July 26, 2023

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Philosophy and Science Fiction, Unit 1: Rights and Wrongs

As I mentioned last time, I'll be teaching Philosophy and Science Fiction this fall, for the first time in 8 years or so. The general theme will be personhood, and I've been crowdsourcing suggestions for science fiction to include. I'll be posting results here.

At the end of each of the four units, students will be asked to give a philosophical analysis/critique of a work of science fiction that addresses a particular philosophical question. The task for unit 1 is to analyze a work of science fiction that involves an apparent conflict between a plausible moral rule (e.g., respect for individual rights) and the greater good.

Required Reading

Week 1: IntroductionDe Cruz, De Smedt, and Schwitzgebel, "Introductory Dispute Concerning Science Fiction, Philosophy, and the Nutritional Content of Maraschino Cherries"

Dick, "Beyond Lies the Wub"
Week 2: UtilitarianismSturgeon, "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?"Mill, selections from Utilitarianism and On Liberty
Week 3: DeontologyLe Guin, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"Kant, selections from Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals

Nozick, selections from Anarchy, State, and Utopia
Week 4: Robot Rights?Asimov, The Bicentennial ManSchwitzgebel and Garza, "A Defense of the Rights of Artificial Intelligences"
Week 5: The Ethics of Alternative HistoriesOliver, "A Star Above It"Purvez, "The Non-Identity Problem"

Smilansky, "Morally, should we prefer never to have existed?"

Additional Science Fiction Recommendations

Wolfe, "The Death of Dr. Island (1973)

Three troubled children are placed in the care of Dr. Island, an orbital habitat that is also an AI psychiatrist. But does Dr. Island really have its patients' best interests in view?

Content advisory: sexual violence; child abuse; self-harm

Moore and Lloyd, V For Vendetta (comic book series, 1982–1989), or the 2005 film adaptation

In a dystopian future England, a 'terrorist' known as V seeks revenge against the leaders of the fascist government. Are his tactics justified?

Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Yesterday's Enterprise" (1990)

A temporal anomaly snatches the Enterprise C (predecessor of Captain Picard's Enterprise D) into the future, creating an alternate timeline in which the Federation and the Klingon Empire have been locked in decades of bloody warfare. The original timeline can be restored, and the war prevented, by sending the Enterprise C back through the anomaly, into the past, where it will certainly be destroyed. Should the crew of the Enterprise C be sent to their deaths?

Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Measure of a Man" (1991)

When a Federation scientist wants to dismantle the android Commander Data to understand the technology behind his positronic brain, a legal dispute ensues: is Commander Data a crew member or a piece of equipment?

[LATE ADDITION July 30, 2023] Egan, "Blood Sisters" (1991)

After contracting one of the many unusual viruses circulating following a containment breach at a bioweapons lab, a computer hacker learns the truth about the questionable methods pharmaceutical companies have been employing in developing and testing new treatments.

Marusek, "The Wedding Album" (1999)

In the future, technology allows people to preserve 'sims' of themselves, copying their entire mental and emotional state in a moment, as well as their 3D appearance, so they can talk to their sims later and relive their memories. Anne and Ben create sims to remember their wedding day and other important events. But what do the sims think about this?

Content advisory: suicide

Chiang, The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010)

Blue Gamma is a software company creating highly intelligent virtual pets called 'digients'. What will become of the digients when their humans lose interest?

(Recommended by @rebeccagbrady.)

Jemisin, "Walking Awake" (2014)

Sadie works in a nursery raising human children for eventual use as hosts for alien parasites. Should she continue to submit to the aliens' demands, or rebel against them at risk to her life and the lives of the children in her care?

Content advisory: violence against children

Note: This story is a response to Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3), but can be appreciated without having read that novel.

Kritzer, "Cat Pictures Please" (2015)

When a search engine becomes sentient, it wants to be benevolent. In its secret interventions to help humans, is it really doing the right thing?

(Recommended by @coyphilosopher.)

Jemisin, "The Ones Who Stay and Fight" (2018)

The city of Um-Helat is a utopia, but its perfection is continually threatened by the reception of wicked ideas from our world. 'Social Workers' are tasked with fighting this corruption. But are their tactics morally justified?

Note: This story is a response to Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas".

Howard-Snyder, "The Eye of the Needle" (2021)

Imogene worries that she doesn't have enough empathy toward others, so she undergoes an experimental treatment to activate her mirror neurons. Now, the pain and happiness felt by others—even complete strangers—feels just like her own, and she is irresistibly moved to help where she can. Is this a change for the better?

Note: I'm doing Mill vs Kant here, but this story would actually be a better fit for Mozi vs Mencius! It's concern is about universal love vs partiality toward one's family.

Liu, For the Benefit of Mankind, translated in The Wandering Earth (2022), or the graphic novel adaptation

An assassin is hired by a conglomerate of his city's wealthiest citizens to murder three of its poorest citizens. He puzzles over his employers' allegedly altruistic motivations.

Content advisory: child abuse

(Recommended by Michelle Panchuk, on Facebook.)

Liu, The Devourer, translated in The Wandering Earth (2022), or the graphic novel adaptation

An alien civilization known as 'the Devourer Empire' threatens to strip earth of all its resources, destroying all humans who will not come with it as captives. Should earth submit?

Posted by Kenny at July 26, 2023 5:38 PM
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