Monday, January 08, 2007

Philosopher's Carnival

The 41st Philosopher's Carnival is up at Westminster Wisdom.

In one of the posts, SteveG at "Philosophers' Playground" discusses the commonly accepted prohibition against speaking ill of the dead. He asks, "What is so special about death that it overrides truth?" I'm not convinced that this is the right way to put it. It is, after all, entirely possible to follow the prohibition without lying; and there are lots of circumstances in which it is inadvisable to say some true things unless you have to do so. A lot of tact, in fact, is knowing what to pass over in silence unless you are forced to bring it up. The prohibition is pretty certainly not theological, since the version of it found in very theological cultures -- Muslim and Christian, for instance -- tends to be very weak; the strongest forms of the prohibition are certainly going to be found in cultures where religion is not so much theological as ancestor-oriented. And even in such cases, it isn't clear that the religion would be the source of the prohibition. The moral hypothesis seems very plausible as an explanation of the survival of the prohibition in most Western nations; but the etiquette hypothesis at least at first glance seems far more plausible for cultures like Japan and China. Perhaps, then, these are only furthering causes rather than original ones -- perhaps they are all the sorts of things that may strengthen the prohibition, or take it in various directions, without being the actual source. If so, however, what could be the source? I suspect it would lie somewhere in common human attitudes to death and the dead, which can be (to some degree) culturally invariant and thus able to be the source of serious discomfort at instances of speaking ill of the dead. But that's just a guess. It would bear further investigation.

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