Life on the Edge

This is probably the edgiest post I will ever write, because I want to talk today about edge cases. Like some of the concepts I described in my post on narrative physics, this is another instance of me taking an idea from a "hard" field (science, engineering, math) and applying it to a "soft" field (political science, philosophy, literature), and this time that concept is edge cases. If you're not familiar, an edge case is an engineering term used in testing to express failure modes. For a product to be deemed effective/safe/useful, it has to be rigorously tested, and not just under "normal" conditions; it has to be exposed to the most extreme and unusual conditions that the engineers can possibly imagine it might ever conceivably experience, and tested in that environment, too. Those extreme and unusual conditions are known as edge cases, and it is very common for a product to require redesign after it has met its nominal operating conditions because it fails to account for edge cases. If only that concept were applied outside of engineering.

Sententia Discussion Series 9: Morality’s Source

Traditionally, morality and the question of right and wrong have been the province of religion. More and more people do not identify as religious or follow a particular religious teaching. Useful for consideration: Aristotle's Virtue Ethics, Moral Relativism, Abraham Lincoln's essay on the importance of upholding the law, Martin Luther King's Letters from a Birmingham Jail, Utilitarianism, Deontology, Kant's universal law.

Moral Arguments

These arguments look at the published statistics, showing that the virus is apparently under control in Eastern nations, and isn't in Western nations, and suggest that perhaps the supposedly example-setting Western democracies need to take a lesson from these Eastern countries. I have even seen some essays suggesting that the progress of the pandemic in the East and the West demonstrates that the time for Western-style democracy has passed. What is left unspoken in all of these arguments is that these discussions are assuming the primacy of utilitarian morality.

Relatively Right

In philosophy, there is a concept called moral relativism. It was particularly popular in the mid-twentieth century, but has fallen out of favor in many circles today. Aristotle's famous question - "is conduct right because the gods demand it, or do the gods demand it because it is right" - is answered in moral relativism with a resounding no, to both alternatives. Instead, moral relativism asserts that conduct is right so long as it is in keeping with the conventions of the culture within that conduct takes place, and conduct should only be judged within that context.