What we're about

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 (https://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.

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

P.S.

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 (1)

Promises: How Nietzschean was Bertrand Russell? How Nietzschean was Nietzsche?

Few philosophers were as anti-Nietzsche as Bertrand Russell as evidenced by the chapter on Nietzsche in his History of Western Philosophy. Yet, both seem to have taken a dim view of the bindingness of promises. Russell expressed a view of the self as subject to radical change so that a promise need not be binding on the promise-maker when they ceased to identify with the person they were at the time the promise was made, a recognition of which may come in an instant. To be bound by an earlier self is a form of stunting heteronomy, as immoral as promises made by you would be if they were taken to be binding on me. It is wrong to compromise other people. Who you are at one point in time can be *other* to who you are at another point in time. Thus, giving you license to disavow promises made.

One day in 1901, riding his bike, Russell writes, it dawned on him that he no longer loved his wife, Alys. He cited, then dismissed as reasons, her flaws, that he was no longer sexually attracted to her, that she was “impeccably virtuous,” perhaps annoyingly so, etc. But these weren’t the reasons why he no longer loved her, suggesting rather that he had become a different person and could not be held to promises made by an earlier self.

Russell might have cited Nietzsche in his defense. In the Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche comes down hard on the slavish habit of promise-keeping. Russell and Nietzsche viewed promises as external to the person. They are impositions born of accommodation and social interaction with others and could conflict with the freedom to be who one truly is or has willed to become. It becomes even virtuous to break them should they hamper development.

Throughout his work Nietzsche attacks the passive acceptance of conventional morality. He sets forth an ideal of volitional self-creation, active in its self-construction. We may ask whom in real life Nietzsche had in mind? Who was his Übermensch, who able to instantiate his ideal? Nowhere does Nietzsche suggest himself as exemplar. The passion in his exhortations to forgetfulness and against slave morality and sentimentality suggests his vision was aspirational. He was addressing as much himself and his vulnerabilities as anyone else’s. Forgetfulness at any cost – discarding the baggage of the past, of misguided compassion and human weakness, it seems, was not easy for Nietzsche. If not himself, then who? Who among the significant in his life could move through the muck of morality – shame, guilt, inhibition – toward willful self-realization with the virtuous forgetfulness he celebrated?

Russell, by contrast, was adept at convenient forgetfulness. It came naturally to him. Publicly playing the part of male-feminist, in his private life his credentials on that score did not impress. Nietzsche is famous for his unflattering portrait of women. How ironic, then, if Nietzsche’s model of amorality, his real-life Übermensch, the person of his acquaintance who most embodied his amoral ideal, was in fact a woman: Lou Andreas-Salomé, the most influential woman in his life. He proposed marriage three times. Each time rejecting him (as she had others), she offered friendship instead. She would be no wife/slave to any man, leaving a trail of wounded hearts. But she did so with grace and integrity, exacting grudging admiration from her lovers. She pulled off for real the self-possessed radical autonomy Nietzsche himself could only dream of. “Übermensch,” he was not. She was his muse, but a übermensch does not require a muse. He remained in her thrall to the end of his sane life. God died in the 19th Century but Lou Andreas-Salomé lived well into the twentieth, outliving all her admirers: Rée, Rilke, Nietzsche, Freud, even her celibate husband.

Russell gifted at compartmentalizing was a disjointed free-spirit, leaving victims by the wayside, poor Alys among them. Lou Andreas-Salomé, principled and clear about who she was and who she would not be, never played the promise game.

Past events (73)

The trolley problem | dilemmas in real life, part 2

Online event

Photos (185)