March 21st, 2013 by Elijah Weber · 7 Comments
Whenever one works with diverse populations, it’s inevitable that someone will say something that offends someone else. We might make a passing remark about some religious or ethnic group that seems perfectly innocent to us, but that a member of that group finds offensive upon hearing it, for example. Clearly, then, being offended is a familiar experience for most of us, though what it is that happens to offend us can vary widely.
But what is it about an experience that makes it a case of being offended? In virtue of what do I count as offended? It’s odd that though we know roughly what this state is like, such that I can talk about it in a way that everyone understands, we can’t seem to say much about what it means to be offended.
There are a few things we can say about the state of being offended, but they don’t get us very far. We can, I think, confidently assert that being offended is a negatively valenced state, which is to say that it is always seen as bad, unpleasant, or to-be-avoided. Further, it’s usually a response to something that a person does. We aren’t often offended at the actions of our pets, for example.
Beyond this, it’s difficult to say much with any certainty. Is being offended an emotional or affective state? Is it constituted by certain behaviors or dispositions to behave? Is there some essential neurological or physiological response that is characteristic of being offended?
At first glance, I’m not sure how to answer any of these questions. What do you think? Post your responses in the comments section, and feel free to provide links to other blog posts about this topic. I look forward to hearing from you!
Tags: Philosophy of the Emotions
March 8th, 2013 by Elijah Weber · 2 Comments
Once again, the Washington Redskins find themselves in court, defending their name and trademark against charges that it is racist and offensive to Native Americans. Surely there’s something to this, though I don’t want to get into arguments for and against the name here. Instead, I want to pose a question that seems important to settling this matter, but that doesn’t seem to be a part of the current court case.
The Redskins are not the only team with a Native American inspired name. There are also the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves, as well as the San Diego State Aztecs, the Utah Utes, and the Illinois Fighting Illini. They’re also not the only team named after a specific ethnic or national group. We’ve got the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Michigan State Spartans, and the USC Trojans. What’s the difference? Is there something inherently wrong with making one’s athletic trademark a group of people, or is “Redskins” a unique outlier in this otherwise common practice? If there’s a morally relevant difference here, we should be able to identify it.
I have my own thought about this one, but I want to know what you think. So feel free to post comments or links.
January 8th, 2013 by Elijah Weber · No Comments
In the wake of the tragedy of Newtown, the latest in a series of troubling incidents of mass killings involving guns, there has been an unsurprising renewal of the debate about gun control legislation. At one extreme are the abolitionists, those who would like to see gun ownership heavily restricted, if not totally eliminated. At the other extreme are the advocates, those who not only oppose any new restrictions on gun ownership, but often also oppose currently existing restrictions.
Each of these positions relies on an empirical claim about how to stop the guns-crime connection. The abolitionists see guns as the problem, the advocates view them as the solution. Neither of these empirical claims, in my view, is well supported by enough data.
I am not an abolitionist, but I am not an advocate either. I tend to think that there are legitimate reasons why a person might want to own a gun, and that there are reasonable restrictions on gun ownership. This view often puts me in a strange position when discussing this issue with others. I seem to make nobody entirely happy, because I do not fully agree with either well-entrenched side on this issue.
However, there is one argument in favor of gun control legislation that I have seldom seen in either the political debate or the philosophical literature on this issue. If one is a “responsible gun owner,” it seems that one ought to favor fairly strict gun ownership restrictions. Let me explain.
When I think of the “responsible gun owner,” I have two groups of individuals in mind. One group is comprised of individuals who regard gun ownership as important for ensuring the safety of themselves and their immediate family. This seems reasonable. Some communities are less safe than others, and some people are responsible enough to store their guns properly and acquire proper training on their operation. If these conditions are met, I see nothing wrong with gun ownership for this group of individuals.
The other group that comprises the “responsible gun owner” are the hunters, those who use firearms for the purpose of killing wild animals. Hopefully this is being done for food, and not solely to hang an animal head on the wall, though that’s beside the point here. Hunting is a legitimate hobby that many people enjoy. Again provided that weapons are stored properly and the owner is trained on their operation, I see no problem with a person owning a gun for the purpose of hunting.
Beyond these groups of individuals, I am unclear about who ought to be allowed to own a gun, and for what purpose. It’s not that there are no other good reasons to own a gun–I just don’t know what they are.
Suppose I am a member of this group of responsible gun owners. Who is the biggest threat to my gun ownership? It’s tempting to say “abolitionist politicians,” but that’s a bit too simple. The current push for more stringent gun legislation is reactive, a consequence of the actions of a few troubled individuals with an unfortunate level of access to extremely efficient weapons. Thus, the biggest threat to the responsible gun owner is the mentally unstable, the irresponsible, or the gun owner who is otherwise unequipped to meet the demands of responsible gun ownership.
This gives us an argument for strict gun control, on the basis of the interests of responsible gun owners. That argument looks something like this:
1. The greatest threat to the responsible gun owner is the actions of individuals who are mentally unstable, irresponsible, or otherwise unequipped to meet the demands of responsible gun ownership.
2. If responsible gun owners wish to preserve their access to guns, they ought to limit the access of such persons to guns as much as possible.
3. Therefore, responsible gun owners ought to limit the access of the mentally unstable, irresponsible, or otherwise unequipped to meet the demands of responsible gun ownership as much as possible.
This argument does not settle the issue. Far from it, in fact, as the difficult matter of determining how to keep guns out of the hands of such persons is still left to be settled. Further, this argument will most likely not satisfy either of the extremist positions.
The abolitionist will disagree with the notion that there is such a thing as responsible gun ownership, while the advocate will most likely reject the claim that the best way for the responsible gun owner to secure their own access is to make such access heavily restricted. But I am not terribly concerned with convincing an extremist of anything. Most political and social issues are settled somewhere between the extremes. Gun control will likely not be an exception to this rule.
What this argument does do is reveal something surprising. Even if one is a proponent of gun ownership, there are good, self-interested reasons why such a person ought to support gun control, perhaps even fairly strict gun control. If this is correct, then perhaps the two sides on this issue are not so far apart as they sometimes seem.
Tags: Applied Ethics
January 2nd, 2013 by Elijah Weber · No Comments
As the holiday season finally, mercifully ends, many of us find ourselves on the receiving end of at least one miserable holiday gift. Perhaps the item is the wrong size or color, a common but forgivable mistake, albeit a slightly insulting one when the giver has grossly over-estimated your size. Or perhaps the item is simply something you already have, or something that was given to you by more than one person. Much worse are the gifts that you simply do not want, because they are not something you would ever wear, use, hang on your wall, etc. In each such case, there is at least some motivation to return the item and get something else.
Some of these cases are easy. If you like your gift, but it’s the wrong size or color, there seems to be no real issue with exchanging the item for something more appropriate. Your loved ones would hardly want you walking around in something that fits like a tent or makes you look like a giant orange Popsicle, for example.
Things are more complicated in the other cases. For instance, suppose you have received two of the same item. This happened to my wife this year, and it was the source of much stress for her, though I won’t reveal what she did about it or why she chose the option she selected. Instead, I’ll focus on my own duplicate gift situation, which happened last Christmas.
Every year, my family asks my wife and I to provide gift ideas for one another. This is understandable, as they live far away from us, and thus have only a passing idea of what we already have or might like. Inevitably, we end up giving several people essentially the same ideas, which creates the unavoidable danger of receiving more than one of the same gift. I’d somehow avoided this situation for many years, but that changed last year when, in an effort to support my recent interest in Chinese cooking, each of my parents bought me a wok.
You might think this situation is easy. After all, who needs two woks? How much Chinese cooking is a white guy in Michigan really going to do? Surely not enough to justify owning two woks.
Here’s the thing: Both of my parents were really excited about having gotten me a wok. Both of my parents are good cooks, and cooking is one of the few activities that we have in common. Both went to some lengths to find out what brand of wok was best, and they were very careful about selecting what seemed like the best one for me.
The woks, in short, weren’t just woks, but symbols of the effort and care that each of my parents took in selecting a Christmas gift for me.
So what did I do? I kept them both. One of the woks is now well-seasoned and frequently used, while the other remains in a box until called into action. Truth be told, I don’t know whose wok I started with, so I’m not sure whose Christmas gift is being used and whose is biding its time for the chance to shine.
But I do know this–gift giving is often an exercise in tedium and obligation, with little of the appropriate sentiment attached to it. On the rare occasions when this fails to be the case, especially when one’s closest loved ones are involved, this shouldn’t be taken lightly or exchanged for something more practical.
Exchanging a gift that someone else put real thought into and worked hard at selecting is a failure to appreciate the sentiment that gift-giving is supposed to involve. I’d much rather have an extra wok, with a side of genuine care than anything “practical.”
Tags: Personal Ethics · Social Ethics
December 7th, 2012 by Elijah Weber · No Comments
Every year at this time, a familiar debate emerges regarding how we ought to wish one another a pleasant holiday season. For some, this time of year is about Christmas, and Christmas is a Christian holiday, so we ought to be saying “Merry Christmas.” For others, this time of year is important for many faiths and traditions, including people of no faith, and it therefore feels a little disingenuous to go around wishing people a “Merry Christmas” when we don’t hold the religious commitments that this expression implies.
Trouble emerges when these paradigms collide socially. Perhaps I wish you a “Merry Christmas,”and you reply with a self-righteous “Happy Holidays,” your tone intended to identify me as a closed-minded zealot who doesn’t realize that not everyone is a Christian. Or perhaps I wish you a “Happy Holidays,” and you respond with an insistent “Merry Christmas,” as though you are correcting my obvious semantic mistake.
It’s difficult to troubleshoot this sort of disagreement, because although it involves something seemingly trivial, it cuts to the core of some of our most important value commitments. And, everyone involved already thinks they are obviously correct, so it’s a challenge to make any real headway in the other direction.
As an atheist who is married to a Jewish person, I tend to have more experience with the corrective “Merry Christmas” than the self-righteous “Happy Holidays.” My wife’s “Happy Holidays” is often met with a tepid “Merry Christmas.”
In general, I tend to simply avoid these phrases; at most, I might offer a casual “Have a good holiday,” which seems to offend no one despite essentially being a version of “Happy Holidays.” It’s amazing what happens when we get away from slogans. I’m also a big believer in a simple “Thank You” in response to either greeting. This sometimes confuses people, but they never seem upset about it.
That said, I think it’s important to think about this issue philosophically, in particular to think about what we take ourselves to be expressing when we utter these sorts of phrases. When someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas,” I take them to be expressing something like good will toward me, well-wishes during a time of year when our culture makes a point of such things. If I respond with a petulant “Happy Holidays,” I’m effectively responding to their good will with the holiday equivalent of “F*ck you, I’m no Christian.” Even if I am, in fact, no Christian, expressing this sort of sentiment in response to genuine well-wishes seems wholly inappropriate.
This goes both directions. If I wish you a “Happy Holidays,” and you respond with a corrective “Merry Christmas,” you are answering my expressions of good will by correcting my grammar, or perhaps educating me on what you take to be “the facts” about the holiday season. Expressed goodwill is not an opportunity to correct what you take to be my ignorance.
So if you are someone who is bothered by being wished a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Holidays,” I invite you to think not about the words being uttered, but the sentiment being expressed. Goodwill ought to be answered in kind. Often, we must translate our expressions of goodwill into the language that the subject can understand. Other times, we must translate the expressions of others into our own language. These phrases are no exception.
So if you receive someone’s goodwill in the form of a “Merry Christmas,” respond with your own goodwill in a language they can understand. And if the goodwill comes in the form of a “Happy Holidays,” then return that goodwill in the manner you received it. But in either case, don’t turn someone else’s goodwill into an opportunity to be self-righteous, closed-minded, or angry. Whatever this season is about, it’s definitely not about any of those things.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Kwanza, Happy Holidays, and Goodwill for all.
Tags: Applied Ethics · Social Ethics
August 22nd, 2012 by Elijah Weber · No Comments
Recently, Senator Todd Akin made some questionable comments regarding the prevalence of pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” In an earlier post, I argued that while Akin’s comments were biologically ridiculous, they don’t obviously imply a deeply flawed moral character.
Akin has now apologized for his comments, claiming that he used “the wrong word.” There’s a sense in which this is true. The word “legitimate” usually implies that something is reasonable, or permissible, and that clearly never applies to something like rape.
On the other hand, there is a distinction in the typology of rape that one might draw on, which makes Akin’s comments less obviously offensive.
Some cases of rape straightforwardly involve victims who explicitly refuse sexual intercourse with their assailant, but it is forced upon them against their will.
Other cases of rape, however, do not have this feature. Statutory rape, for instance, may involve two consenting individuals, but it is considered rape because at least one of those individuals is regarded as incapable of consent. Other cases involving intoxicated victims similarly involve a victim who is incapable of consent, rather than a victim whose will is explicitly being violated.
I think we can divide these cases into two general categories. Rape as involuntary sexual contact involves the imposition of intercourse against the victims’s wishes. Rape as nonvoluntary sexual contact involves the imposition of intercourse where either the victim’s wishes are unknown, or their capacity to make those wishes explicit is impaired in some way.
Perhaps Akin’s view is that only involuntary sexual contact counts as “legitimate rape,” and that things like statutory rape or rape cases that involve intoxicated victims who gave consent are not in the same moral category. This is not at all unreasonable, as there does seem to be a moral difference between violating a person’s expressed wishes and acting in accordance with their wishes while uncertain about whether those wishes ought to be respected.
Let’s pause to be clear about what’s being said here. I am in no way condoning the suggestion, from Akin or anyone else, that a woman’s body can prevent pregnancy in cases of rape, and that we therefore need not allow for abortions in such cases. What I’m suggesting is that there’s a way of interpreting the concept of “legitimate rape” that is not only plausible, but morally defensible.
What’s problematic here is Akin’s extreme view about abortions, which is the official position of the GOP, not his use of the word “legitimate” to describe rape.
It’s not that crazy to think that things like statutory rape aren’t “really” rape in the same sense that forcing oneself on a resistant victim is rape. There is a difference at the level of consent, and consent makes a moral difference.
Tags: Applied Ethics · Political and Legal Philosophy · Sexual Ethics
August 20th, 2012 by Elijah Weber · 1 Comment
Representative and candidate for Senator Todd Akin recently made a truly ridiculous comment about the frequency of pregnancy due to rape, which has caused a flurry of discussion regarding Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney’s position on abortion.
Akin, who has long-expressed opposition to abortion even in cases of rape, was seemingly attempting to respond to an obvious argument against his views on abortion. This comment has become important to the presidential election, in turn, because Akin has a standing association with vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
There are two components of Akin’s comment that are worth prying apart. First, we should think about whether his main claim is accurate. Biologically speaking, there’s no reason to think Akin is correct here. To put the point simply, there’s nothing about rape that makes it less likely to lead to pregnancy. Thus, even if the frequency of pregnancy in cases of rape is lower than the frequency of pregnancy in cases of consensual sex, as a matter of fact, there’s no reason to think this statistical trend will persist.
Akin’s comment to the contrary, not surprisingly, has led many people to voice strong opposition to Akin’s continued candidacy for Senate. Some have gone so far as to demand that he withdraw from the race, on the grounds that his comments indicate a morally objectionable perspective about women or a deeply flawed character.
While his comments are clearly wrong-headed, it’s not obvious that they are indicative of some sort of deep moral failing. Was Akin’s statement ill-informed, to the point of near-illiteracy about science? Absolutely. But does that make him a terrible person? Not necessarily.
It seems legitimate to deride him for being a dimwit here, but we need more evidence for the claim that this comment was born out of some morally objectionable views about women and rape. Akin may be a dummy, but that doesn’t make him a bad person.
Now to the second aspect of Akin’s comment where there is confusion occurring in the media coverage. Because Akin has partnered with vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan on various anti-abortion projects, there is some concern that the official Romney-Ryan position on abortion in cases of rape is disingenuous.
To again put the point simply, it’s politically very convenient that Ryan is suddenly on board with allowing abortions in cases of rape, after being long-opposed to that very view as evidenced by his teaming with Akin.
In order to better assess the relevance of the Akin-Ryan connection, it’s worth thinking a bit more about whether Ryan is actually being inconsistent here.
We might first consider the distinction between one’s personal ethics and one’s positions about policy. It may be that Ryan is personally opposed to abortion, even in cases of rape, but that he does not regard prohibiting abortions in such cases as the best policy. There is nothing inconsistent about disapproval at the personal level combined with acceptance at the level of policy-making.
Alternatively, we might wonder whether Ryan’s promotion to potential vice-president has moved him to adopt a national perspective, rather than the more narrow view that his previous positions have allowed for. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that one’s localized attitudes about some behavior should be sensitive to changes in one’s potential constituency. Ryan may have simply adopted a position that better represents the views of the nation as a whole, in accordance with his new role as a representative of the entire nation’s interests.
Whether either of these descriptions capture Ryan’s view remains to be seen. The point, however, is that there need not be an inconsistency here, and to accuse the Romney-Ryan campaign as such should be based on evidence that Ryan is being disingenuous at the level of national policy-making. A conflict between one’s personal values or local policy positions and one’s national policy recommendations is not necessarily inconsistent, because it involves different viewpoints that can reasonably be in conflict.
Tags: Applied Ethics · Political and Legal Philosophy · Social Ethics
August 3rd, 2012 by Elijah Weber · 3 Comments
With apologies for the badly rhyming title, the current debate spurned by Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s comments about the proper structure of marriage has led to a serious backlash from both gay-marriage supporters and defenders of either Cathy’s comments, or his right to make them. Clearly, this is a good place for some philosophical analysis, as the debate has quickly become a maelstrom of distractions and unrelated counter-points.
The first thing we should do is separate two kinds of questions:
1. Questions about Cathy’s comments themselves
2. Questions about Chick-Fil-A’s donation history to anti-gay groups.
Let’s start with the first kind of question. Again, we must disambiguate to avoid confusion. We should differentiate between:
1. Whether Cathy’s comments were morally problematic, and
2. Whether he had a right to make them.
To the question of whether Cathy’s comments were morally problematic, we should note that it was less his actual words than their implication that have gotten him into trouble. His actual statement was that he and his company are believers in the Biblical definition of marriage, and that they regard those who think we are allowed to deviate from that definition as arrogant and misguided. While this is a bit insulting to those who disagree with his rather rigid position on this issue, to call someone arrogant or their view misguided is hardly a great moral offense.
The implication of Cathy’s comments are a bit more problematic, since they imply that God disapproves of same-sex marriages. How Cathy knows this is a bit of a mystery. For those who disagree with Cathy, and especially those with a vested interest in the legalization of same-sex marriage, this was probably somewhat hurtful. But again, Cathy is primarily stating his beliefs, rather than acting against the gay community, and any harm one incurs from hearing such statements is easily avoidable–stop listening.
Further, it should be noted that even if one disagrees with Cathy’s statements, it’s hard to deny that he ought to be allowed to make them. It is well-established that even controversial claims that some might regard as hate speech are protected by the First Amendment. However, this does not protect Cathy from consumer backlash, or public denunciation, but only from criminal prosecution by the state. So while we should note that Cathy’s words are First Amendment protected, this does not mean he is safe from the scorn of his fellow citizens.
The second kind of question is potentially more problematic for Chick-Fil-A, though again we should disambiguate two distinct questions:
1. Whether Chick-Fil-A is permitted to donate to anti-gay groups, and
2. Whether Chick-Fil-A ought to be up front about their donation habits.
Clearly, Chick-Fil-A is permitted to donate to any group they wish. And had Chick-Fil-A gone to any great lengths to conceal their donation histories, we might fault them for this as well. But they haven’t. Chick-Fil-A’s history of donating to anti-gay organizations is well-documented. It has been featured in national news stories, and the company headquarters have been protested for it. So it can hardly be claimed that Chick-Fil-A hid their true feelings. In effect, Cathy’s statements were more or less an expression of business as usual at Chick-Fil-A.
While I’m not a huge fan of Chick-Fil-A’s stance on same-sex marriage and homosexuality, for reasons that I’ve given elsewhere, it’s tough to see how this new set of statements and behaviors is particularly egregious. Chick-Fil-A is who they have always claimed to be, a company that disapproves of homosexual relationships. We can hardly fault them because we haven’t been paying attention.
Tags: Applied Ethics · Business Ethics · Political and Legal Philosophy · Sexual Ethics · Social Ethics
July 23rd, 2012 by Elijah Weber · 2 Comments
The Jerry Sandusky scandal continues to change the landscape of Penn State University. Sandusky’s recent conviction on dozens of criminal charges related to sexual misconduct with children led to, among other things, a debate about whether to remove the statue of legendary football coach Joe Paterno, from its prominent place outside Penn State’s Beaver Stadium.
According to the independent report by investigator Louis Freeh, Paterno participated in the cover-up of the Sandusky incident, and could have prevented countless instances of sexual abuse, had he simply done the obviously right thing and reported Sandusky to the proper legal authorities.
I previously argued that the statue should remain up, as a kind of memorial of Paterno’s greatest failure and a reminder to the Penn State community of what can happen when an ordinary man is elevated to the status of a deity.
I now want to argue for an additional conclusion. The Paterno family, by challenging the conclusions of the Freeh report, and continuing to insist that the best way to help Sandusky’s victims is to “uncover the whole story,” continue to perpetuate the same attitudes and behavior that allowed this horrible incident to occur. At this point, if they aren’t willing to acknowledge the moral failings of their patriarch, the least they can do is shut the hell up.
There are two arguments for the conclusion that the Paternos ought to give up their challenge of the Freeh report. First, suggesting that there is somehow a deeper truth to be found implies that either the report is somehow mistaken, or that Paterno was justified in protecting Sandusky.
The first possibility seems very unlikely, since the university itself basically gave Freeh’s team total access to all relevant information. The likelihood of anything vindicating Paterno in this case coming to light is extremely low.
But the second possibility suggests something morally reprehensible. There are no circumstances which would justify Paterno’s failure to act, and to continue to suggest that there might be is a failure to appreciate the harm Paterno caused Sandusky’s victims. In a sense, by even suggesting that Paterno’s actions might be justified, the Paternos are continuing to victimize Sandusky’s victims.
The second argument for the conclusion that the Paterno family ought to keep silent is based on the moral imperative that the attitudes which perpetuated this situation be eliminated from the Penn State zeitgeist. One of those attitudes is the deification of Paterno.
By continuing to suggest that Paterno is anything other than a criminal offender in this case, the Paternos perpetuate the very attitudes that allowed Sandusky free reign to victimize children. The Paternos, by trying to defend JoePa’s legacy, are interfering with the healing that must take place if Penn State, as well as Sandusky’s victims, are ever to recover from this tragedy.
It is perfectly understandable that the Paterno family would feel some drive to protect and defend their famous patriarch, even in the face of damning evidence of his criminal negligence. What is less understandable is their insistence on making a public spectacle of doing so. At this point, the Paterno family owes it to both the victims of Jerry Sandusky, and the Penn State community, to just shut up.
Tags: Applied Ethics · Social Ethics
July 16th, 2012 by Elijah Weber · 1 Comment
The recently released report from independent investigator Louis Freeh was an important moment in the unfolding of the Penn State-Jerry Sandusky scandal. Freeh’s investigation revealed a culture of deference to Penn State’s late, and legendary head football coach, Joe Paterno. According to Freeh, Paterno participated in a cover-up of the allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was recently convicted of 45 charges of child abuse, endangerment, and other related offenses.
At a minimum, Paterno was aware that Sandusky had committed such egregious actions, and chose not to report them to local police. At a maximum, he willfully participated in an effort to conceal Sandusky’s actions, without regard for the well-being of the boys involved.
One subject of discussion that immediately emerged from these revelations was the question of whether Penn State should remove the prominent statue of Joe Paterno that is located outside of the stadium where Penn State plays football. The question about the statue was obvious: in light of these allegations, should it be removed?
It is easy to let one’s emotions take control here. Those with a close connection to Penn State will probably demand that the statue remain. Such is the deity-like status of Paterno in and around State College, PA. Those with no such connection will probably think just the opposite, that no college should honor in effigy a man who seemingly cared more about preserving the Penn State football brand than protecting children from a dangerous predator. But what are the arguments for and against removing the statue, and what conclusion do they ultimately support?
Argument #1-We Ought Not Honor Criminals
One might argue for removing the statue on the grounds that had Paterno lived, he would likely have been found guilty of felony criminal negligence, or some other egregious crime. One might then appeal to a principle which says that we ought not honor criminals with statues, so we ought not allow a statue of Paterno to remain at Penn State. This is a plausible principle, and a strong case for immediately removing the statue.
Argument #2-The Statue is for Achievement on the Field
Those who are opposed to the removal of the statue might argue that Paterno was so memorialized for his achievements on the football field, and not for being a particularly good man. Paterno led Penn State to a national title, and he is currently the winningest football coach in NCAA history. We might appeal to a principle which says that if someone is memorialized on the basis of certain achievements, that memorial can be removed only if those achievements are undermined. Since the Freeh report, while scandalous, has nothing to do with football, the statue should remain. Paterno, one might argue, is being honored as a great coach, not a great human being.
Argument #3-Change the Meaning of the Statue
There is another argument regarding what to do about the Paterno statue that, I think, captures something important about both sides of the debate. It cannot be denied that the primary basis for erecting a statue of Paterno was his achievement on the football field. Although Paterno is also lauded for his efforts to build the Penn State academic brand, primarily by donating money to build a massive library on campus, he is first and foremost revered as a great coach.
However, it equally cannot be denied that his likely criminal involvement in the Sandusky case puts a serious black mark on his resume, such that it cannot simply be ignored. The simple solution, I think, is to keep the statue, but modify its meaning so that it better represents the facts about who Paterno was.
There are several ways that the meaning of this statue might be changed. First, one might simply erect a plaque explaining why the statue was erected, and publicly denouncing Paterno’s involvement in the Sandusky case. This would serve as a way to honor Paterno’s positive achievements, while also decrying his greatest failure. It is also a solution that opponents of keeping the statue are unlikely to find adequate.
More controversially, but perhaps more fittingly, one might modify the statue itself, to indicate that despite his illustrious status, Paterno turned a blind eye when it most mattered, and failed to be a leader in the most difficult of times. Perhaps the best way to represent Joe Paterno is by placing a blindfold on the statue in front of Penn State stadium, to remind the Penn State community that this man they so revered was simply not the great leader they took him to be.
In the face of horrific tragedy, Paterno cared only about Penn State football. How better to communicate this message than a blindfolded Paterno?
Tags: Applied Ethics · Business Ethics · Careers in Philosophy · Social Ethics