-themselves” exist, but their nature is unknowable.[23][24] In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features.

    If you check out Wikipedia’s article on philosophy the sub-fields include:

      metaphysics (“concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being”),[27] epistemology (about the “nature and grounds of knowledge [and]…its limits and validity”[28]), ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, logic and philosophy of science.

    Kant covered the whole field in a consistent and coherent way, possibly unmatched since Aristotle in the European tradition, and probably not matched since, although others have struck out in different directions.

    One of the first was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. If you read the first few paragraphs of that entry, you can see that things become very complicated. Hegel was a truth-seeker rather than a world-changer or polemicist. He didn’t make any concessions to his readers, but was taken up by Marx, Nietzsche and goodness knows who else.

    I’m told that you need to get your head into German Romanticism if you want to understand him. I’m also told that he possibly wrote in terms that his university bosses would not understand, because he preferred not to be bothered by them.

    He has also suffered, like Max Weber, by being read in English in translations that are substantially not what he intended.

    Sophocles did write to be understood, and also wrote plays. He is usually classified as a philosopher, but I think wasn’t as systematic as Plato and Aristotle.

    This is a long way around, but where I’m getting to is that the utilitarians were not, in terms that I understand, philosophers. The Brits have not traditionally done philosophy, or have done it rather badly, as in David Hume Thomas Hobbes* who had a very negative view of human nature, and of John Locke, with his tabula rasa view of human nature.

    Arguably they were working in ethics and political philosophy, but their frame was limited by politics as it was perpetrated at the time – highly class-based and the masses as subjects to be controlled.

    Others have expanded the concept of liberalism, like Martha Nussbaum to genuinely include all humanity, and see as we are, a species of animal.

    This is hard work, in part because I’m not a philosopher, but have wandered in the field. I’ll leave it there for now, but I’m not done here yet.

    * Sorry, I meant Thomas Hobbes rather than David Hume, who was Scottish and probably a step up from his English counterparts.

  27. Thanks, BilB. I’d need to do more work to make it another thread. Here I can blunder around a bit.

  28. Sorry, I meant Thomas Hobbes rather than David Hume, who was Scottish and probably a step up from his English counterparts.

  29. Thanks Brian and zoot

    Yes, z-man there are many incarnations of Lying Brought to an Industrial Level.

    Years ago I was disheartened to hear a throwaway comment from Nugget Coombes. (circa 1985)))

    ‘E were on wireless, like. Nugget said, “Mr Hilter lost the physical and military War in 1945. But I think he won the War of Ideas.”

    Whaddya reckon? My reading was that he thought totalitarian methods and mindsets had become par for the course in the modern world despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Nuremberg Tribunals etc etc.

    Of German Romanticism I know narthing.

    But David Hume I like. Have tried to track down these sentences of his I saw long ago. Approximately thus:

    when we learn about and consider the very wide variety of religious beliefs held by different peoples around the world, we can be very thankful that we ourselves, in our Christian faith, have the actual truth.

    Now, you might call that “low sarcasm”. I prefer to guess that Hume was making a very strong point about religions and expressing it clearly.

    He won me over instantly.

    And, short as it was, maybe labouring his point, I thought “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds” was well beaten in Voltaire’s “Candide”.

    Orwell was a giant of political theory, outside the ivory towers, poor and wheezing, tapping away finding nuggets.


  30. I stand in awe of Brian’s knowledge of philosophy. Mine came mainly from an ancient television series, The Sea of Faith (which I can heartily recommend). It’s a potted history of philosophical thinking and its influences on Christianity. There is also a book, which I found a bit heavier going.

  31. A footnote on Eric Blair.

    Someone recently remarked how unfair it was that some writers have nastiness named after them.
    “Orwellian” for totalitarian methods and attitudes he hated.
    “Malthusian” for trends the Rev Malthus warned against.
    “Kafkaesque” for nightmares.

    At least old Uncle Joe Stalin was thoroughly in favour of Stalinism. And Mao promoted Maoism through the huge publication industry for MTT Mao Tse Tung Thought.

    As far as I’ve noticed “Darwinian” is used reasonably accurately and honours Charles. Ditto “Churchillian”, “Gandhian”, “Nietzschean”

    Don’t know enough to judge “Freudian”.

  32. From what I read “Darwinian” is somewhat out of date when referring to Evolutionary Theory.
    In the 150+ years since the publication of Origin of Species quite a lot has been discovered, much of which would surprise Charles Darwin. Often the term Darwinian is used as a criticism by people who haven’t kept up with this salient fact.

  33. “Potato Head Peter Dutton”

    Compare and contrast when someone had the temerity to apply a commonly used nickname for the plump hen that currently pecks around in the Queensland Parliamentary palace.

    I can’t remember what he was accused of being but the term “ right back at ya Buddy “ seems appropriate and measured.

  34. Jumpy, your insult of Palaszczuk was gratuitous and disrespectful because she hadn’t done anything to deserve it.

    Peter Dutton has, as has been well-documented here and elsewhere.

    Any way, let’s just say that everyone has to moderate their language according to the company they are in.

    Zoot, I don’t know much at all, and some of these people are impossible to read.

    Ambi interesting point you make about the use of names. As for Freudian, I think it varies with the context and intent, so it can be positive, negative or just fair enough.

  35. Any way, let’s just say that everyone has to moderate their language according to the company they are in.

    I would add, Brian’s blog, Brian’s rules.
    If you don’t want to abide by them Jumpy you’re free to go take a hike. I don’t know what we’d miss more, your charismatic charm or your giant intellect, but I’m sure we’d get over it eventually.

  36. There is an interesting point about language from Hegel’s thinking. He uses the German word ‘Geist’ which Wikipedia says means ‘spirit’ but is sometime translated as ‘mind’.

    If you look up ‘Geist’ in my German dictionary (Concise Collins about 30 years old) the primary meaning is ‘mind’.

    If you look up ‘Geist’ the primary English meaning is ‘spirit’.

    If you look up ‘mind’ the German is ‘Geist’.

    So do the Germans think of ‘mind’ as spirit’?

    The Germans seem to have a lot of difficulty with how English uses ‘mind’. It can also translate as understanding, thinking or the head. There are about 30 phrases where English uses ‘mind’ which German sometimes has difficulty with in translation.

    ‘She couldn’t get him out of her mind’ is rendered as ‘er ging ihr nicht aus dem Kopf’ which is roughly ‘he went not out of her head’, which I’d suggest is not the same.

    For ‘to keep something in mind’ comes out as ‘etwas nicht vergessen’ which reverse translates as [he/she] does not forget something’.

    This simply points to the notion that we use words within a culture to describe phenomena, actions and happenings in ways that are conventionally more or less uniform within that culture, but may differ substantially from other cultures.

  37. Another point is that Hegel in talking about the relationship between Geist and Natur (nature) was no doubt addressing a famous the subject/object binary which is part of who we are (ontology) and how we know (epistemology).

    There is a famous binary enunciated by René Descartes (1596–1650) who perpetrated the statement “I think, therefore I am”. In doing so he believed that the mind was separate from the brain. This has been refuted many times in philosophy, sometimes compounding the problem.

    As a young bloke I read Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (1951) where he used the phrase “the ghost in the machine”. He said that Descartes’ statement was a ‘category error’ in which two phenomena that were different phenomena were accorded the same status.

    Unfortunately, this left the Cartesian dualism in place.

    I’m a realist. I think certain things happen inside our bodies, mostly in the brain, that we describe as thinking. Unfortunately this is based on another dualism = between reason and emotion. In fact we never think without our emotions being engaged – a fact not generally understood.

    Now in the 21st century we still hear people working on brain science talk about ‘correlates’ between mental and physical activity. To me what happens happens in the physical world, which is molecules constantly in motion, never the same from one second to another.

    We use words and concepts based on words in order to come to terms and make some sense of this flow of happenings in ways we can communicate with others.

    Similarly ‘consciousness’ is not a thing, it’s how we talk about a kind of activity we undertake, yet the identification of what ‘consciousness’ really is remains to scientists one of the toughest nuts to crack. It will never be cracked because it is a problem of language, not reality. Still some interesting stuff may emerge in the process.

    Descartes was a mathematician, a science thinker, and a metaphysician in that order, yet by reputation the order is reversed.

    If I were to do a separate post, as Bilb suggests, my working title would be Philosophy matters.

    If we don’t have an explicit philosophy we have an implicit one, mostly derived from our culture, embodied in our language and the meanings we assume or derive, which is where I’d like to get back to the utilitarians.

  38. I tend to be someone who thinks first and then does the literature search, if I feel this is necessary. My attitude is that when you think first you are more likely to come up with something original – the literature search limits your thinking.
    From a very young age I tended to believe that I was responsible for working out what was right and wrong and doing the right thing. In time I became less and less convinced that unquestioning following of the bible or whatever was the way to go.
    In my teens I became interested in Asian religions and picked up a lot of philosophy in books that were not philosophy books. Most of my reading was an individual activity that I didn’t discuss with anyone.
    In my late teens I started meeting people who were interested in arguing about the meaning of life and everything. Found a lot of the stuff I had been thinking about had been thought of again, again and again over time. Many of my arts student friends thought I should have studied philosophy instead of engineering but I was interested in coming up with new ideas, not studying the thought of past philosophers.
    In my early twenties I decided that the metaphysics questions were not going to be resolved and spent more time thinking about other things. I also tended to think of morality and religion as an interesting anthropological issue rather than a search for ultimate truths.
    Arguing about what is mind seems a bit like arguing how many angels will fit on the head of a pin.

  39. Zoot

    I would add, Brian’s blog, Brian’s rules.
    If you don’t want to abide by them Jumpy you’re free to go take a hike.

    You’re exactly correct on both points.

    I remember the kids growing up playing junior rugby league. The referee sorted by a coin toss between the two coaches.
    There were a couple of opposition coaches that so blatantly adjudicated in favour of his team that the kids refused to play.

    Was it a win for his side, most certainly in that moment.
    Was it a win for rugby league in general, the players in the long term both his and others, the folk observing or promoting fair, enjoyable and healthy play ?
    I would say not.

    So yeah, I do wonder why I still choose to play on Brian’s turf, it’s not enjoyable a lot of the time.

  40. Physicists – I mean the very original specimens – often chance their arm at philosophising. (This of course can be resented by professional philosophers – but not to worry).

    In 20th century, physicists had a lot of non-obvious results to announce or discuss.

    The Uncertainty Principle.
    Wave packets as guides for particles?
    Wave/particle duality
    Schroedinger’s Cat
    The constancy of the speed of light for every observer, regardless of her velocity.
    Length of a ruler and speed of a clock dependent on velocity?
    Twin Paradox
    No travel faster than the speed of light
    Was there a Big Bang?
    How can mass be equivalent to energy?
    Why can’t we solve the quantum wave equations for any atom heavier than hydrogen?
    Is there action at a distance?
    Why are the electron and proton not of similar mass?
    Why antimatter?
    Did the Universe have a beginning?
    Are there black holes?
    Time travel?

    No wonder a few physicists had a bit of a go at either wrestling with deep questions or trying to explain it to the laywoman….

    Some whose writings stand out include Einstein, Feynman, Born, Bohr, Abraham Pais, Paul Davies, ….

    To get down to practical, observational astronomy I can recommend:
    Peter Robertson, “Radio Astronomer. John Bolton and a New Window on the Universe”, Sydney: NewSouth Publishing (2017)

  41. So yeah, I do wonder why I still choose to play on Brian’s turf, it’s not enjoyable a lot of the time.

    You poor dear, you really should get professional help. Your apparently insatiable need to control the discourse does you no favours.

  42. Obviously we have enough strangers in our own Country that have no interest in care.

    Whilst there are zoots doing what zoot is doing we’ll never even begin to get a surplus of care to share abroad.

    But hey, it’s sanctioned bile and hatred.

  43. Isn’t strange that the word “ sanction “ has 2 opposing definitions.
    I think folk see if they’re honest what was intended in this context.

  44. I realise I’m wasting my energy, but you really will feel better when/if you stop being a victim.

  45. I had a taxing day yesterday and arrived here at 11.45 PM. Today is busy too, although the only ‘work’ I have on the list is the 3-4 m high hedge along the fence just outside my window.

    We are trying to finalise how we access stuff we used to buy in person at Chemist Warehouse, or at other times any of about 10-12 pharmacies that are within 10 minutes drive from here.

    My biggest problem is my eyes, where I use four different products, and have to put stuff in about 9-10 times a day, because I have four different conditions which interact with each other.

    Believe it or not my basic vision is good, but reading on computer screens is particularly difficult as the day wears on. Last night things started to blur badly about 11 PM.

    At the best of times I’m not here to do active moderation of threads, and if I did I find the whole thing so time consuming and prone to misunderstanding that it would be the end of blogging for me.

    I figure you are all adults, have read the Comments Policy, so should be able to sort yourselves out.

    Jumpy, comments directed to you at times do formally breach the comments policy, but as Ootz and zoot have said, you do tend to make it about yourself, so the whole thing goes off the rails.

    Nevertheless, both my wife and I have rellies that express similar views. I don’t think anything I’ve ever said in response has made much difference, but sometimes it is a stimulus for me to revisit issues and positions I may have taken.

    The blog stats show that a number of people follow these threads. When Geoff M left our stats tanks considerably. He was a busy fellow, and I think he had a email listing or some other social media platform that he was using to inform his mates and followers about what he was writing here.

    The stats have since more than recovered, and have continued pretty much the same or better during the last few months when my posting of new material has been low.

    I have intervened occasionally in moderation matters but the only time I have been really cranky was when you attacked Roger Jones when Ootz asked him to make a comment here.

    So, Jumpy, it’s up to you whether you stay or not, or whether you modify your approach or not. These days I tend not to give people advice unless they ask for it.

  46. Jumpy: “So yeah, I do wonder why I still choose to play on Brian’s turf, it’s not enjoyable a lot of the time.” Endlessly reiterating the Libertarian line on Brian’s blog seems a waste of time and I can imagine that the lack of progress with most of the people commenting on the blog could be demoralizing.
    I don’t know about the rest of the blog but I am more interested when you are talking about Central Qld, things related to the sort of business you run and personal experience.

  47. Ootz, be bothered to read my links please.
    Obviously you ignore them.
    My comments here may just pause momentarily the. spiraling circle jerk hive mind .

    Healthy critique is not your enemy, nor are alternative perspectives.

    Every time I’ve been accused of not making sense is by folk that refuse to examine their own blindness of counterintuitive possibilities .
    That’s what I’m here for for myself.

    The reader of this thread needs to be aware of above offering from jumpy for context. Context is always helpful.

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