3 Essays from my Ethics Class

Last fall I took an Ethics and Values class. I wanted to share some of the essays I wrote in that class, because they are relevant to the ideas I discuss here on medium.

Unfortunately, I got a ‘D’ in the class. I suppose it’s because I’m not a very ethical person. jk.

Part of the reason I got a poor grade is because I failed to complete all the assignments in the way required. I often struggle with traditional assignment expectations, and usually have my own ideas for the best way to use my time. Ironically, I was also hurt by poor personal accounting practices which caused me to miss points I otherwise earned.

I also feel one reason for my poor grade was because the professor had trouble understanding or relating to my ideas, or he simply disagreed with them. There are some instances where I could have done a better job presenting my ideas, but for the most part I’m satisfied.

I told my professor about what I write here on medium, and like most people, he seemed uninterested. I thought it might provide some context on how I was relating, or struggling to relate, with some of the ideas in the class, but I doubt he read any of it. Professors are busy, and I’m not surprised. Overall it was a great class experience and I learned a lot, even though I got a disappointing grade for an admittedly disappointing performance by traditional metrics.

Essay 1

Legacy of Empires

Insights from the Ottoman Empire on contemporary Palestine/Israel and Arab/West relations.

This essay was my attempt to learn some of the historical background of contemporary middle eastern politics. This is an area of history that many in the west and especially the U.S. don’t learn much about.

The prompt was to write a 5 page research paper on a contemporary ethical issue connected to the Palestine/Israel conflict. My goal was to get into themes about debt, as presented by Graeber, in Debt: The first 5,000 years, and into themes involving culture, business, politics and cybernetics, using Adam Curtis’ documentary Hypernormalisation as a starting point. We were to use 10 sources, and not include any original ideas, but rely exclusively on our sources. He implied that we had nothing of value to add, at this point in our learning, to the issues we would research, because we lacked knowledge or expertise. I felt it was an unfair suggestion, because everyone in the class was at a different stages in their learning. I also find it ironic to imply that young people have nothing of value to say about conflicts where it’s usually young people who end up doing the fighting, and suffering the worst of the consequences.

Here is the essay: Legacy of Empires

My favorite paragraph in that essay comes from the introduction. It ties together important ideas from biology, sociology, morality, mathematics, computation, language, and information systems.

Government and culture can be viewed as technologies of social life. They are technologies that integrate both natural and artificial processes. Biology has DNA, computers have binary encoding, and human society uses both. One can view society as a realization of cybernetic control systems operating within culturally and politically established categorical schemas. “Categorical schemas” generalizes class, race, religion, lineage, and other distinctions. Categorical schemas are used in creating knowledge representations and establishing political programs. “Categories” play an important role in personal identity, cultural practice, legal administration, and political rule.

Essay 2

An Application of Just War Theory

In this essay we were given a scenario. I don’t recollect it very well, but something happened, and our kid got hurt. It was lacking in details, so I invented specifics consistent with the original scenario. We were instructed to use the tenets of just war theory to describe how we would respond.

I basically said “Just war theory is a thinly veiled attempt to rationalize violence, and I would never use its criteria in moral assessments” I described how I would try to navigate human emotions and draw from human empathy to decide on an effective course of action. My professor gave me a 0 on the assignment and a chance to rewrite it.

When I rewrote the essay, I researched just war theory in depth, and I presented my original impulse thoughts in more detail, and framed them in the context of philosophical debates about just war theory, like diverging revisionist and reductivist views.

Here is the essay: An application of Just War Theory

Essay 3

Bakers can be Bankers

It’s hard to describe how finance rules our lives succinctly, or explain how exciting new tools like my cryptoledger system trust-ledger might transform that, but I did my best.

We were tasked with inventing a scenario and using “Critical Theory” to analyze it. I’m still not exactly clear on what critical theory is, or how it works. When our professor described it as explanatory, normative, and practical, I thought “YES! I’m on board! That’s EXACTLY what I’ve been trying to do.”

But it seems that “Critical Theorists” are limiting themselves to a particular set of analytical tools. I’m an amateur mathematician and computer scientist, so I’m gonna want to bring category theory and pumping lemmas to bear where ever I can.

Here is the essay: Bakers can be Bankers

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