Category Archives: Theodicy

Moral luck, Donald Trump and the coronavirus

Trump Covid

The concept of moral luck is one of the more curious sidelines in the study of ethics, at the intersection of moral philosophy and mathematics. However, Donald Trump’s bizarre reactions up to, during, and after contracting Covid-19 make for a great opportunity to look at the concept. In short, President Trump first ascribed his escape from Covid for the first… Read more »

The Covid attack on empathy, sympathy and compassion

Empathy-Sympathy-Compassion

It is now official. The coronavirus mitigation policy of President Trump and state governors like Iowa’s Kim Reynolds is now essentially, “Sorry, old folks and immigrant workers, a lot of you are gonna die.” As a member of that honored class, pardon me if I am angry today. The coronavirus has taken a huge hit on three bedrocks of human… Read more »

How bad are we really? Humankind by Rutger Bregman

Garden of Eden

An ages-old morality play has started a new season of “reality shows,” run on television every night since May 25, 2020. Was George Floyd a bad man or a good man? How about the four policemen who killed him on the street? Were the street protestors outside the White House on June 1 patriots expressing their constitutional First Amendment rights… Read more »

Avenging angels and the Coronavirus

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Petrarch's Triumph of Death.

During a recent medical visit, my physician, a nice young foreign-born guy, asked me what this quarter-inch round scar was on my upper left arm. “Smallpox vaccination,” I said. His question took me aback, but I later realized how distant in time the “Avenging Angel” of smallpox is in our collective past. Meanwhile, you can always count on preachers like… Read more »

Why I won’t be in church on Easter morning

Nautilus shell

Politics meets religion meets mathematics. The political talk is that churches should open on Easter Sunday, April 12, and go back to “life as usual.” But the hard math says, “Please, do not do this!” One common talking point compares Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. so far (900+) to auto accident deaths (about 37,000 annually) and mocks the “big deal”… Read more »

COVID-19 and real-life lifeboat ethics

Before there was the “Trolley Problem,” ethics classes would commonly haul out “Lifeboat Ethics” scenarios to stimulate class discussion. In my years of teaching ethics, I never used either because I dislike them both. They both ask the wrong questions, and they lead the Stephen Millers of the world to invoke horrendous “Lord of the Flies” government policies like caging… Read more »

The roll of the COVID-19 dice

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Bayes Theorem

“It doesn’t want to kill you before you transmit it.” – biologist Michael Farzan of Scripps Research That quote is not so scary as it sounds; it is basic probability math. The probability math of the COVID-19 Coronavirus variant has hit the news, and not in a good way. We have already seen the first reported cases in my county… Read more »

Stupid stuff and the probability of tragedy

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Italian Hall

Drunk drivers will almost always get home safely each night. And if that happens enough successive times, the human brain “learns” a very bad thing, that it is okay to be driving drunk. Until tragedy strikes and it’s not. The Barack Obama foreign policy had been famously summarized as “Don’t do stupid s**t,” which is opposite of drunk driving, but… Read more »

The helpless gun violence theodicy of “thoughts and prayers”

In a recent post I looked at the theodicy expressed or implied by people as they sought to explain some “larger meaning” in hurricanes and other natural disasters. Theodicy is literally “the justice of God,” or figuratively the broader question of “Why do bad things (or good things) happen in this world?” That latter interpretation has come to include both… Read more »