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Posts Tagged ‘Origin of the Species

“Okay, so that was trolley problem version number seven. Chidi opted to run over five William Shakespeares instead of one Santa Claus.”*…

 

Trolley Problem

 

Imagine you are standing beside some tram tracks. In the distance, you spot a runaway trolley hurtling down the tracks towards five workers who cannot hear it coming. Even if they do spot it, they won’t be able to move out of the way in time.

As this disaster looms, you glance down and see a lever connected to the tracks. You realise that if you pull the lever, the tram will be diverted down a second set of tracks away from the five unsuspecting workers.

However, down this side track is one lone worker, just as oblivious as his colleagues.

So, would you pull the lever, leading to one death but saving five?

This is the crux of the classic thought experiment known as the trolley dilemma, developed by philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967 and adapted by Judith Jarvis Thomson in 1985.

The trolley dilemma allows us to think through the consequences of an action and consider whether its moral value is determined solely by its outcome.

The trolley dilemma has since proven itself to be a remarkably flexible tool for probing our moral intuitions, and has been adapted to apply to various other scenarios, such as war, torture, drones, abortion and euthanasia.

The trolley dilemma explored: would you kill one person to save five?

See also your correspondent’s favorite examination of the issue, from The Good Place:

 

Indeed, Michael “resolves” the dilemma in a way that would make today’s Almanac honoree (below) proud:

 

For an earlier look at The Trolley Problem on (Roughly) Daily, see “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”*…

[Image at top from Devine Lu Linvega (or @neauoire@merveilles.town)]

* Michael, The Good Place, Season Two, Episode Five: “The Trolley Problem”

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As we muse on morality, we might spare a thought for John Bordley Rawls; he died on this date in 2002 (Spinoza’s birthday and the anniversary of Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of the Species).  A moral and political philosopher, Rawls argued for “justice as fairness,” recommending equal basic rights, equality of opportunity, and promoting the interests of the least advantaged members of society.  He made these social justice arguments using a thought experiment he called the “original position,” in which people select what kind of society they would choose to live under as if they did not know which social position they would personally occupy.

Rawls received both the Schock Prize for Logic and Philosophy and the National Humanities Medal in 1999, the latter presented by President Bill Clinton, in recognition of the way in which Rawls’ work “helped a whole generation of learned Americans revive their faith in democracy itself.”  He is widely considered the most important political philosopher of the 20th century– with the unusual distinction among contemporary political philosophers of being frequently cited by the courts of law in the United States and Canada and referenced by practicing politicians in the United States and the UK.

A concept central to the “original position” approach to moral dilemmas is Rawls’ notion of a “veil of ignorance“: we decide the outcome without knowing which character we “are” in the situation… an approach that leads to Michael to his conclusion in The Good Place.  The “Golden Rule” strikes again!  [see also “The Unselfish Trolley Problem“]

220px-john_rawls source

 

“Intoxicated? The word did not express it by a mile. He was oiled, boiled, fried, plastered, whiffled, sozzled, and blotto”*…

 

The expanded fifth edition of Glaswegian surgeon Robert Macnish’s The Anatomy of Drunkenness (1834) examines inebriety from a wide range of angles.  Though alcohol is the main focus, he also explores the use of opium (popular at the time), tobacco, nitrous oxide, and of various (real or reputed) “poisons,” like hemlock, “bangue” (cannabis), foxglove, and nightshade.  Macnish’s examination includes wonderful descriptions of the different kinds of drunk according to alcohol type, methods for cutting drunkenness short, and an outlining of the seven different types of drunkard (Sanguineous, Melancholy, Surly, Phlegmatic, Nervous, Choleric and Periodical).

The seventh chapter of the book examines the phenomenon of “spontaneous combustion” which, Macnish reports, tends to strike drunkards in particular.

Page through at Public Domain Review.

* P.G. Wodehouse, Meet Mr. Mulliner

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As we ask for a club soda, we might consider just how far we have– and haven’t– come, as it was on this date in 1859 that Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species.  Actually, on that day he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life; the title was shortened to the one we know with the sixth edition in 1872.

 Title page of the 1859 edition

 

Written by LW

November 24, 2014 at 1:01 am

A Matter of Taste…

 

Clement K. Shorter, Vanity Fair (1894)

Sometime editor of the Illustrated London News and authority on the Brontës and Napoleon, Clement K. Shorter was in the middle of a flourishing career when his list of the “hundred best novels ever written” appeared in the monthly journal The Bookman. He doesn’t explain what exactly makes a book one of the “best”, only that he has deliberately limited himself to one novel per novelist. Living authors are excluded – although he cannot resist adding a rider of eight works by “writers whose reputations are too well established for their juniors to feel towards them any sentiments other than those of reverence and regard”…

Names and dates are as Shorter gives them:

1. Don Quixote – 1604 – Miguel de Cervantes

2. The Holy War – 1682 – John Bunyan

3. Gil Blas – 1715 – Alain René le Sage

4. Robinson Crusoe – 1719 – Daniel Defoe

5. Gulliver’s Travels – 1726 – Jonathan Swift

6. Roderick Random – 1748 – Tobias Smollett

7. Clarissa – 1749 – Samuel Richardson

8. Tom Jones – 1749 – Henry Fielding

9. Candide – 1756 – Françoise de Voltaire

10. Rasselas – 1759 – Samuel Johnson

11. The Castle of Otranto – 1764 – Horace Walpole

12. The Vicar of Wakefield – 1766 – Oliver Goldsmith

13. The Old English Baron – 1777 – Clara Reeve

14. Evelina – 1778 – Fanny Burney

15. Vathek – 1787 – William Beckford

And those lucky living eight:

An Egyptian Princess – 1864 – Georg Ebers

Rhoda Fleming – 1865 – George Meredith

Lorna Doone – 1869 – R. D. Blackmore

Anna Karenina – 1875 – Count Leo Tolstoi

The Return of the Native – 1878 – Thomas Hardy

Daisy Miller – 1878 – Henry James

Mark Rutherford – 1881 – W. Hale White

Le Rêve – 1889 – Emile Zola

Read the full story and see the whole list at the TLS: “Not the hundred best novels?

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As we marvel at the power of perspective, we might recall that it was on this date in 1894 that the first multi-panel comic strip ran in a newspaper: “Origin of the Species, or the Evolution of the Crocodile Explained,” by Richard F. Outcault, appeared in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.  Outcault went on to introduce the speech balloon in the wildly-popular The Yellow Kid, and later still, created Buster Brown.

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Written by LW

November 19, 2013 at 1:01 am

Just Say “Yes!”…

Prohibited prose has been a continuing theme here at (R)D:  c.f., e.g., “And the ban played on…,” “Fahrenheit 451…,” “Got you covered…,” “If we do not meet with agreeable things, we shall at least meet with something new…,” et. al.

Well it’s that time again; it’s National Banned Books Week.  What better time to dip into a taboo title?

Lord knows, the options are plentiful:  Darwin’s Origin of the Species, Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Obedience, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland…  Indeed, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts.  (See the American Library Association’s list of Challenged Classics here.)  For an even longer (and older) list, consult the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books), the list of publications prohibited by the Catholic Church (from 1559 until the practice was halted in 1969).

Many, many of them are available via Project Gutenberg and/or as free downloads through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, et al.

Ladies and Gentlemen, to your easy chairs!

As we turn the page, we might recall that it was on this date in 1892 that Joshua Pusey patented the “flexible match”; he then sold his patent to the Diamond Match Trust (which he joined, as patent attorney)– and his design became the first mass-produced paper matchbook.

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It’s positively evolutionary!…

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Since 1982, the Gallup polling organization has been asking Americans about their beliefs as to the origin of our species.  The latest results are in; and while a plurality of those queried still believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time in the last ten thousand years or so,” a growing minority professes belief in some form of evolution:

There’s been no revolutionary change of beliefs over the last three decades, but one can detect a shift that’s…  well, positively evolutionary.

As we begin at the beginning, we might wish a happy birthday to Isaak Yudovich Ozimov– aka Isaac Asimov– who was born on this date in 1920.  A biochemistry professor, he is better remembered as an author– more specifically, as one one of the greatest science fiction authors of his time (imaginer of “The Foundation,” coiner of the term “robotics,” and author of “The Three Laws of Robotics”).  But Asimov was extraordinarily prolific; he published over 500 books– including (in addition to sci fi) mysteries, a great deal of popular science, even a worthy volume on Shakespeare– and wrote an estimated 9,000 letters and postcards.

Asimov in 1965

 

Our Town…

In 1885, Charles Van Schaick opened a photography studio in his wife’s home town, Black River Falls, Wisconsin, where he served as “town photographer” for the next fifty-seven years.  The Wisconsin Historical Society (along with the Jackson County Historical Society) have collected over 5,600 of Van Schaick’s glass plates, and are in the process of moving them to WHS’ web site.

Van Schaick’s photos from 1890-1910 were the basis of Michael Lesy’s 1973 book Wisconsin Death Trip.  Readers can find a selection of the portraits and “small town life candids” in the Wisconsin Death Trip Flickr Pool

More, here.

As we engage our inner Thornton Wilder, we might consider just how far we have– and haven’t– come, as it was on this date in 1859 that Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species.  Actually, on that day he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life; the title was shortened to the one we know with the sixth edition in 1872.

Title page of the 1859 edition

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