August 31, 2006

Teaching Protagoras

Up to now, this has been a kind of general interest philosophy blog. However, I recently got a job teaching some introductory classes, and it seemed sensible to make this blog temporarily some cross between general reflections and supporting material for those courses.

The first reading for my Intro to Ethics course is a short dialogue by Plato called Protagoras. For reading notes on this dialogue, click here: Download file

Posted by shea0017 at 9:06 PM

August 3, 2006

On committing murder in a dream

I asked myself if I could still be sleeping, when I saw in the business section of the Strib today a story about someone fired for a violent dream. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

Olson, of Stacy, was a project manager in computer operations at IBM in Minneapolis, when his wife, Lori, was diagnosed with skin cancer, melanoma. He believes his supervisors eventually got tired of his need to be at home, so they started harassing him -- including giving him such an unreasonable workload he couldn't help but fail. The cumulative pressure led Olson to get sick, too, with feelings of panic and anxiety, and he asked for medical leave for himself.

While he was out, Olson spoke to a therapist about a recurring nightmare in which someone is chasing him and shooting at him, until he finds a gun and shoots back.

A psychiatrist hired by IBM to evaluate Olson told the company that if Olson ever had those "strong thoughts" again he could be a danger, according to court documents. IBM also told the court that the dream violates its "zero tolerance" policy on workplace violence. The company did not return calls asking for further comment.

But Olson said that takes the dream out of context, and that he has no record of violence at work or anywhere else.

"Dreams don't mean action," Olson's Minneapolis attorney, Clayton Halunen, said. "We all have strange dreams, sometimes of hurting other people or doing bizarre things. Dreams are our mind's way of working things out, especially working out conflict."

Sometimes, when people do go on killing rampages, they may look back later and say, "It was as if I was acting in a dream." That is a natural way for a person to think about uncharacterixtically bad behavior. It just erupts. So, why does it seem sensible to take action about one sort of eruption and not about another? And yet, if people are going to be prosecuted for their dreams, we will have to build some more prisons.

This story also makes me think about the policy of "zero tolerance." It's like "strict liability." "If something is in the direction of violence, we don't have to prove that it is violence." That's a very odd moral move.

Posted by shea0017 at 4:11 PM