With a Grain of Sand
Oct 19, 2010When does a pile become a heap? If you removed just one grain of sand from the heap, would it still be a heap? These are the kinds of questions that Dr. Richard Gilmore of the philosophy department considers when addressing moral vagueness.
“There is no condition where you remove one grain of sand, and it is a heap or not a heap,” Gilmore says.
Gilmore received a grant from the Institute for Philosophy and Public Life and hopes to make philosophy more accessible to the general public. In his lecture, “When is a Pile a Heap? How to Deal with Moral Vagueness,” Gilmore discusses how our ideas of ethical responsibility have evolved over time. For instance, what the first settlers dumped in the river made no long-term impact. However, with the development of a city, environmental concerns become more evident, giving each citizen more responsibility.
In moral issues, our responses to a morally clear dilemma become muddled when we are further removed from those affected. Most of us wouldn’t think twice to save a drowning child, but when it comes to saving children dying around the world, we are unsure of what we should do to help, says Gilmore. Should we give half of our salary? Is $1 a day enough? We struggle to define the right response.
“We all deal with moral issues every day,” he says.
Watch Gilmore’s lecture live and participate in the discussion at Philosophy in Public Life at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20.