What we're about

Philosophers are worm can openers!

Some of you may occasionally wonder about things. Philosophers do it non-stop. At their best, they make trouble in the world of ideas. Come, bring your can openers, and let's open some cans!

We have explored or will (or will again) explore age-old topics like God's existence, the nature of people and things, morality, free will, fatalism, birth, death, the right way to live or die... as well as theories in core areas of philosophical thinking such as logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics (which are central to understanding what is really going on in the more accessible topics). But we'll also cover more current and concrete controversies such as abortion, infanticide, capital punishment, suicide (physician-assisted and otherwise), equality, justice, criminality, genetic engineering, neuroscience, over-population, war, terrorism, racism, sexism, speciesism, human "rights," animal rights, the "rights" of (or to) anything whatsoever!,... as well as important issues in medical ethics; environmental ethics; bioethics; philosophy of law, of art, of literature, of religion, of science; artificial intelligence, scientific method; social and political philosophy... and topics as yet uninvented.

In fact, "inventing topics" is a side effect of asking hard questions, which inevitably lead to still harder questions. Often enough, "new" topics are not really "new" but old, even ancient, unsettled concerns resurfacing. And it is those unsettled issues that are the real philosophical problems. As one philosopher once said, "If it has a solution, it was probably just science anyway." Any important subject whose fundamental ideas invite critical examination is ripe for our can opener... eventually we may work our way up to the really big can: the point of it all! But don't expect pat answers­­—we don't do self-help.

This club is open to non-analytical approaches to philosophy, and if you have some knowledge outside that approach and are open to trying to convince us or having it tested or even finding (perish the thought) common ground, you are welcome! Come shake us up a bit!... Still, philosophy, in the Anglo-American world (for better or worse), is dominated by some form of conceptual analysis. What characterizes the analytical approach to philosophy is attention to clarity and as much rigor as we can muster in our concepts and arguments—while hopefully keeping one foot in reality. You may be plied with questions framed against such values. But you may know better! Philosophical traditions just as individual philosophical views are error prone. Any philosophy worthy of the name should be comfortable with that.

We will try to stay focused on the topics under discussion, realizing that this is difficult. We draw on the insights of some of the brightest thinkers we know, both living and dead. Being bright is no guarantee that any of these people are right. In fact, we already know at least half of them must be wrong because the other half disagrees with them. But which half? (Even to assume only half are wrong is being more than a little optimistic.)

Skepticism and disagreement are to be expected, even encouraged. We should try to make the best case we can for our side and attend to what others say. We should expect that expressions of conviction may be forceful and that’s fine, as long as they are respectful of others and rational, which, in the context of a philosophy club, means to offer reasons to believe—reasons that are not themselves more controversial than the claims they are meant to support.

Though we range widely in the topics we cover, we try not to let anything go in our discussion. The point is to rise above the level of BS that too often passes in informal discussions for philosophy. Beyond a certain respect for clarity and rigor, we do not have an axe to grind. You may bring your own axe, we may sharpen it for you... or we may grind it to a stump. We mostly open worm cans, remember? You decide what to do with the worms!

See the writeups for past philosophy meetups (https://www.meetup.com/The-Philosophy-Club/events/past) and archived writeups (https://www.meetup.com/The-Philosophy-Club/pages/?op=all) to get some perspective on the topics we have and may cover. See also Philosophical Resources Online (http://www.meetup.com/The-Philosophy-Club/pages/Philosophy_Resources).

Formal membership is not required to attend and participate in our meetups. Feel free to come and try it out. Our meetup times and locations are public as well as topic resources. In fact, you cannot become a formal member unless you either attend one of our meetups in person or live in the Puget Sound area and could plausibly attend one of them.

Comments on the Home page and meetup topic pages are restricted to organizers. Discussions on the message board (https://www.meetup.com/The-Philosophy-Club/messages/boards/) are open to anyone. Contact me (https://secure.meetup.com/messages/) with any questions, thank you.

A word about etiquette: philosophy, by its nature, is contentious. Expect disagreement and treat each other respectfully. Failure to do so may be cause for removal.

—Victor Muñoz, organizer


If you know something about a topic and would like us to address it or you would like to present it yourself, let us know. You don't have to be an expert. We will work with you. So long as we can tease out a philosophical theme, that is, it addresses fundamental questions about an important subject, we would love to consider it.

Upcoming events (5+)

Love conditional and unconditional

Victrola Cafe

“Love lasts forever til it dies.” ~ Tom Rapp “...since none of us can ever express the exact measure of our needs, or our ideas, or our sorrows, and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when we long to move the stars to pity.” ~ Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary If someone can tell you why they love you, that should be a wake up call. You had better be on your P’s and Q’s. A slip up on your part can have dire consequences. If they can’t give you a reason why they love you, you are living in a very special light—that may go out at any moment. There is a mathematical proof for this constructive dilemma, in case you wonder, says Suki Finn. It relies on an intriguing application of Bayesian probability theory—the theory that, if we are rational, our beliefs at any moment in time must be responsive to new information affecting them. But rationality breaks down at extremes. Or maybe we do. But something breaks down for sure when you are not being transactional about love. There is a love that cannot become stronger because it is already at its theoretical maximum. And for the same reason, it cannot weaken either in light of new evidence because evidence played no part at its inception. It is “unmovable,” as Finn puts it, at least rationally. Like a die-hard Trump-baser, or a mother’s love. Then, again, isn’t the phrase “transactional love” dangerously close to a synonym for “prostitution”—a transaction that, in theory, follows strictly Bayesian rationality (only as much deal as money/only as much credence as evidence)? Some philosophers (such as Ole Martin Moen discussed by John Danaher below) would argue that it is. So here’s the dilemma: - when it comes to love, keeps your wits about you, don’t do anything a rational person wouldn’t do, or - jump in and risk foolishness. Both options have disturbing implications. If you think you can have it both ways, you have philosophical work cut out for you. | Resources | Suki Finn, “Beyond reason: the mathematical equation for unconditional love,” Aeon, November 2018. https://aeon.co/ideas/beyond-reason-the-mathematical-equation-for-unconditional-love John Danaher, "The Ethics of Prostitution (Part One)" http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-ethics-of-prostitution-part-one.html Raymond Carver's arresting short story, “What we talk about when we talk about love,” 1981. https://www.northernhighlands.org/cms/lib5/NJ01000179/Centricity/Domain/115/What%20We%20Talk%20About%20When%20We%20Talk%20About%20Love.pdf Camilla Kronqvist's book, "What we talk about when we talk about love," (2008), titled after Carver's famous story, is probably the most comprehensive and penetrating work by a philosopher ever on the subject. https://www.doria.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/97203/kronqvist_camilla.pdf?sequence=2 ... Full writeup will be developed here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZhcSQgSHjC9OFo1WSL3mr-KIU_oFzBV8DTkQ9mOiCHo/edit?usp=sharing

If war can be "just," why not a riot?
Needs a date and time

Needs a location

"Philosophers have justified wars - so why not justify the much lower level violence of a riot? If people have a just cause, why should they not retaliate against public property? Perhaps a racial minority has suffered violent discrimination - a riot might be the most viable way to draw attention to their plight. Avia Pasternak argues that a riot can be 'proportional' and that we should judge riotors in the light of their cause." Philosophy247 podcast (http://www.philosophy247.org/podcasts/riots/). We'll use the occasion of this podcast to raise questions about the justification of war---which some philosophers have found justification for since medieval times. And if some think war is ok, why not a riot? Useful background for the discussion: Just War Theory: http://www.iep.utm.edu/justwar/ Are violent protests morally acceptable? Alva Pasternak says, "under certain circumstances": http://www.philosophy247.org/podcasts/riots/ A "no" answer: http://www.dbknews.com/2017/02/08/violent-protests-trump-administration-just-war-theory/ Jonathan Havercroft: "yes, if just war is": https://www.academia.edu/29154567/Why_is_there_no_just_riot_theory Philosophical justifications for and against violence: https://www.thoughtco.com/can-violence-be-just-2670681 This writeup is a stub. More development and material to follow...

Philosophy gets down and dirty: the case of Anna Stubblefield

Famous philosophers Jeff McMahon and Peter Singer defend philosopher of ethics Anna Stubblefield (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/opinion/who-is-the-victim-in-the-anna-stubblefield-case.html?_r=0) convicted of sexually assaulting a 29 year-old-man with cerebral palsy. "Who Is the Victim in the Anna Stubblefield Case?" (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/opinion/who-is-the-victim-in-the-anna-stubblefield-case.html?_r=0) She got 12 years in prison, 10 without parole. There is a fire storm of philosophical issues brewing here (never mind the legal ones), some of them quite serious: questions about sexual morality and the limits of how far we may impute victimhood to others. Discussion Singer and McMahan on the Stubblefield Case from Brian Leiter. (http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2017/04/singer-and-mcmahan-on-the-stubblefield-case.html#more]Singer) See especially psychologist James Todd's remark on whether Stubblefield was a sexual predator. McMahan & Singer: Stubblefield Is A Victim Of Injustice (updated) (http://dailynous.com/2017/04/03/mcmahan-singer-stubblefield-victim-injustice/) Ken Taylor offers his take (https://www.philosophytalk.org/blog/some-thoughts-problematic-arguments?ca=0). One feminist philosopher, philodaria, (https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/a-reply-to-mcmahan-and-singer-on-the-stubblefield-case/) asks these questions: ...philosophically, this argument is quite astounding. One’s being incapable of giving or withholding informed consent to sexual relations makes unclear what the nature of the wrong of sexual assault could be? Seriously? Why ever should we think that one must have the cognitive capacity to conceptualize precisely how one has been harmed in order to have been so harmed? Are small children not even possibly victims of sexual assault? Can animals not be unjustly exploited? Are persons with severe brain damage incapable of being victims of theft? Why think experiencing pleasure precludes genuine harm? And even if one wanted to subscribe to a principle so readily met with counter-examples, why ignore that, again, according to Stubblefield’s own description of events, on many occasions John Doe expressed discomfort? The questions are asked rhetorically as though no decent person would ask them seriously. She goes on: McMahan and Singer confuse self-conceptualizing as having good intentions with failing to engage in predatory behavior. They confuse a willingness to articulate one’s position with being honorable. If these characteristics were genuinely interchangeable, multitudes of paradigm instances of exploitation through grooming, and even through violence, would be mitigated or exculpated. How many victims of childhoood sexual abuse have been told that their assailant loved them? How many cult-leaders have thought they were doing what was best for the souls of their followers? How many perpetrators of domestic violence believed they were doing what was best to keep their families as they should be? Intending to do good is not in any way inconsistent with doing enormous harm. Certainly, but intending at all "is not in any way inconsistent with doing enormous harm." In fact, nothing at all is inconsistent with doing enormous harm. And here is Jason Brennan (http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/04/moral-philosophy-needs-moral-license-offend/)raising another set of important questions: ...consider the questions moral philosophy has to ask: What makes something a moral patient, to which one can owe duties? What makes something a moral agent, which owes duties? Do different things have different kinds of standing? What rights do we have and why? When may we violate or trump those rights, if ever? When, if ever, do non-moral concerns trump moral reasons? What makes an action harmful? Why is rape or sexual assault wrong, and can it be less or more wrongful, more or less harmful under different circumstances? These are difficult questions. One reason they are difficult is–as I think Peter Singer, among others, has shown us–is that most of us have conflicting and contradictory intuitions and judgments about the answers to these questions. If you ask the average person why an adult human has rights but a rock doesn’t, that person will give you answers which imply (even though the person doesn’t intend to say this) that very young children or severely mentally disabled people don’t have rights or only have very weak rights. If you ask the typical person what makes rape harmful, they’ll give you an answer which will imply (even though the person doesn’t intend this) that raping a baby is not as bad as raping a typical adult, etc. ... The philosophically interesting question is what kind of sexual contact could not possibly be abuse? If it is assumed that some forms of sexual contact are not abusive, what exactly are the criteria for acceptable forms of sexual contact? What criteria could not be exploited or subverted for the purpose of exerting power over and victimizing another? I know of at least one very influential philosopher who argued that all forms of sexual contact are intrinsically abusive. The path to that conclusion is fascinating... .......... Comments to descriptions of meetups (hosted by me) are no longer permitted. You are always invited to either contact me personally with a question or comment, or you may post publicly on the discussion board thread related to this topic (https://www.meetup.com/The-Philosophy-Club/messages/boards/thread/50738609). Comments here are subject to being deleted. ~Victor

The ecological endgame
Needs a date and time

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There is a deep split in environmental ethics about what our ultimate goal should be as a species. One view, perhaps the more popular, is anthropocentric. Our treatment of animals, plants, and the entire biosphere is in the end determined by what we, human beings, want now or can imagine ourselves wanting in the future. Animals, plants and the environment matter but they matter because they matter to us. Climate change, for instance, only matters because of what it means to us or our interests, present or future. Take us out of the picture and it becomes a matter of indifference. But there is another more holistic perspective on our relation to everything around us that does not see us and our interest at all as the center of the moral universe. Building on the work of earlier thinkers like Richard Routley and Aldo Leopold, J. Baird Callicott has developed an ethic that challenges pretty much all the major moral theories we are familiar with: utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, etc. They are all anthropocentric. What’s wrong with anthropocentrism? Well what’s wrong with egocentrism? It’s self-serving, that’s what. If selfishness is not acceptable for individuals, why should it be ok for groups or entire species? These two views do not see eye to eye to say the least? But if one side is wrong? Why? We’ll survey the argument landscape and you can decide. [This topic is to be developed. It’s posted to gauge interest.]

Past events (31)

Bruno Latour, belief, and reality

Victrola Cafe

Photos (118)