Dissent on feminism is not like dissent on evolution

One of the popular memes out there in the feminist blogosphere is to compare a person who disagrees with a feminist position to a creationist who disagrees with all of evolution. There are two problems with this.

First, there is a general attitude amongst caricature/Internet feminists that if a person dares disagree on even a single feminist point, that person must be a rape culture apologist who just wants to rape. Also, rape. And elevator rape. Rape. Rape. Rapey rape. Rapedy rapedy rape rape rape. That, of course, makes no sense, especially in the context of comparing dissent on feminism to dissent on evolution by creationists. A person who disagrees with one or even a few parts of feminism is not like a creationist because a creationist rejects virtually every bit of science discovered since Darwin. (If we get more specific and go with young Earth creationists, we can include every bit of science since the beginning of the Enlightenment.) A person who disagrees with some part of feminism does not think women are second-class citizens by default, nor does such a person necessarily reject other parts feminism. More importantly, such a person does not necessarily reject the basic idea of equality. This is unlike the creationist who can only reject evolution by rejecting vast swaths of science.

Second, feminism is – at best – a philosophy. It is not science. It is not fact. It isn’t any more provable than anything Kant ever said about the good being found in good will itself. That isn’t to say it isn’t useful, but it is not some established, objective observation of the world. (I have to include that last line because omitting it means I think feminism is nothing but garbage and rape is awesome.) Evolution, on the other hand, is science. It is fact. It is an established, objective observation of the world. To express dissent to it is to express an ignorance that can be countered with objective facts and education. Feminism does not enjoy that same, dare I say, privilege. If it did, then so would egalitarianism. Or any other philosophy. It would be an inherent contradiction: Philosophy is a subjective interpretation of the world, so to say it can be objectively true makes no sense. It certainly uses facts and the latest knowledge of the world to support and build its propositions, but from that use ultimately comes non-scientific, subjective interpretations. Moreover, virtually all philosophies make or are developed for the purpose of making normative claims. That is, they make value claims. The subjectivity is unavoidable.

The only reason this ‘feminist dissent is like evolution dissent’ meme is popular is because cheap rhetoric is so easy. The two topics enjoy a cross section that would be the link on a Venn diagram labeled “liberal/progressive”. By attempting to appeal to what much of that link already accepts – evolution – the feminist side of the aisle is attempting to invent a shameful comparison: ‘Why, you’re just like a creationist! Don’t you feel silly now?’ It’s hardly any different from the argument that atheism is a religion. (Oh, hey, look. Many feminists share my position that there is no God and that religion is bad, so I know a lot of them have been accused of having a religion. I also know that that accusation is annoying, so no one in her right mind would want to make it herself. Yet here we are, with feminists making just that sort of argument. I have exploited my own Venn diagram link. Isn’t lazy rhetoric fun?)

One more time: Correcting the ignorant on utilitarianism

I wrote some time ago about Michael Hartwell’s poor grasp of philosophy. Specifically, I went into detail about why he has no idea what utilitarianism even is. However, one thing has been bothering me for quite some time and I want to address it now. Here is what I want to address from Hartwell:

Utilitarianism, in its most basic sense, is committing an evil act to counter a greater evil.

I’ve touched on my issue with this asinine statement, but I want to make sure it is out there in the open as much as possible. It just gets under my skin when someone is this monumentally wrong about something.

Utilitarianism defines what is good as that which maximizes pleasure and reduces pain. Generally, more weight is given to reducing pain, but that is getting into the details and isn’t important here. What is important is that we’re talking about an ethical theory which is in and of itself defining what is good. This cannot be anymore clear. And all the other ethical theories do the same thing. In fact, holy texts do it, too. That’s why it is often futile to argue with certain fundamentalists. Sure, by normal standards we would say it was evil of God to say rape victims had to marry their rapists, but the fundamentalist is going by the assumption that good and evil are defined by the Bible and, more specifically, God. Since God, by definition, can do no wrong, then his rape command cannot be evil. Or so the story goes. The difference, however, with Enlightenment period ethical theories is that they are based and built upon reason.

So I have two problems with saying utilitarianism is committing an evil act to counter a greater evil. First, that could just as easily be phrased, ‘Utilitarianism is committing an act of greater good in order to counter an act of lesser good.’ Talking about evil is nothing more than dishonest spin. Second and more to the point, it makes zero sense to analyze an ethical theory from within if one already has an assumption of what is good and evil. It’s possible to do that analysis looking in from the outside – we do that all the time – but one cannot simultaneously assume the perspective of a given ethical theory and an outside perspective. It would be like criticizing a hockey official because he didn’t call a touchdown when someone scored a goal.

Roxeanne de Luca is an angry little person

I have written about Roxeanne de Luca a few times. She’s an annoying little creature who has a tendency to abuse science and logic. For instance, she once read a CNN article which clearly pointed out that while condom use amongst certain groups was on the rise, it was not yet high enough to offset the rates of various infections. From that she concluded that condoms are ineffective and that the best solution is to encourage abstinence. It was clearly an embarrassing thing to say, but she held her ground. She commented on my post and said that efforts to discourage condom use and encourage abstinence had resulted in lower HIV rates in South Africa. I said that was not true, supplied her with a source, and even broke down the information for her. The fact is, higher rates of condom use have been amazing for much of Africa, including South Africa. She then babbled something about me not supplying any sources (which would have been risible had it not been so awesomely mind boggling). She also said, apparently oblivious to her own unsourced statements about South Africa, that I had made the positive claim and I still needed to support it. Maybe she doesn’t know what “support” means? I’m not sure. Then she called me a liar about my age and ran away.

Fast forward and we have two more encounters with the creature. First, I recently wrote about the need for basic philosophy courses at the high school level because Roxeanne hasn’t the skill set necessary to participate in ethical issues that involve people other than herself. For example, she recently said it would be good to allow employers to force women to disclose whether they need birth control for contraceptive purposes or some other medical purpose. This would be a solution to the current Republican-created issue about mandating that insurance companies cover contraceptive care for women. Since both sides of the aisle at least agree that there is no moral issue in forcing insurance providers to cover non-reproductive related care, this seems to superficially work. But that’s where the problem is. If Roxeanne had the critical thinking skills that come with philosophy, she would know to look deeper. Namely, she would have asked if it was ethical to force patients to disclose their medical information to a third party in this context. Unfortunately, it didn’t even cross her mind that she needs to examine the consequences of her ‘solution’ in order to make sure it can actually work. As I said in my original post, it’s as if she’s playing chess without looking beyond her immediate move.

Second, she recently left a comment on one of the Doonesbury cartoons I posted. She contended that since an abortion is generally an invasive procedure, women shouldn’t have a problem with first having other invasive things put inside them. That is, women should be okay with trans-vaginal ultrasounds if they’re going to have other medical tools placed in their vaginas anyway. This was another embarrassment for Roxeanne. She may as well have said that men who have prostate exams (something which is voluntary, just like most abortions) should be okay with any state-sponsored device going up their anuses since they’re going to have a doctor’s fingers up there anyway. This is yet another example of why basic philosophy needs to be offered as early as possible.

Now to shift away from FTSOS, let’s look at Roxeanne’s blog. In the process of making my recent post about her here, I decided to also leave a comment on her site (which is what prompted her to sneak over here). I’ll keep the details short: She is contending that a couple which would abort a child under certain conditions (such as when the child has Down’s Syndrome) cannot later love that child. She believes these two things are mutually exclusive. Of course, she’s assuming that the couple views abortion as murder. Moreover, she’s assuming that if a person has a preference in their future child that love cannot later overcome it. It would be as if she wanted a house-trained dog, ended up getting one that pees all over the floor, and then when she keeps it and loves it anyway, some angry Internet personality came by and tells her she doesn’t really love it. Why, if she loved it, she would have always preferred a non-house broken dog! Once again, Roxeanne has embarrassed herself.

But let’s get to the really angry part. I mean, just steaming mad. It came in the form of an email this past Friday:

You obviously have no idea what an arrogant and ignorant little shit you sound like. Please, get out of school (you aren’t learning anything), get into the real world, and get a job.

Take, for example, your “only in college” idiocy from your latest trolling of my blog. Here’s the situation: two parents would have killed their baby girl if they had known that she had Down’s Syndrome. They missed their window of opportunity to have her ripped limb from limb, so they sued the hospital. Legally, they have no case unless (a) she already existed and (b) they would have killed her within that legally-allowable baby-killing window. Missing this very obvious point, you tell me that I need to: “Is this couple saying they want to now kill their child? Where did they say that. Please provide some quotations.”

Then I’m the annoying little creature who abuses science and logic. Well, from your perspective, that might be true, but from my more educated, more rational, real-world and academic perspective, you’re dead wrong.

Yeah, I played that card. Stop belittling your betters. You’ll get along in life more easily.

I still don’t see where Roxeanne is able to produce a single quote where the couple says they love their daughter now yet would kill her today if it was legal. And, of course, that quote doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, Roxeanne has no idea that it is the only way she can actually make her case.

Anyway. I’ve run across plenty of angry people on the Internet. I’ve even become angry plenty of times. But what I’ve never seen is a person get this angry this quickly. It isn’t like she isn’t responding to me on her blog. Despite doing that ever-so-annoying bullshit where comments are kept in moderation (thereby forcing me to copy them for future reference in case she makes alterations), she is allowing my posts. And she is replying; that apparently isn’t enough to quench her anger, though. For Roxeanne de Luca, it takes comments on not one blog, not two blogs, but on two blogs and in an email. “LOOK AT ME, MICHAEL! LOOK AT ME! I’M MAD AT YOU! YOU MUST KNOW THIS!”

I’m not sure which is more pathetic, the fact that she is so incredibly quick to anger or the fact that she’s so constantly trying to play up that she’s smarter than I am. First of all, she isn’t smarter than I am. Not by a long shot. I realize that’s an egotistical statement, but it’s factual. Look at the evidence: She concluded something incredibly stupid about condom usage, she doesn’t understand what constitutes a source or citation, she is unsure of what a positive claim is, she is unable to consider ethical issues beyond a superficial level, she thinks people who get elective procedures can legally be subjected to similar procedures as a consequence, and she believes that every single couple that would abort a fetus cannot, by definition, ever love their child in the future. I mean. This has to be embarrassing.

Second, her rhetoric reeks of desperation. It has been successful in getting a response from me (which, considering how much she craves my attention, is probably all she wants), but a mosquito on my arm can also get me to take short notice. Annoying things do that from time to time, I suppose. However, that isn’t an excuse for such superficial, amateurish rhetoric. It may match the level to which she is able to extend her logic, but it’s very much below what I expect from someone so willing to claim the mantle of intelligence.

You know, I’ve gone after a lot of different people in my time. A lot. But I don’t think it has ever been this easy.

Philosophical trolling

I was poking around at YH&C when I read a post about bin Laden’s death. I liked that post, but within it was a Bryan Caplan article that asked what’s wrong with revenge? Expecting an interesting read, I found myself looking at a little philosophical troll:

My point: Bring up revenge, and most people get upset and speak in platitudes. I’d like to know: What’s wrong with revenge?

They do that because it would be tedious to justify every last point down to the tiniest detail. Imagine making an argument about the proper punishment for rapists when some troll swings on by and starts asking “but what’s wrong with rape?!”

To be more specific: Suppose X is the most severe morally acceptable punishment for act Y committed by person Z. Suppose that the government fails to do anything about Y. What’s wrong if a person personally affected by act Y does X to Z?

This fails to get at the heart of Caplan’s concern. He wants to know what’s wrong with revenge, but the scenario he’s proposing does not necessarily entail revenge. If imprisonment for 5 years is the most severe and morally acceptable punishment for an act someone committed and the government fails to act, it is not inherently revenge for me to put that person in my own prison (even if the act personally affected me).

I won’t accept “No one has the right to take the law into his own hands” as an answer. I want to hear some reasons why no one has this right.

Too bad. That’s the heart of the proposition. Of course, we know from the title of the article and the preceding paragraphs that Caplan didn’t mean to say what he did, but here we are.

A few possibilities:

1. “Maybe Z didn’t really do Y.” This is an argument against misguided revenge, not revenge per se.

As pointed out earlier, this assumes that taking the laws into one’s own hand is inherently revenge. It isn’t.

2. “The person might inflict more than X on Z for doing Y.” Again, this is an argument against excessive revenge, not revenge per se.

Again, assumes revenge that has not been shown. Just as with number 1, this objection gets to the heart of what Caplan actually proposed, not what he meant to propose.

3. “Revenge leads to chaos and/or multiple rounds of reprisal.” This seems unduly alarmist. Most people are cowards, and punishing heinous acts is a public good. Even if “justified revenge” were an affirmative legal defense, few people would take advantange (sic) of it. Indeed, if anything, the market under-supplies revenge.

This is a non-sequitur in reference to the original scenario given by Caplan, but it does get back to what he meant to address. Yet he still misses the mark. Let’s grant that this objection is too alarmist. Is it entirely false, though? Does revenge lead to unnecessary secondary effects, even if they are not wide-spread? And are we willing to accept those consequences? Caplan assumes we are so long as they are for a greater public good. This, however, does not necessarily address the morality of incurring those effects. That is, take the issue of spanking. One argument in favor of spanking one’s own children is that it keeps them in line and teaches them discipline. Yet as frequent readers of FTSOS I know, I detest that argument. The issue is not over effectiveness, but right and wrong. As I said in a previous post, shooting a baby in the face will be effective to get it to stop crying, but that is wholly irrelevant to whether or not that is an okay act.

4. “X, the most severe morally acceptable punishment, is zero.” Besides being crazy, this is an argument against any system of criminal justice, not just revenge. Ever seen the bumper sticker “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing is wrong?” You could just as easily have a bumper sticker saying “Why do we imprison people who imprison people to show that imprisoning is wrong?”

The first part of this is a pure strawman. The second part – which is apparently an effort to keep up the non-sequiturs – is two arguments which are not parallel. Both are actually good questions and require individual justifications. The first question has two main justifications. First, if one does not value life at all times, murder away. Second, it is better to destroy one life for the good of the whole. I don’t think many people really want to glom onto the first option, and the second option loses its gusto once one sees the complete lack of need to murder a shackled guy who is behind bars. The second question can use the same two justifications, substituting “liberty” for “life”. If one does not value liberty at all times, imprison away. Or, if it is better to limit the liberty of one for good of the whole, then there is a justification. We tend to use that last one (and it doesn’t lose its gusto).

There are other anti-revenge arguments, but I doubt they’ll fare much better. (Feel free to disagree in the comments…) What’s interesting to me is that while most people officially condemn all acts of revenge, 80% of all action movies depict revenge as not only morally acceptable, but morally required. Sin City is an extreme case, but its stance is mainstream. In the latest Die Hard sequel (thumbs down, BTW), for example, Bruce Willis keeps saying that he’s going to find the bad guys and “Kill them” – not “Kill them if I must do so in self-defense.”

It’s poetic justice. That is not synonymous with unqualified justice.

The reason why there is something wrong with revenge is that it is a purely emotional response. In a system of law, or for those who simply value rationality, reasoning is necessary to form our responses. Indeed, the very idea of “justice” necessarily relies upon the notion that what is right and wrong has a rational basis. That rational basis extends to how we respond to wrongs; if we do away with our reasoning, we are inherently operating outside the bounds of justice – even if our actions happen to agree with it anyway.

Catholic Church: Double Effect is wrong

Well, they didn’t really say that. But they effectively stated as much when they stripped an Arizona hospital of its affiliation with the church.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix stripped a major hospital of its affiliation with the church Tuesday because of a surgery that ended a woman’s pregnancy to save her life.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted called the 2009 procedure an abortion and said St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center — recognized internationally for its neurology and neurosurgery practices — violated ethical and religious directives of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In fact, the woman was virtually guaranteed to die if she continued to carry the 11 week old fetus much longer. Now keep that in mind:

Double effect is the ethical principle which says something is ethical so long as it conforms to these four conditions:

1. The nature-of-the-act condition. The action must be either morally good or indifferent.
2. The means-end condition. The bad effect must not be the means by which one achieves the good effect.
3. The right-intention condition. The intention must be the achieving of only the good effect, with the bad effect being only an unintended side effect.
4. The proportionality condition. The good effect must be at least equivalent in importance to the bad effect.

This case in Arizona is textbook. The first condition is satisfied because the act was to save the mother’s life. The second condition is satisfied because the means is the removal of a physical condition, not the explicit murder of another person. The third condition is satisfied because the doctors only want to save the mother’s life, not destroy the fetus. The fourth condition is satisfied because even if the fetus is a human, the mother’s life must be equally considered.

In fact, double effect isn’t really important here because the fetus is not a human being, but I digress.

The church stripped the hospital of its status (and, really, that’s a good thing anyway) because it thinks the woman should have risked certain death (which isn’t really a risk, now is it?). We know the end result would be the death of her and her fetus. How that is considered good is a mystery.

And that raises another point, doesn’t it? What methodology, what guidelines, what anything does the Bible (or any holy book) offer in this situation? One person unfamiliar with basic, classic philosophical examples couldn’t come up with an answer. (In fact, he might say the problem here was just logistics.) It doesn’t look like the Catholic Church has an answer either.

It’s unfortunate that the hospital says it will still follow Catholic Church guidelines (not Biblical guidelines…since they do not exist), but this is an overall good incident. While I hate to see the sort of irrational arguments that say the saving of one life is really just abortion of another, it’s fantastic that the Church has severed its formal ties with an institution committed to actually helping people. I hope that whenever necessary the hospital will not hesitate to continue saving living humans.

Thought of the day

  • Introduction to Philosophy ought to become a required course at the high school level.
  • Everyone ought to make an effort to learn the basics of the biology of cancer.

On the conflict between science and religion

It’s often said, ‘Sure, other people’s religion conflicts with science, but they aren’t representative of the majority. Besides, my religion isn’t in conflict with science!”

Here’s a simple test to find out if your religion conflicts with science:

1) Do you believe in miracles?
2) Do you believe in a creator who directed evolution?
3) Do you believe prayers work? (And why doesn’t your god heal amputees?)
4) Do you think faith is a virtue?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these, and you derive your answer(s) from your religion, then your religion does conflict with science. Let me explain.

1) A miracle is a suspension or interruption of a physical law or constant. The whole idea in science is that physical laws and constants are true at all times and in all places. If you believe they can be arbitrarily interrupted, your belief is in conflict with science; science does not allow for the interruption of, say, the speed of light in a vacuum. You can believe that the speed of light in a vacuum can be changed by your god, but (aside from having no evidence for such a claim) your belief is one that is anti-scientific.

2) Evolution is a natural process that is based upon the changing of allelic frequencies within a population over time. It happens as a result of genetic change and interaction with the environment. It is a natural process that is contingent upon a long series of chance happening and natural selection; under the same environmental conditions, a re-running of the history of life would give different results. You can believe your god made it so humans (or any other animal) would be inevitable, but your belief is anti-scientific.

3) The science is in and prayer does not work. You can still believe it does, but your belief is anti-scientific.

4) Science is a valuing of reason, experiment, and, ultimately, evidence. Faith is the anti-thesis of this. You can still believe faith is a good thing, but your belief is anti-scientific; it is not a belief that is found within science.

Bonus conflict: Philosophy

Do you believe in the philosophical reasoning of the First Cause? This is the argument that says everything has a cause and thus the Universe has a cause. (And then it is randomly declared that God is eternal.) This goes against science because Newton told us that everything which has a force has an opposite and equal force. This is dependent upon observations made within the Universe. Your philosophy goes beyond this evidence and makes a conclusion which is independent of the sort of reasoning Newton used. In other words, if you say the Universe has a cause because everything else has a cause, you aren’t making sense. Everything within the Universe has a cause. That’s all science tells us. We can presume a reason for the Universe since it, well, exists, but we cannot use the scientific reasoning used by Newton; he was talking about forces within the Universe.

PZ and Ebert are wrong

It’s fairly rare that I disagree with PZ Myers. He’s pretty spot on about a lot of things. Of course, that doesn’t mean I think everything he says is gold. But regardless, most anything he writes or says matches most anything I have said, will say, or at least think. Roger Ebert, on the other hand, likes a lot of crappy movies. For instance, Last Days was just an awful, awful, awful piece of garbage. But Ebert gave it a very high rating. Or take the horror-porn movie Saw:

That said, “Saw” is well made and acted, and does what it does about as well as it could be expected to.

The one point of Saw that really stood out to me – aside from the boredom it induced – was how poorly acted some of the scenes were. The scene where the doctor sawed through his foot? That was perhaps the worst individual acting moment for any major release that entire year.

But despite some errors of taste, I usually like Ebert. He hates creationism and all its science-hating silliness, and he recognizes the simple mindedness of the Republican party, so it’s tough to go against him sometimes. However, he has recently written a piece which is totally unacceptable. On this I am against Ebert.

Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.

What stirs me to return to the subject? I was urged by a reader, Mark Johns, to consider a video of a TED talk given at USC by Kellee Santiago, a designer and producer of video games. I did so. I warmed to Santiago immediately. She is bright, confident, persuasive. But she is mistaken.

I generally stopped playing video games many years ago. It isn’t that I decided to go down that pretentious I’m-too-mature-for-this-stuff route. I actually played too much at times, getting far too worked up over unimportant issues (e.g., Halo 2 – not to mention the fact that the people running the game, Bungie, loved to let players boot each other for “betrayals” even when no such thing had occurred; it got too annoying sometimes). It was just time for me to take a break. I still play when the opportunity presents itself because I still find video games fun, and I might one day relatively soon invest in some system, but right now I have other interests.

That said, I never especially considered the art work of video games; it played no role in my decision to play and then subsequent decision not to play. However, it certainly isn’t hard for any experienced gamer to look back on his gaming history and recognize all the works of art he played. Ebert, of course, does not play video games. He has little idea what is in them, even in his article indicating the common belief that shooting games are all mindless. I think the most obvious counter to that is Fatal Frame. In that game the player didn’t shoot with a gun, but rather a camera. All the principles of shooting, improving accessories, upgrading equipment, etc were present; the difference was superficial – it was still a shooter. But it was more than that. The player had to figure out a number of puzzles, actually read (a ton of) clues, and really pay attention to the story. And unlike Saw, it was actually scary. (In fact, when has any horror movie ever been scary?)

But more to the point, it relied on some actual history to a small extent, it created its own intense world, and it offered designs which were absolutely beautiful, especially for its time period. It certainly was art.

But Ebert isn’t the only one showing his age. PZ does the same with this quip.

Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting. It just doesn’t now, though.

These two guys clearly don’t know much about video games. Role playing games, or RPGs, are often defined by how much they can be replayed. I’ve played through Star Ocean: The Second Story more times than I can remember, logging several hundred hours. I’m sure Final Fantasy fans have done the same with their preferred series. Now with American-style, open-battle RPGs becoming more popular, more people are playing them, and they’re playing them again and again.

If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime.

My grandmother used to love watching me play Super Mario Brothers at her house. And no, it was not a matter of her telling me something I wanted to hear. She would often encourage me to play even when I was already successfully occupying my time (e.g., not bugging anyone). And recording? Has PZ searched YouTube? People love to watch videos of what others have done. But more importantly than any of that is that the game itself is the art, not the act of playing the game. Think of going to an art gallery featuring, say, oil paintings. Just about everyone will agree that the place is filled with art, but no one is going to agree that watching people view all that art is itself art.

The problem in which PZ and Ebert find themselves is in defining art. Ebert, for example, cites Plato and his concerns over mimesis.

But is Plato’s any better? Does art grow better the more it imitates nature? My notion is that it grows better the more it improves or alters nature through an (sic) passage through what we might call the artist’s soul, or vision.

Plato’s definition of art sucks. He basically says mimesis, or the representation of some part of Nature as conveyed onto a canvas or likewise medium through the use of paints*, is bad because there is an ideal and then there are mere imitations. That is, there is an ideal concept of a table (or chair or TV or whatever). There can only be one ideal, but there can be many imitations. The first imitation is a table itself. This is once removed from the ideal (which, incidentally, comes from God for Plato). Then there is a painting of that imitation. Because this is twice removed from the ideal, it is of a lesser beauty – beauty is derived from ideals. All he’s saying is that nature is more beautiful than human imitations of it. Not such a grand point. And perhaps more importantly, he’s presuming the existence of God in his definition. Should there be no God – as Ebert believes – then there is no ideal concept. Without God, concepts can only be scaled subjectively.

I think a better definition of art comes from Morris Weitz. He points out that we cannot define art, but we can define aspects of it; we can see common themes. He cites Ludwig Wittgenstein who used the same point about games. There is no one thing which defines what a game is. A board? Dice? A goal? A winner? A loser? All these things are common and if one were to list out as many properties of games as possible there would be a lot of overlap. It is that overlap which helps us to recognize and define games. Weitz argues the same for art. Of course, this eventually runs into an infinite regress, but what doesn’t? And does that really matter if the definition is ultimately subjective anyway?

Using Weitz’s definition, I think video games share a number of properties with other forms of art, the already accepted forms. From here it becomes almost required that video games be defined as art because they have just too much overlap. Story lines overlap with what authors do all the time. Drawings overlap with painters. Cut scenes not only overlap with movie scenes, they virtually are movies.

In all these attempts to define art, however, the most important has been overlooked: the eye of the beholder. Art really does come down to the individual. A distinction should be made between a “work of art” and “artwork” so as to appreciate the difference between the artist and the observer, but when the normal connotations from “What is art?” are in use, the beholder is what matters. That is, a “work of art” should be viewed from the perspective of an artist; the effort, the labor, the love, the passion, the skills, etc, they all help to define something as art. But “artwork” is the product, the final presentation. This, given the very fact that there is presentation at all, places importance on the observer. This necessarily makes the definition of art subjective.

It’s difficult to see how someone can even begin to claim video games are not art – unless there is just a genuine disinterest in playing them in the first place, of course.

*This is verbatim from a past Philosophy of Aesthetics exam of mine, incidentally.

Update: But to be more concise, let us turn to Penny Arcade.

Thought of the day

The greatest tool in any philosophy is the thought experiment.


In my recent post where I show how Suzanne Franks wants to find sexism where it doesn’t exist, I skipped one important point because I didn’t want to derail the specific topic at hand. The truth is that my concern over her post stems in part from a disdain for active obesity. But that term needs explaining because it just begs to be misinterpreted.

By “active” I mean obesity which is still receiving contributions, if you will. People who are obese and do nothing about it are immoral. Here’s the way I get to that conclusion.

If it is agreed that one ought to treat humans with respect and a certain level of care, then that principle should be extended to one’s self (henceforth referred to as “the self”). No convincing reason exists for why the self should be excluded from generalizations of how one ought to treat humans. Afterall, a human is a human is a human.

This then means that if overeating can be considered a mistreatment of a human being (and I think it can), active obesity is thus immoral. But just to be sure there are no misunderstandings, this is not to say that merely being overweight or obese is inherently immoral. Plenty of such unhealthy people do things to improve their health. No one expects them to be perfect at it; it’s a struggle. But the fact that they have put forth a reasonable effort brings them into morality.

Now, there are a huge number of caveats to this and I won’t be able to address them all. Are obese kids immoral? On the whole, no, because blame can generally be placed upon the parents (not to mention the inherent short-sightedness of being a child). Those with disorders or disabilities? Presuming a reasonable effort is being put forth (which may be well less than what an average person can do), then of course not. Should one expect a perfect exercise and diet regiment in order to call a person moral? Here I would appeal to a utilitarian perspective where it is necessary to maximize pleasure. Whereas overeating inherently undermines pleasure for most (because it increases the likelihood of death, not to mention all the other displeasing things that come with obesity), living an anal retentive life of absolute health will probably also not make one very happy. I don’t think an exact point of balance can be drawn for anyone, but it is possible to find a reasonable balance of a healthy lifestyle and still having fun. And the caveats go on and on.

So when I see that picture on CNN (see my post on Franks), I see a somewhat justified objectification. Active obesity is a bad thing and should not be respected. Now, there’s no way to know if the obese people in the image are trying to correct their behavior or not (hence the phrase “somewhat justified”), but it is obvious that most overweight and obese people do not put forth an honest effort. (In fact, even thin people don’t put forth much of an effort.) We should roundly denounce that and actively tell them to take care of their bodies. And, again because misinterpretation is begging to happen here, that doesn’t mean we ought to mock and belittle the overweight and obese. Personally, I favor doing what I can to help. In my own life, I will often discourage others from eating crappy food (provided they do it as a routine, not a rare treat). I don’t go too far, however, because I am careful not to tread on their personal choices. Unlike the bigots who have so often made marriage a privilege for heterosexuals, I do not believe my ideas of morality should be imposed upon others.

Finally on an aside, all this philosophy originally comes from a consideration of why suicide might be wrong. I always had a fascination with the laws many places have which make suicide illegal, so that naturally raised the question of why it ought to be illegal. Ultimately, I concluded it was equivalent to homicide based upon the principle embodied in “a human is a human is a human”.