A brain-computer interface technology that can decode the neural signals associated with attempted but unarticulated speech could offer a future efficient means of communication for people with severe motor impairments. Recent demonstrations have validated this approach. Here we assume that it will be possible in future to decode imagined speech in people with severe motor impairments, and we consider the characteristics that could maximize the social utility of a BCI for communication. As a social interaction, communication involves the needs and (...) goals of both speaker and listener, particularly in contexts that have significant potential consequences. We explore three high-consequence legal situations in which neurally-decoded speech could have implications: Testimony, where decoded speech is used as evidence; Consent and Capacity, where it may be used as a means of agency and participation such as consent to medical treatment; and Harm, where such communications may be networked or may cause harm to others. We then illustrate how design choices might impact the social and legal acceptability of these technologies. (shrink)
I offer a principled objection to arguments in favour of legalizing non-voluntary euthanasia on the basis of the principle of beneficence. The objection is that the status of death as a benefit to people who cannot formulate a desire to die is more problematic than pain management care. I ground this objection on epistemic and political arguments. Namely, I argue that death is relatively more unknowable, and the benefits it confers more subjectively debatable, than pain management. I am not primarily (...) referring to the claim that it is difficult to make comparisons between live and post-mortem states, but rather to the fact that it is epistemically and metaphysically problematic to impute a “life-worse-than-death” or a state of “suffering-calling-for-death” to people who cannot subjectively wish to die, as though this kind of suffering were a medically observable fact rather than a belief- and value-laden notion. On the contrary, people enduring similar causes of pain may have different experiences of suffering and views on how it affects the worthwhileness of their existence or the desirability of death or of continuing their lives. The projection of a “suffering-calling-for-death” onto infants or people with severe intellectual disabilities may not be indefensible, but it is more controversial than judging that pain management will improve their well-being from the perspective of beneficence. My argument also relies on our society’s liberal endeavour to avoid endorsing unverifiable beliefs about life and death or controversial conceptions of the good life. My goal is not to suggest we should not attend the suffering of cognitively disabled people. On the contrary, I only cast doubt on too quick an assumption that ending their lives is the best way of caring for them, when robust palliative treatments are available. Moreover, I express the concern that a lack of attention to distinctions between “pain-calling-for-relief” and “suffering-calling-for-death” may be based on ableist projections and assumptions. I conclude that it is imperative to continue research into the nature of pain and suffering experienced by individuals with mental or cognitive impairments preventing them from expressing autonomous wishes about the kind of treatment that would most benefit them. (shrink)
Hannah Arendt, who was Hans Jonas’s lifelong friend, always stressed the importance and rarity of the independent thinker. The independent thinker is the thinker who has the imagination to break new ground, who does not follow current fashions, and has the courage to pursue thought trains wherever they may lead. Her model was Lessing, but she might have considered Hans Jonas to be an outstanding twentieth century exemplar of the independent thinker. Although Hans Jonas was a student (...) of both Heidegger and Bultmann in the 1920’s, he did not become a disciple of anyone. Both of these teachers encouraged him to pursue his research into the history of Gnosticism. Jonas’s path-breaking achievement can be compared with what Gershom Scholem did for the study of the Kabbalah. For Jonas literally created a new field of research in the history of religions. His study of Gnosticism became one of those rare twentieth century landmarks that opened up our understanding of Gnosticism and revealed its powerful subterranean influence throughout the history of the West. The first volume of Jonas’s study, Gnosis und spätantiker Geist was published in Germany in 1934 only after he fled from Nazi Germany and decided to emigrate to Palestine. If Jonas had never published anything else he would be known today as the major twentieth-century scholar of Gnosticism.. But Jonas was much more than an original scholar. He was a creative thinker—and he remained one until his death in 1993, shortly before his ninetieth birthday. During the Second World War, he fought in the famous Jewish Brigade of the British army. It was during this period, when he faced death all around him on the battlefield, that the phenomenon of life in all its ramifications became his central philosophical preoccupation. Jonas had been compelled to suspend his scholarly research during the war years, but he never suspended his independent thinking. He felt it was his obligation to fight the Nazis, but his dream was to return to his true vocation—philosophical speculation. After fighting in the Israeli War of Independence, he accepted a fellowship at McGill University in Canada in 1949, and eventually accepted a position at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research in 1955. The line of inquiry that he began when he was able to return to philosophical study resulted in the publication of The Phenomenon of Life. Jonas’s project was to understand what is distinctive about living organisms, and the emergence and consequences of life in the cosmos. But in order to do this, Jonas had to engage in a systematic radical critique of the dualisms of matter and mind, body and soul, which have dominated and shaped so much of modern thought. From Jonas’s perspective, even those philosophers who had rejected dualism were still tainted by the misguided ontology of dualism. The variety of monisms that arose in reaction to dualism tended to move to the extremes of materialism or idealism. Neither of these extremes is adequate for illuminating what is distinctive about bios. In German idealism there was a failure to do justice to the needs and character of the lived body. And in the varieties of “reductive materialism” that have been—and continue to be—so fashionable in twentieth century there is also a failure to appreciate what is distinctive about dynamic metabolic processes. To engage in a critique of dualism and its legacy, it was also necessary to rethink what can be learned from the biological sciences, and especially, the theory of evolution. Here we also witness the philosophical daring of Jonas. A dominant prejudice of the twentieth century has been that philosophy as a discipline has nothing significant to contribute to our understanding of biological processes. All that philosophy can do is to reflect on the methodological and epistemological status of the sciences because, presumably, the only legitimate source of knowledge about living organisms is what we learn from the natural sciences. Jonas argues that this prevailing prejudice has led to disastrous intellectual consequences. Of course, philosophers qua philosophers cannot and should not engage in “armchair” scientific speculation. Furthermore, they must be fully informed about the hypotheses and claims of the best biological research. But at the same time it is a philosophical endeavor to understand critically the meaning of what we learn from the sciences, and to develop an adequate philosophical account of the meaning of nature. Philosophers cannot and should not abandon this task. There is an important distinction to be drawn between the scientific achievements and the philosophical reflection on their meaning—a distinction that too frequently is forgotten or neglected. (shrink)
I show how Hans Jonas, one of Heidegger's most distinguished Jewish students, traces his mentor's susceptibility to Nazism to a moral nihilism at the heart of Heidegger's teaching in "Being and Time". I then demonstrate how Jonas's own "existential interpretation of the biological facts" and metaphysical grounding of "an imperative of responsibility" provide one of the most systematic and challenging rejoinders to the moral failings of Heidegger's thought.
Although Hans Jonas's theory of responsibility has been influential on continental European environmental ethics, his philosophy of life, which seeks to rehabilitate a teleological account of living beings and describe their differing degrees of 'existential freedom', is less well-known. In this article, I reconstruct the stages of Jonas's phenomenological account and address the key criticisms levelled at it. I argue that although Jonas's theory is flawed by internal contradictions, these may be rectifiable, and, if so, his philosophy (...) of life could also provide an ontological rationale for a biocentric ethic. I conclude that for these reasons his work deserves greater scholarly attention. (shrink)
Social contract theories generally predicate the authority of rules that govern society on the idea that these rules are the product of a contractual agreement struck between members of society. These theories embody values, such as equality, reciprocity and rationality, that are highly prized within our culture. Yet a closer inspection reveals that these features exclude other important values, relations and even persons from the realm of contractual morality and justice, especially people with severe intellectual disabilities. Jonas-Sébastien Beaudry (...) explores the moral status of intellectually disabled people in social contract thought and argues that this tradition needs to be revisited to include the most vulnerable. Addressing this problem will have concrete repercussions in law and policy, because many issues that people with disabilities face are connected to deeply rooted assumptions about their status as full citizens or full members of our moral, political and legal communities. (shrink)
The purpose of this essay is to attempt an interpretation of Hans Jonas’s philosophical approach to tradition in terms of an exercise in critical thinking. Although several modern authors have seen in tradition a normalizing and conservative force that either constrains the powers of human reason or prevents new disruptive ideas from thriving, other philosophers have contested this accusation and concurred to sketch the general guidelines of a theory of the critical value of tradition. Commenting on both published and (...) unpublished material, I claim that Jonas’s meditation on the history of western culture belongs to this latter stance. Moving from this thesis, I then analyse some passages of Jonas’s oeuvre where his position concerning the critical potential of tradition is theorised or directly put into practice. In particular, I focus on the essay The Practical Uses of Theoryand on an unedited transcription of the 1967 conference Contemporary Problems in Science and Ethics. A Jewish Comment. (shrink)
The question on the essence of man and his relationship to nature is certainly one of the most important themes in the philosophy of Hans Jonas. One of the ways by which Jonas approaches the issue consists in a comparison between the contemporary interpretation of man and forms of wisdom such as those conveyed by ancient Greek philosophy and the Jewish tradition. The reconstruction and discussion of these frameworks play a fundamental role in Jonas’s critique of the (...) modern mind. In the first section I introduce the anthropological problem in Hans Jonas’s oeuvre. Moreover, I clarify why it becomes essential for Jonas to resort to different forms of traditional wisdom. In the second and third sections I try to give an account (as complete as possible) of the two generalisations which Jonas shapes in order to criticise the modern concepts of man and nature. In the last section I show how Jonas links these generalisations to his own philosophical assessment of modernity. Finally, I focus on his methodology, which exemplifies how critical thinking may arise from a reconsideration of traditional contents. (shrink)
The strategy of developing an ontology or models of disability as a prior step to settling ethical issues regarding disabilities is highly problematic for two reasons. First, key definitional aspects of disability are normative and cannot helpfully be made value-neutral. Second, if we accept that the contested concept of disability is value-laden, it is far from obvious that there are definitive reasons for choosing one interpretation of the concept over another. I conclude that the concept of disability is better left (...) ethically open-ended or broad enough to encompass the examination of various ethical issues. Alternatively, the concept of disability could be altogether abandoned in order to focus on specific issues without being hindered by debates about the nature of disability. Only political costs, rather than conceptual considerations internal to the models, could be weighed against such a conclusion. (shrink)
Late antique Gnosticism and Heidegger’s Existentialism are usually counted among the main theoretical targets of Hans Jonas’s philosophy of life and responsibility, since they are supposed to share the dualistic and nihilistic attitude the philosopher deemed most mistaken and pernicious. In particular, Gnosticism is commonly understood as the exact opposite of what Jonas strove to accomplish in his work. However, I think it is simplistic to relegate Gnosticism to a merely antagonistic role in the development of Jonas’s (...) philosophy. My claim is that Gnosticism, being a non-nihilistic form of dualism, might have been a relevant source of inspiration – although not the only one – for amending the flaws of Heidegger’s Existentialism. By taking a closer look at the essay Gnosticism, Existentialism, and Nihilism, this article aims to clarify the critical and constructive role that Gnosticism might have played in shaping some of the major traits of Jonas’s thought. The first part of this essay deals with Jonas’s ‘gnostic reading’ of Heidegger’s Existentialism and highlights the positive insights drawn from such interpretative strategy. The second part focuses on three main motives in Jonas’s philosophy that may be traced back to the gnostic narrative: value objectivity and vulnerability, human responsibility and involvement in the history of being, and the sense of belonging to a wider dimension capable of providing orientation and meaning to human life. (shrink)
This article reflects upon the increasingly popular claim that animals are persons. Such a claim can take a metaphysical, a moral, or a legal meaning. Animals may or may not be persons, but I challenge the assumption that it is even fruitful to think about the ways in which animals are “persons.” At best, it is a relatively narrow assimilationist conceptual exercise. At worst, it distracts us from conceptualizing more effective strategies to improve the welfare of animals and impoverishes more (...) promising avenues of philosophical investigation on interspecies relations and on the nature and moral status of both animals and human beings. (shrink)
Is the procreation asymmetry intuitively supported? According to a recent article in this journal, an experimental study suggests the opposite. Dean Spears claims that nearly three-quarters of participants report that there is a reason to create a person just because that person’s life would be happy. In reply, I argue that various confounding factors render the study internally invalid. More generally, I show how one might come to adopt the procreation asymmetry for the wrong reasons by misinterpreting one’s intuitions.
Recognizing yourself in literature cannot only help you to get a clearer grasp of what you already think and feel. It can also deeply unsettle your vision of yourself. This article examines a hitherto neglected mechanism to this effect: learning by way of seeing yourself in others’ blindness. I show that In Search of Lost Time epitomizes this phenomenon. Confronting characters oblivious to their old age makes the protagonist realize that he, too, has aged without noticing it, and invites readers (...) to analogous insights. The paper contributes to the discussion on how you can learn from literature and adds a twist to Proust’s claim that the purpose of literature is that readers recognize themselves in it. (shrink)
Jonas Olson defends a moral error theory in (2014). I will first argue that Olson is not justified in believing the error theory as opposed to moral nonnaturalism in his own opinion. I will then argue that Olson is not justified in believing the error theory as opposed to moral contextualism either (although the latter is not a matter of his own opinion).
Nietzsche's Philosophy of Education makes the case that Nietzsche's philosophy has significant import for the theory and contemporary practice of education, arguing that some of Nietzsche's most important ideas have been misunderstood by previous interpreters. In providing novel reinterpretations of Nietzsche's ethical theory, political philosophy and philosophical anthropology and outlining concrete ways in which these ideas can enrich teaching and learning in modern democratic schools, the book sets itself apart from previous works on Nietzsche. This is one of the first (...) extended engagements with Nietzsche's philosophy which attempts to determine his true legacy for democratic education. In its engagement with both the vast secondary literature on Nietzsche's philosophy and the educational implications of his philosophical vision, this book makes a unique contribution to both the philosophy of education and Nietzsche scholarship. In addition, its development of four concrete pedagogical approaches from Nietzsche's educational ideas makes the book a potentially helpful guide to meeting the practical challenges of contemporary teaching. This book will be of great interest to Nietzsche scholars, researchers in the philosophy of education and students studying educational foundations. (shrink)
The article raises the question what is the content of Frege’s infamous notion of Bedeutung? It is claimed that the so–called standard interpretation of this notion – Bedeutung as referential relation between a name and an object – was developed and established evaluating Frege’s ideas in philosophy of language in isolation from his logicist ideas. However, precisely his logicist concerns have motivated Frege’s interest in semantic issues. A broader consideration of Frege’s works reveals an internalist and rationalist notion of meaning, (...) that is based on the context principle, and that should not be reduced to mere reference. The question of the meaning of subsentential components, for Frege, is closely related to the question of the meaning of the whole sentence, that is, the meaning of sub–sentential components should be construed as secondary with regard to the meaning of the whole sentence. (shrink)
This paper considers and argues against old and recent readings of Hume according to which his account of moral judgement is non-cognitivist. In previous discussions of this topic, crucial metaethical distinctions-between sentimentalism and non-cognitivism and between psychological and semantic non-cognitivism-are often blurred. The paper aims to remedy this and argues that making the appropriate metaethical distinctions undermines alleged support for non-cognitivist interpretations of Hume. The paper focuses in particular on Hume's so-called 'motivation argument' and argues that it is a poor (...) basis for non-cognitivist interpretations. While there is textual support for attributing to Hume what may be called 'modally weak' motivational internalism, there is no solid textual support for attributing to him either psychological or semantic non-cognitivism. The paper also challenges briefly some further alleged support for non-cognitivist interpretations. It concludes by offering some positive evidence against such interpretations, namely that Hume appears to hold that there are moral beliefs and moral knowledge. (shrink)
There seems to be a general consensus that the most important Continental philosopher of the twentieth century was Martin Heidegger. Even Étienne Gilson spoke of him as one of only two real philosophers of his lifetime. Despite the general acknowledgment of his philosophical brilliance, Heidegger remains a highly controversial figure in the history of thought largely on account of his infamous involvement with Nazism. In recent years Richard Wolin has gone to great lengths to document and examine Heidegger’s troubling politics (...) and legacy. Wolin claims that Heidegger’s Children is his final offering on Heidegger and his flawed politics; it follows upon his books The Politics of Being and The Heidegger Controversy. (shrink)
In recent years modal syllogistic provided by 14th century logician John Buridan has attracted increasing attention of historians of medieval logic. The widespread use of quantified modal logic with the apparatus of possible worlds semantics in current analytic philosophy has encouraged the investigation of the relation of Buridan’s theory of modality with the modern developments of symbolic modal logic. We focus on the semantics of and the inferential relations among the propositions that underlie Buridan’s theory of modal syllogism. First, we (...) review all inferences between propositions of necessity, possibility, contingency, and non-contingency, with or without quod est locution, that are valid in Buridan’s semantics, and offer a comprehensive diagrammatic representation that includes them all. We then ask the question if there is a way to model those results in first order modal logic. Three ways of formalizing Buridan’s propositions in quantified modal logic are considered. Comparison of inferences between the quantified formulas and Buridan’s propositions reveals that, when supplied with a suitable formalization, Buridan’s semantics of categorical statements and immediate inferences among them can be fully captured by the quantified modal system T. (shrink)
Liar-like paradoxes are typically arguments that, by using very intuitive resources of natural language, end up in contradiction. Consistent solutions to those paradoxes usually have difficulties either because they restrict the expressive power of the language, or else because they fall prey to extended versions of the paradox. Dialetheists, like Graham Priest, propose that we should take the Liar at face value and accept the contradictory conclusion as true. A logical treatment of such contradictions is also put forward, with the (...) Logic of Paradox, which should account for the manifestations of the Liar. In this paper we shall argue that such a formal approach, as advanced by Priest, is unsatisfactory. In order to make contradictions acceptable, Priest has to distinguish between two kinds of contradictions, internal and external, corresponding, respectively, to the conclusions of the simple and of the extended Liar. Given that, we argue that while the natural interpretation of LP was intended to account for true and false sentences, dealing with internal contradictions, it lacks the resources to tame external contradictions. Also, the negation sign of LP is unable to represent internal contradictions adequately, precisely because of its allowance of sentences that may be true and false. As a result, the formal account suffers from severe limitations, which make it unable to represent the contradiction obtained in the conclusion of each of the paradoxes. (shrink)
This essay argues that while Hume believes both that morality is grounded in our ordinary moral practices, sentiments, and beliefs, and that moral properties are real, he also holds that ordinary moral thinking involves systematically erroneous beliefs about moral properties. These claims, on their face, seem difficult to square with one another but this paper argues that on Hume’s view, they are reconcilable. The reconciliation is effected by making a distinction between Hume’s descriptive metaethics, that is, his account of vulgar (...) moral thought and discourse, and his revisionary metaethics, that is, his account of how vulgar moral thought and discourse could be reformed so as to no longer involve error. This essay concludes that Hume is a projectivist and an error theorist in descriptive metaethics, while he is a projectivist and a subjectivist in revisionary metaethics. (shrink)
Many teachers in teacher education programs are cursorily introduced to Dewey's ‘epochmaking’ ideas on interest and effort through discussions based on the need for child-centered pedagogies that utilize students' interests. Unfortunately, this strategy often tacitly encourages teachers to over-rely on students' interests. In this paper, I recommend a way of introducing Dewey's conception of interest that avoids the common pitfall of over-reliance on students' interests. I argue that if we focus on the changes Dewey made to the expression of his (...) philosophy during a seventeen-year period, we can help illuminate the force of his theory while protecting against unfortunate misinterpretations. (shrink)
Jonas Olson presents a critical survey of moral error theory, the view that there are no moral facts and so all moral claims are false. Part I explores the historical context of the debate; Part II assesses J. L. Mackie's famous arguments; Part III defends error theory against challenges and considers its implications for our moral thinking.
Many teachers in teacher education programs are cursorily introduced to Dewey's ‘epochmaking’ ideas on interest and effort through discussions based on the need for child‐centered pedagogies that utilize students' interests. Unfortunately, this strategy often tacitly encourages teachers to over‐rely on students' interests. In this paper, I recommend a way of introducing Dewey's conception of interest that avoids the common pitfall of over‐reliance on students' interests. I argue that if we focus on the changes Dewey made to the expression of his (...) philosophy during a seventeen‐year period, we can help illuminate the force of his theory while protecting against unfortunate misinterpretations. (shrink)
I argue that recent interpretations of Nietzsche's political theory that make him out to be a Machiavellian elitist are misguided. While Nietzsche's philosophy advocates a return to an order of rank among individuals, it does not entail the domination of the few over the many. Rather, it is meant to benefit all individuals, whatever their rank. To this end, I examine several Machiavellian interpretations and demonstrate the inadequacy of their exegetical evidence. I then turn to Nietzsche's educational theory and show (...) the ways it supports and expands his political vision for the flourishing of the few and the many. (shrink)
In this essay, Mark Jonas argues that there are three broadly held misconceptions of Plato's philosophy that work against his relevance for contemporary moral education. The first is that he is an intellectualist who is concerned only with the cognitive aspect of moral development and does not sufficiently emphasize the affective and conative aspects; the second is that he is an elitist who believes that only philosopher-kings can attain true knowledge of virtue and it is they who should govern (...) society; the third is that he affirms the realm of the Forms as a literal metaphysical reality and believes that for individuals to attain virtue they must access this realm through contemplation. The goal of this essay is to correct these misconceptions. The rehabilitation of Plato's reputation may enable future researchers in moral education to discover in his philosophy new avenues for exploring how best to cultivate virtues in students. (shrink)
Recognition and Freedom offers up-to-date discussions of Axel Honneth’s political thought by ten experts in the field. It also includes an interview with Honneth and an essay by him on education and democracy, previously unpublished in English.
A well-known trilemma faces the interpretation of Kant’s theory of affection, namely whether the objects that affect us are empirical, noumenal, or both. I argue that according to Kant, the things that affect us and cause representations in us are not empirical objects. I articulate what I call the Causal Power Argument, according to which empirical objects cannot affect us because they do not have the right kind of power to cause representations. All the causal powers that empirical objects have (...) are moving powers, and such powers can only have spatial effects. According to Kant, however, the representations that arise in us as a result of the affection of our sensibility are non-spatial. I show that this argument is put forward by Kant in a number of passages, and figures as a decisive reason for rejecting empirical affection and instead endorsing affection by the things in themselves. (shrink)
Hans Jonas (1903–1993) was one of the most important German-Jewish philosophers of the 20th century. A student of Martin Heidegger and close friend of Hannah Arendt, Jonas advanced the fields of phenomenology and practical ethics in ways that are just beginning to be appreciated in the English-speaking world. Drawing here on unpublished and newly translated material, Lewis Coyne brings together for the first time in English Jonas's philosophy of life, ethic of responsibility, political theory, philosophy of technology (...) and bioethics. -/- In Hans Jonas: Life, Technology and the Horizons of Responsibility, Coyne argues that the aim of Jonas's philosophy is to confront three critical issues inherent to modernity: nihilism, the ecological crisis and the transhumanist drive to biotechnologically enhance human beings. While these might at first appear disparate, for Jonas all follow from the materialist turn taken by Western thought from the 17th century onwards, and he therefore seeks to tackle all three issues at their collective point of origin. This book explores how Jonas develops a new categorical imperative of responsibility on the basis of an ontology that does justice to the purposefulness and dignity of life: to act in a way that does not compromise the future of humanity on earth. -/- Reflecting on this, as we face a potential future of ecological and societal collapse, Coyne forcefully demonstrates the urgency of Jonas's demand that humanity accept its newfound responsibility as the 'shepherd of beings'. (shrink)