I recently picked up “What Should I Do?”, a book where a panel of Oxford philosophers answer questions submitted by the general public. I paid $8 for it at Powell’s House of Books in Portland, which I think is a fair price.
You might consider simply borrowing it from the library – it’s a read-once type of book. I’ve been practicing my speed reading technique, and I’m proud to say I worked through the book (198 pages) in a single day. Now…
Bottom Line – Good “food-for-thought” for the advanced philosopher. Not suitable for beginners, not particularly groundbreaking work, and a few odd holes in their reasoning.
While I agreed with almost all of the content of the book, there are a few times where there seemed to be obvious holes in the reasoning, and I’d like to catalogue them here.
Problem #1 – (Page 50) A question asks why death is a bad thing, and Jyl Gentzler responds with a story about Socrates shortly before his execution. Socrates remarked than he was happy to die, because it would allow him to finally know what lies beyond death itself. A student of his asks why they shouldn’t all just commit suicide then, to which Socrates responds that only the gods have the right to take life.
While I don’t agree with Socrates’ reasoning, I think Jyl is going too far when she concludes that death is therefore always a bad thing. Socrates is right – death, while sad, is a chance to find out what lies beyond our world (if anything), and maybe a chance to explore a whole new world.
So why shouldn’t we commit suicide, besides religious reasons? Because as far as we know, this life is our only chance to experience and explore this world. Death will come no matter what, so why end life prematurely? Why waste such a precious resource? I recognize the value of life and death.
Problem #2 – (Page 107) A question asks, “What is a good argument for eating meat?”. Peter Smith responds that a good argument for eating meat is that it tastes good, which is why people do. While I agree that this is a good reason, I also think he is (perhaps without realizing it) skirting the true intent of the question.
Everybody knows meat is tasty. The argument against eating meat is that we don’t need to, and that it’s wrong to kill animals simply for pleasure – in light of that, it seems clear to me that the questioner was asking if there are any good moral arguments for eating meat, or at least morally permitting it. That’s a really good question, and unfortunately the book doesn’t address it.
Problem #3 – (Page 145) A question asks if punishments for crimes should take into account the character of the victim – for example, should harming a teacher be worse than harming a drug dealer? Oliver Leaman replies with a curt, 2-paragraph response, essentially saying, “No, never”.
But harming a police officer is considered worse than harming a civilian, and I think that this is completely ethical – crimes committed against the police are usually intended to break down the police force (and by extension the rule of law itself), and should be punished more severely. Perhaps I’m wrong, but this is something worth further discussion.