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In philosophy, a famous thought experiment called the “trolley problem” attempts to illuminate the conditions under which a human can justifiably take the life of another. And while there are no hard and fast rules, attempting to apply ethical principles to daily life can make important moral boundaries clearer and our decisions more informed. Philosopher David Edmonds explains the trolley problem in the course of detailing which five books of philosophy have been most important to him, ranging from subjects on the nature of consciousness to the ethical treatment of animals.
What’s the Big Idea?
One of the five books chosen by Edmonds is Thomas Nagel’s Mortal Questions. As a series of essays, the book takes some counterintuitive positions on well-worn philosophical questions. “Nagel introduces…panpsychism—the idea that inanimate objects might have atoms in which there is a conscious element. That sounds very weird until you think about human beings. We are created out of physical stuff, so where does the magical stuff of consciousness come from? Perhaps the answer is that the little bits of stuff which we thought was physical also contains within it some of this subjectivity, even if at a subatomic level.”
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