2011 Fall Proseminar Class Notes A

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This is the main page for posting information relevant to our Seminar Sessions. You should post for the Tuesday evening seminar by Sunday night.


September 6, 2011

Readings by Hadot, Wiredu, de Botton, Dillard, and Golding

(I'll post some questions here to prompt some of you, but don't limit yourself to these in considering responses and postings. - Alfino)


1. Identify some of Hadot's main theses in "Spiritual Exercises"?

2. What questions do you have about Stoicism and Epicureanism in light of this reading?

Favorite quote: When Antisthenes was asked what profit he had derived from philosophy, he replied: "The ability to converse with myself." 91

3. What is dialectic? 92

4. How was Christianity able to present itself as a philosophy, according to Hadot? What is the other possibility?

Laura Fitzgibbon Stoicism vs. Epicureanism

Epicureanism: belief that pleasure is the ultimate good, but virtue is necessary to help us differentiate higher from lower pleasures. Techniques of doing so is meditation and "detach our thought from the vision of painful things, and fix our eyes on pleasurable ones. We are to relive memories of past pleasures, and enjoy the pleasures of the present" (Haidt 88). Epicureanists theological values are not atheist but rather feel that if there are gods they do not concern themselves with the affairs of man. "Gods have no effect on the profess of the world and that death, being complete dissolution, is not part of life" (Haidt 87).

Stoicism: belief that virtue is the ultimate good. A virtuous life is a happy life. Felt philosophy was an exercise and was an art of living. Must attain self-consciousness. Stoics achieved virtue by spiritual exercises such as attention (being fully aware in each instant and wills actions fully). "Practice negative visualization (praemeditatio malorun) we are to represent to ourselves poverty, suffering, and death...they can help us accept such event, which are, after all, part of the course of nature" (Haidt 85). In order to meditate must read, listen, research, and investigate. "We pass beyond the limits of individuality, to recognize ourselves as a part of the reason-animated cosmos" (Haidt 86). To train soul must stretch itself tight. Their theology is pantheism (god in all nature); metaphysics is the belief in rationality of universe.

September 6, 2011

A contemporary utilitarian on our international obligations, a recent argument for rethinking aid, and, is there a universal moral sense?

  • Moyo, Dambisa. "Chapter 3: Aid Is Not Working." Dead Aid. Dambisa Moyo. New York: Farrar, Straus and Griroux, 2009.
  • ---. "Chapter 4: The Silent Killer of Growth." Dead Aid. Dambisa Moyo. New York: Farrar, Straus and Griroux, 2009.
  • Singer, Peter. "Chapter 1: A Changing World." One World. Peter Singer. Australia: Yale University Press, 2002.
  • ---. "Chapter 5: One Community." One World. Peter Singer. Australia: Yale University Press, 2002.
  • ---. "Is There a Universal Moral Sense?" Critical Review (1995): 325-39.

Suggested posts

There are some obvious posting topics for this week. You could look up something about utilitarianism and start a thread on it's general adequacy as a moral theory. You might want to formulate a concise argument about what our obligations to others (especially those in absolute poverty) is. There are lots of voices on development. Moyo has her critics and we should have some information about that as we approach Tuesday's seminar. Singer isn't just a utilitarian. He's a somewhat controversial one. Find out why and inform the class. Assess Singer's arguments in "One World." Of course, you can also respond to other's posts.

Student Posts

Sparky Garcia - Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion

So, I have actually read one of Paul Collier's other books, The Bottom Billion. Since he was quoted extensively in this week's reading I thought I might post a "book report" of sorts that I have pieced together from what I read in the packet and what I had previously written on this book.

Paul Collier’s book, The Bottom Billion describes the plight of the billion poorest people on earth. The fate is not sealed for these fifty-eight countries, but we must act now to rehabilitate these clearly stagnant nations. Collier outlines four main traps that these countries have fallen into and proposes four corresponding instruments for these traps. The book both promises hope for the future if something is done, and despair if nothing changes.

In essence, The Bottom Billion is long problem-solution essay, with the problems defined as traps and the solutions as instruments. Collier outlines the four traps, has a brief intermission to talk about globalization, talks about the instruments then ends with a call to action. The traps include the conflict trap (elaborated on in our second packet essay), the natural resources trap, the landlocked with bad neighbors trap, and the bad governance trap. The instruments are aid, military intervention, laws and charters, and trade. Collier’s discussion on globalization makes an argument both for and against its helpfulness to the bottom billion but ultimately decides not to include it as an instrument.

Early in the book, Collier states that more aid is not the answer to the problems of the bottom billion. In fact, he calls developmental aid, “the headless heart.” He essentially argues that for aid, which was the subject of our first packet essay, that more than more giving is more effective giving. He outlines processes that could be taken to rehabilitate aid so that the money given is put to good use. His argument, then, is not for more aid but for better administration and distribution of aid.

One interesting aspect of this book is that Collier refuses to provide a list of the 58 countries that make up the bottom billion. His reason for not presenting the reader with the list is out of consideration for the countries. He argues that when a country is damned to be on a list of the poorest countries, it tends to live up to that prophecy instead of rise above it.

The final chapter is definitely worth reading for anyone in class who has an interest in developmental economics. It would be an effective essay almost all on its own, if not for the assumption that the reader has read the one hundred and seventy pages preceding it.It precisely outlines his argument, including the traps and instruments clearly and what needs to be done. Despite some vague descriptions earlier in the book, or maybe because of them, Collier is incredibly specific during this final chapter. He briefly outlines the traps, states how countries can escape the traps using one or more instruments, then talks about how to and who can implement these solutions. And even what ordinary people can do, which is slightly disappointing but realistic. Once all the evidence has been presented, the arguments have been made, and it is all brought together masterfully; which makes the final call for action seem pressing and hopeful.

Hope that was helpful!!

Elle Ossello - NATGEO: "Population 7 Billion"

Although I realize that this will inevitably be a controversial point I wish to raise (Thank you, "Social Dynamics of Philosophical Reflection"), I think that the more I have read into our reading for the week, the more I think that the key to managing the exponential growth of our population is a shift in consciousness and new management our self-awareness. While, obviously there is no way to regulate or institutionalize any of this, I think that a change in the way we view child-bearing and raising a family would be invaluable to our ever-growing global population.

Here is a link to an article from the January 2011 issue of National Geographic entitled: Population 7 Billion. Throughout this article, the author frequently mentions "replacement fertility" as more and more people around the world are viewing child bearing as a way of replacing themselves rather than child bearing as a status symbol or as a way to increase an individual family's economic stability. I think that while it is key for people living in developing countries to be educated on birth control, it is also of equal importance to help families change the ways in which they view childbearing.

It is becoming more and more important, in my opinion that there be a shift in consciousness in our own country as well. While many of us grew up with big, loud families and the American Dream leaves us fantasizing about having a bunch of little ones of our own running around in 10 years, we can't ignore the ever pressing problems of population growth in this country and what it would mean for every couple (or even a good portion of couples) that arises from our generation to embody something other than a mindset of 'replacement fertility.'

Like I said, there would be no way to properly regulate this and I think that it would be a terrible idea on almost all fronts to get the government involved, so I propose that the most effective way to raise awareness of this idea and to help our generation shift our self-awareness would be to create independent and private campaigns to travel to colleges around the country. While there would undoubtedly be much opposition to the suggestion that people re-think the American Dream, one of the biggest generations that this country has ever seen needs to have a really good idea of the road that we could possibly be headed down if every one of us graduates, buys a house and fills it with 3.24 children [1].

Some interesting quotations pulled from the article:

"The bad news is that 2030 is two decades away and that the largest generation of adolescents in history will then be entering their childbearing years. Even if each of those women has only two children, population will coast upward under its own momentum for another quarter century."

"In 1952, just five years after it gained independence from Britain, India became the first country to establish a policy for population control."

"The Indian government tried once before to push vasectomies, in the 1970s, when anxiety about the population bomb was at its height. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay used state-of-emergency powers to force a dramatic increase in sterilizations. From 1976 to 1977 the number of operations tripled, to more than eight million. Over six million of those were vasectomies. Family planning workers were pressured to meet quotas; in a few states, sterilization became a condition for receiving new housing or other government benefits. In some cases the police simply rounded up poor people and hauled them to sterilization camps."

"The excesses gave the whole concept of family planning a bad name. “Successive governments refused to touch the subject,” says Shailaja Chandra, former head of the National Population Stabilisation Fund (NPSF). Yet fertility in India has dropped anyway, though not as fast as in China, where it was nose-diving even before the draconian one-child policy took effect. The national average in India is now 2.6 children per woman...The southern half of the country and a few states in the northern half are already at replacement fertility or below."

Let me know what you all think!

MacGregor Hodgson 9/12/11- Peter Singer on Euthanasia

I read quite a bit of Singer in my ethics course and enjoyed picking up on his work in this week’s literature. Specifically in his excerpt “Rich and Poor”, Singer offers some elaborative and thought-provoking ideas that deal with extremely complicated ethical dilemmas such as our responsibilities towards others. But this chapter isn’t necessarily what I’m posting about. Singer alluded to a previous discussion of euthanasia that immediately caught my attention as some additional reading I wanted to pursue. Especially in the context of Singer’s discussion on “The Obligation to Assist”, euthanasia is a nice topic branch that I want to elaborate a little more precisely on. I found his Chapter 7 from Practical Ethics and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Before I get into my response of his chapter, I will briefly describe what the article has to offer to our class:

  • For any student interested in a health care related profession, this chapter is an interesting look at the relationship of obligations between a physician, his/her patient, and anyone else involved.
  • A descriptive background differentiating between three different types of euthanasia. If you aren’t too familiar with euthanasia, Singer summarizes it clearly and provides some very, very interesting situations involving euthanasia.
  • Well-defended arguments in support and against different types of euthanasia.
  • Discussion of the fundamental differences and qualities of a being that is self-conscious versus a being that is merely conscious.
  • In-depth discussion of infant-related euthanasia.
  • Euthanasia as a first step down a slippery slope that ends in genocide.

Anyways, another reason why I particularly chose this chapter was because of the fundamental ethical issues euthanasia raises. As rational, self-conscious beings we have the capacity to acknowledge our existence and at the same time acknowledge that we have the power to end it. When faced with the situation of incurable and extremely painful medical conditions, I ask myself how ought am I supposed to make sense of such a terrible but real dilemma? In response to this, one can’t help but fall into a somewhat depressing investigation of the rightness and wrongness of taking away one’s life.

With this being said, I want to specifically respond to Singer’s section “Justifying Voluntary Euthanasia”, particularly the part on autonomy. This section was of great interest to me mostly in part of my grandfather’s recent passing. His terminal illness ended in his refusal of life support and as an aspiring philosophy student I was/still am faced with some hard questions that Singer addresses. I find his most convincing justification of voluntary euthanasia to be the respect for autonomy. As Singer describes, “if rational agents should autonomously choose to die, then respect for autonomy will lead us to assist them to do as they choose” (Singer, Ch.7). What this statement tells me is that the respect for autonomy allows rational agents to live their own lives according to their own autonomous decisions and in this regard I must assist them in doing so. As I was informed of my grandfather’s refusal of life support, the question of how to understand the correctness of his decision wasn’t mine to ponder. Instead, I found myself fulfilling the role as “one who assists” by respecting my grandfather’s right to make his own uninterrupted decisions. With this, if all else fails I find that the respect for autonomy is an appropriate ethical idea to use in making sense of tough euthanasia-related situations. It brings up the value of human existence as an individual, but also contrasts it on a plurality level.

The respect for autonomy is an interesting look at addressing voluntary euthanasia. I invite any other classmates to respond to this chapter because indeed death is something we all know for certain will happen. Building from this knowledge is the interesting case in which one’s desire to exist is surpassed by one’s desire to not exist.

Ben Ferguson - Aid Is Not Working

Sparky mentioned above Paul Collier's, The Bottom Billion. and seeing as I too have read it, I think it is incredibly relevant to the first few articles in our week's packet of reading and I think it addresses many of the problems with '3rd World Countries' and the need or lack of need to give them foreign aid. In the first few paragraphs of "Aid Is Not Working" it mentions that geographical determinists believe a countries wealth and success are reliant on having a good geo and topographical environment. To some extent this is true; if your country doesn't have any initial resources, it is hard to get the metaphorical 'ball rolling' in terms of economy. On the other hand, it is also one of Collier's many traps that developing or underdeveloped countries can fall into.

The first reason the natural resources end up harming the country is that the country itself will have all the money it needs, meaning there will be almost no reason to tax it's citizens at the start making the government financially independent; which in turn makes the citizens less likely to look into government spending. This is a perfect breeding ground for corruption in which fascist government leaders pocket the countries wealth instead of giving it back to their country (Egypt and Mubarak anyone? After 3 decades of ruling Egypt it was found, after he was ousted, that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his family had somewhere between $30 and $70 Billion dollars).

In addition, natural resources generally lead to increased foreign interest which leads to more conflict instead of economic prosperity. Colonization took place in many of the current 'bottom billion' countries in which the colonizing country reaped and extracted all the valuable resources the country had, and when finally overthrown and independence is attained for the host country, they find their natural resources stripped and gone, which compounds on their already discombobulated population that is putting temporary rulers into place.

The last reason having an abundance of natural resources is bad for developing countries is what is referred to as 'Dutch Disease' which occurs when a countries economy relies so heavily on one industry (say, the extraction of diamonds or oil) that all other industries become less competitive, which, due to the revenue inflation because of the one resource, makes the currency lose its value.

This trap is incredibly important, and it is easy to see how this trap could easily lead to others such as bad governance when someone gains control of the country through militaristic means and pockets the majority of the countries money. Collier agrees that giving countries money does nothing but suck the bottom billion further into chaos. The money isn't used how it is supposed to, is often given as loans which have rules and regulations on how it is to be used, and eventually leads to so much debt from interest the country has no chance to pay it back. Aid can be spent by the government on rigging elections and increasing their military arms so that there is no way for them to be ousted by revolutionaries or natives who want their country back.

The issue of bringing the standard of living to a universal level for all humans is one that will plague our generation for years to come. You can't take control and do it for the nor can you give them the resources to do it themselves because bad governance squanders it.

Ted Pinkerton 9/12/2011-----

http://www.nysun.com/arts/putting-practice-into-ethics/69595/ This is a link to short article that I thought gave a little more insight into why Singer thinks the way he does about ethics. He talks more about the difference between feeling something to be right and something actually being right. I'm not sure if I'm posting this in the right section or not but alas, the deed is done.

Laura Fitzgibbon Aid is Not Working

I found this article extremely interesting because I took a political science class last semester that was determined on helping decrease poverty and promoting female equality. While this article focused primarily on African countries many of the ideas are applicable to all third world countries. In this article, the author described three types of economies: Resource-poor/landlocked, resource-rich, resource-poor/coastline. I can completely understand why those who are resource-poor and landlocked are the worst off economically because trade is difficult and they have nothing to export or import. In Pakistan they were unfortunately both of these things and the only thing they really had to trade was opium thus making drug-use prevalent. I agree with the author's main idea that the only way to help a country is to cut off aid at a certain point in order to make the country's leaders create programs that can actually help the people sustain their own economic well being. An analogy i found particularly effective in portraying this idea was on page 44 where a mosquito net maker in Africa makes nets and employs ten people who provide for about 150 dependents total. A local celebrity gives away 100,000 nets and as a result these African employees no longer have jobs and their dependents are unable to survive economically. I think the main reason why aid does not work is because it does not motivate leaders to initiate programs that can help the microeconomics of the country. The key is to building up a country is through education; it can solve problems such as lack of exports, can decrease the population (most women who are educated drop their child rate from 6 to 2.5), and can create an army of skilled workers. In my politics class we learned that by educating females in Pakistan their educated community changed from 250,000 to about 6 million, and it helped reduce population. Overall i found the reading extremely interesting but i do agree that to a certain extent aid stops helping and starts hurting if nations become passive in helping themselves.

Joe Sackmann, Voluntourism

When reading the articles for this weeks reading, I was reminded of an issue that I had recently heard about; the problem of voluntourism. Voluntourism is gaining a lot of popularity for people of wealthy nations to pay a travel agancy with the intent of volunteering and helping the people of an impoverished area. While this sounds like a good idea initially, upon further analysis we see that our attempts at helping may actually be detrimental to the people being "helped". This is main cause of the problems is unskilled volunteers who do more harm then good, (especially in building projects), and the lack of a sustainable group of volunteers. Without that sustainability, a group may go to a country in sub-Saharan Africa or South East Asia with the intent of teaching English to the local children. However, many times after one person leaves, there may not be another person to replace them for weeks. This serves only to disrupt the childrens' education. This article presents many of the problems with voluntourism and possible solutions for those still wanting to help. [2] We all desire to help others, however in reading these articles and doing some research for this post, it is clear that it is important that we go about that aid the right and ethical way. I will also post another link that deals with this issue and is a response of the first link. [3]

September 20, 2011

Main Readings

  • Giere, Ronald N. "Chapter 2: Understanding and Evaluating Theoretical Hypotheses." Understanding Scientific Reasoning. Ronald N. Giere. 3rd ed. Fort Worth, Texas: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1991. 12-38.
  • Barnes, Harry Elmer. "Chapter 16: Natural Science in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries." An Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World. Harry Elmer Barnes. Vol. 2. 668-706.
  • Barnes, Harry Elmer. "Chapter 17: The Impact of the New Intellectual Order on Philosophy and Education." An Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World. Harry Elmer Barnes. Vol. 2. 707-43.

Reading Tip and Suggested Posts

I suggest you read the Gere chapter very carefully. The Barnes chapters are impressively detailed and you may need to resist getting bogged down in that. You should thank your stars there's no exam on this and then give yourself about an hour for each chapter, letting the detail and organization "wash over you" to create the general impression that he's ultimately going for about the nature of science and philosophy from 1600-1800.

Some possible posts, might include:

  • Identify the themes Barnes is developing.
  • Indicate aspects of either Giere or Barnes that surprised you or provoked thought.
  • Is Giere's account of science authoritative? Look up resources on philosophy of science and determine how "standard" his account is.
  • What is the relationship between science and reality on Giere's account?

Student Posts

Sparky Garcia - Reaction to Barnes

I found Barnes' articles about the history of science from 1600-1800 to be incredibly interesting. One of the thing that struck me was how incredibly brilliant all of these guys were. I mean, seriously, what badasses! There were multiple names who have importance in the history of science and philosophy. The main goal of all of their inquiries were to understand the world around them and they took multiple routes to understanding in pursuit of that goal.

I was talking to my roommate, who is a history major and currently a student teacher about how brilliant some of these guys were. And he made the argument that people now are equally as brilliant but that mass media has radically changed the way we interact and see people. He used the example of presidents. Many of America's greatest presidents would be essentially unelectable in today's society. People like FDR who was crippled, Lincoln was ugly, Jefferson was scandalous and Washington had wooden teeth. You have to appeal to people in a different way now that people can see you and that everything you do is under constant scrutiny. Of course, this is just conjecture but I think it makes a good point.

There are a few "rockstar" scientists like Einstein and even to an extent, Hawking, that are as brilliant people as anyone throughout history. But we now actually have rockstars occupying the attention of our society instead of the intellectuals that appear to have received recognition both at the time of their lives and now. We have more things vying for our attention both as a society who doesn't recognize intellectual achievement and as intellectuals with diverse interests. Our time is just a more exciting place to live, but we should still strive to find a place for intellectual badasses.

Lily Sears - Barnes

I haven't taken Medieval Philosophy yet, so I needed to look up some stuff on Scholasticism to get my bearings. I mostly used this wikipedia article[4], but if someone who has taken Medieval can help elucidate, that would be great.

From what little I know, I figure that a main objection of thinkers in this era has to do with Scholasticism's insistence that thinking ought to originate from tradition, be it contemporary or (preferred?) ancient. Furthermore, as stated by Barnes, philosophy is used as a tool to further the goals of theology. I'm just writing this out to get it sorted in my head.

That said, I can't help but feel like a smug classicist to still see how the "dead hand from the past" is still getting up in everybody's philosophical business. Descartes and Leibnitz rely on the Stoic explanation of what really constitutes free will, and Leibnitz also evolves the ancient atomist premise of the indivisible universal particle. However, I'm not espousing the idea that either they or we are obligated to have to drag these old guys around. But I can't help but think there's something naive in wiping the slate clean.

Rachel Ku, Barnes Reading and Modern Philosophy

This semester is the first in-depth exposure I've had to the history of Philosophy and it's been a very interesting experience to say in the least. The thinkers that I've just begun to study like Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza are difficult to understand, in my opinion, because I'm unfamiliar with the academic language that they used. These links have helped somewhat with that problem: 1. Philosophical Background to Modern Philosophy [5], 2. Definition of Reductio ad Absurdum [6].

As for the Barnes reading, it's made me think a lot about the way we are educated as opposed to the way the Ancients or the Scholastics were educated. I admit that the more important implications of this escape me at the moment, but I feel it is worthwhile to think more deeply on this as I continue my studies. When I was a freshman, I envied the way many intellectual giants threw themselves mind, body, and soul into their intellectual pursuits. It's amazing to me that humans can reach that level of enthusiasm for educating themselves. It is this love of learning that I find so admirable. I wonder how we can rekindle that kind of zeal for knowledge...but I digress.

Barnes also made me think about what the philosophers today are worried about and do some of the responses to these problems have as much of an impact as they did back in the time of Hobbes or Leibniz? I am woefully ignorant of what goes on philosophically nowadays so I'd really appreciate if someone would post a response to this. Thanks. :)

Casey Collins, Theoretical Hypotheses

Understanding and Evaluating Theoretical Hypotheses

After reading Giere’s section on theoretical hypotheses I believe that he was attempting to convey scientific method as a way of thinking rather than an action. He does this by separating the real world, models, data, and predictions. There is a conception among some individuals that science is directly discovering how the world works. The conception is also that by following a specific protocol, that one can come to specific conclusions. However, Giere demonstrates that there is a disconnect between scientists and the real world. He begins by separating models from the real world. Many people might not realize that scientists cannot directly observe every detail of how the world works, and need models to represent specific mechanisms. From these models, one can make inferences about how something specific in reality works that we cannot observe. To summarize the relationship between predictions, data, models, and the real world, Giere states, “The basic idea behind the evaluation of hypotheses is to use the agreement or disagreement between data and predictions… to evaluate the fit between a model and the real world.” He goes on to show steps that scientists take to reaching their conclusions.

This disconnect that Giere shows in science is important from a philosophical perspective because philosophy is commonly viewed as abstract and completely separate from what is real. He shows that science and philosophy are similar in that we attempt to understand the world around us by applying logic and making inferences from our sensory information. In addition, he shows that scientific method is not a strict series of steps but a thought process similar to philosophy. Philosophers use similar guidelines such as hypotheses, predictions, and theory in order to come to conclusions about how the world works or how it ought to work.

September 27, 2011

Main Readings

  • Herman, Arthur. "Chapter 8: A Select Society: Adam Smith and His Friends." How the Scots Invented the Modern World. Arthur Herman. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001. 189-226.
  • Hume, excerpts, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Section 2: Of the Origin of Ideas and Section 4: Sceptical Doubts.
  • Chapter on Definitions - review

Student Posts

First off I came across this video while looking for more resources on Hume and found it entertaining. Not particularly enlightening but funny.


Anyway I always found it interesting that David Hume spends so much time in many of his writing harping on the idea that all knowledge is born from experience. I decided to do a little more research on it. After having looked at it I think it was because of the Cartesian (or other rationalist philosophers)philosophy that claimed that humans have a set of some "innate ideas". These ideas are, in short, knowledge that a human has without any prior experience of it. Because of this opposing idea Hume would have felt a need to defend his position that all of our ideas or knowledge comes from perception and experience. Here's a short article that explains it all a little bit better! http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/288470/innate-idea

This seems to me like a topic that could potentially bring about a good discussion...maybe we can get one going. I for one think that Hume has the stronger position in this particular debate.

Hume On Miracles

Hume was an influential skeptic and one of the driving forces of the Scottish Enlightenment. As a skeptic, he had trouble believing in a God or gods and preferred the solidity of science, which of course he was also skeptical about. However he believed that a true miracle would be good evidence for the existence of a deity. He believed there was no evidence of a deity through evidence provided by the natural earth. So, the only evidence that could be provided for a deity was a true miracle, which he defines as "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent". I have included some interesting reading for "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding" Section 10, Part 1. Enjoy! [7] And if you don't want more heavy reading, here is a good summary. [8]

October 4, 2011

  • Check out this recent NYT article on "super people" [9]

Judith Jarvis Thompson, "A Defense of Abortion"

  • begins assuming fetus is a person, though she denies that a clump of cells is a person. Wants to see where the arguments goes with that assumption.
  • step from showing its a person to concluding that it can't be aborted needs more attention. Most of the attention falls on showing it's a person.

P1:Fetus is a person.

P2:Every person has a right to life.

C:Fetus has a right to life.

48: Violinist Thought Experiment.

  • Point: You don't have an obligation to remain connected to the violinist.
  • "the extreme view" is that abortion is impermissible even to save the life of the mother.
  • additional premises needed for the extreme view:
  1. Direct killing of an innocent person is alway and absolutely impermissible
  2. Direct killing .... is murder, murder is always impermissible.
  3. Duty to refrain from direct killing is always stronger than duty to keep a person from dying.
  • But all of these additional premises are false.
  • If the mother performs abortion on herself to save her life, that can't be murder. 51-52.
  • Part of the problem in the abortion discussion is that we always decide what's permissible for a 3rd party to do, because we always assume the abortion is performed by a 3rd party.

Tiny House thought experiment. 52

  • Point: A 3rd party might say to you "There's no way to choose between you and the child", but that doesn't mean that you can't choose between you and the child.
  • Still, there are limits to self-defense.
  • Variation on the Tiny House thought experiment - include notion of maternal ownership of the "house". Then the 3rd party could help. Two people need a coat to keep from freezing, but one person owns it.
  • 55: meaning of "right to life"
  • any right to life that the violinist has doesn't entail a right to your kidneys. If "the touch of Henry Fonda's cool hand on my brow" were the only thing that could save my life, it wouldn't follow that I have a right to it.
  • often understood as "right not to be killed by anybody", but the purely negative formulation would leave you unable to act against the violinist and would essentially confer a positive right on him to your kidneys.
  • 56: the right to life doesn't guarantee having a right to the use of someone's body. So right to life will not serve opponents of abortion as they think.

  • Section 4

  • Another way to bring it out. To deny someone's rights is to treat them unjustly, but it's not unjust to deny the violinist use of your kidneys.
  • The right to life must be understood in terms of "unjust killing". So the violinst could have the right to life, but you do not kill him unjustly by unplugging him.
  • 57b [addresses the problem of voluntariness.]
  • by having intercourse, isn't the woman "inviting" the person in? partly responsible?
  • example of the burglar. You aren't partly responsible for the burglar coming in just because you open the window.

People seed thought experiment. p. 58

  • Point: As with the burglar, the people seed that slips through the screen doesn't acquire a right to your house.

  • Section 5.

  • From the other side....
  • It would be "morally indecent" to deny the violinist use of your kidneys for one hour.
  • [interesting. an anti-abortionist could argue that the same applies to "nine months"]
  • but this doesn't warrant claims of injustice or denial of rights if you don't.

Section 6.

  • from the pro-choice critic. Thomson's argument does not allow you to guarantee the death of the fetus. If unplugging him doesn't kill him, you have no interest in seeing him dead.
  • I think what Thompon is attempting to do in this article is to give a more moderate defense of abortion. Instead of attacking the notion that life begins at conception (which is irrefutable) or opting for the position pro-lifers have called "abortion on demand;" she is analyzing the moral status of the fetus and saying there are at least some instances in the developmental processes before birth where abortion can be morally justified, or perhaps, better put, not immoral.

Student Posts

Casey Collins- Regarding Ward's View of Person

I realize that the first excerpt on abortion is just an example of a thought experiment, but I believe that the thought experiment must be performed accurately in order for it to evaluate a philosophical theory. In Mary Anne Warren’s assessment of humanity, I think her methodology is accurate in establishing what it means to be a person, and then applying that meaning to fetuses. Warren says that if something is not a person, then they do not have full moral rights. She then says that fetuses do not fulfill the requirements for personhood, so they do not have full moral rights.

I see one key problem with this assertion. She is viewing the individual at one particular moment in time, rather than across time. This most significantly applies to people that may have limited brain function at one particular time, but regain that function later on. One example of this is a person in a coma. Even though this person is in a coma, do we not still award them the same moral standing as a person because they will regain their abilities later? I think the same applies to a fetus in that at that point in time they do not have the capabilities of a full person, but by killing them we do kill a future person.

MacGregor Hodgson- Response to "Regarding Ward's (did you mean Warren's) View of Person"

If I understand what you’re saying correctly, one flaw in Warren’s assertion of not applying personhood to fetuses is that a single fetus represents something much more than a clump of dividing cells and because of this a fetus actually does deserve moral consideration. In this sense, would you then suggest that because a fetus (or really anything for that matter) has this odd capability of what we call “development”, that this should be a bullet point when considering makes a person… a person?

I’m curious about your response to Warren because I too find great value in growth and development, especially when the results of said growth ends in a human being. But what I want to add to your response is a possible counter argument that Thomson brings up in her opening paragraph in A Defense of Abortion. I think your point of wrongly focusing on the fetus for just being a fetus is well taken, and as Thomson says is a very common argument. As she summarizes this viewpoint she states:

“We are asked to notice that the development of a human being from conception through birth into childhood is continuous; then it is said that to draw a line, to choose a point in this development and say ‘before this point the thing is not a person, after this point it is a person’ is to make an arbitrary choice, a choice for which in the nature of things no good reason can be given. It is concluded that the fetus is, or anyway that we had better say it is, a person from the moment of conception” (47).

Is this kind of along the lines of what you were thinking? Well, I hope so or else my point here is pretty useless. Anyways, assuming that it is, Thomson continues from this statement by suggesting that the development conclusion doesn’t follow (aka the potentiality of development doesn’t grant personhood) in that as Thomson says, “similar things might be said about the development of an acorn into an oak tree, and it does not follow that acorns are oak trees” (47). This is an interesting point in that even know we know that an acorn becomes an oak tree, we aren’t inclined to say that an acorn is an oak tree and vice versa. So, could we say even though that we know a fetus becomes a human being (or person), does that make a fetus a human being (or person) and vice versa?

Maybe I’m missing an important point and I appreciate any other opinions on the development argument. I overheard Dr. Kincannon talking about time and how our past, present, and future selves all exist in some way or another and with this I find the time factor to be an interesting point when considering something to be a person or not.

Ben Ferguson - Abortion Response


This is a rather lengthy (~35 minute) youtube video. It is a documentary that tries to make some points about abortion by showing how it is analogous with what Adolf Hitler did during the Holocaust. The movie contends that the American holocaust has killed over 53 million people, which is far greater than how many people were killed in Hitler's Holocaust.

I had never thought about abortion in the way this movie presented it, but as we know all analogies have the weakness of falling apart at some point. Our readings have helped us to see one fault in the videos argument, namely that an unborn child or a fetus in a womb is not considered a person, and is it therefore is not considered murder when you have an abortion seeing as it has no rights because it lacks all characteristics of a person.

My other large complaint with the video is that I can't get over the idea of women becoming reproductive slaves. The thought experiment of the diseased violinist really solidifies this problem with anti-abortion laws. If a women is forced to have a child when she is raped, we are saying that her rights as a fully functioning human being are being stripped in favor of a fetus which does not have all the attributes, and therefore rights, of any other human being. If abortion was illegal and a deranged psychopathic criminal rapes 30 women, is it alright for these 30 women to become reproductive slaves for this criminal?

I think having read this weeks readings, I can better understand this youtube video that I watched awhile ago much better.

Lily Sears - Robot Personhood and the Possible Transhuman Reality

As a clarifying point, allow this ramble to assume that we're dealing with legitimate artificial intelligences capable of reasoning par to that of a human.

To whet your palate, here are some videos of robots in action. This one is designed to educate dental students [11]. This one is designed to interact with patients suffering with ailments like dementia [12].

The point of posting these videos is to illustrate something called the "uncanny valley" effect. This wiki article can explain that further [13]. Basically, there is a point where things created by humans with the goal of becoming lifelike are subjectively revolted to other individuals. This effect isn't limited to robots, but may also applied to humans who attempt to augment themselves (think plastic surgery gone horrifically wrong).

To tie this to our readings, the uncanny valley effect may be the pivot point upon which robots and transhumans may be judged, subjectively, as persons. It can be logically affirmed that sentient robots and upgraded humans are persons according to their reasoning ability, their worth, etc. But without that consideration, the possible rights of these groups could be threatened by public distrust.

To put a naturalist spin on this, it goes to kin groups and our instincts towards those groups. Those who look like us, act like us, and share similar origins are much more comfortably regarded as kin than artificial beings - especially if those beings have soulless eyes or facial structures that are just a touch off. Thus, one's loyalties and sympathies would prefer the kin group as opposed to the outside group. In no way am I implying that human behavior is limited by this framework, but I do believe that it is part of the basis of how people evaluate other beings as persons.

That said, I don't trust that it would be possible for a sentient robot or a transhuman in the uncanny valley phase to be guaranteed practical rights. That does not mean that they do not possess inherent rights, but that their rights are more prone to be trivialized or outright damaged. In the case of the robot, I predict two possibilities. Either the robot would be before the valley, in which its appearance may guarantee at least subservient rights and possibly full rights; or it will cross the valley and become superficially indistinguishable to a human and, even with the lack of fully organic parts, participate in full human rights.

Rachel Ku - Thought Experiments and Genetic Engineering

I really liked the readings for this week. The topics are pretty controversial and they made me think about what I mean when I state my opinions. I appreciated last week's reading on definitions for this reason. It helped me realize that I have a hard time explaining what I was trying to convey. For example, if I write an essay, I usually have a very limited view of the concepts I'm trying to explain and support. If someone pointed to a part of my essay and asked what I meant by such and such a word, I probably couldn't come up with a satisfactory answer. I'm not a very good logician so I'm not always aware of the implications of my ideas. However, as I went through the readings, I began to see a little more clearly what it takes to follow an argument through to its conclusion.

I thought the first reading, "The Laboratory of the Mind," was a nice introduction to the structure of thought experiments. Despite being somewhat "out there" at times, thought experiments are useful in making a point. The coat scenario in Thomson's paper was one of my favorites. I'm inclined to give more credibility to a thought experiment that is closer to reality than, say, a thought experiment that features unicorns or other nonexistent things (though I probably shouldn't). I wish I could come up with a good thought experiment, but I run into so many what-ifs that I often get nowhere. Even in the first reading it is admitted that "[t]he most difficult part of performing a thought experiment is deriving the test implication, because there is no formula for deriving one" (45). If only there were criteria for this sort of thing. Or would that limit it?

With regard to positive genetic engineering, I have to say that it is a little disconcerting to think that if I weren't yet born that someone could design me to be the way THEY wanted me to be. Of course, it could totally backfire, but nonetheless, I am biased in that I think what is "natural" is best. I know there are a lot of problems with that sort of thinking, but let's stick with the definition of genetically untouched humans or to put it another way, humans whose genes that haven't been tampered with for now. I think the scariest thing about this is that people who don't have their children's best interests in mind can really mess them up. There are some very serious ethical issues that need more development before positive genetic engineering becomes mainstream.

Sparky Garcia - Brain Architecture & Transhumanism

Related to Transhumanism --> here is a great graphic about different theories of brain architecture. Certain predictions of transhumanism and the singularity sort of depend on certain architectures. [14]

ALSO! If you are interested in one of the big thinkers in the area of Singularity, then check out the book The Singularity Is Near [15] by Ray Kurzweil. Essentially, this is the manifesto of this movement. There is also a documentary on Netflix [16] called the Transcendant Man that looks at Kurzweil's ideas and life [17]. Finally, there is a TED talk [18] that Kurzweil gave about Singularity but it's not nearly as good as the other sources.

October 11, 2011

Laura Fitzgibbon "Descartes to Kant"

I thought that this article was quite interesting because it somewhat focused on the background of which Kant's argument was based. At the beginning it discussed how Kant's methods were unique due to the time in which it took place (the eighteenth century) during the rise of science. It gave backgrounds of the various philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, Hume, etc. Where he explains Descarte's cogito ergo sum, his believe in rational dualism, and his Cartesian circle; with Locke he explains his theory of primary and secondary qualities; with Berkeley he shows how he differs from Locke; etc. But more importantly the author discussed how he felt that the theory of empiricism and rationalism were both missing something because,"The first, who elevate experience over understand, deprive themselves of the concepts with which experience might be described; while the second, who emphasize understanding as the expense of experience, deprive themselves of the very subject matter of knowledge" (136). He insisted that under a priori knowledge could both realms merge. I thought it was quite interesting how the author described how Descartes somewhat expanded on others ideas, or criticized them. He attempted to show that "all the traditional metaphysical arguments-arguments about the substantiality and immorality of the soul, the infinitude of the universe, the necessary existence of God and the reality of free will-were inevitably grounded in contradiction and paradox" (141).

Rachel Ku - Education

This Ted Talks is pretty interesting with regard to the last bit of our reading: [19] "Sir Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity"

Sparky Garcia - Two Philosophy Puns

  1. You Kant put DeCartes before the horse.
  2. "Whom are we talking about today?" "Hume." "Yes, whom?" "Hume." "YEAH, WHOM?" "HUME!! DAVID HUME!!!" "Ohhh... Hume."

October 18, 2011

Faith and Reason Seminar

Posts from online reference sources

from Routledge: "Hence the problem: as Christians they could not forswear faith, nor regard it as unimportant. Yet, as inheritors of the Greek tradition, they found themselves incapable of renouncing the ideal of rational insight into reality. The ‘faith and reason’ problem of late antiquity and the Middle Ages was the problem of how to resolve this tension." (WOLTERSTORFF, NICHOLAS P. (1998). Faith. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved October 18, 2011, from http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/K021SECT4)
also, "What strikes us in reading Aquinas and other medieval thinkers is that virtually no attention is paid to the question whether faith is itself rational. That question – the other ‘faith and reason’ topic – first became a matter of concern in the early Enlightenment. "

Tkacz & the Catholic Intellectual Tradition

Gold's NOMA hypothesis [20] recognizes that moral and religious values might be established by different kinds of authority and argument than strictly scientific questions.
Tkacz tries to equate Gould with Fideism. In one sense this is a reasonable comparison. If rationality is one thing and fideist believe in a sharp separation of faith and reason, then it makes sense that fideists would regard faith as non-rational (or irrational). But that is not Gould's position. I think he would deny that NOMA implies the nonrationality or subjectivity of non-scientific questions. In any case, one could argue that faith and reason operate differently within a normal rational individual without committing yourself to the existence of the object of faith beliefs. That's a variant of NOMA, but it should show you some of the theoretical room you have here.
Thesis: "At the same time, the order of learning shows that theology is as much a science as are the sciences of physical being; that is, the religious beliefs which theology investigates and articulates as knowledge are no less rational and objective than are the beliefs about the physical world investigated and established in the natural sciences. This is because the same intellectual capacity which allows for human knowledge of the objects of the natural sciences is also that by which human beings know the object of theology."

Barrett, Cognitive Science of Religion

1:"Rather than specify what religion is and try to explain it in whole, scholars in this field have generally chosen to approach 'religion' in an incremental, piecemeal fashion, identifying human thought or behavioral patterns that might count as 'religious' and then trying to explain why those patterns are cross-culturally recurrent."
2:CSR "seeks to detail the basic cognitive structure of thought and action that might be deemed religious and invites historians, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and other religion scholars to fill in the hows and whys of particular religious phenomena."
":...through the course of development in any cultural context, human mind/brains exhibit a number of functional regularities regarding how they process information. These functional regularities are also known as domain-specific inference systems or 'mental tools'. For instance, one mental tool concerns language. Humans (especially pre-pubescent humans) readily acquire and use natural languages but are not facile with non-natural symbolic communication systems such as binary code."
TC - Theological Correctness -- studies involving online/offline tasks
MCI - Minimally Counterintuitive Ideas -- 4 " Compare the idea of a barking dog that is brown on the other side of the fence to a barking dog that is able to pass through solid objects on the other side of the fence. The first dog is wholly intuitive and excites litde interest. The second dog is slightly or minimally counterintuitive and is, consequently, more attention demanding but without overloading on-line conceptual systems. The idea of a dog that passes through soUd objects is made of metal parts, gives birth to chickens, experiences time backwards, can read minds, and vanishes whenever you look at it would amount to a massively counterintuitive concept - if it is a coherent concept at all."
transmission advantages for MCI's?
Older research -- Guthrie "Faces in the Clouds" - evolution would favor false positives in "agency detection". This may explain hyperactive agency detection. HADD
"Additional motivation to talk about and believe in gods may come firom their ability to account for striking events that otherwise have no intuitive explanation." 6
Born Believers: promiscuous believers -- studies on children.
Theory of Mind -
Costly Signal Theory -- Part of cultural explanatory process.

Major Issues / Versions of the Faith / Reason Dispute

Problem of Falsification

Range of positions on faith and reason

1. The truths of faith are no less rational and susceptible to demonstration than science.

2. Faith and Science have distinct forms of rationality, language games, validity criteria, etc. (persons/bodies)

3. Faith involves commitments of individuals to communities on the basis of shared experience and belief. Faith doesn't just involve a distinct kind of rationality, but it focuses on distinct objects of knowledge, such as our relationship to totality. Scientific investigation asks fundamentally different questions in fundamentally different ways.

4. Faith is experiential; reason is theoretical. Reason comes late to faith. (evidence from sociology of religion on conversion, history of christianity).

William James' approach to religious belief (EL)

James did important work in philosophy of religion. In his Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh he provided a wide-ranging account of The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) and interpreted them according to his pragmatic leanings. Some of the important claims he makes in this regard: Religious genius (experience) should be the primary topic in the study of religion, rather than religious institutions—since institutions are merely the social descendant of genius. The intense, even pathological varieties of experience (religious or otherwise) should be sought by psychologists, because they represent the closest thing to a microscope of the mind—that is, they show us in drastically enlarged form the normal processes of things. In order to usefully interpret the realm of common, shared experience and history, we must each make certain "over-beliefs" in things which, while they cannot be proven on the basis of experience, help us to live fuller and better lives.

Other Student Response

Laura Fitzgibbon Fides et Ratio

I found this reading to be quite interesting because it seemed to focus on merging both the philosophical and the theological. The author seemed to conclude that philosophy helps the understanding of faith and that because of the church's belief that faith and reason support one another the author seemed to believe that philosophy somewhat bridged the gap. The author stated, "Philosophy moreover is the mirror which reflects the culture of people" (103). I felt this was true because some people may not believe in a certain theology but philosophical thought is reminiscent in all cultures because it is a part of human nature to wonder who they are and what is the point in life. I agreed with the author that philosophy supports theological thought because it can get people thinking about the bigger picture and can unite people in dialogues who do not necessarily share the same faith.

Casey Collins, Society and Truth

"While, on one hand, philosophical thinking has succeeded in coming closer to the reality of human life and its forms of expression, it has also tended to pursue issues -existential, hermeneutical or linguistic- which ignore the radical question of the truth about personal existence, about being and about God. Hence we see among the men and women of our time, and not just in some philosophers, attitudes of widespread distrust of the human being's great capacity for knowledge. With a false modesty, people rest content with partial and provisional truths, no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal, and social existence."(Fides et Ratio, 5)

I thought this excerpt in the John Paul reading was insightful because it relates to what we talked about last week and our philosophy timeline that we made. Last week we mentioned that progression of philosophy was going further away from questions about underlying truth, and that trend is also addressed by John Paul II. The significance of this excerpt, however, I feel lies within its implications about how one ought to live. JP2K (John Paul II and I are cool so I can call him that) seems to imply that one ought to center their philosophical pursuits around "the truth about personal existence." Of course, as we read on in the letter, we find that he believes the truth lies in a connection between reason and faith.

Reflecting on this section caused me to agree with JP2K because I feel that in society today we are content to the knowledge we can attain by reason and experience rather than pursue the fundamental unknowns. If we think about some of the radical advances in philosophical thought, such as those of Locke, Hume and Kant that we spoke of in class, they pursued questions such as the rights of men and the existence of moral truths. Just focusing on Locke, it is difficult to say that modern society would be remotely the same without his fundamental concepts of human rights. Each of these philosophers contributed significantly to the views of modern society and are an example of how, by pursuing fundamental questions of truth, one can significantly impact society. They also show that we ought to philosophically orient ourselves towards these questions in order to advance in personal thought as well as support philosophical advancement of society.

Ted Pinkerton

This is a copy of "The divisions and methods of the sciences" by St. Thomas Aquinas. It goes into far more detail about how Aquinas was thinking about this particular subject. I just though it would be good supplementary reading.

Sparky Garcia

This is more of a Problem of Evil talk, but it is something that I was reminded of when reading this week's packet. [21]

Joe Sackmann, The Teleological Suspension of the Ethical

I have taken Prof. Tkacz for Medieval Philosophy, so I am familiar with his stand on the faith and reason problem. I alos tend to agree with what he thinks about it. What I am more interested in is faith subjugated to reason, and how certain figures and tennats of faith would hold up to such scrutiny. One of my favorite examples of this is in Kierkegaard's book, Fear and Trembling, where he discusses what he calls the teleological suspension of the ethical. To put it briefly, it is the concept that there is a higher end that would allow for us to suspend the ethical. To grapple with this idea he uses the example of Abraham when he went up the mountain with the intent of sacrificing Issac. Now, Abraham believed that God had told him to do this, however the problem lies in the fact that even though it came from God, to kill ones son is unethical. So is there a teleological suspension of the ethical. Many have debated this issue back and forth, but in doing some research for this post, I found an interesting article from a Puritan website. This will show the more theistic and traditional thought on this problem. [22]


I gotta have faith. [23]

October 25, 2011

What is it Like to Be a Bat?

Husserl's Phenomenology

Husserl's actual essay starts on page 82 of this viewer. [24]

The "Arc" of Romantic Philosophy

Student Responses

Rachel Ku

I don't know how relevant this is, but I kept thinking about it while reading the stuff on bats and phenomenology. [25] The link is a youtube clip of a boy named Ben who went blind from cancer. He used echolocation to get around ("seeing with the ears"). You might have to right click to open in a new tab.

My Post