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Oppenheimer's Choice: Reflections from Moral Philosophy (SUNY Series in Philosophy) Hardcover – 7 Jan 2006


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 183 pages
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press (7 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0791467813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0791467817
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Synopsis

"Oppenheimer's Choice" studies J Robert Oppenheimer's choice to accept leadership of the Manhattan Project.

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First Sentence
In 1797, near the end of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant illustrated his views on the use of individual exemplars in the teaching of ethics: a teacher will not tell his naughty pupil: take an example from that good (orderly, diligent) boy! Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Format: Hardcover
This book focuses mainly on the moral aspects of the choices made by Robert Oppenheimer to accept the leadership role in the development of atomic bomb in early 1940's. It does not deal with his legacy as a physicist nor does it deal with Security Board's hearings on revoking his security clearance. It also does not discuss the House committee investigation into his un-American activities during the McCarthy and Hoover era. The book evaluates the action of nuclear physicists, especially Oppenheimer in light of the philosophy of Plato, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Spinoza. This book is not biographical or psychological, hence reading this book is a little boring as it digs deeper into this subject, because the discussion is mainly from point of morality and responsibility. The fact that the author summarizes his book both at the beginning and also at the end does not help the boredom.

The Manhattan project was the first huge scientific-military-industrial project employing about 600,000 people. Oppenheimer initially accepted this responsibility more as a technical challenge. His choice was voluntary as opposed to Andre Sakharov in Soviet Union who did not have any choice but to make Hydrogen bomb. He would have been shot; had he refused. Werner Heisenberg from Germany also had a choice to opt out (in fact he was offered lucrative faculty offers from Columbia University and many other physics programs in United Sates), but he refused them, participated in Nazi Germany's atomic weapon program.

The focus is about the decision made by Oppenheimer and the scientists of Manhattan project to build an atomic bomb were good for the humanity or the bad?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 1 review
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
An analysis of the moral dilemma of Robert Oppenheimer 20 July 2011
By Rama Rao - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book focuses mainly on the moral aspects of the choices made by Robert Oppenheimer to accept the leadership role in the development of atomic bomb in early 1940's. It does not deal with his legacy as a physicist nor does it deal with Security Board's hearings on revoking his security clearance. It also does not discuss the House committee investigation into his un-American activities during the McCarthy and Hoover era. The book evaluates the action of nuclear physicists, especially Oppenheimer in light of the philosophy of Plato, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Spinoza. This book is not biographical or psychological, hence reading this book is a little boring as it digs deeper into this subject, because the discussion is mainly from point of morality and responsibility. The fact that the author summarizes his book both at the beginning and also at the end does not help the boredom.

The Manhattan project was the first huge scientific-military-industrial project employing about 600,000 people. Oppenheimer initially accepted this responsibility more as a technical challenge. His choice was voluntary as opposed to Andre Sakharov in Soviet Union who did not have any choice but to make Hydrogen bomb. He would have been shot; had he refused. Werner Heisenberg from Germany also had a choice to opt out (in fact he was offered lucrative faculty offers from Columbia University and many other physics programs in United Sates), but he refused them, participated in Nazi Germany's atomic weapon program.

The focus is about the decision made by Oppenheimer and the scientists of Manhattan project to build an atomic bomb were good for the humanity or the bad? While discussing the concept of curiosity in decision making process, the author argues that a physicist likes to use his theoretical knowledge to build a weapon of mass destruction just to verify the theory. Thus there is a greater tendency to build a weapon without too much emphasis on the consequence of having that weapon. Secondly the problem of responsibility; do physicists have responsibility for the loss of human lives from nuclear explosion in a war or when use of nuclear power produce unintentional disaster? At that time it was widely feared by the scientific community that Germany was very close to making the bomb, hence many American physicists thought that this country must develop an atomic bomb as a deterrent. In fact some believed that approach would help the world peace by preventing the war. The third concept of irreversible change brought about by the proliferation of nuclear weapons. How does humanity deals with this problem? Is nuclear war inevitable with escalation of nuclear technology? Concept of purity discusses as how a theoretical knowledge inevitably leads to its application. Einstein regretted discovering the energy-mass relationship that underlies the physics of an atomic bomb. Otto Hahn who first reported nuclear fission in the laboratory in 1939 contemplated suicide after learning the death and destruction in Hiroshima. During the initial stages of development of nuclear technology, Oppenheimer thought that peace would be achieved (with war ending sooner), if the U.S had an atomic bomb. Unfortunately the decision of President Harry Truman to use of the bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not resonate with the hopes of Oppenheimer and many physicists worldwide.

1. J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life
2. Robert Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections (Stanford Nuclear Age Series)
3. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
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