65: The Moral Circle, Death and Religion with Philosophy Bear

Play episode
Hosted by
Will Jarvis

I’m joined by Philosophy Bear to discuss death, the prospect of bringing everyone back, the expanding moral circle, and religion. Philosophy Bear blogs at https://philosophybear.substack.com/

William Jarvis 0:05
Hey folks, welcome to narratives. narratives is a podcast exploring the ways in which the world is better than in the past, the ways that is worse in the past towards a better, more definite vision of the future. I’m your host, William Jarvis. And I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can find show notes, transcripts and videos at narratives podcast.com.

Will Jarvis 0:42
Well, philosophy bear, how are you doing today? Good. How are you? quite good. Well, thanks for hopping on. Could you go ahead and give us a brief bio and some of the big things you’re interested in?

Philosophy Bear 0:56
Yeah, sure. So I’m a PhD student. And yeah, I guess I just started blogging at age 30. Because I hadn’t felt like I’d done enough with my life. And surprisingly, blogging actually helped with that. And yeah, I’ve I’ve been writing ever since. I’ve recently compiled some of my, my essays into a book called live more lives than one by a philosophy bear. And yeah, at the moment, my interests are pretty numerous, but stuff that I have touched upon in writing at various points include mercy, religion, poverty, over incarceration, Marxism, welfare, economics, meta philosophy, the analytic tradition and philosophy and humanism, my actual PhD researches on the philosophy of welfare economics.

Will Jarvis 1:57
Interesting. Well, Bear, I, I want to deviate a little bit I have that’s okay. You know, how do you feel the difference between, you know, academic philosophy and blogging? You know, it’s one a lot more rewarding. I don’t there’s obvious things like, you know, you’re not trying to publish it? Well, I guess you’re you’re trying to publish, you’re not trying to get published new journals, when you blog. But are there are there big differences you found in, in how you approach it, if that makes sense?

Philosophy Bear 2:25
I think that’s interesting. I was thinking about this the other day. And I actually think that as a discipline, philosophy is probably closer to blogging than a lot of other traditions are, which is, which is not to say that they’re the same thing by any means. Like there’s quite a gap. But in philosophy, you know, there’s like a great emphasis, particularly in analytic philosophy, and a kind of informal style, kind of conceptual analysis, which is I wants kind of light touch in terms of, in terms of, in some ways, in some ways, light touch in a way that I find quite difficult to pin down. But in other ways, it’s also, I guess, white analytical in how it will dive down deep into a single concept or proposition. And that has quite a match with blogging, I think, you know, one of my really close friends always says, whenever you write, you write, like you’re having a fireside chat. And he’s always telling me that it’s a huge problem for my PhD thesis, which may well be for readability. I think I think it helps with blogging, but doesn’t necessarily help with academia. And, and yet it come around, I think that philosophy is probably a bit closer than other disciplines, to blogging in that regard. Yeah.

Will Jarvis 3:59
Yeah. Gotcha. Yeah. I don’t know. Like, I guess the wacky incentives in academia propel things to be like, written in such a way that it’s not, you know, super approachable, which I think is a is a is a failing, it should be more like blogging in the sense that I think things should be more approachable. You know, Clarence Thomas writes all the Supreme Court opinions so that anyone in America can read them. And I think bridges like that are that are important, right? Like, it’s better things are more legible. And, you know, just doing things just because it’s formal, seems like a bad approach.

Philosophy Bear 4:33
Yeah, funnily enough, despite its terrible reputation in that regard, the legal profession seems to be ahead of academia, or at least judges when they’re writing their opinions when it comes to legibility. But yeah, I mean, I think a lot of academics want to write legibly. But they there’s so immersed in their topics that they have trouble understanding what is and isn’t legible, because they don’t they don’t know where other people come Gotcha conversation. Exactly. That makes sense. Yeah. So there’s this great quote about Emmanuel Kant, which is that he wrote precisely, and exactly because he was writing precisely, he’s almost impossible to read. And I think that says something about academia in general, to be honest,

Will Jarvis 5:21
I love that I love that quote. Before we move on to the outline here, you mentioned, you know, welfare economics, are their big takeaways you found from your research that, you know, lay people might be surprised by that are kind of common knowledge within philosophy around welfare economics.

Philosophy Bear 5:40
Um, I think feel like something that a lot of people would be quite astonished by, if they actually read up on the details would be cost benefit analysis. You know, people talk about cost benefit analysis in a quite informal way. But within economics itself, cost benefit analysis means something quite specific. You know, the quantification of costs and benefits into monetary units, often in terms of like, surveyed, or, or more often inferred willingness to pay. And people would be quite astonished at the way political decisions are made using that. I mean, some people, for example, get really hung up on the idea of putting a cost on human life. I’m, I sort of think that that’s kind of just what you’ve got to do if you’re making a decision, which involves risk to human lives as a trade off, but I can understand why people are shocked by it. myself, I’m shocked by the fact that implicitly, it means that infrastructure decisions are made through a kind of weighted voting process, which means that I’m, which means that technically speaking, rich people have more votes than poor people on where bridges get built, and whether regulation is introduced and that sort of thing. So, yeah, a lot of a lot of what I’m, my starting point, although it’s less of where I’ve ended up was about a concern of the representation of inequality and cost benefit analysis. And I do think people would be would be stunned if they if they knew how this stuff is really done. Both because it’s kind of neat, but also because it’s kind of well, frightening, to be honest. Yeah.

Will Jarvis 7:28
Could you give an example of that perhaps like, like, in the minutiae of like, no cost benefit analysis?

Philosophy Bear 7:35
Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to get too polemical here. And of course, there’s always the risk of like misrepresenting something. But like, let’s say you’re trying to decide whether to build a bridge, right? And you’ve got two locations, location A and location B. Now, location A is preferred by I don’t know, money, moneybags bond, monopoly man. And location Bay is preferred by a small village full of people who all have ailing mothers on the other side of the river. Right. Now, the people in the in the small village, they’re each willing to pay, let’s say, $1,000, for the bridge to be built. And let’s say there’s 50 of them. So that’s 50,000 $1,000. Now $1,000, for them is an awful lot of money that that represents, in fact, all of their savings Other than that, they’ve only got, I don’t know, pennies and lace or whatever. Whatever they sort of Victorian peasants have. And the moneybags Vaughn monopoly man, he wants to get to the other side of the river more quickly, because he’s got it. I don’t know. 3000 whole golf course there or something, right? Yeah. And he’s willing to pay, you know, $100,000 to get it built there, so that he can take his limo instead of his helicopter.

Unknown Speaker 9:03

Philosophy Bear 9:06
because of the way

cost benefit analysis works, you’re going to build it where moneybags prefers that it’d be built. Now, I don’t want to I don’t want to misrepresent this. You know, there are people who say, Well, actually, this seems bad. But you know, there’s a positive side to it, which is that maybe we should do things this way. And then if we have concerns about inequality, redistribute through text and transfer, but I definitely think it’s something that is a native greater analysis, and I certainly don’t think that it’s something you can present as as value free or value neutral as some, some authors have tried to do, or to suggest that is somehow less value weighted than more minimalistic cost benefit analysis. Does that does that make sense?

Will Jarvis 9:56
Yeah, I think that’s an excellent example. And and I definitely You’re right. Like, it’s not just just how important you know that the values are and they’re just all things considered, it seems like you know, you really missing something if you ignore the details of the situation.

Philosophy Bear 10:15
Yeah, yeah. And I think it’s one of those things where, really the public should have more to say about it. But unfortunately, you know, a lot of the debates are quite technical. And even the method is quite technical. And I think a lot of people that here cost benefit analysis, and I just imagine, like writing down a list of costs and benefits right out necessarily quantifying, or whatever. But yeah, it’s a technical subject that I’m quite interested in. No, it’s fascinating that my PhD research is on Yeah,

Will Jarvis 10:46
it’s fascinating, just thinking about how technocrats you know, make decisions like that. And, and like, the, the mechanics of it all, it’s a, that’s quite interesting. Do you consider yourself a rawlsian? Or, you know, where do you come down on these kind of things?

Philosophy Bear 11:00
Um, so, I, okay, so there’s a couple of things to say about this. One is that most of my research until I started doing my PhD in philosophy wasn’t on normative topics at all. And perhaps because of that, I have some slightly unusual takes on normative topics. And I’ve really only done normative research in areas related to my PhD. So I could be about to embarrass myself here. But I think that there’s this idea in philosophy that there’s a barrier between political philosophy and ethical philosophy. And I’ve always been quite skeptical of that. I’ve always thought that ethics should be seen as continuous with politics. And so the idea of, of using, like a particular decision making procedure for politics, like our original position, doesn’t really make sense to me, unless it’s seen our whole of society context, in terms of creating a whole ethics are a whole way of relating to other people, whether through politics or not. And in that regard, I do have some sympathy for the original position argument. But um, I think that I buy her Sonny’s arguments on it, which is that in the original position, you wouldn’t actually decide on the min max principle, which is the idea that you make the worst person in society the best off there can be. Rather, what you would decide is that you would want to maximize the overall well being of society. So I think assignee is right that a careful analysis of the original position actually leads to utilitarianism. And so I would say in political philosophy, I’m broadly utilitarian. And this is where what I came up earlier, where I mentioned earlier that I’m a little bit skeptical of the idea of a divide between ethics and political philosophy comes in because most people wouldn’t consider utilitarianism position in political philosophy. But I, I think that that’s really my starting point in political philosophy. Strange and paradoxical as that may sound. Um, but I’m also a little bit it’s a bit off topic from your question, but I’ll also throw out there is I do have some doubts about utilitarianism, like, I think the kind of logical conclusion of utilitarianism is that we should probably tile the universe with, you know, sort of beings that are experiencing moments of bliss over and over again. And you can sort of retool this to any sort of utilitarianism. You can make it work for preference utilitarianism, you can make it work for hedonic utilitarianism. So on the whole, I think, in a practical everyday sense, I’m drawn towards utilitarianism, but the real truth is probably a little bit more sophisticated than that. But I’m definitely definitely with this on the on the on the original position, I don’t think you can get roles as a difference principle from that level. Yeah,

Will Jarvis 14:23
that makes sense. And would you consider yourself kind of are you interested in effective altruism at all?

Philosophy Bear 14:28
I am interested in it. I haven’t, like dug really deep into it. I’ve got a lot of friends who are interested in it to varying degrees. And, you know, when I give money Personally, I do try to, you know, look up the various charity aggregators that are online and, you know, work out which of the various malaria charities it is, right? is it’s always malaria. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I’m so I’m interested in it. But I can’t say that I know a great deal about it. Right?

Will Jarvis 15:07
Yeah, that makes sense. It was a great segue to our next question. This is the one it’s like the second essay I read of yours. And I really quite, I found it quite interesting. Death, you know, How bad is it? I don’t know. That’s kind of like, that’s quite the question. Right. But,

Philosophy Bear 15:23
yeah, so as I think you’re alluding, like, this is old philosophical debate about whether or not death is actually bad for you. And, you know, it goes along the lines of well, since you don’t really exist anymore, how can you be harmed by it? I find it I’ve always found that debate. Tremendously boring. And I’ve always thought that, you know, it’s, it’s really an attempt to pull the metaphysical trick, right. Like, I don’t think you can metaphysics your way out of your position on death or into a position on death? I think it’s, it’s a question of values. And in that regard, yeah, I mean, I do think death is quite harmful. In that, or at least, involuntary death. And, you know, I think we should try to stop it to the degree that we can. And in this, I’m very much inspired by Nikolai Fedorov fedorovich. He had this idea that death is actually a form, he was a Russian philosopher, in the early 20th century, and he had this idea that death is actually a form of alienation between people in terms of how it plays out. So when, when someone’s dead, right? It’s like, the ultimate, like, think about social atomization. Right? That’s, that’s an incredible form of alienation, right? But death is just that on steroids, right? It’s a complete gap between people, a total divide, right. And I guess that’s one of the things I find most objectionable about it. Now, Nikolai fedorovich, who I wrote that essay on, has this idea of well, what this necessitates from us is a kind of overall social task of trying to abolish death, which, you know, many transhumanists would propose, but he went a little bit further than most people in saying that we need to make the abolition retrospective, we need to find a way to raise everyone who has ever died from the dead. Now, of course, he didn’t have the foggiest idea how to do this. And it’s really not clear that there is a way to do it. But such was the intensity of his, I guess, moral objection to death and the alienation that came with that I think he thought that we needed to basically dedicate our civilization to trying to find a way to do it.


there’s a question, you know, is that Chase is making a whole civilization chase after a delusion, and possibly, yes, but I just find as an idea, his whole framework of trying to abolish death and, and the abolition of death as the highest task of humanity, something interesting to think about, like a kind of philosophical fiction or narrative from which to sort of look at our world from the outside. And, you know, maybe make a resolution to do what we can about death, even if a retrospective abolition is impossible.

Will Jarvis 18:49
Definitely, definitely, I think it’s, um, it was a really interesting thing to think about, you know, there’s something I’ve reflected on within the past couple of months. It’s like, you know, in the, in the Bible, you know, Jesus comes, you know, comes back, and there’s this great resurrection of everyone. And I wonder if that’s a parable for like, technology eventually, like, you know, what, if we find a way to bring everyone back, and this is perhaps some fulfillment of this prophecy, you know, wacky idea have, but but I guess my question is, is, you talked about a couple of different ways this might particularly happen, you know, like, maybe we collect information from light that’s traveled out in the universe, and we can see what had gone on and we can

Philosophy Bear 19:34
Yeah, I would, I would, I just stopped you there to quickly say that these are kind of I’m not in any way proposing that this is plausible. These are just science fictiony ideas that you know, I explore in the context of the of the essay. So no, no claims being made here. No.

Will Jarvis 19:51
Yeah, there’s fakery going on. It would definitely be, you know, 1000s of years away and physics would have to change or our understanding of But or something, but yeah, yeah, quite interesting. Think about how should we think about the value of people that have already passed away versus potential future people?

Philosophy Bear 20:13
Yeah. So this is, I think one of the other areas in which I find my utilitarianism challenged. In that I find something a little bit objectionable about the idea that creating new people to replace people who are lost would be just as good from the point of view of the universe. I hear I mean, it is it is an interesting, interesting question. And I think that this is probably pretty close to the bedrock of philosophical intuitions like either you have this stance that we have a duty to those who passed or you don’t. But I do think that like, there’s, there’s something very impoverished in. And this is an old objection to utilitarianism that I take quite seriously. But there’s something very impoverished in your life, if you take people as potential replacements for other people, if you ignore the specificity of your relationships with them. And there’s a richness to human life that is lost, I think, if you if you view replacement as playing the role of the original, right, because every every human relationship is unique and specific in a way that I think that misses. But it is a fascinating question, just circling back round, to the to the technological stuff. Yeah, one thing I would throw out there as a kind of precondition, almost certainly for any kind of technological resurrection of the dead is that you have to have a certain view of personal identity. Yeah, you have to think that in order for a person to you know, potentially be brought back to life after their body is decayed and gone everywhere, you have to think that what it means to be, you know, Bob, who’s the same Bob, as the bob who lived 1000 years ago, is to have, you know, similar mental states, similar personality, similar memories, etc. If you think what it means to survive, is to have the same body or be a continuous body, which some philosophers do, then, other than some, you know, very, very far flung scenarios, it’s, it’s hard to see how any kind of resurrection would be would be possible. So this is one of the reasons I’m so interested in this as a philosophical vision is that so many different questions from so many different areas of philosophy, keep intersecting with it. You know, and I think it’d be a great way to teach an undergrad course, in philosophy actually, like you just go through all the different problems or, or philosophical conundrum that arise in the, in the context of this vision of, you know, what if we found a way to try and bring back everyone who ever lived back to life?

Will Jarvis 23:25
Yeah, definitely. I mean, there’s so many levels, and then, you know, like, you know, do we bring back the bad people, you know, Hitler and Stalin deserve to be brought back, you know, yeah, it’s different things.

Philosophy Bear 23:36
And I think that that says something very interesting about you as a person. Right? Both whether you think that they should be brought back, and once they are brought back, whether you think that it’s essential or necessary to punish them. And I’m not saying necessarily, you know, myself, I’m always a pro mercy guy, big believer in mercy for pretty much everyone. But um, I don’t think necessarily says anything bad about you if you disagree, but I think it’s it’s interesting to think about, and that’s a great way, as you say, to frame another philosophical problem, you know, the problem of the uses and value of punishment.

Will Jarvis 24:17
Definitely, definitely. I am curious, how much do you think our moral intuitions are just inbuilt at some genetic level? And how much do you think it’s just like an environmental and where do you come down on this?

Philosophy Bear 24:32
So I’m not an anthropologist. But one thing I do think is that a lot of these discussions about human nature are missing the anthropological perspective. And personally, I think that a close attention to the anthropological literature, which I’ve only paid to a very limited degree, but nonetheless suggests that the answer is got to be both. So there’s this old story. And I haven’t I haven’t verified it personally. But there is an old story that when two people met in Papua New Guinea, during the Neolithic in in Papua New Guinea, they, they spoke with each other to try and establish if they were related in some way, because they were looking for a reason not to have to kill each other, the idea being that if two people who were strangers just met, they had to they had to kill each other. And I think that this story is kind of interesting in that it both shows continuity and change. The change is very obvious, right? So when we meet people, we generally don’t feel like our default assumption is we’ve got to kill them unless we can find an excuse not to. But the continuity is that they were looking for a reason not to kill each other. And I don’t know, I mean, maybe that’s just wishful thinking. But, uh, yeah, I mean, I think, or another example, I wrote an essay once on pair of Avalon, who was, who was a medieval philosopher. And he has this case study where he describes a very, very, very cruel slave master, or, I think, slave master, or servant keeper, I’m not sure which translations better. But in any case, he mistreats he mistreats, his slave, and then the slave, fearing for his life, actually, so not just to escape mistreatment, but fearing for his life kills the slave master. Now, Peter Ballade says on equivocally, that this is morally wrong, that you’ve got no right to do this. But what’s kind of interesting about it is that in the context of saying this, is very clear that what the slave master has done is wrong, the slave doesn’t deserve to die, etc, etc, etc. So there’s always these threads of continuity and change. But I think overall, yeah, I mean, the basic seeds of a concern for all other human beings are within all humans. But at the same time, we shouldn’t underestimate how those seeds grow under different conditions. And I think that there’s got to be some truth to Peter singers expanding circle thesis. That over time, we’ve gotten better and better at caring about a larger and larger range of people.

Will Jarvis 27:42
Definitely it, there’s, there’s a great study I’ll have to send to you about moral the moral circle. And they did, they surveyed people all across the political spectrum. And the most conservative people had extreme in group preference for their families. And at the farthest extremes of, on the left, people had a slightly higher preference for taking care of like, you know, everybody like it, and even non living, sorry, sorry, non human animals as well. So it’s interesting, like there’s, there’s this, like, political divide aspect to it. And then also, it’s like, you know, I also had this question whether, as we get richer, we’re able to care for more things. And it is it just something as we get wealthier, as a society, we’re more able to be kind to wider things. And so we kind of do that.

Philosophy Bear 28:37
Yeah, yeah. Partly, it is opportunity, although there are always these extraordinary tales of compassion from, from people who are in the least position to give it right. I wrote this essay recently on on Jesus actually, on my blog that you might have seen Jesus considered from a secular perspective. And, you know, in a has this story of the widow’s mite of this widow, who gives basically the equivalent of a few cents, but it’s all that she’s got. Right. And that is that that’s not just a story, like there are so many, so many tales of that a well verified of people who are living in absolutely marginal conditions, often after a massive natural disaster or something like that. Who nonetheless, give everything in, in certain ways. Yeah. So it’s, it’s complicated. I think that there are some senses in which you can care for more people as you get richer. And there are other senses in which you don’t and I think there’s a complex interplay there that it’s like so many things, you could spend a lifetime studying it, but you know, you’ve only got one

Will Jarvis 29:48
read it. You might not admit it like this, but I will speed it as the entire society. You know, what? The Yes, we have more material wealth, generally, we’re able to But you know, distributed in more ways? I don’t know.

Philosophy Bear 30:02
Yeah, absolutely. 100% Yeah. You know, I mean, it’s, I guess as the pie gets bigger, there’s necessarily more ways of carving out, right, you know. But at the same time, we also, we don’t perceive the pie is getting bigger because more and more things become necessary. And this is where you often get this. I find it fascinating. When you talk with with Westerners, you say, you know, like, Well, you know, throughout most of history, people have lived on the equivalent of much less than $1 a day, could you do that? And they can’t even, it’s not even that they think, oh, that would be horrible. It’s that they literally cannot imagine how the maths would add up. It’s very interesting.

Will Jarvis 30:44
Definitely. Do you find you have a unique perspective? On the west living, you know, in Australia, you know, you’re literally all the way across the globe from where I am right now, in the United States. Do you think that gives you kind of a unique, like, a somewhat outside perspective? Or is it still like fairly internally think?

Philosophy Bear 31:03
Um, I mean, maybe a little bit more external than, say, the UK. But I would still say it’s more internal in many ways than say places outside the Anglosphere, like Germany or France, right? We don’t even have a separation of language. So there’s a real cultural closeness there. And you know, so much of what’s on TV is either British stuff or American stuff.

Will Jarvis 31:31
Right. Ronald Skinner?

Philosophy Bear 31:34
Yeah. Yeah, it is interesting. I mean, I think even if you look at Australian Twitter, right, like a lot of people follow us politics quite closely, precisely because there is that when you’re a smaller place, there is that magnetism. I can only imagine what it’s like in New Zealand, right, which is even smaller still. So, you know, it’s not quite large enough to have like, its own closed cultural circle. Right? Um, yeah. So different, I’m sure in some ways, but it’s hard for me to pinpoint how I gotcha.

Will Jarvis 32:09
That makes sense. You mentioned Jesus, religious culture in an OCD, you know, how do you think they’re related?

Philosophy Bear 32:18
Yeah, so um, I wrote an essay once on this. I have, I’m a lifetime sufferer of OCD. I have quite severe OCD. And that’s and I was raised or religious, although I’m no longer religious. And so one of the things I became interested in quite early was the idea of a relationship between obsessive compulsive disorder and religion. Now, I should, I should probably clarify what I mean by a relationship here. So what I’m thinking about is not exactly the idea that the great religious prophets had OCD or something like that. Although I think in some cases, that’s quite possible. Like, if you look at Martin Luther, for example, he shows a lot of the classical symptoms of OCD. And it is interesting that he is, you know, one of the few founders of a religion, Protestantism, who, you know, is close enough in time for us to see that so who knows, maybe some of the other founders also had OCD features. But um, I should also say just before I dive into this, that after I wrote my essay on this, I found out that a guy called sub Laski had done similar work. So I don’t I don’t want to try and steal his thunder or claim that I’m the only person who’s interested in this connection. But um, yeah, so I look at a number of different relationships, or potential relationships between OCD, and religion. And, you know, that includes stuff like one of the first points of similarity is the idea of purity and the fear of contamination. So the idea of purity and ritual purity is something that occurs in numerous religions. The ones that I’m most familiar with, are the Abrahamic religions. It occurs in all of those religions, except some forms of Christianity. And the idea that something can become impure quiet, he easily but is made pure with great difficulty is something that reoccurs so and there’s this kind of creeping paranoia or searching for new ways to rule out the possibility of something becoming impure. So give the example of the classic Talmudic reasoning about about mixing meat and dairy products. So in the Talmud, it’s inferred that you shouldn’t make meat and dairy products for the reason that it mentions in the Torah three times don’t mix a kid goat in its mother’s milk, right? And so they they thought to themselves, well, we’d understand what this meant if they just said at once, but they’ve repeated it three times, there must be a reason why they’ve repeated it three times, right? And so there’s this elaborate sequence of Talmudic reasoning that I won’t go into now, by which they basically arrive at the conclusion that it must be because they don’t want you to mix meat and milk at all right? Right. And for me, if you look at the kind of feel logic of people with OCD days, where they come up with these increasingly convoluted stories about how things could be contaminated, that kind of echoes that. So we’ve also got, what else have we got? We’ve got a fear of offending the sacred, right. So there’s this form of OCD, which is called scrupulosity OCD and in scrupulosity OCD, people have this concern, that they’re going to do something that will offend God or spirit or something like that. And often this is, you know, thinking blasphemous thoughts or murdering blasphemous words or something like that. And they become very concerned about that. And I had this idea, okay, well, generally speaking, we think that this is downstream of religion, right? Like you live in a society where this happens, grip, and you, you have a religious belief, and so your OCD manifests in this way. But I thought, what if you actually inverted that? What if the idea of the sacred of this omnipresent thing, which you must not offend, actually arose from the OCD type meditations rather than the opposite way around?

So we also have we’ve got a number of other things we’ve got the kind of guilt that’s involved in OCD, where you have deep and elaborate articulations of different moral categories and, and a deep fear of accidentally crossing over a moral boundary. And I think that this is this is very common in OCD, too, we have this thing called harm OCD, right, which is a form of OCD, where people are deeply afraid of harming others, or sometimes themselves, right. And they’ll go through this kind of convoluted reasoning, where they’ll be afraid they’ve done something in the past, that does constitute harm to others, or that they’ll lose control of themselves and they’ll do something that causes harm to others in the future. And part of that is moral. hypervigilance people analyze their actions intensely. Now, if you look at religion, right,

we have

this kind of astonishing forms of moral reasoning, some of them quite commendable, others less so. Like, for example, Thomas Aquinas argues that masturbation is worse than murder. The Talmud says that it’s better to be burned alive than to embarrass someone in public. So yeah, I mean, we’ve got this kind of deeply intense moral concern in both and the creation of Evermore sophisticated and sometimes somewhat tenuous, moral categories. And there’s, there’s actually a lot of evidence that OCD may be in part, at least in a lot of software is a disease of hyper moralism. So a lot of the regions of the brain that are recruited in moral reasoning are recruited, but they’re over activated in OCD. Um, yeah, I mean, so there’s some of the similarities. I say, there’s others as well, you know, you know, OCD you for some people, especially, especially people with quite severe OCD, and some psychotic, like symptoms might perform little rituals that are designed to protect themselves in an almost magical way. Obviously, I think there’s some continuation of that in, in religion. There’s a kind of magical reasoning involved, you know, intuitions of sympathetic effect where you affect something that’s similar to one thing, and then that affects the thing itself. So yeah, there’s, there’s a couple of different points, I follow up in the essay. But overall, I want to clarify one thing, which is that I think it’s very important and, and, and, you know, in parts of this, it might have seemed like I was having a dig at either religion or OCD sufferers, and that’s, that’s really not the intention. I think that there’s like, a very interesting Confluence. And I don’t necessarily think that either OCD or religion has been a negative force in this regard, like, religion has been very important in the development of various forms of moral reasoning. So I like I see it as, as potentially a, like a productive working together, not as a kind of, you know, haha, religion is associated with mental illness or something like that, you know, it would be easy to read it in that way. And I don’t think that’s the right approach.

Will Jarvis 40:30
Definitely. I think that’s wise. Where I’ve got one more big question for you. And this just is for my curiosity. Why study philosophy? You know, and, yeah, just why study philosophy?

Philosophy Bear 40:46
I guess I’m better at it, then other things would be my main answer. So you know, I have, I’ve studied political economy, I’ve studied psychology, and I’ve studied philosophy, and I guess I wasn’t bad at any of them. But, um, I have a certain particular mind. And it’s a kind of mind, I think that’s well suited to blogging. And I think I sort of alluded to this earlier a mind which is at once interested in deep and precise analysis of certain things, but also kind of dilettante ish in another sense, right. And I think that that’s the kind of mindset that that works quite well in philosophy, right? You know, philosophers are famously interested in other people’s disciplines. And I think philosophers you know, sad to say, but it’s kind of true that the epistemic boundary crosses, right. There are people who take an interest in questions that maybe they’re not fully qualified to address. But it is, it is good to have people like that people who move around people who, people who challenge ideas, maybe sometimes, you know, maybe sometimes in a way that’s a little bit ill formed, but I think it’s better to have people doing that then not have people doing that. And I guess that’s why I got into philosophy. Yeah, that weird combination of dilettantism, with precision that that suits, particularly analytic philosophy, so Well, yeah, I mean, the other thing about it is that you’ll never be bored, for much the same reason, which is that you can use it as a lens to study anything or to question anything. I can, you know, and then it’s, the psychology is a huge subject, for example, and it’s hard to imagine getting bored of it, but I can sort of imagine getting bored of it. Right, right. Whereas philosophy, I mean, how could you possibly get bored of philosophy? Right, you can always just start on another topic or question. That’s completely different from the first one. Um, yeah. So I mean, I guess that’s my answer. But it is a great question. And you know, it’s funny, as you asked it, I realized that I’d never actually pointed it before. I did, I did once, right. So I have a I have somewhat complex life history because of my mental illness. This isn’t my first time attempting a PhD. I dropped out of a PhD once previously. And when I was dropping out of my PhD, I wrote to my supervisor and explains that I had mental illness problems. And that was part of why I was dropping out. But I also said, Look, what are the other factors is that I’ve been I’ve been thinking a lot about Marx’s 11 thesis on Facebook, which is a philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it. And I guess that’s the only time I’d previously grappled with that question, because I’ve been bothered by this sense that philosophy wasn’t capable of changing the world. But I think blogging has actually given me a broader perspective on what philosophy can be and philosophy as a style of thinking rather than a subject matter. And it’s made me more confident that philosophy can be used to change the world.

Will Jarvis 44:22
Definitely. Well, you know, ideas undergird everything we do at some level. Yeah. And I think it’s quite important. Well, philosophy Barrett, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people find your blog? And where should people find the book as well?

Philosophy Bear 44:39
Okay, so, if you can find my blog by searching philosophy bear substack. And then when you go to philosophy bear substack. My book will be there. I should also say By the way, the book because it is just a collection of my previous blog posts, albeit somewhat polished, is free. So if you’re kind of bored, and you just want something to read, just go to philosophy dare substack. And you know, the pinned post, there is a link to my book, which you can download and read for free. The only thing I would ask, you can give donations if you would like, I will use the donations to help spread the book further, which I’ve been doing so far. And that’s been quite successful. But whether you do or don’t donate, I would ask that if you read the book and you get something out of it, you take the time to pass it on to someone else to share it on Facebook or Twitter or whatever or to send it to a friend. Yeah. And finally, I’d like to say thank you for having me.

Will Jarvis 45:41
Oh, well, well, thank you for coming on. It’s it’s been great getting to chat with you. And I’ve enjoyed the blog. Yeah, it’s been very challenging. Actually. It’s given me a lot to think about. All right, you have a wonderful day. You too. Thanks.

William Jarvis 46:00
Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Join the discussion

More from this show