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Phoenix Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board Socrates Cafe Philosophy Discussion in Tempe Discussion Forum › Socrates Cafe Summary: The Worst Thing Obama Could Do?

Socrates Cafe Summary: The Worst Thing Obama Could Do?

David W.
Tempe, AZ
Fellow Philosophers -

My thanks to everyone who participated in Wednesday evening's meeting. Below is a summary of the discussion. It's not a precise narrative but rather an organized description from my notes and impressions.

1. QUESTION: At the start of the meeting, each participant offered an initial answer to the question: "The Worst Thing Obama Could Do?" The answers offered by the 14 in attendance could be categorized in the following areas: a) Economy: Raise taxes, Increase spending, Intervene with President Franklin Roosevelt-like programs. b) Foreign Policy: Militarily engage in Iran, Ineptly withdraw from Iraq, Appoint unqualified ambassadors, Not close Guantanamo, Focus too much on international issues. c) Other: Expand positive rights/entitlements, Promote clean coal, Get himself killed, Get us killed, Change nothing.

2. DEFINITIONS: Initial definitions proposed for "Worst" were: a) Really bad. b) Very, very, bad. c) Supremely bad. Thankfully, a relatively new member suggested the utilitarian ethical approach: the costs far outweigh the benefits. The moderator expanded on the suggestion by reminding the group that every meeting is an ethical evaluation of options using one or more of the following approaches: Utilitarian, Rights, Fairness/Justice, Common Good, Virtue (for details, read "A Framework for Thinking Ethically" at­

One long-time participant briefly resisted defining "worst" ethically because the term "ethics" triggered emotionally charged associations with subjective terms like moral, religious, should/shouldn't, good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair, virtue/vice, and best/worst. Like many independent thinkers who rejected religion, he resisted traditionally philosophic decision-making methods because religious people also used them. This rift between the religious and non-religious is one reason why the moderator created the group: to encourage the practice of ethical problem solving methods that everyone could embrace.

From the above definition of worst, the question "The Worst Thing Obama Could Do?" was understood to mean "What's the most unethical action President Obama and his administration could take?"

3. ASSUMPTIONS: Participants suggested the following propositions, that if true, would further the discussion by implying a particular answer: a) Trying the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing, which implied that taking no action was not the worse thing to do. b) Taxes reduced the productivity of "movers and shakers", which implied that raising taxes would hurt the economy. c) The Great Depression was made worse (or better) by President Roosevelt's programs, which implied that New Deal-like interventions would hurt (or help) the economy. d) Thinking about the worst that could happen is defensive thinking, which implied that preventing instability and insecurity is most desirable. e) Discretionary spending rises when consumers are hopeful, which implied that restoring the American people's faith in the future is important.

One participant insightfully observed that all the assumptions proposed were economic. We did not discuss why, though afterwards the moderator was reminded of a teaching from Judaism's Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): Ain kemach, ain Torah ("Without bread, there is no law").

4. OBJECTIVES: Participants debated which ethical approaches (Utilitarian, Rights, Fairness/Justice, Common Good, Virtue) were most appropriate for determining the worst thing Obama could do. As often happens, the argument was whether the ends/results justified the means/rules. For example, did entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare that reduced wealth inequalities justify the taking of earnings through taxes? Those using the results-oriented ethical approaches (Utilitarian and Common Good) said yes. Those using the rules-oriented approaches (Rights and Virtue) said no. This conflict between results and rules can be resolved through the Fairness/Justice approach, where a community of individuals negotiate their ethics into laws, which are enforced through rational and sympathetic deliberations by juries and judges.

5. OPTIONS: To help participants develop additional options for the worst thing Obama could do, the moderator asked the group to consider three questions: What bad things have been done by past presidents? What can a president do given the powers of the presidency? What campaign promises did Obama make? After considering these questions, participants offered these additional options: a) Coercively impose democracies in other countries. b) Vow not to use nuclear weapons. c) Continue the Bush expansion of unauthorized presidential powers.

6. COST BENEFIT: There was no time to debate which of the options was worst.

7. ANSWER: At the end of the meeting, the moderator asked participants to give their final answer to the question "What's the worse thing Obama could do?" by first answering "What's the worse thing Bush did?" Participants restated many of the answers they already gave for Obama and offered the following answers for Bush: a) Invade Iraq. b) Ignore 9/11 warnings. c) Initiate a war on terror. d) Increase spending. e) Promote ignorance.

You can post your comments to this discussion on the Message Board under the topic "Socrates Cafe Summary: The Worst Thing Obama Could Do?" at http://philosophy.mee...­ You can also suggest a question for a future meeting by posting it on the message board under the topic "What Question Should We Discuss?"

The question for the next meeting on Tuesday, December 23rd, will be "Does God Belief Enhance Survival?" You can read an event description below my signature and RSVP here http://philosophy.mee...­

Hope to see you there.


Does God Belief Enhance Survival? - December 23rd
Depending on your beliefs, the Christmas season is either the most wonderful or ridiculous time of the year. For those who believe in God, Christmas celebrates the incarnation of a supernatural power who died for their salvation. For those who don't believe in God, Christmas is an opiate for the masses too lazy to cultivate their own redemptive powers.

At the next Socrates Cafe, we will discuss the question, "Does God Belief Enhance Survival?" If God doesn't exist, then why does the belief in God persist? Given that evolution favors genes and memes that best fit the environment, what is it about God Belief that makes it fit for survival? Will continued belief in God lead to Armageddon or Eudaimonia? To prepare for the meeting, read the Wikipedia entry on Meme at http://en.wikipedia.o...­

Only 20 people can attend. RSVP now at http://philosophy.mee...­
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