On The Morality of Trapping Orcas

There is something faintly ridiculous in writing on broadly philosophical themes whilst, in the main, rejecting the questions, let alone sensitively treating the typical answers. This will be a shining exemplar of just that foolishness, yet I see no reason why a few hundred words cannot be spared to overturn millennia of errant thought.

To most, Free Will is a charming romp with a killer whale, but to philosophers and (chuckle) theologians it is even more significant. But why? They have their agendas, basically.

The theologian, amateur or pro, needs the idea to pathetically wimp out of the quandary where their giant imaginary friend seems unable or unwilling to do anything about the dreadful world we inhabit. It is variously the price and glory we are tasked with.

The philosopher typically needs it because they like to speak about ethics, and a lot of philosophers think a choice made on the basis of past experience, or on the particular exigencies of a given situation, is little different than being forced to choose at gunpoint. At gunpoint, most people conclude that the coercion removes the ethical component we naturally attribute to having a free choice.

The most glorious among you will note that the word ‘free’ has been bandied around with true abandon. ‘Free’ as in ‘uncoerced’ in the case of acting at gunpoint, and the far more mysterious initial use, and I need to say a little about its counterpoint before putting that usage away for good.

The counterpoint is in actions deemed to be ‘mechanically’ or ‘deterministically’ caused. I think we are advanced enough to now realise that we are complex biological machines, that our actions are caused by faculties as various as the memories we store and reconstruct, the chemicals and electrical impulses that move our thoughts and limbs etc. If you believe otherwise, stop reading (in fact, stop doing anything, just leave). Yet this ill-defined form of freedom, that of will, persists.

The counterpoint of the counterpoint (… the ‘point’, free will) would then seem to be something uncaused. Something not informed by past experience, or local exigencies. This is strange, though. Let us not even get to wondering about uncaused events. They may make sense in dense cosmology, but I doubt they play a universal role in the realm where I decide whether to have a sausage roll.

My thought is other. How, or why, would an uncaused element (not just an element, but its originator) in a decision even be relevant? Evidently it was not informed by prior events, so it would seem to spring from nowhere. And yet not only is this not viewed as some empty interloper, it is seen as the very source of ethical authority, without which all actions are even more devoid of ethical legitimacy than those performed at gunpoint. A phenomenon utterly disconnected, causally and informationally, from actions is pleaded as necessary for those actions to be deemed uncoerced. This seems a mode of freedom someone in chains would find frivolous at best.

Hence I reject the entire question. Just because it was asked does not make it sensible. (Disclaimer: this post was written under extreme duress.)


More than just a gateau

It seems a little while since I have contributed to this, leaving Androclast with the difficult challenge of tackling the philosophical questions of the World alone.  A very good job he does too.  Unfortunately, as hopefully happens to many, I am having an arid season when inspiration is called upon.  I have therefore decided to dedicate this post to Freiburg im Breisgau as a foray into the world of travel writing for one brief blog post.

As you can probably fathom, being the smart thinking types that you are, Freiburg is nestled in the Black Forest close to the Swiss German Border.  My confusion surrounding the divisions in Basel airport will have to wait for another day!  Most of you when asked about Freiburg will immediately think of cake, although some may do this instinctively when pressured for answers.  Anyway for basic Freiburg facts you can check out wikipedia or some other such travel guide so I will refrain from detailing the population and crops.

We stayed in a beautiful family run hotel called the Goldener Adler in Oberried around 12km from the city centre and at the heart of the beautiful black forest.  For one day we enjoyed the sunshine and the amazing autumn colours that inspire such poetic sentiment.  The second day, we had fog, but more detail about this in a moment.

Oberried is close enough to Freiburg to enjoy a frequent bus service but we had t he luxury of a car.  On arriving in a most confusing car park, we stumbled into the open air and straight into a magnificent independent bookshop – one of many that followed.  It was refreshing to see such a variety of literature not under the Waterstones logo.   After spending at least an hour rifling through every language section several times and looking for ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in German we headed to the Augustiner Museum.  The first room is remarkably like a scene from Indiana Jones where there are huge statues either side that will collapse when you try to steal the icon from the far end.  It was a remarkable place and of great interest (although largely sacred histories).  However, the gods had their revenge after I blasphemed by having me expelled from the museum for brandishing a rucksack.  So we pootled over to the StadtMuseum and obliged the gods by leaving aforementioned bag in a locker.  Another quaint little place full of models and maps, statuettes and ephemera.  The rest of the day was spent testing a host of coffee houses and bookshops before retiring for the day replete.

So, the fog.  It was foggy and dreary on the soul so I was convinced to take to the mountains and we drove to a nearby mountain and hoped for a spot at a high-altitude cafe.  We drove most of the way and then abandoned the car and trekked the last part in the glorious sunshine.  One could see completely over the cloud that sat in the valley and could only just see the tips of the hills like little islands.  My favourite being the island housing the wind turbines that made it look as though they would float away across the sea of clouds.  On reaching the cafe at the summit, we realised that quite a lot of folk had had the same idea….so we walked back down again and found a splendid wafflehouse.

I cannot stress the over-aweing view when you arrive in the Black Forest as it completely overshadows any forest that remains in the UK.  I can honestly say that I have never seen so many trees – ever.

There is much more to the area than gateaux:

http://www.freiburg.de/servlet/PB/menu/1164028_l2/index.html – Augustiner Museum

http://www.goldener-adler-oberried.de/ – Hotel in Oberried

http://www2.bookworld.de/Popups/Walthari/index.htm – Walthari Bookshop

http://www.freiburg.de/servlet/PB/menu/1140679_l2/index.html – Freiburg