This book is somewhat off-topic for economists, but I’ve been dipping into the marvellous Ethics at 3am by Richard Marshall over the past couple of weeks. Marshall is the philosophy editor at 3am magazine (‘Whatever it is, we’re against it.’) and does the enlightening interviews ranging across the whole territory of modern philosophy. This subject was the bit of my PPE degree that didn’t agree with me, and although I still don’t find it easy, it does interest me more and more.
Anyway, this is Marshall’s second thematic collection of interviews (the first was ‘Philosophy at 3am’), with an introduction that guides you through the issues and schools of thought. The most interesting section is the applied ethics one, ranging from Luciano Floridi on information, privacy, AI, the role of the nation state, and more in ‘The Philosophy of the Zettabyte’ to Rebecca Gordon on torture in ‘Saying No to Jack Bauer’. (And by the way, there is an impressive representation of women philosophers here, given how male dominated the subject is – as bad as economics. There are 11 women and 3 non-white scholars interviewed, out of a total of 26.)
My favourite bits of each chapter are: answers to the first question (usually ‘What made you become a philosopher?’*); and the book recommendations each subject is asked to give. As for the actual philosophy, some of these are a heavier read than others & I have no confidence in my ability to understand, still less summarise them. As Marshall notes in the introduction, contemporary ethics is a broad landscape – but surely a field of philosophy most deserving of public exposure and debate. This book is a great introduction to the research frontier and well worth us non-philosophers trying to get our brains around. I hope he and OUP are now going to bring us an epistemology collection – Truth at 3am??
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*”I was raised in a home where philosophy was a frequent topic for dinner conversation.” “People who are too sure of themselves.” “My impression of philosophy came from reading Plato, whose arguments I had found lame and fallacious.” “I was conscripted into military service and my gut feeling was to refuse to serve. I did not want to kill other people.” “I often think I would not have become a philosopher had my older brother not been killed one night in a car accident.” You get the idea.
As a qualified drill instructor who moved on to political philosophy and economics all I can say is that a drill square is a good place to ask who am I, what am I, what is going on here, why am I doing this, and if there is a higher being what the devil is he or she or it up to. It was when I got to the economics that I realised that there was not an answer to any of it and philosophy was a luxury to be cherished.