Philosofail

Where Olly went wrong

Philosophy Tube's Unmooring

Every once and again some philosophical dilettante gifts us with unparalleled sapience in video format. Incredible largess is displayed as complex philosophical ideas are broken down into bite-size pieces. Everybody's a fan. However, by that same token, we are, at times, treated to a buffet of word salad where sentences knot themselves together into argumentative catastrophes. I am speaking, of course, about one Philosophy tube. For some time now, Olly, who runs said channel, has amassed a considerable following, thanks in part to his unmistakably charming accent. Sometimes, however, his arguments are rendered far less persuasive than his character. For one thing, Olly pushed out an unscheduled video recently imploring viewers to imbibe his message about conservative voters. Clunky, disoriented, and haphazard, this video portended what calamity might unfold if Olly doesn't reorient his channel's ethos. Specifically, towards his videos end he, perhaps inadvertently, bifurcated his audience between those regular, left-leaning individuals, and everyone else. Needless to say, everyone else cocked their head at this unusual gesture. Philosophy tube, we thought, was dedicated to relaying important philosophical information in a manner that is both digestible and entertaining.  However, on this occasion, Olly seemed to have pivoted his channel's purpose to pedaling those political issues that he regards as particularly exigent. Worse still, our gracious host closed the video's comment section to avoid potential squabbling. To me, Olly's actions here represent anti-philosophy's apotheosis. The imperative to close discussion unilaterally in an effort to have one's voice "heard" is an unpersuasive argument all together. On the one hand, scientific journals that pass peer-review gain clout as they demonstrate their robust defenses. Consequently, we generally revere articles that result from this process. On the other hand, theories or opinions that are produced without any analogous peer-review are, in a similar vein, looked down upon. This fact, of course, begs the question of why anybody militating on behalf of those thing's philosophical would decide to close himself off to criticism. So, for his credibility's sake, here I will offer a brief criticism of just one point made in his video. At one point, Olly indicated that America's invasion in Iraq was immoral on account of how many casualties there were at day's end. I find this reasoning wholly unconvincing. To Olly, our moral analysis of wartime conflict ends partially, if not wholly,  when every body has been counted. There is one problem with this; that is,  that this argument draws no meaningful distinction between consequences that are intended, and consequences that are foreseen. Intended consequences are subject to moral criticism because their agent desired them actively.  Whereas foreseen consequences are pardonable by definition due to their un-intended nature.  To illustrate my example, two thought experiments are required. For our first thought experiment, imagine that John was strolling in his local park when, suddenly, a drowning child arrested his attention. Impulsively, John flew into the water in an attempt to rescue this endangered child. Unfortunately, however, John’s efforts were thwarted when an alligator swallowed the boy. Now, would we judge John's actions as morally neutral? Surely not. His intentions speak volumes about his moral character. From what evidence has cropped up, we could surmise that physical limitations were all that prevented John's well-intentioned rescue mission. In other words, if John had possessed perfect rescuing-technology, then the child’s demise would have been averted. We should expect this conclusion in light of John’s impressive moral character. If, after all, John was eager to save the drowning child, then we can expect a fortiori that he would perform the task instantly if he had the right technology.

Now for our second thought experiment, imagine a parallel scenario, except that this time Jack greets our drowning child instead of John. This greeting, however, will be anything but warm. After seeing the boy flailing his arms in desperation, Jack hastens to drown the boy faster by pushing his head under the water. That was his intention, that was the result.

Now, crucially, we must ask if there is any moral difference between Jack and John. Naturally, we feel as though there is, but Olly begs to differ. On reflection, each scenario resulted in an identical conclusion, namely the child perishing. So, a la Olly, no distinction is really warranted between the two. To him, at least in this video, numbers are paramount in determining if a war is moral. Call this spreadsheet morality, where lifeless numbers on office paper can write off well-intentioned actors as  pugnacious degenerates. Intuition, logic, and reason screams at us indignantly that this philosophy is reductive, and painfully so. Good theories, as Olly knows, must meet two fundamental criteria: economy in breadth and insightful in depth. Unfortunately for Olly, his theory's economy left little room for insight to incubate. 

 Quite plainly this appears wrong. So we can conclude that Olly's analysis was incorrect.


 For these reasons, and others that might be teased out in another article, Olly has fallen into disrepute among those of us who commit ourselves fully to academic rigor. 

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