Monthly Archives: July 2012

Plato’s Gyges and Military Drones

By Calips (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Much like the power of the ring in Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Ring of Gyges allows the possessor to become invisible. Plato considers whether a person would make moral decisions if he knew no one would see him. The N.Y. Times article, The Moral Hazard of Drones, picks up Plato’s theme out of his Republic book two and applies it to the U.S. drone war in the middle east.

Terrorists, whatever the moral value of their deeds, may be found and punished; as humans they are subject to retribution, whether it be corporal or legal. They may lose or sacrifice their lives. They may, in fact, be killed in the middle of the night by a drone. Because remote controlled machines cannot suffer these consequences, and the humans who operate them do so at a great distance, the myth of Gyges is more a parable of modern counterterrorism than it is about terrorism.

Scott Shane’s article, The Moral Case for Drones, was mentioned in the above article which provides a positive view of the use of the drone in war. Here he suggests,

“[T]he drone war has prompted an intense focus on civilian casualties, which in a YouTube world have become harder to hide. He argues that technological change is producing a growing intolerance for the routine slaughter of earlier wars.

“Look at the firebombing of Dresden, and compare what we’re doing today,” Mr. Crumpton said. “The public’s expectations have been raised dramatically around the world, and that’s good news.”

If it is accurate to attribute the Plato’s analogy of Gyges to drones, here is what Plato’s Glaucon says about a just and an unjust man having this power,

[360b] If now there should be two such rings, and the just man should put on one and the unjust the other, no one could be found, it would seem, of such adamantine temper as to persevere in justice and endure to refrain his hands from the possessions of others and not touch them, though he might with impunity take what he wished even from the marketplace, [360c] and enter into houses and lie with whom he pleased, and slay and loose from bonds whomsoever he would, and in all other things conduct himself among mankind as the equal of a god. And in so acting he would do no differently from the other man, but both would pursue the same course. And yet this is a great proof, one might argue, that no one is just of his own will but only from constraint, in the belief that justice is not his personal good, inasmuch as every man, when he supposes himself to have the power to do wrong, does wrong. (Republic book 2.360b,c)


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Population Management in China

More and more we hear rumblings about the appropriate number of children for a family to be environmentally conscious. Even last week while traveling, a young man was sporting a green shirt that proposed no more than two kids for the sake of the rest of the world. Where does this thinking lead? First, just as one can possess false humility one can also possess a false sense of service or sacrifice. A false sense of service or sacrifice can be motivated by many things. The narrative goes like this: “I will give up this for the betterment of the world…” but now it doesn’t stop with individual choices it finishes with “and you should too.” This many times is a false sense of sacrifice because those wanting another to give up something (children, etc.) never desired it for themselves. This brings us back to the green shirt guy- did he desire more children than one or perhaps two? If he did not, then what is he sacrificing for the cause? Why shouldn’t he forego bringing a baby into the world and instead adopt one of the many at risk babies born throughout the world? He didn’t choose this as he was walking a two year old around the pool that looked very much like him. However, there is a second problem with this thinking. Ultimately it will result in the state deciding for us. We can see the end-game of this type of thinking clearly playing out in China. Even fines (sound failure: think healthcare) can’t satisfy those who are in China’s bureaucracy. The New York Times provided a vivid picture what results from this type of thinking:

Ms. Pan, a resident of Daji, said Ma Yuyao, the head of the township’s family planning commission, “scores points for promotion” by keeping the population down. Many parents ready to pay the fine of $7,200 for a third child are still coerced or forced into having abortions to make sure targets are met, Ms. Pan said. (Daji is a rural area, and couples there are apparently allowed two children without penalty.)

This decision is best left with families, some will make wise decisions and some will not, but the solution is not a community or government voice.

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Filed under Ethics, Philosophy

Sunday Reflection: Augustine Confessions 2.15

“What shall I render unto the Lord,” that whilst my memory recalls these things my soul is not appalled at them? I will love Thee, O Lord, and thank Thee, and confess unto Thy name, because Thou hast put away from me these so wicked and nefarious acts of mine. To Thy grace I attribute it, and to Thy mercy, that Thou hast melted away my sin as it were ice. To Thy grace also I attribute whatsoever of evil I have hot committed; for what might I not have committed, loving as I did the sin for the sin’s sake? Yea, all I confess to have been pardoned me, both those which I committed by my own perverseness, and those which, by Thy guidance, I committed not. Where is he who, reflecting upon his own infirmity, dares to ascribe his chastity and innocency to his own strength, so that he should love Thee the less, as if he had been in less need of Thy mercy, whereby Thou dost forgive the transgressions of those that turn to Thee? For whosoever, called by Thee, obeyed Thy voice, and shunned those things which he reads me recalling and confessing of myself, let him not despise me, who, being sick, was healed by that same Physician by whose aid it was that he was not sick, or rather was less sick. And for this let him love Thee as much, yea, all the more, since by whom he sees me to have been restored from so great a feebleness of sin, by Him he sees himself from a like feebleness to have been preserved.”

Augustine, Confessions 2.15

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Moral choices do not have to be vacuous

I have been reading Russell Shaw’s book, Why We Need Confession, intermittently over the summer. As a Catholic theologian, he is making the argument for a return to confession, which according to him has been broadly abandoned by many in the Catholic church. It could be argued that it has also been abandoned by many in the protestant church as well. However, in this small book, he highlights some concepts about moral truth that may be helpful to recall. He specifically addresses situations when people exercise options that are against moral truth [I would call norms] because they see no other option available (i.e. “I didn’t have a choice”). He states,

First, there is a great deal of moral truth that, at least in principle, we are capable of knowing on our own, without the help of the Church. In general, this body of moral truth corresponds to the content of natural law.

Second, although we can know this body of moral truth on our own, very often we do not. Confusion, lack of time, our sinful inclinations, and other factors account for that failure.

Third, apart from revelation, we cannot expect to know a number of important truths pertaining to morality.

And, finally, the functioning of the Church as a teacher of moral truth is absolutely necessary with regard to the truths we can’t know apart from revelation and likewise necessary as a practical matter with regard to many truths of the natural moral law that we could—but generally don’t—arrive at on our own.[1]

We all have choices even in situations where they seem absent. I believe Shaw makes a great point in reminding us that the church exists to bring clarity to those very situations. The Scriptures repeatedly illustrate the value of wisdom and its location. Proverbs 2:6-13 indicates that wisdom originates with God, that “discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you,” and “wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse” (vss 11-12). Those who are trusting in Christ rest in his wisdom, who is the “wisdom of God.” When we rest in him we are wise (I Corinthians 1:26-30). The church, when acting on Christ’s behalf, can clarify moral choices. We have to be humble enough to inquire.


[1] Russell B. Shaw, Why We Need Confession, (Huntington, Ind: Our Sunday Visitor Pub. Division, 1986), 60.

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Apologies and Explanations from Jared Wilson on Gospel Coalition Blog

Jared Wilson has apologized for his post on the Gospel Coalition’s blog. I commented on it earlier here. While I believe his intentions were to advocate harmonious and healthy relationships, his general argument still stands as an impediment to embracing the traditionally understood complimentarian position. This broad brush application of complimentarianism is unhealthy for the church and community.

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July 21, 2012 · 11:55 am

Online Education: The Future?

An Op-Ed in the New York times entitled “The Trouble With Online Education” summarizes the problem that must be overcome by online education:

“A truly memorable college class, even a large one, is a collaboration between teacher and students. It’s a one-time-only event. Learning at its best is a collective enterprise, something we’ve known since Socrates. You can get knowledge from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning. A real course creates intellectual joy, at least in some. I don’t think an Internet course ever will. Internet learning promises to make intellectual life more sterile and abstract than it already is — and also, for teachers and for students alike, far more lonely.”

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There are many analogies waiting for the incident at the “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises” premiere in Colorado. While we may not have the power to stop maniacs like the shooter in Colorado, we can do our part by heeding Paul’s words in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We overcome evil by showing doing what is required of Christ-followers: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

The Life and Times of a Communications Coordinator

Like the rest of the country, I was shocked and disheartened this morning as I heard the news of the “Batman Shooting” in Aurora, Colorado. As news commentators cry, “What is this world coming to?” and “How did this happen?”, I am asking myself another question: What kind of childhood will my children remember?

“The youngest reported victim is a 3-month-old, who is said to be doing fine at University Hospital, where 20 patients, including nine in critical condition, are being treated. Another victim is a six-year-old being treated at Children’s Hospital, where a total of six victims were taken. Their condition wasn’t known. Victims were rushed to six area hospitals overall.” ~CBS News

Retro Wishes, Childhood Dreams

“Be home before the streetlights come on,” was the summertime rule in my house. Growing up in the small town of Plymouth, Michigan, during the 80’s was a real-life Sandlot experience. Between…

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