But My Brain Made Me Do It!

I’m on the home stretch of preparations for the GRE, studying hard in hopes that I only have to take it once. How I long to get in good writing time again and finish my beloved Douglass travel account series! Soon, soon. Until then, here’s a piece I published almost exactly two years ago today, which I just re-edited for clarity and flow, and re-illustrated with a beautiful drawing of a cross-section of brain and spinal column evocative of a flower.

Ordinary Philosophy

Brain illustration from The Principles and Practice of Medicine...' by W Osler, 1904, public domain via Wikimedia CommonsThere’s a common idea which leads many people (myself included) to instinctively excuse our own or others’ less-than-desirable behavior because we were under the sway, so to speak, of one or another mental state at the time. This is illustrated especially clearly in our justice system, where people are routinely given more lenient sentences, given the influence of strong emotion or of compromised mental health at the time the crime was committed. “The Twinkie Defense” is a(n) (in)famous example of the exculpatory power we give such mental states, where Dan White claimed that his responsibility for the murder of two people was mitigated by his depression, which in turn was manifested in and worsened by his addiction to junk food. We routinely consider ourselves and others less responsible for our wrong actions if we’ve suffered abuse suffered as children, or because we were drunk or high at the time, or we…

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New Podcast Episode: Compassion, Emptiness, and the Heart Sutra, by Ryan V. Stewart

d1185-guanyin252c2bthe2bchinese2bexpression2bof2bavalokiteshvara252c2bnorthern2bsung2bdynasty252c2bchina252c2bc-2b1025252c2bwood252c2bhonolulu2bacademy2bof2barts252c2bpublic2b1Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

One of the chief concerns of philosophy, since time immemorial, has been to properly address the question, “How do I live?” Namely, “How do I live well?” Naturally—for as long as our species has had the wherewithal to question its purpose and condition, the problem of ethics has found itself at the frontiers of human thought. Many moral philosophies have since rushed into that wide gulf between knowledge and truth, systems of understanding and action which attempt to conquer our ethical indecisiveness and color in a void where so much uncertainty exists.

Many traditions prescribe the ideal, virtuous, or noble life. From the ancient, academic, or political—e.g. Epicureanism, utilitarianism, humanism, or libertarianism—to the more mystical or overtly religious—e.g. Jainism, Christianity, or Taoism—many are concerned with how one acts (or can act), or at least how one views oneself in relation to others and to the world at large…. Read the original essay here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

O.P. Recommends: Texas Picked an Ominous Date to Arm Its Public Colleges, by Rosa A. Eberly

Charles Whitman's rifles and sawed-off shotgun used in University of Texas massacre of 8-1-1966, image free use under CCA 3.0As you may know, dear reader, I’ve long expressed deep concerns over my country’s obsession with guns, over the widespread conviction that guns are the solution to many problems that the proliferation of guns, in fact, manifestly worsens. We’re so awash in guns, culturally and historically, that we take them for granted and forget that there are other possible ways to live. Even the fact that high rates of gun ownership rarely correlate now or throughout history with relatively low rates of gun deaths, be it by state or country, doesn’t seem to matter. Our culturally-induced intuition that bad guys with guns will behave themselves out of fear of good guys with guns seems to render the preponderance of available evidence irrelevant, time after time after bloody time. There’s a particularly telling illustration of this going on right now, as Rosa Eberly writes in her recent piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education:

‘In what appears to be an audacious act of public forgetting, a controversial Texas campus-carry law allowing concealed guns in university buildings is scheduled to take effect on Monday, August 1, the 50th anniversary of the University of Texas tower shootings.

The first mass murder on a U.S. college campus, the tower shootings left 14 people dead, plus the gunman, and more than 30 wounded. As in other more recent examples of mass gun violence, the shooter first used deadly force in a domestic setting — he killed his wife and mother before ascending the tower with an arsenal…’

I dearly hope the students that don’t suffer the possible worst consequences of this very dangerous social experiment. But the evidence of history gives us very good reasons to worry that they will.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!