Sunday, August 28, 2016

Shaun King's ideas to Reduce Police Brutality and Violence

I saw the brilliant, wise, brave and inspiring Shaun King yesterday morning at Agnes Scott College. Here are some of his top ideas for reducing police brutality in the USA:
1. Change the police and prosecutors' population and 'demographic': if more different people, with different beliefs and experiences and values, had those jobs, that would make a positive difference in particular cases and to the overall police culture. (Almost all prosecutors are white men). So, consider becoming an officer or a prosecutor or getting another job in that culture, to work to change it from within.
2. More women police officers: women tend to be less violent and a critical mass of women officers changes the overall environment of a police force, for the better, in many ways.
3. Require police to have a 4 year college degree: this would likely expose them to a broader set of ideas and perspectives that would likely make positive differences. (Also, more training is required for a cosmetology license than to get a badge and gun, or to be a teacher, than to be a police officer: that should change).
4. There should be random drug testing for police officers (as there is for NFL players), since drug and alcohol problems are not uncommon.
5. Police should carry at least three less lethal weapons, such as pepper spray, a taser (90% less lethal), baton, etc., so it can't be that their only option is to shoot (and kill) someone.
6. Fire bad apples: bad cops should be fired, period. It sounds like almost all, or at least many, of the police who have been involved in these too many senseless killings are still on the job, with no consequences at all. And some of them had many needlessly violent incidents in the past that there were no consequences for.
7. There should be independent investigations of all (lethal) uses of force. These investigations should come with consequences, when appropriate, obviously.
8. Body cameras should be used at all times AND the footage made publicly available (currently there is no law and few policies that require that). Police have resisted both body cameras and independent review boards. There's a chance that police will be held accountable only if there is video footage. 
If you get a chance to see Shaun, I highly recommend it, and read his columns. I think everyone at the event was moved and educated more on these issues and came away with better ideas for how they can help.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Teaching Philosophy in Prisons

Lately I have been researching teaching philosophy in prisons (in Georgia, near Atlanta). Here is some very incomplete information about some of the programs I have found:
I will post more detailed information as I get more details, since I know that many instructors are interested in teaching in prisons. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Babe the Pig

My chapter "The Babe Vegetarians" in the book Bioethics at the Movies was mentioned in this article:

From Babe to the BFG: how children’s stories promote vegetarianism

The story of a strange old man who wants to do nothing more than grow tomatoes in peace is just one in a long line of kids’ films with vegetarian messages at their centre.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


I'm now an Associate Editor at 1000 Word Philosophy!

The page is currently being redone, but once it's done, I may be asking YOU to write some very concise and tightly argued essays for it!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Monday, August 08, 2016

Writing Tips

There are many excellent guidelines on writing philosophy: James Pryor's, Michael Huemer's, and more. I thought I'd offer a few suggestions also, as they come to mind:
  • Make an outline, with section headings. We've all been told to do this for a long time, but it is really helpful. And keep those numbered section headings in the paper so the overall structure is clear. A well organized paper almost writes itself: you just have to fill in the details of the various sections. These sections are the parts that form the whole, and if you've got all those parts in mind, your presentation (or paper), again, is really organized and easy to write, and read. 
  • Arguments: your arguments is just your main point(s), you conclusions(s) and the reason(s) you give in favor of those conclusion(s). Lay that all out in a step-by-step process. Stating the argument in numbered premises and conclusions is often very helpful for that, and that makes explaining the argument and objecting to the argument easier and clearer. 
  • Break up longer sentences. If a sentence can be broken up into shorter sentences, do it: that always improves readability. 
  • Make each sentence as short as it can be. Rigorously edit to cut words and be maximally concise.
  • Each paragraph should have one, and only one, main topic. You should be able to say, "This paragraph is about that." Short paragraphs are fine. 
  • Use ordinary words, unless you absolutely must use some special word. This helps you be concise and clear. Write so as many people as possible can understand you: do not alienate people with big words. 
  • Use "I": talk to the reader. This helps you be concise and clear. 
  • Make your introduction short, no more than half a page. Tell your reader your topic (which should be narrow), what you are going to say or argue about it (that is, your main point, your thesis, which should be brief, e.g., "This argument is unsound," "This premise is false," "This isn't a good reason to believe that," etc., and what the structure of your paper will be. That's it and not much more. 
  • Generally, don't ask rhetorical questions. Make statements and support them. Don't ask questions and hope that the reader will respond how you hope they will: they might not.
  • Revise, rewrite, rethink. After your write, reflect and revise. What can you say more concisely? What can you cut? Cut what distracts and isn't necessary to your overall purpose.
See also these rules on op-ed writing

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

An Argument for Veganism, from 2005 or 2006

"Reasonable Humans and Animals: An Argument for Vegetarianism"


“It is easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves. It is more difficult to distance ourselves from our own views, so that we can dispassionately search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold.”
-  Peter Singer
"It's a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done." 
-  Harriet Beecher Stowe
In my 15 or so years of experience of teaching philosophy, ethics and logic courses, I have found that no topic brings out the rational and emotional best and worst in people than ethical questions about the treatment of animals. This is not surprising since, unlike questions about social policy and about what other people should do, moral questions about animals are personal. As philosopher Peter Singer has observed, “For most human beings, especially in modern urban and suburban communities, the most direct form of contact with non-human animals is at mealtimes: we eat them.”[1] For most of us, then, our own behavior is challenged when we reflect on the reasons given to think that change is needed in our treatment of, and attitudes toward, animals. That the issue is personal presents unique challenges, and great opportunities, for intellectual and moral progress.

Here I present some of the reasons given for and against taking animals seriously and reflect on the role of reason in our lives. I examine the common assumption that there is nothing wrong with harming animals -- causing them pain, suffering, and an early death – so they might be eaten. We will see if moral “common sense” in this area can survive critical scrutiny. Our method, useful for better understanding all ethical debates, is to identify unambiguous and precise moral conclusions and make all the reasons in favor of the conclusion explicit, leaving no assumption unstated.