[I wrote this article back in 2002 for the now-defunct UK website Facing the Challenge. Reposted here, with minor edits, for posterity.]
What would you do if you were accused of a murder you had not committed… yet?
So runs the tagline for Minority Report, the latest action-thriller-cum-futuristic-noir from director Steven Spielberg. Intriguing though the question may be, it is by no means the only conundrum raised by this equally entertaining and thought-provoking film. As The Matrix did to a lesser degree, Minority Report touches on a host of age-old ethical and metaphysical puzzles — some raised explicitly, others apparent only on later reflection — but in an imaginative, contemporary, and stylish manner.
Are we free to determine our futures or are we destined by fate? If you know in advance that someone will perform a certain action at a certain time, can that person then be acting freely? Could it ever be just to punish a person for a crime they didn’t commit, yet surely would have committed had others not intervened to prevent it? Is a crimeless society thereby a virtuous one? When are privacy and freedom more valuable than safety? Where does justice end and vengeance begin? Is it ever justifiable to treat human beings (even abnormal ones) as means rather than ends?
Frédéric Bastiat, writing in 1850:
When misguided public opinion honors what is despicable and despises what is honorable, punishes virtue and rewards vice, encourages what is harmful and discourages what is useful, applauds falsehood and smothers truth under indifference or insult, a nation turns its back on progress and can be restored only by the terrible lessons of catastrophe.
Isaiah 5:20 immediately comes to mind. No further commentary needed, I assume, unless you’ve been living as a hermit for the last decade.
A short article I wrote for Tabletalk magazine, entitled “On Worldviews”, is available online, along with some other articles from the December 2014 issue. Check them out! (And while you’re at it, consider a subscription to Tabletalk. It’s an excellent resource.)
I just saw the latest Cruise blockbuster The Edge of Tomorrow. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s my kind of movie: sci-fi alien-blasting action with a smart plot that delivers satisfyingly on an intriguing premise. (Plus, I just enjoy Tom Cruise movies. Is that so wrong?)
If you liked Minority Report, Inception, and Looper, there’s a good chance you’ll get a kick out of this movie. But what I want to write about here are some of the interesting philosophical issues raised by the movie. It seems to me that the storyline makes at least five substantive (and often disputed) philosophical assumptions.
SPOILER ALERT: Some plot details are revealed in what follows. If you plan to see the movie but haven’t yet, don’t read any further! (But do come back later.)
Posted in Culture, Ethics, Philosophy
Tagged Calvinism, compatibilism, consequentialism, fatalism, free will, incompatibilism, Molinism, movies, The Edge of Tomorrow, Thomism, time travel
An electronic component supplier is being sued over allegedly homophobic terminology in its product catalog. Daniel Everett, a resident of Burlington, Massachusetts, is seeking nearly $100,000 in damages from Portland-based Posnex Components for emotional distress he claims was caused by images and descriptions in the company’s Spring 2014 catalog.
Everett, an interior designer who recently married his long-term partner Kevin, first became aware of the offensive material while visiting a relative who is a DIY electronics enthusiast. “I sat down at his kitchen table and there was a Posnex catalog lying open at the section for audio and video connectors,” he explained. “As I glanced down the page, the terminology of ‘male’ and ‘female’ caught my attention. But as I looked more closely at the photos and the product descriptions, I became appalled at what I saw.”
Predictably, there has been much comment from Christians about the Phil Robertson controversy, and (just as predictably) quite a diversity of viewpoints expressed. I concur with Mike Kruger’s commentary. But I also want to comment on a particular kind of response to the controversy, which goes something like this:
C’mon, guys! Compared to the kind of persecution Christians suffer in other countries, this is small potatoes. Christians in the US need to get a sense of perspective and move on. This really isn’t a big deal.
Here are four reasons why I think this sort of response is quite misguided.
A spike in my otherwise flatlined traffic alerts me to the fact that Bill Vallicella has breathed some new life into an old post of mine which connects the same-sex marriage debate with postmodernist anti-realism. Check out Bill’s commentary and then consider the following:
Nate Silver, the statistician and psephologist, correctly predicted the winner in 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 presidential election, plus the winners of all 35 US Senate races. This time around he successfully predicted the winner in all 50 states, including the 9 “swing states”. (He also predicted the winner in D.C., although that wasn’t exactly a tough call.) On the morning of the election, Silver’s FiveThirtyEight model gave Barack Obama a 90.9% chance of winning a majority of electoral college votes.
If Silver can perfect his model, it opens up some exciting possibilities for future elections. For one, it will obviate the need for people to actually go to the polls and vote. Silver will simply run his stats and tell us how Americans would have voted had they gone to the polls. Just think of all the time and money this will save!