February's Meetup date and time is confirmed for Sunday, February 10(the 2nd Sunday) at 5:00 PMat our usual meeting place in Santa Monica. I hope to see you there.
Also, I'll soon send out an email with more details about the meetup, including the list of topics to vote on, if I haven't already.
If the RSVP list is full, go ahead and sign up anyway; you'll automatically be added to the waiting list. If enough people cancel their RSVP, the Meetup site will move you from the waiting list to the "Yes" list. This regularly happens in the week before the Meetup. See you there!
If your plans to attend have changed, please update your RSVP! If you're not able to make it, be kind and free up a space on the RSVP list for someone else.
As always, we're voting on the meeting's topic now. I've listed, in order of length, five philosophical questions or conundrums suggested by the group during previous meetings or by email. Please send me an email or message (very soon) with the name of the topic(s) that you would most like to talk about! (Anybody can send in a vote, even if you haven't been to previous meetings.) I'll send a reminder email in a day or two to let you know which topic won the vote and what readings, audios and/or videos we have for it.
1) VAGUENESS, AMBIGUITY AND GENERALITY: what is vagueness? How do vague ideas and statements differ from ambiguous ideas and statements, or from general/broad ideas and statements? Is all vagueness linguistic or do some kinds of vagueness exist in the world? Let's take a look at the ways philosophers try to account for and explain the various kinds of vagueness.
2) HYPOCRISY: what’s wrong with being a hypocrite? If it's wrong, why exactly is it wrong? Why does the hypocrite so often evoke greater moral outcry or outrage in us than the non-hypocrite who commits actions we consider more severely immoral or illegal? Do some varieties of hypocrisy deserve more sympathy on our part? Consider this defense of one form of hypocrisy: many or most of us strive for ethical ideals that exceed our ability to live up to, and thus hypocrisy is, in part, a positive sign, a measure of our high standards.
3) WHAT LIMITS SHOULD WE PLACE ON LAWS? One kind of limit to laws is practical, that is, some laws may have unintended effects that defeat the goal of the law or that otherwise make the law too socially costly. Alcohol Prohibition is a familiar example. That much is uncontroversial. Apart from practical limitations, though, the more interesting question is what principled limitations we should have to the laws we want to pass. For instance, what principles do we have against passing laws against every single action we consider harmful or immoral? What principled reasons, if any, make it wrong or inadvisable for the law to reach into all aspects of our lives?
4) IS THE TECHNOLOGICAL SINGULARITY PROBABLE OR DESIRABLE? The "technological singularity" is an idea about accelerating technological advance and its effects on society. It's been defined in a number of ways, but the version we're interested in is about an accelerating process of increasing machine intelligence, culminating in the maximal degree of intelligence achievable. The statistician I.J. Good glossed the notion in the following thought experiment. "Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion’, and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make."
Is it reasonable to expect such a technological singularity to occur? Is it, as some claim, nearly inevitable? Should we work to bring the singularity about or work to prevent it? Several philosophers, David Chalmers and Nick Bostrom among them, have examined some of the philosophical issues involved in answering these questions. These include the nature of intelligence (in humans and machines), of technological progress (and of the risks of encouraging or restricting research), of personal identity and its survival, and of the kind of future society we most desire and value.
5) WHICH NATIONS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ADDRESSING THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE? The debate has sometimes been framed as a justice dispute between economically developed and developing countries.
Economically developing nations can argue that, since the economically developed economies have been the largest cause of and beneficiaries from the CO2 emitting fuels that have caused global warming, they are mainly responsible for taking action to reduce global warming, to mitigate its damaging effects in less developed countries, and to compensate developing countries for damages suffered.
Counter to this, technologically developed countries can argue that they are not morally culpable for the bulk of climate change, since they didn’t know, until relatively recently, that global warming was occurring or that CO2 and methane emissions were responsible for it. Furthermore, we should focus our efforts on those countries that are currently emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases, not those that have done so in the past. In addition, they can argue, developing countries have advantages that already-developed countries didn't have in the past. We now know the path to economic development in a quicker, more efficient (low-carbon emission) manner. In addition, developing countries do not have to invent the technology needed for development, since it has already been made available by the developed world. Thus, the argument goes, developing countries have little or no claims on developed countries for compensation. And, developing countries should be no more exempt from emitting greenhouse gases than are developed countries.
Note: these ethical and justice disputes around climate change assume that recent climate change is real and largely human-caused, and that attempts to mitigate it are doable. That's consistent with what the overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe. If you disagree with these claims, we can spend a limited amount of time arguing the rationality of believing or disbelieving the position of the large majority of experts in the area. However, we won't debate the details of climate science, as that's a scientific debate, not a philosophical one, and we're not in a position to argue the detailed science of it. The main focus of the discussion will be on ethical and political obligations that arise when you concur with the scientific consensus on the issue.
For those who'd like to join us, we'll go for dinner and more conversation after the Meetup. Location and driving directions to our meeting and to dinner TBA.
You can see more info about our Meetup by exploring our other website, where you can post your ideas about the upcoming topics or any of the past topics we've talked about, and read what others have had to say:
I usually send out the monthly email, with the list of five philosophical questions to vote on, in the week or two before the Meetup. You can vote by replying to the email with the title of your favorite question. (Please don't vote by writing your favored topic on your RSVP, as I'll forget to look at that.) The winner of the vote is the question/topic we'll talk about at the upcoming Meetup. If the Meetup is less than 3 days away and you haven't received this email yet, let me know and I'll send it to you again.
Due to the healthy turnout at our Meetups, we'll break up into small groups of about 10 people each for about half of the discussion time. For the second half of the discussion, we'll get together in a large circle and go over our final thoughts on the topic, as well as the interesting ideas that came up in our break-out groups.
PS. If you have some philosophical question or issue that you really want to talk about, email it to me! That's how we get topics every month for our vote.