PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, October 03, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Heroism + NEWS

NEWS: Invitation to Gloria's book presentation at the Mexican Embassy

Dear friends,

This Sunday, yes it is Sunday, we are discussing Heroism.

Once again we are discussing a rather slippery subject; heroism is one
of those things we know what it is when we see it but we'll be damned if
we can describe it! In my few paragraphs on the topic I take the view
that this is just another language game, but for once our inability to
decide what heroism is, works in our favour.

Ruel has also sent us his thoughts on the topic:

Hello Lawrence,
Below is the link to the short essay I wrote on the topic "Heroism" for
Sunday's PhiloMadrid:
See you on Sunday.
All the best,

---reminder from Gloria:
I have published my second Friki stories book.
This book will be presented at the Mexican Embassy from Madrid on
Tuesday October 7th at 19:30 and if you can be there it will be very nice.
Best regards.
Name of book: FREAKING OUT (Lo Esmás flipando) es. Chiado
First book: WHINNY: Cuentos o relatos negros pero blancos (1985-2013)
ed. Palibrio
Best regards
María Gloria Torres Mejía

--- from Norma – course and programme about Seville see link to blog
La magia de los mitos, la literatura y la ópera inspirados en Sevilla
a cargo de Norma Sturniolo
---- Curso -- Los martes a partir de las 18:00. El curso empieza el 7 de
octubre y finaliza el 20 de enero de 2015----
More details:

---review one of Gloria's books
If anyone would like to do a book review of one of Gloria's books for a
blog or media please get in touch with me.
Name of book: FREAKING OUT (Lo Esmás flipando) es. Chiado
First book: WHINNY: Cuentos o relatos negros pero blancos (1985-2013)
ed. Palibrio

----short essay Lawrence


A meaning of heroism is that this is the quality, or qualities, needed
for a person to be a hero. And a hero is someone who is brave and
courageous against adversity and dangerous situations. Usually fatal
situations but this is not a necessary condition.

We usually apply the term heroism and hero to someone who has gone
beyond what is reasonable for them to help others when in need. Someone
saving a potted plant wouldn't normally be described as a heroism;
unless we are talking about a plant that will cure all diseases known to
human kind and a stray dog was about to do its business in it.

However, we would describe someone a hero if they single handedly fly a
helicopter in a huge storm to save the lives of the crew of a trawler or
the crew of a ship. Heroes usually do things to help other people,
whether they are comrades on the battle field, life saves on the high
seas, and even people like you and me who happen to be in a situation
where courage and bravery are needed to help someone.

It seems to me that helping others is a necessary condition for heroism
but being brave and courageous are not sufficient conditions for
heroism. But is a dangerous or threatening situation a necessary
condition for heroism? And indeed, is a dangerous situation a necessary
condition for a person to bring out the heroism in them and thence
become a hero?

Of course, it is quite natural to ask, what is a dangerous situation and
what is courage? As I have just argued courage and bravery are not
sufficient conditions for heroism, but they are nevertheless very
laudable characteristics for people to display and nurture. So how do we
know when an act of courage is also an act of heroism?

I am inclined to argue that when we come to decide whether someone is a
hero we take a wide range of criteria into account. For example, the
outcome of the act of the hero, the context of the act, the difficulty
of the act, the effort required, although effort is a relative term
since an effort for us might be great but not for the hero.

Of course, part of the answer to the question what is heroism (or a
hero), and maybe even the whole answer, would depend on the language.
Whatever language term or expression we care to sue to describe
someone's act, that term does not have a meaning unless it has a
context. Thus our hero who wants to save the plant from the dog must
have a context otherwise we won't be able to call him or her a hero.

As I have just described this example (the potted plant) it just makes
no sense, the context is nonexistent and the language is too vague to be
of any use. So what would we say if the dog was a rabid dog with a
dangerous strain of rabies? I would still say that this is still
nonsense since it does not matter what strain the disease is given that
in saving the plant the hero would save themselves if they are bitten by
the dog! The hero just has to administer some of the plant to destroy
the rabies. Hence, no disease, no hero because there is no risk involved.

But if the plant can only cure half of the known diseases, then we have
enough context to say that the person who tries to save the plant from
the dog is a hero. But this is not a numbers game, and we intuitively
agree with that, saving one person and saving a million people, what
matters is the saving part; but be in doubt that saving a million people
is a spectacular feat. Sure, as philosophers we are also entitled to
give our emotions their rightful dues when witnessing spectacular feats,
but not more than what is rightful.

So if heroism is not a numbers game, what is it? Courage is not enough,
how many people we help is not enough, how about altruism? The heroism
of the hero is all these but also an act of altruism. One can save a
million people but the act need not be selfless and hence not
altruistic. Indeed this is the argument put forward for attacking Japan
with atomic bombs during the Second World War.

The President was not a hero in ordering the bombing of Japan, even
though it required courage and more to come to that decision. The pilots
of the bombers might have been heroes if they honestly believed that
they were saving more lives in the end; not that they knew what was
going to happen. But then again they were following orders; although I
am inclined to think that like following orders is not always a defence
against an atrocity, it is also not a negation for the status of a hero.

Apart from the fact that we tend to associate heroes with risks beyond
what we believe is reasonable, heroism and a status of being a hero are
titles conferred on someone by the community. This brings me back to the
language issue above.

Terms like heroism are not terms that we can use to predict what acts
would qualify to the title of heroism; the way these words function is
for the act to happen first and then we qualify those acts as heroism.
This works quite the opposite way from scientific words; for example we
can qualify and predict in advance what the area of a square is. Thus
"area-ism" has that predictive quality which heroism, courage, bravery
and altruism do not have. But these are not words that we use after
making a judgment, unlike say legal terms. Legal terms are conferred on
acts carried out by people after applying the relevant law; thus we
cannot say whether someone is a robber until the courts have decided the
issue. But we know what tests to apply to establish "robbery": religions
function in a similar matter.

We cannot even apply ethical rules, if there are such things as ethical
rules, to the term heroism on the grounds that what is ethical for some
might not be for others. A tribesperson killing a lion as a rite of
passage does not carry the same ethical package as an aristocrat killing
a lion as an act of bravura. Of course, we mustn't mix the rules for
heroism with the way the military or the government decide who is a
national hero!

Hence, whilst what is heroism and who is a hero are a language game, our
inability to pin these term down leaves us with the freedom to apply
these terms on our own best judgement. Whilst we might not be qualified
to decide whether a soldier is a hero or not when they saved their
comrade on the battlefield, we are very well qualified to use the terms
hero and heroism when we want to express our regard and esteem for
someone we consider to be special for what they have done or even do.

Thus a doctor or a nurse might well be doing their job, but they are
also taking upon themselves the challenges of nature and the deadly
consequences of diseases. A bus driver might also be doing their job,
but they also have to deal with the ever growing reckless behaviour of
drivers. The issue is not that the doctor or the bus driver can leave
their job and do something else; it is that they still do their job and
help others by taking the risks we would otherwise have to take for

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Heroism + NEWS

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