We’re all Aristoteleans now

Nigel Warburton, whose Philosophy Bites is among the brightest stars in the podcasting firmament, appeared on The Bike Show late last year, with materials scientist Mark Miodownik in a discussion about the talking about the physics and ethics of running red lights.

In the current issue of Prospect Magazine, he takes a deeper look at whether breaking the law can ever be morally justified. In a passage on ‘the red light question’ Nigel writes:

Jack Thurston, of Resonance FM’s Bike Show, argues that cyclists are different from other road users: “I see a bicyclist as a kind of hybrid pedestrian that should be granted the freedom to keep rolling as long as it’s safe to do so. Those who say cyclists should follow precisely the same laws as drivers of motor vehicles are making a basic category mistake.” This is more promising ground, suggesting an Aristotelean approach in which we clear up what the “essence” of a cyclist is understood to be, and also what the telos—or goal—of traffic signalling really is. If the aim is to create a safe flow of traffic without unduly hindering progress of the various users (including pedestrians) then perhaps cyclists should be deemed a special class of road user, and given their own appropriate laws. People like Thurston think that cyclists are not quasi-car drivers, but a species of quasi-pedestrians. Running a red light, on this logic, should be treated more like jay-walking.

You can read the article in full over here.

  • Rob

    Not sure if Warburton has accurately stated your position, Jack, but I fear that by accepting a self-definition of “quasi-pedestrians” cyclists are one step away from being banned from the road at the whim of Highways officers. Surely that’s too high a price for the privilege of shooting red lights.

    Not wishing to claim moral superiority, but I do stop on red. However I feel a dreadful label of ‘uncool’ descend on me whenever I do so in London. Is it simply that we want to maintain momentum, or would more cyclists stop if they dared to be different?

  • http://kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

    Interestingly enough most cyclist don’t like other cyclist jumping red lights either. A quick search of a few cycling forums soon backs up this finding, as regular cyclist want cycling to be accepted as a legitimate form of transport by wider society, rather than just that of an urban sub group.

  • Jack

    @ Rob, I see cyclists as flexible shape-shifters, able to transcend the distinctions between walker and motorised vehicle. We can reach overtake cars descending the Ventoux but also ride carefully and considerately along a canal towpath, mixing easily with walkers. The laws should reflect the miracle of the bicycle.

    @ Kim, you present more evidence – if it is needed – of what Buffalo Bill once said on the show: everyone hates cyclists but no-one hates cyclists more than cyclists. And on St Valentine’s Day to boot!