Kind of Philosophy with James Winslow

Applying philosophy to current events

Image by: Herbert Wang
James introduces his new philosophy column.

The aim of this column is somewhat imprecise. 

We will—I hope together—explore events, trends, movies, and other happenings through a philosophical lens. Sometimes we’ll use existing philosophies to accomplish this, other times my own amateur ideas. 

Our first exploration of this sort—coming on Tuesday—will look at Christopher Nolan’s latest masterpiece, Oppenheimer. Assuming Nolan’s portrayal that Oppenheimer believed nuclearization would deter conflict between major world powers, we’ll ask whether the development of the atom bomb was justified on these grounds. 

To better understand Oppenheimer’s view and answer such a question, we’ll identify similarities between his justification and a philosophical tradition called consequentialism. This is a way of doing philosophy which decides between a range of alternatives according to which outcome produces the best or most desirable consequences. 

For Oppenheimer’s purposes, we’ll consider nuclearization versus non-nuclearization, and we’ll weigh the suffering produced in a hypothetical world without nuclear weapons and compare this with the suffering produced in our current world, where major world powers engage in bloody chess battles using less powerful nations and their citizens as fodder. Vietnam and other proxy wars serve as useful and unfortunate examples here. 

Oppenheimer’s internal struggle between his desire for scientific glory and the ethical implications of arming humanity with nuclear weapons opens the door to further questions. 

But more on this later. 

For our purposes this week, an introduction is in order. My name is James. I recently finished my undergrad at Wilfrid Laurier University, and I’m thrilled to say I’ll be joining Queen’s this semester as an MA student in the philosophy department. 

Coming from Laurier, I’ll say right off the hop that Queen’s seems to me a special place. I enjoyed my time in Waterloo, and I’ll forever be grateful for Laurier’s philosophy department, but goodness me is Kingston pretty. 

I can’t stress this enough to my fellow Queen’s students: you’re so lucky to be here. I’m slightly envious especially of undergrad students who get four of the most fun and transformative years of their lives on this campus—especially since most university campuses don’t have waterfront breezes and 19th century architecture in abundance. I hope other students feel as grateful as I do to be studying here this year. 

Anything less is inexcusable. 

No matter how you feel about returning to campus or starting new at Queen’s this semester, I hope you’ll join me whenever you can to talk about philosophy and its applications in our world and lives. 

If anything in this column strikes you as interesting, I encourage you to write a Letter to the Editor and send it to


Column, philosophy

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