The Santa Monica Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board › Vote for the topic for the Philosophy Meetup! (This Sunday, June 10 @ 2 PM)

Vote for the topic for the Philosophy Meetup! (This Sunday, June 10 @ 2 PM)

Group Organizer
Woodland Hills, CA
 Important Notice – we are starting at 2:00 PM this Sunday, NOT the usual 5 pm!


Hi Everyone! 


The June 2012 Meetup (­ and ­http://philosophy-in-...­) is happening this Sunday, June 10, 2:00 PM - 4:30 PM (the 2nd Sunday of the month).  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: July 15 (the 3rd Sunday, 5 pm), August 12 (the 2nd Sunday, 5 pm) and September 9 (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 (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 few days to let you know which topic won the vote and what readings, audios 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)  IMMIGRATION:  what sort of restrictions can a nation legitimately place on immigration, legal or otherwise?  To what extent (if any) are affluent nations ethically obliged to accept immigrants from poorer nations?  To what extent (if any) do nations have a duty to restrict immigration, in the name of self-interest?  Should non-citizen immigrants (legal or illegal) have the same rights and protections as the citizens of a country?      



3)  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! 



4)  LUCK AND MORALITY:  is it right and justifiable that luck makes a difference in our moral and legal judgments?  For instance, the difference between murder and attempted murder can merely be the luck of the situation (e.g., the skill of the murderer and other factors that seem to be morally irrelevant).  Yet, the two actions are viewed quite differently by most people, ethically and legally, as evidenced by the court system punishing murder and attempted murder to a vastly different extent.  Another example is the moral and legal disparity between accidentally killing a pedestrian while driving drunk, and narrowly avoiding a pedestrian while driving drunk. 


In either example, what justifies us in assessing and punishing those who are unlucky far more severely than those who are lucky?   The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states the issue this way, "The problem of moral luck arises because we seem to be committed to the general principle that we are morally assessable only to the extent that what we are assessed for depends on factors under our control (call this the “Control Principle”).  At the same time, when it comes to countless particular cases, we morally assess agents for things that depend on factors that are not in their control."



5)  WHO SURVIVES ON THE LIFEBOAT?  "Suppose you find yourself in a situation in which killing an innocent person is the only way to prevent many innocent people from dying. What’s the right thing to do? This question arose in The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens (1884), a famous English law case involving four men stranded in a lifeboat without food or water." (The above is from philosopher Michael Sandel's discussion of the dilemma in his Harvard course on Justice,­ )


The question is whether the sailors were justified in killing and eating one person in the group to save the others.  In their defense, the person sacrificed was ill and the other sailors were starving, near death, and had been stranded in the lifeboat for many days, with no reasonable expectation of rescue.  Yet, improbably, the surviving sailors were indeed rescued, then tried and given a death sentence by the court, which was afterwards commuted to six months in prison. 


What would you have done, in their place?  What principle of justice, fairness, utility, desert, duty or any other consideration would help you decide?  Rather than answering the question merely in the abstract, imagine that you are in the lifeboat and you don't know if you'll be the person sacrificed.  How does your choice reflect on your character?  Assume that there's no question of swimming to safety, as you are starving and would drown in the cold, rough, shark-infested seas before you swam the hundreds of miles to shore.


Secondly, if the group in the lifeboat decides to sacrifice one person to feed the others, how could you choose?  Is it fairer to choose randomly, or is it fairer to choose by considering the characteristics of a person, such as their age, the kind of life they have led, or the degree to which others depend on them?  Could you live with yourself, after deciding who would die?  Unlike the actual legal case, assume everyone on your lifeboat is equally healthy, and that the boat is populated by 10 people of varying ages, sizes and genders, all of whom know one another well.  It's up to your group to determine whether any of the following individual differences provide a reasonable basis for deciding which person to sacrifice, or whether all are irrelevant.  Your boat holds an elderly embezzler, a Pulitzer winning writer, a nun living in a monastery, a young and violent criminal, a famous professional athlete, a cancer researcher, a homeless man, a retired philanthropist, a 7-year old child and her mother. 



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,


A former member
Post #: 4
Let's talk about immigration.

Group Organizer
Woodland Hills, CA
Post #: 92
Thanks, Herb!

Let's talk about immigration.


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