What we’re about
You may sometimes wonder about fundamental things. Philosophers incline to it non-stop. At their best, they make trouble in the world of ideas. They open worm cans. Bring your can openers!
We have explored — or will (or will again) — age-old topics like God's existence, the nature of people and things, truth, justice, knowledge, free will, determinism, fatalism, birth, death, the right way to live or die... as well as theories in the major divisions of philosophical thought such as logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics. Exploring these core areas can help with understanding what is at stake in the more concrete topics we also address, which include controversies around abortion, infanticide, capital punishment, suicide (physician-assisted and otherwise), economic and social equality, criminality, genetic engineering, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, technology, over-population, war, terrorism, racism, sexism, feminism, transhumanism, antinatalism, speciesism, sexuality, human "rights," animal rights, the "rights" of (or to) anything whatsoever!,... as well as important issues in medical ethics, political philosophy, environmental ethics, bioethics, philosophy of law, of art, of literature, of religion, of science and its methods; and the nature, history, and methods of philosophy itself... not to exclude philosophical 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 serious approaches to philosophy — analytic, "Continental," and otherwise. Philosophy in the Anglo-American world (for better or worse) is still dominated by some form of conceptual analysis. What characterizes the analytic 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. (It's not "clear" that "reality" has anything to do with "clarity" or "rigor.") We ply "belief systems" with questions framed against such values. But you may know better! Philosophical traditions, no less than individual philosophical views, are error prone. Any "philosophy" worthy of the name should be comfortable with this.
We will try to stay focused on the topics under discussion, realizing that this is difficult. If one thing doesn't connect with another, it can't be that important. We draw on the insights of some of the brightest thinkers we know, both living and dead. Celebrated authority is no guarantee of being right. In fact, we already know at least half of the great philosophical thinkers 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. Why would any of them be right?)
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!
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 attempt to offer reasons to believe — reasons that are thought out and not themselves more controversial than the claims they are meant to support. These are aspirations, of course, not actual descriptions of what happens in even earnest philosophical discussions. We should nevertheless try...
A word about etiquette, again: philosophy, by its nature, is contentious. Expect disagreement and treat each other respectfully. Failure to do so may be cause for removal.
The group is international and mostly online. Formal membership is not required to attend and participate. Contact us for the video link if you just want to try it without membership. Our meetings and resources are free and open to the public. Auditing is perfectly fine.
Finally, if you know something about a topic and would like us to address it or you would like to present and host it yourself, let us know. You don't have to be an expert. We will work with you. So long as we can make out a philosophical angle — it addresses fundamental questions about an important subject, we would love to explore it.
Contact us with any questions.
— Victor Muñoz, organizer
Upcoming events (2)See all
- The Philosophy Club | In-personVictrola Cafe, Seattle, WA
The club started in Seattle but is mostly online these days. This will be our annual opportunity to meet in person, as in pre-pandemic times, at the Victrola Cafe.
There is no specific topic for this session. We may discuss any past topic, possible future ones, or ones you would like to propose.
Whatever Meetup says, if it's not the following, ignore it. We will meet:
Date & Time: 03:00pm - 05:00pm (Pacific Time - US & Canada) on Thursday, September 28, 2023
Location: Victrola Coffee & Art - 411 15th Ave E Seattle
If this time and date doesn't work, let me know if you have any suggestions. I will be around Tuesday, the 26th, through Saturday, the 30th.
I have the Victrola meeting room reserved.
Hopefully, you can make it!
Thank you all for being curious,
- Suffering: consciousness, bias, AI, and what happiness has got to do with itLink visible for attendees
If happiness is only noticeable against expectations of unhappiness – or, at least, non-happiness, we must either not require much in the way of happiness to persist with our lives, or we have psychological mechanisms for filtering from experience awareness of its lack. If the instants that comprise our normal moments we don’t describe as happy ones, yet we remain unwilling to say that our lives are, by and large, unhappy ones, lives where suffering or indifference predominates, what does this mean?... It seems we should ask what suffering and awareness are, and about their tangled relationship. And what the supposed opposite of suffering, happiness, is and what role it plays in our perdurance.
Philosopher of mind and theoretician of consciousness Thomas Metzinger cites empirical evidence that suggests that it can’t be happiness that keeps us going. If it were and we were rational, we would have given up long ago. We’ll examine his theory in more detail later, but first, we explain that there are kinds of consciousness and that there are kinds of unpleasant experiences and that these are interestingly correlated. Two main kinds of consciousness are access and reflective. Two kinds of negatively valenced experiences can be distinguished as pain and suffering. Pain we associate with access consciousness, suffering with reflective consciousness. We will mostly be concerned with reflective consciousness and suffering. The suggestion is these evolved together. The idea, at least, is hardly new, though attempts to be rigorous about describing their relationship is. Metzinger has been at the forefront of this research and analysis, by trying to make clear formulations of the concepts involved.
The phenomenon of suffering has received far less attention by philosophers of mind, neuroscientists, and research psychologists than pain. (Though, in the wider humanities, the opposite may be true.) Pain’s closer tie to neurophysiology makes it more vulnerable to empirical examination than suffering. Pain is more open to unambiguous observation, while, except in the vaguest terms, suffering has been difficult to pin down conceptually. What exactly is it? It is a negative experience most will agree, but beyond that, what? Metzinger, among others, thinks that the intervention of reflective consciousness makes the difference between pain and suffering. Perhaps suffering and reflective consciousness, both empirically opaque phenomena – suffering less so than consciousness, may help illuminate each other. You may ask a subject if they are suffering, and elicit a response either way. Asking whether they are conscious is not answered by a yes or no (or some observation as with a corresponding question about pain), but by any answer at all, suggesting that cognition or an interposition of judgment is required. If we propose an empirically assessable theory of suffering, something we may study using scientific methods, something we have been less than successful proposing for the study of consciousness, and if suffering and reflective consciousness (the kind of interest here) are intimately connected, then we may be in a better position to understand the latter. This is Metzinger’s program: spelling out an empirically assessable understanding of suffering, and, thereby, of consciousness.
The implications of understanding the relation between suffering and reflective consciousness extend beyond human curiosity or well-being. What we learn from studying these still vague notions will have implications for animal and machine ethics.