The Santa Monica Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board › Vote for the topic for the Philosophy Meetup! (This Sunday, Sept. 9 @ 5 pm)

Vote for the topic for the Philosophy Meetup! (This Sunday, Sept. 9 @ 5 pm)

Group Organizer
Woodland Hills, CA
Hi Everyone! 


The September 2012 Meetup (­ and ­http://philosophy-in-...­) is happening this Sunday, September 9, 5:00 PM - 7:30 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: October 14 (2nd Sunday, 5 pm) and, tentatively, November 11 (the 2nd Sunday, 5 pm) and December 9 (also 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 day or two to let you know which topic won the vote and what readings, audios or videos we have for it. 



1)  WHY CAN MATHEMATICS BE USED TO UNDERSTAND THE WORLD?  In fact, math describes nature so well that it appears indispensable.  Modern science wouldn't exist without it.  Yet it's not at all obvious why or how this is possible.



2)  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.



3)  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?      



4)  THE ETHICS OF NON-CONSENSUAL, POSTHUMOUS BAPTISM:  whether you are a religious believer or not, consider the following religious practice.  The Mormon Church, using genealogical records, regularly baptizes the souls of people long after they've died, including, famously, the souls of those of other faiths.  (The ritual is seen as a way of helping souls, giving them an opportunity to reach heaven that they might not otherwise have.)  For example, when the LDS (Mormon) Church recently baptized, posthumously, a large number of Jews killed in the holocaust, many objected, arguing that the vast majority of those Jews would not have consented to baptism, and that this Mormon practice desecrates the dead person's life, or insults the legacy of their life, and/or is also akin to "soul-stealing."  The Mormon Church argues that, after Baptism, the soul has the opportunity to decline the Baptism, if he or she so chooses, so no harm is done and autonomy is not violated. 


Ethically speaking, what can we make of this?  Personally speaking, do you object to the prospect of you or a loved one being baptized after death (by any religious institution)?  Would you feel offended?  If so, you presumably think the practice is wrong, in some sense.  Is a moral principle being violated?  Or, is it a standard of etiquette, or some other normative value, that's at issue here? 


If you are a religious believer, on what basis do you object to or defend posthumous baptism?  For example, if there is a soul, can it suffer harm after the death of the body?  If you are a non-believer, is it a meaningless issue to you, or do you have a basis for either objecting to or defending the practice?  For example, can a person's interests be harmed after they die? 


The question here isn't about the nature of or ethics of Mormonism, Judaism, or any particular religion, or whether God or the supernatural exists, but about the ethics of a specific practice of claiming the (alleged) souls of others to one's own religion, when those people aren't alive to assent or dissent from it. 



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,


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