3/11/20: Obligations to friends (Meeting will take place through Zoom)
- What does it mean to be someone's "friend"? What are some necessary and sufficient conditions for "friendship"?
- What are our implicit obligations to our friends, if we have any at all?
- Is the relationship between two friends of a contractual nature? If not, how can it entail any mutual obligations?
- What does it mean to be "happy?" What is "the good life?"
- How can one live a happy life?
- Are sensory/hedonistic pleasures sufficient for a happy life? If not, what is their role?
- El paraíso imperfecto (micro-story) by Augusto Monterroso
- Experience Machine (Wikipedia article)
- Nichomachean Ethics (book) by Aristotle (just books 1 and 2 for this meeting)
- Hedonism (Wikipedia article)
- Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Wikipedia article)
- Stoic Advice (comic) by Existential Comics
2/9/20: Obeying the Law
- What makes a law or government "just" or "unjust"?
- When should we obey laws, and when is it right to disobey them?
- Plato's Crito
- Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.
- The Declaration of Independence
2/2/20: Free Will
- What does it mean to have "free will?"
- Do humans have "free will?" Is free will inconsistent with determinism, or with the existence of an omnipotent being (whether it be a god or Laplace's Demon)?
- Do any recent scientific developments "disprove" the existence of free will?
- Can we revise the traditional or intuitive concept of "free will" to be more practically useful and philosophically resilient?
- What's Expected (short story) by Ted Chiang
- A Dialogue on Compatibilism (comic) by Existential Comics
- Newcomb's Paradox (wikipedia page)
1/19/20: Movie Meeting: Columbus
This is an abnormal meeting - we're watching a movie with philosophical themes and discussing them afterwards. Last week's meeting covered a topic relevant to the movie, and the questions and readings for this week will cover other themes of the movie that weren't encompassed by last week's discussion.
- What can cause us to become alienated from friends and family? What allows us to become close to someone who is not in our family?
- Is it bad to care for someone else so much that it hinders our own life? Can it be bad to refuse someone's help?
- How do the aesthetics of our environment (nature, architecture, art, etc.) affect us? How should we interact with our environment? Can it have a "healing" effect on us?
- Columbus Trailer
- Modernism (Wikipedia article)
- Ivory Tower (Wikipedia article)
1/12/20: Family and Interpersonal Relationships
- Why do we associate ourselves with and befriend some people and not with others?
- What obligations do we have to our family members, if any? What obligations do children have to their parents, or parents to their children?
- Is one morally obligated to care for one's family, or at least maintain a relationship with one's family?
- Barn Burning (short story) by William Faulkner
- Nada es Gratis en la Vida (song) by El Cuarteto de Nos (translated lyrics can be provided upon request)
- Filial Obligation (article) from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Is man "the reasoning animal?" Does reason elevate us above other animals?
- What role should reason play in our lives? Should all of our decisions be based on reason?
- What is the relationship between reason and emotion, or between reason and faith?
- Can all questions be answered using reason?
- Is reason a practical tool, or a "good" that should be followed for its own sake (or neither)?
- The Lowest Animal (essay) by Mark Twain
- The Ethics of Belief (essay) by William K. Clifford
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 Thought 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