[ by Charles Cameron — Pogge’s ethics, Russell’s barber paradox, and self-reference ]
The riddle, koan or potential paradox posed in the upper panel alludes to the matter of Yale’s professor Thomas Pogge, a noted ethicist, and some unbecoming behavior of which he has been accused — but as professor Judith Stark writing at Conversation suggests, there’s further interest beyond the case of Pogge and his accusers.
Responding to the question posed by the title of her own piece, Should ethics professors observe higher standards of behavior?, she writes:
This is an enduring dilemma in the area of ethics and one that has recently come to light with charges of unethical behavior brought against a prominent philosopher, Professor Thomas Pogge of Yale University. Pogge has been accused of manipulating younger women in his field into sexual relationships, a charge he has strenuously denied.
Without making any judgment on the case itself, this situation raises larger questions about how the behavior of the experts in ethics is to be reviewed and evaluated.
Profession and practice are, in their own way, like word and act — or are they?
In the lower panel, I’ve placed a discussion of Bertrand Russell‘s “barber” paradox that in Russell’s view partially but not fully resembles his paradox of the “class of all classes that are not members of themselves” — the question there being whether this class is a member of itself or not. I’m not in a position to argue such matters with Russell, so I’ll just say that he views both the “classes” and “barber” paradoxes as (different but similar) seeming knots which, when you pull on their loose ends, disentangle themselves, pop!:
Russell writes of the “barber” paradox that it is a variant on the “classes” paradox in which “the contradiction is not very difficult to solve.” The “classes” paradox is harder, he says, but he finally dismisses it as “nonsense, i.e., that no class either is or is not a member of itself, and that it is not even true to say that, because the whole form of words is just a noise without meaning.”
Or as Wm. Shakespeare might have said, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” — to which Witty Wittgenstein might have quipped, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” — which, alas, has the air of a tautology, with the entire Tractatus thereby eating its own tail..
What do you think? Is the entire question of ethicists behaving ethically or unethically moot? a koan? does it eat its own tail? does it just melt into thin air, and leave not a rack behind?
Judith Stark, Should ethics professors observe higher standards of behavior? Esther Inglis-Arkell, The Barber Paradox Shook the Foundations of Math Bertrand Russell, Logic and Knowledge: Essays, 1901-1950