The Santa Monica Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board › Vote for the topic for the Philosophy Meetup! (Sunday, Mar. 11 at 5 PM.)
Woodland Hills, CA
The March 2012 Meetup (http://philosophy.mee... and http://philosophy-in-...) is happening Sunday, March 11, 5:00 PM - 7:30 PM (the 2nd Sunday of the month , NOT this Sunday). We'll be at our usual venue in Santa Monica. Driving directions will arrive in an email a few days before the meeting. New participants from all backgrounds, points of view, political and religious belief (or non-belief) are most welcome.
If your plans to attend have changed, please update your RSVP! If you're not able to make it, please free up a space on the RSVP list for someone else.
After the meeting, feel free to join us for dinner and more conversation. Location TBA. FYI, here are the dates of future gatherings: April 15 (the 3rd Sunday, 5 pm), May 20 (the 3rd Sunday, 5 pm) and, tentatively, June 10 (the 2nd Sunday, 5 pm).
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 reply to this email (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 few days to let you know which topic won the vote and what readings, audios or videos we have for it.
1) PUNISHMENT: what is criminal punishment for and what justifies it? These are the two, basic questions. To expand on it a bit:
First, what purposes do you think punishment serves (and should serve) in society? Philosophers and other theorists have come up with a surprisingly long (and contested) list of the functions of punishment, which we will evaluate. Second, what good reasons do you think a government has in using force or threat to restrict the liberty of, take the property of, or otherwise do harm to a person who has committed a crime? Third, how do you think criminal punishment relates to the punishment of children by parents?
2) SCIENCE AND PSEUDO-SCIENCE: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE? What criteria distinguish one from the other? Is there a scientific method or core set of methods used by most or all full-fledged sciences but not by pseudo-sciences?
Though it's hard to pin down the exact criteria that separate the two, nearly all scientists and philosophers who study the issue agree on some cases. Astronomy and Evolutionary Biology are real sciences; astrology and creationism are pseudo-sciences. But, what about other fields that claim for themselves the status of science, such as cultural anthropology, psychoanalytic psychology, string-theory, or evolutionary psychology? Maybe some 'sciences' are pseudo-sciences with an undeservedly good reputation. And, maybe some 'pseudo-sciences' or 'pre-sciences' are unfairly maligned (yet legitimate) sciences. Do you have an example of a pseudo-science that you believe most people in our group would think of as a full-fledged science? Or, do you have an example of a full-fledged science that you believe most people would think of as a pseudo-science? If so, come prepared with arguments to defend your position!
3) TIME TRAVEL TO THE PAST: apart from whether this is physically or technologically possible, is it logically possible? Doesn't travel to the past allow for causal paradoxes? Apart from that, does it even make sense to talk about the past being changed? And, even if travel to an earlier point in time doesn't involve changing the past, doesn't that allow for other contradictions, such as "circular causation?" Then again, the history of physics repeatedly shows that (seeming) logical impossibility, contradiction and paradox isn't a barrier to how reality turns out to be. And, physicists and philosophers have put forth plausible models for how time travel might work -- we can examine several of these.
One well-known causal puzzle to consider is the "grandfather paradox." You hop in your time machine and go back to a time before your parents were born and kill (intentionally or not) one of your grandparents, making it apparently impossible for you to have been born, and thus making it apparently impossible for you to have entered the time machine to go back to prevent your birth. Do paradoxes like this prove that time travel to the past is impossible?
4) Human/Non-Human Chimeras: should society limit scientific research on human-animal hybrids? What would justify these limitations? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on "Human/Non-Human Chimeras" discusses the pros and cons of the five main arguments against Chimeric research on human-animal mixtures. The following is from opening of the article:
"The Unnaturalness Argument explores the ethics of violating natural species boundaries. The Moral Confusion Argument alleges that the existence of entities that cannot be definitively classified as either human or non-human will cause moral confusion that will undermine valuable social and cultural practices. The Borderline-Personhood Argument focuses on great apes and concludes that their borderline-personhood confers a high enough degree of moral status to make most, if not all, chimeric research on them impermissible. The Human Dignity Argument claims that it is an affront to human dignity to give an individual "trapped" in the body of a non-human animal the capacities associated with human dignity. Finally, the Moral Status Framework maintains that research in which a non-human animal's moral status is enhanced to that of a normal adult human is impermissible unless reasonable assurances are in place that its new moral status will be respected, which is unlikely given the motivations for chimeric research and the oversight likely to be provided. These arguments provide different rationales for restricting chimeric research and have different implications for the range of chimeric research that will be deemed unethical."
5) SUICIDE: is the decision if or when to kill yourself a basic human right? Or, is it an immoral act of "self-murder?" Or, is its ethical status something else altogether? What, if anything, is wrong with killing yourself? Is it typically, or ever, a rational decision? If it can be a rational act, does that make it more or less ethically blameworthy or praiseworthy?
Before thinking about it explicitly, people often have radically different intuitions about the ethics of suicide. Some strongly feel it to be obvious that nothing else is more within the realm of one's own rights and interests, and that nothing else is more personal and private, than the choice of whether to end your life or to continue it. Others have a nearly opposite moral sense of suicide, feeling that suicide is, factually and morally, a form of murder, the kind where the victim and perpetrator happen to be the same person. Still others feel suicide to be wrong mainly because it's a moral crime against something outside yourself, that is, it's a sin against (depending on your view) your family/friends, the state, God(s), and/or the future self you are depriving of life (and thus the opportunity to carry forth your projects). These are just a few of the views on suicide throughout human history. What do you think, and why?
Finally, consider this thought experiment: imagine that it was a natural and unremarkable fact of human life that, once you reach adulthood, you die exactly one year later (peacefully, in your sleep), unless you actively and energetically choose to continue living for another year. This process repeats at the end of each year of your life; you die (by default) unless you specifically decide to renew your life for another year. In such a world, should your view of the morality of suicide be any different? Would there be anything wrong with refraining from renewing your life for another year?
Send in a vote for your favorite topic(s) now!
Also, if you have a philosophical question or topic you've been dying to talk about, email it to me. That's how we get the topics we vote on each month.
I hope to see you there,
FYI, the annual American Philosophical Association convention (Pacific Division) is coming up, April 4 to 7 (Wednesday through Saturday). It's in Seattle this year. For the last few years, a number of us have met up at the convention, including the last three conventions in San Diego, Pasadena and San Francisco. At least three of us are going this time. If you want to meet us there for any or all of the four days of the convention, let me know! For more information, check out the APA convention website, http://apa-pacific.org/current/
To see the main program of the sessions/ presentations they'll have,
It's a casual convention, and very inexpensive, especially for an academic convention (only $10 - $15 if you register as a student). You can pre-register (http://apa-pacific.org/current/registration.php) or simply show up and register on-site, which I've done many times (they never sell out). The presentations/ sessions cover every area of philosophy and range from highly academic (and sometimes fast-paced) to easily accessible to anyone in our group (though more of the presentations are of the former type).
If you want to get a clear sense of what many of the sessions will be like, take a look at (http://apa-pacific.org/current/abstracts.php) at the abstracts for each session and, if motivated, the paper linked to any abstract that interests you. If you're considering going, note that the full papers (that each presentation is based on) are freely available online from now to the end of March. By the time of the conference in April, they no longer allow access to the full papers, but only to the abstracts.