On Monday, I attended the Philosophy Cafe at the Artesian Gallery. My son and I went there religiously last year, but in the fall our schedules meant that we couldn’t attend unfortunately. Monday’s talk was by Dr. Anna Mudde and titled “What’s it Like to Be You?” I don’t want to share all of her thoughts on the subject, but it had to do with the idea of metaphysics – namely, what do we see and what is it like to experience “red” for instance?
Except a little bit more than that, because how we experience the world, Mudde argues, has implications on our moral and ethical behavior. For example, how the racist experiences people of colour will influence their moral and ethical decisions such that they are quite different from the person who is non-racist. How this process happens is a focal point for the metaphysical discussion on “what’s it like to be you?” This then becomes a discussion of ontology or roughly, the study of being, especially in terms of categorizing things. In the case of the racism example, the ontological question may be about categorizing people in terms of equal, inferior or superior.
I offered a challenge to this view, namely how would we tell the difference between a difference in ontology and a heuristic (a short cut or general rule to help us make choices). In theory, heuristics work most of the time, but fail some of the time, but in the end they help us get to decisions quickly so we can save time. For instance, our racist may not be a racist, but instead has a shortcut in her head that she should not trust strangers. As it turns out, the person of colour is noticeably a stranger (still an ontological concern) but the moral element of racism in this case is not an ontological concern, but one of an error that can be corrected with new heuristics.
But there is a counter-challenge. The heuristics very likely also come from ontology. What is a stranger except a category of person that exists outside one’s circle of friends. There’s something a little bit dark about our “non-racist” who would build a heuristic in her head that causes her to distrust strangers, and especially visible strangers when in fact there are invisible strangers that could be just as dangerous.
All the while, it was an interesting discussion as the Philosophy Cafes usually are. If you are interested, the next one is titled “The mind and the natural world: a brief history of thinking about thinking” by Dylan Ludwig and will happen on February 23rd at 7:30pm at the Artesian. If you come, be sure to say hello!