12/15/19: Perception and Reality
- To what extent does our perception reflect the true nature of reality?
- How much (and in what circumstances) should we trust our reason and our senses?
- Do our observations of objects in our environment represent "real" properties of those objects, or are they just aspects of our minds?
11/24/19: Consciousness and Subjective Experience
- What is consciousness? Can we define (or even describe) consciousness?
- Is there any way to objectively determine whether an object (like a dog, a rock, or a paralyzed person) is actually conscious?
- Are "zombies" possible? That is, could a creature exist that is indistinguishable from a human but lacks consciousness or subjective experience?
- Is it even conceivable for us to understand consciousness, or is there reason to believe that we will never understand it?
- Introducing Consciousness (book) by David Papineau and Howard Selina
- Conscious and the Brain, pages 116-128 (book excerpt) by Stanislas Dehaene
- Zombies (article) by Tom Polger
No meeting notes for this week.
11/17/19: Curtailment of Rights
- What human rights should all (just) governments recognize?
- Must a government recognize these rights in all scenarios, or are some of them conditional? When can a government rightly ignore some of a citizen's rights?
- When is it morally acceptable to curtail one person's rights for the safety or well-being of the rest of society?
- To what extent is it morally acceptable to curtail someone's rights when they commit a crime? What if they are only planning to commit a crime? What if they are more likely to commit a crime because of their race/religion/socioeconomic background?
11/10/19: Some Though Experiments about Identity
- If you had a sick pet, would you exchange it for a clone of its previously healthy self? What if it were a family member instead of a pet?
- If your entire body was destroyed but an exact clone was created, would "you" still exist? Would you volunteer to be destroyed if guaranteed that a clone would be created afterwards?
- What if, instead of having a clone created, you just had all of the information about you recorded and saved? Wouldn't it be as if you still existed, but "frozen in time"?
- If a person has, for instance, multiple personalities, or two severed brain hemispheres, are they "one person"? If they would be "one person," why can't people in two different bodies be "one person"?
- What is identity? What makes you "you?"
- Are you defined by your physical boundaries, your personality, your emotions, your memories...? How about your DNA, or maybe a "soul?"
- Do you remain the same person over time? Are you the same person that you were ten years ago, or even yesterday?
10/27/19: Revenge and Deserts
- What does it mean to "deserve" something?
- Is it right to reward people who do good? Is it right to punish people who do wrong?
- Is revenge ever justified? If so, when?
- Why do we find stories of revenge satisfying and entertaining? Where does our sense of "justice" come from?
- What is a "good life?" What does it take to be happy?
- What is a utopia?
- Is it possible to create a perfect utopia, or does human nature make it impossible?
- If so, what would such a society be like?
- What is a "God," in the traditional monotheistic sense?
- Is such a being logically possible?
- Is is possible to prove or disprove the existence of such a being using reason or science?
- Why should/shouldn't one believe in or worship a God?
9/29/19 Topic: The Ethics of Inequality
- What kinds of inequality affect us (e.g. economic inequality, biological inequality, inequality under the law, etc.)?
- Is inequality "bad"? Why might we have an aversion to inequality?
- Are there any benefits to inequality? Conversely, can excessive equality have drawbacks?
- Is it wrong to have something good that someone else doesn't have?
9/22/19 Topic: Immortality
- Is immortality/living forever desirable?
- Why do we want to avoid death? Is there anything good about death?
- "Zima Blue" (short story) by Alistair Reynolds
- "Nosotros, No"(english translation of short story) by José Bernardo Adolph
- "The Badness of Death" (essay) by Shelly Kagan
9/4/19 Topic: Consciousness
- What is consciousness? How can we define consciousness?
- What are necessary conditions for consciousness? Must something be alive in order to be conscious?
- Is there any empirical way to determine whether an object is conscious in practice?
- Consciousness and the Brain (book) by Stanislas Dehaene
8/28/19 Topic: Free Will
- What is free will? How can we define it?
- Do humans have free will?
- Would the laws of physics or the fact that everything is based on physical and chemical processes rule out the possibility of free will? Would the existence of an omnipotent God rule out free will?
- Are free will and predestination incompatible?
- "What's Expected" (short story) by Ted Chiang
back to home page