Why Is a Philosopher Like a
Python? How Philosophical
Some people think that all philosophy departments should be closed down faster than a soiled budgie can fly out of a lavatory. It's not hard to see why. After all, not only do philosophers typically dress worse than the Gumbys, but the way that they argue for their views seems exceptionally silly. When discussing practical moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia, or famine relief philosophers frequently come up with fantastic and far-fetched examples that don't seem relevant to the case at hand. To illustrate her view on abortion, for example, the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson (born 1929) asks her readers to imagine that they wake up one day to find themselves attached to a famous violinist. Similarly, while arguing that people have a moral duty to aid the starving, the philosopher Peter Singer contends that if you think that a person should be blamed for failing to save a child from drowning in a shallow pond you have committed yourself to thinking that you should give almost all of your income to famine relief.1
When faced with such examples normal people (that is, nonphilosophers) are often incredulous. How on earth can such bizarre examples be relevant in any way to the moral issues that
1 Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” Philosophy and Public Affairs
1 (1972), pp. 229–243.