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Is "getting married without love" justified?

This is my report of the philosophy cafe session on 21 November 2007.

We again used The Instrument. Here's a summarised version of the process.

1. What do we wish to do?
A: We wish to answer a question.

2. Isolate our question in under 10 words.
A: Is "getting married without love" justified?

34. What justification rule category does P ("getting married without love") fall into?
A: It is not covered by justification rules.

48. List benefits and harms of P.
A: Benefits: a) tax breaks, b) HDB flat, c) double income, d) conjugal rights
Harms: a) not emotionally satisfying

66. Compare benefits and harms. What is the result?
A: Benefits overwhelmingly outweigh harm.

74. P ("getting married without love") is justified. The question is answered.

While using The Instrument, we discovered some rough edges that need to be smoothened out. I hope to have this done by the next cafe session. The learning point here is that a productive discussion need not wander through the universe (as philosophers are wont to do) before arriving at no answer at all.

Should we revive ancient religions?

This is the report of my philosophy cafe session on 17 October 2007.

The question for the evening is inspired by a newspaper report of an 8m-high model of Golden Anubis, the ancient jackal-headed Egyptian God of the Dead, being brought past London's Tower Bridge. The model is the highlight of the Tutankhamun and The Golden Age of the Pharoahs exhibition that will open in London on 15 November 2007.

Tonight, we depart from the previously adopted spontaneous discussion, and instead address the matter using The Instrument, a program that I have designed for clear thought. The following is a summary of the result. "I" represents "Instrument"; and "R" represents "Response".

I: What do you wish to do?
R: We wish to address a question.

I: Write down the question in fewer than 10 words.
R: Should we revive ancient religions?

I: Does the question fit the pattern "Is P justified?", where P is a variable standing for anything whatever?
R: Yes, with P standing for "revive ancient religions".

I: Is P ("revive ancient religions") covered by a justification rule (eg. always tell the truth)?
R: No.

I: List the beneficial and harmful consequences of P.
R: The benefits of P ("revive ancient religions") are (a) more peaceful replacement of prevailing religions, (b) opportunity to explore roots, (c) bring enthusiasm back to religion, (d) opportunity for reinterpretation, and (e) opportunity for commerce. The harms of P ("revive ancient religions") are (a) revive superstitions, (b) revive illogical behaviour, (c) incite unhappiness, and possibly violence, from prevailing religions, and (d) may disrupt status quo.

I: Pair up those on each list with the same weight. This is a judgement call.
R: Benefits (a, e) and Harm (c); Benefit (b) and Harm (a, b); Benefit (c) and Harm (d).

I: Remove them.
R: Done. Only Benefit (d) remains.

I: "Revive ancient religions" is justified. The question is answered. We should revive ancient religions.

We recognise that items on the benefits and harms lists may be disputed. We also recognise that such disputes can be handled by iterating them as further questions through The Instrument.

Conclusion: This test of The Instrument is successful. We will test it again at the next philosophy cafe session.

Should men prefer younger women?

This is the report of the philosophy cafe session on 19 September 2007.

The evening's question is inspired by a newspaper report (Straits Times, 1 Sept 2007) of a research finding that evolutionary pressure for more children explains men's preference for younger women, and women's desire for older men. We do not dispute the empirical finding, but ask if men should have this preference. The initial responses are in favour of older women.

Men should prefer older women as an act of charity. Access granted to older women is an act of kindness and altruism, to save them from being left on the shelf.

Men should prefer older women, as they can be a "second mother" to them. Objection: This assumes that mental age follows chronological age. But this assumption is generally true. No, this is the case only if she is married. If the older woman is single, she is generally not psychologically mature. Which makes it even more so an act of charity to prefer her.

Men should prefer the older woman, because the over 35 single woman is more likely to be a graduate, and hence is better genetic material.

The discussion turns to the younger woman.

Men should prefer younger women, because they are more charming, have better figures, better voices, and man can lord over these younger women. No, these reasons are unhealthy, because they feed men's egos. We should not feed men's egos.

Men can prefer a younger woman if she has a character and maturity beyond her chronological age. Maturity rather than age is the key factor.

Men should prefer younger women, because the younger woman, being less mature, is more likely to do crazy things, to be a risk taker, and this is good for men.

Men should prefer younger women because this is the model of the perfect world. Younger women are more energetic, and have better reproductive potential.

No, men should not prefer younger women, because younger women are less matured, and this is not good for the baby.

Men should prefer younger women, because younger women can also "mother" a man. The mothering instinct does not depend on age.

The discussion returns to the older woman.

Men should prefer the older woman, because women live longer than men, and this will shorten her period of expected widowhood. Lonely old folks are a strain on the economy. Once again, this is an act of charity.

Men should prefer older women, because older women are more financially stable, and therefore better able to contribute to the mortgage etc.

Men should prefer the older woman, as she is more sexually experienced. This contrasts with preferring her as an act of charity.

We decide to focus on the charity argument.

An older woman is defined as a woman over 35 years of age. We define being "left on the shelf" to mean "not currently in a relationship, but possibly having had a relationship in the past". The act of charity that is being extended to the older woman left on the shelf is to save her from the accompanying loneliness, stigma and ostracism. Such an act of charity works only for a while, because eventually such a relationship will break down, making the original preference for the older woman an act of cruelty rather than an act of charity.

Discussion stops here.


Is cybersex wrong?

This is the question addressed by the philosophy cafe session on 15 August 2007.

We define cybersex as text-based sexual activity over the internet, involving at least two persons.

Cybersex is wrong as it involves a minor, since minors are deemed incapable of consent. But this is cyberspace, why is consent relevant? Well, it violates innocence. But young people do need to "wake up" sometime. Yes, when the timing is appropriate. When is the timing appropriate? When the person is psychologically prepared. So, it is not age that matters, but psychological preparedness.

Whether it is wrong depends on who is interpreting the action. Those who will consider it wrong include religious people, parents, teachers, puritans, and luddites (anti-technology folks). The "offenders", of course, will approve of it. These include perverts, maniacs and paedophiles. But saying that it depends on who is interpreting it makes the matter entirely subjective. It is an abdication of thought.

We take the utilitarian approach, which judges an action right or wrong based on its consequences. We first consider the harmful consequences.

Cybersex promotes mental harm. But this is in cyberspace. The mental harm is it promotes fantasy. So do novels. This is not a harm.

Cybersex produces physical harm if it leads to real-life experimentation with the wrong party. The cyber part produces physical harm if one spends too much time at the computer. Problems such as astigmatism, deep vein thrombosis, repetitive stress injury, backache, obesity, heart disease, and lack of sleep.

Cybersex can make people neglect physical sex, leading to a drop in population.

We move on to benefits.

Cybersex promotes education, in improving vocabulary, imparting techniques, and developing social intelligence.

The fantasy life in cybersex enhances mental health and produces simulation training.

Cybersex is a leisure activity, which helps one pass the time.

Cybersex is therapeutic, in preventing depression.

Cybersex can promote character development.

Cybersex is cheaper than real sex (this includes sex within the bounds of a relationship).

Cybersex is environmentally friendly, in consuming electricity rather than petrol.

Cybersex improves typing skills under emotional stress.

Cybersex liberates handicaps (in giving them a virtual normal life), and people of other inclinations.

Cybersex may promote actual sex, and so increase the population.

What about minors? These benefits accrue even more so to minors.

Since the benefits outweigh the harms, cybersex is morally good.


What is the difference between belief and truth?

18 July 2007, 4 participants.

The dictionary yields a straightforward difference. A belief is a feeling that something is true; truth is something that is in fact the case. We reflect further on the matter, and identify three other major differences.

Belief requires some person to have the feeling that something is true; whereas truth is independent of any person.

A belief is possibly false; whereas truth has no such possibility. (We disregard Popperian sophistication here.)

There can be multiple beliefs about a given subject; whereas truth is singular. For example, there are beliefs in many gods, a single god, and no god. The truth can be only one of these options. Even the common saying of "one god but known by different names" implies just one being.

This possible multiplicity of beliefs about a given subject gives rise to the question: why do people believe without evidence? (The assumption here is that evidence will point to the truth.)

Four reasons are suggested. First, because other people believe that X. Second, because the brain has evolved to believe X. Third, because people are naive. Fourth, because the belief is nice, comfortable, powerful, or scary (e.g. ghosts exists).

Finally, it is suggested that there is a continuum of intensity. Most intense is truth, followed by belief, then guess and hope, in decreasing order of intensity.

The discussion ends at 10.15pm.



What is the meaning to human existence?

20 June 2007, 4 participants.

Three possibilities are raised. First, transmission of genetic information across generations. Second, to make the world a better place. Third, to solve the meaning of human existence. We investigate the second possibility.
     The meaning to human existence is to make the world a better place, because technology has made the world a better place. Has technology indeed made the world a better place?
     Well, if technology has not made the world a better place, then more money will not be put into research for technological advancement. But more money is put into such research. Therefore, technology has made the world a better place.
     This argument uses the Modus Tollens argument form. It is valid. We consider the truth of the premisses. It is a fact that more money is indeed put into research for technological advancement. Is it true that if technology has not made the world a better place, then more money will not be put into research for technological advancement?
     Chemical weapons is offered as a counterexample. But, in serving as a deterrent, they do make the world a better place. The counterexample fails.
     Ecstasy (the drug) is offered as a counterexample. It does have a medicinal use in treating certain psychiatric problems. The counterexample fails.
     We are unable to show the first premiss false. We accept the argument. Technology has made the world a better place.
     There is nevertheless still a gap between this and "the meaning to human existence is to make the world a better place". We need a bridge. One is suggested.
     In principle, if X is unique to Y, then X is the meaning of Y. We take X to be "enhancement of technology", and Y to be "humans". We see that enhancement of technology is unique to humans. Therefore, enhancement of technology is the meaning of human existence.
     We couple this with "technology has made the world a better place". We still cannot get to "the meaning to human existence is to make the world a better place".
     We are unable to produce a sound argument for the thesis that "the meaning to human existence is to make the world a better place". Hence, we cannot accept the thesis.
     The discussion ends.

This June session also sees the launch of "Philochart puzzles" and "Singapore hot topics" for sale.


Do most motivational programmes help?

(16 May 2007)


A motivational programme is defined as "a multi-step programme that entices you to an eagerness". Help whom? The maker of the programme, or the buyer of the programme? Certainly, they help the makers ie. the authors, publishers, conference organisers etc. Even for the programme content itself, it helps the maker by enabling him to practise it often. What about the buyer? Most motivational programmes do not teach participants how to develop substance. They ultimately destroy the consumer by making him dependent on orders and constant motivation. In short, they create an addiction. Such programmes ignore talent, skill, charm, luck -- and focus on attitude. No, motivational programmes unleash talent, skill, charm, luck. They give choice. No, most people don't have these to be unleashed. No, whether they ignore or unleash talent, skills etc., it is only a method of delivery. The real benefit of motivational programmes is they provide meaningful and new ideas to the buyer. Also, they unleash even more motivation in the already motivated buyer. Motivational programmes are helpful even if they inspire the buyer to rubbish them eventually. Helpfulness to the buyer is defined by the buyer. End of report.


How can a person always be in his real existence?

(18 April 2007, 5 participants)


We understand the phrase "real existence" to refer to "what one really is". Further discussion elaborates this to refer to one's "core" or "human nature", more specifically, "qualities and behaviour natural to most people". The phrase "most people" is critical, meaning we must exclude comatose, vegetative and handicapped persons from consideration as examples of human nature. Aside from the traditional defining features of "featherless bird", "ability to think", and "capacity for language", we suggest also the quality of "benevolence". Debate focusses on this, specifically on the possibility of people being naturally selfish and evil. We ask also if there is a distinction between living or showing real existence, and knowing or recognising real existence. We point out that regardless whether human nature is basically benevolent or evil, the main question is how can a person always be in his real existence, the key word being "always". Long practice is suggested as the answer to this question. Would that be a habit rather than something natural? Sincerity is suggested as the answer. What if one is sincerely evil? Is that real existence? It is an interesting discussion. We end at 10.15pm.



What is the attraction of being anonymous in the Internet?

(21 March 2007, 2 participants)


It is fun, because, like acting, it is not real. Hence the term "virtual reality". If is safe -- for both sides. This is the case in chatrooms and forums, but not so in Internet banking, where you do want to be clearly identified. The attraction of anonymity in the Internet depends on your activity. In any case, there is no real anonymity -- IP addresses are easily discovered by those who know how. In general, anonymity creates freedom, it makes you not a target, it allows you to do mischief, it allows you to be a voyeur and an exhibitionist. Even more generally, it gives power. However, those who do have power in real life sometimes want to be anonymous eg. movie stars, politicians. Perhaps anonymity is an equaliser, as in the Wikipedia, where anyone can edit a post. But this results only in "most commonly held belief", rather than in "truth".

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