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Philosophy Cafe Session Summary Reports
Friday, 27 April 2007
Commenting on whether Human is always in real existence
Mood:  sharp
Topic: Philocafe Session Reports
A person is really self-centered. Hence, his core stems from self-centeredness, which is really his human nature.
Reason - Human always think for themselves first. Whatever their actions, it always start with 'I'. 'I do this because...', 'I do that because...'
My reason was opposed last Wed by the fact that there are a certain portion of people who do things for others without thinking of themselves, like the self-sacrificial mother or the stranger who sacrifices himself to save another during a crisis etc... These people put others' interest before them and hence are the minority who are not 'self-centered'. Therefore, self-centeredness is not a person's core since there are a group who works without thinking of their own interest.
I wish to oppose the above opposition and stand by the comment that a person's core is still 'self-centeredness'.
The mother who died to save her child is due of her self-centeredness. She cannot accept the fact, the feeling of depression and guilt of seeing her child died before her that she chooses to die herself. She chooses to release herself from all agony using death and let the living person (her child) face the agony of losing a loved one.
The stranger who sacrifices himself to save another during a crisis also stems from self-centeredness. The stranger knows that if he did not take action to save the other during crisis, he will have to face the guilt and depression of not saving the other and letting the other die before him. In this case, the stranger would rather die in place of the other.
Therefore, self-centered is still the core of all human.
And if this is so, a person will always be in real existence because everyone is always self-centered (putting his interest above all whether it's an act of benevolent or selfishness).

Posted by doris-nkt at 9:59 PM JST
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Sunday, 22 April 2007
How can a person always be in his real existence?
Mood:  happy
Topic: Philocafe Session Reports

(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.

Posted by philocafesg at 2:41 PM JST
Updated: Sunday, 22 April 2007 2:44 PM JST
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Thursday, 29 June 2006
Should ugly people exist? Are poor artists better than rich bankers?
Mood:  happy
Topic: Philocafe Session Reports
(Philosophy caf? #32, 21 June 2006, 10 participants)

This night is a historic night. It sees the launch of NOUS: The Automated Thought Machine (ATM). It enables us to handle two questions in a single night.
The first question: Should ugly people exist? We construct an argument for a “yes” answer.

There are beautiful people.
“Ugly” and “beautiful” are a comparison.
Beautiful is desired.
Therefore, ugly people should exist.

We agree that the reason (all the premises taken together) implies the conclusion. We are uncertain if the first premise is true.
Branch #1: Are there beautiful people? We construct a “yes” argument.

I am beautiful.
“I” refers to a person.
If there is at least one beautiful person, then there are beautiful people.
Therefore, there are beautiful people.

We agree that the reason implies the conclusion. We are again uncertain if the first premise is true.
Branch #2: Am I beautiful? To answer “yes”, we construct the argument:

Different cultures have different concepts of beauty.
Confidence exists.
There is beauty everywhere.
If you think you’re beautiful, then you’re beautiful.
I think I am beautiful.
Therefore, I am beautiful.

We agree the reason implies the conclusion. All premises are true. Therefore “I am beautiful” is true.
We roll back to Branch #1. The second and third premises are true. Therefore “there are beautiful people”. We roll back again. It is true that “‘ugly’ and ‘beautiful’ are a comparison” and that “beautiful is desired”. Therefore, ugly people should exist. The question is answered.

We begin a second question: Are poor artists better than rich bankers?
We construct a “yes” argument.

When you desire nothing, you have everything.
Rich bankers do not desire nothing.
Artists generally desire less materially than bankers.
Therefore, poor artists are better than rich bankers.

We agree the reason implies the conclusion. We agree the first two premises are true. We are uncertain if the third premise is true. This is an empirical question, which can be settled only empirically. We recognize that if the third premise turns out to be true, then “poor artists are better than rich bankers”; and that if it is false, then we cannot draw this conclusion via this argument.
We build a second “yes” argument.

“Better” means “happier”.
Adding more value to society means “happier”.
Creating objects of lasting value adds value to society.
More objects of lasting value come from artists than from bankers.
Therefore, poor artists are better than rich bankers.

We agree the reason implies the conclusion. We agree the first three premises are true. We are uncertain if the fourth premise is true. We do not have time to branch.
Discussion ends. Feedback from participants indicate ATM is useful.

Posted by philocafesg at 3:33 PM JST
Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006 1:34 PM JST
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Wednesday, 3 August 2005
Is environmentalism necessary?
Philosophy caf? #21 was convened on 20 July 2005 at 8.10pm with 16 participants. Our “launch pad” for the night was a newspaper article about how tuskless elephants are emerging as a response to poachers killing off elephants for their ivory tusks.

The immediate suggestion arising from this discovery is that nature is responding to the situation by selecting for tuskless elephants, thus obviating the need for man to campaign against the ivory trade—in an effort to protect the elephant as a specie. By extension then, the question arises whether we humans need to become environmentalists at all, or can we just assume that nature will somehow manage to find new equilibriums and carry on.

An initial “brainstorm” raised the following further points: Man killed the dodo bird; Pollution is not sustainable; There’s value in biodiversity; Environmentalism is a school of thought, and no school of thought is necessary; Environmentalists have an agenda.

The lively discussion that ensued covered many and varied aspects of the environmentalism issue, including its economics, the difference between developed and developing countries, its practical difficulties etc. Underlying the discussion, however, was the tacit assumption that we humans do need to be concerned about the environment.

When pressed to explain exactly why we humans should be so concerned, the general consensus was that failing to be environmentally responsible would endanger the continued existence of the human specie itself—an anthropocentric justification. However, it was also briefly suggested that nature should be protected for the beauty it provides, that man is part of the environment and hence obliged to protect it.

Two participants raised a critical counterexample. If, just suppose, it is possible for the human race to survive on a barren planet, will there still be a need to be environmentally responsible? It was also noted that just such a scenario would obtain should man ever establish a moon or Mars colony. However, the late hour precluded further discussion on this.

The session ended at 10.15pm.

Posted by philocafesg at 5:11 PM JST
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Wednesday, 22 June 2005
Is ?mind? worth preserving?
Mood:  bright
Topic: Philocafe Session Reports
Philosophy cafe #20 was convened on 15 June 2005 at 8.15pm with 14 participants. We begin by recalling a recent newspaper story. A British futurologist predicts that by 2050 it will be possible to download a person’s mind and emotions into a computer, and that by 2080 this procedure will be routinely available. A popular vote decides our Question for the Evening (above). We decide to consider only the general case, rather than the personal case (is my mind worth preserving?). The question allows only two possible answers: Yes and No.

The “yes” answer attracts four arguments.

One, to satisfy scientific curiosity — to see if it can be done. Objection 1: This requires downloading just one mind; it does not justify the general case. Objection 2: It will not be justified if it causes pain or the person’s loss of will (the computer is in someone else’s control). Reply: The computer in 2080 could be a sentient and mobile micro-robot — which does not feel pain, and can exercise its will.

Two, to preserve personal value. But this is obviated by our decision to consider only the general, and not the personal, case.

Three, since the ability to download a mind into a computer suggests also the ability to upload copies of that downloaded mind into other minds, the technology will allow knowledge to be acquired easily (a la Matrix) and endlessly.

Four, preserving all minds will create a universal mind — and world peace. Objection 1: Should all minds be alike? Objection 2: Billions of disagreeing minds in one computer will create only world conflict.

The “No” answer attracts seven arguments.

One, mind preservation can create an aristocracy of preserved “great” minds.

Two, great minds don’t always stay great. Einstein was unproductive in the later part of his life; Aristotle’s thoughts rules the Western world for centuries, but many were later proved wrong.

Three, who decides which minds are great (preserve) or useless (not preserve)?

Four, the procedure could be painful.

Five, the downloaded mind cannot exercise will, since housed in a computer maintained by others. Objection: The computer could be housed in a sentient and mobile micro-robot fuelled by solar power. This will preserve will.

Six, when mind download becomes routine, where will we store the billions of present and future minds? We will have an overpopulation of preserved minds. Of course, we could preserve only some “deserving” minds —which returns us to the argument from aristocracy.

Seven, old minds should make space for new minds and ideas. This also returns to the aristocracy argument; but is rebutted by the possibility of uploading other minds into old minds (renewing them) and that of the preserved mind continuing to independently learn new things and have new thoughts.

To sum up: The defence from endless easy education is up against the objections from aristocracy, change, power, pain and storage. The “no” case seems stronger. Ultimately: How should we treat a mind? But we already know how we do treat minds — it’s just that minds are now contained in bodies rather than computers. So downloading minds into computers won’t achieve anything really much.

We end the session at around 10.15pm.

Posted by philocafesg at 2:39 PM JST
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Thursday, 2 June 2005
Do women need men in the 21st century?
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Philocafe Session Reports
Philosophy cafe #19 was convened on 18 May 2005 at 8.15pm with 18 participants. The Question for the Evening (above) was inspired by a recent newspaper story on a research finding that divorced women earn more than married women and spinsters. Such a question invites only two answers: Yes and No. So we will be considering arguments leading to each of these two possible answers. Here are some reasons why women need men. One, to have a family. Rebuttal: It is possible to have a family without a man e.g. a single female parent with children. Two, to make a family. Rebuttal: Modern medical technology obviates this e.g. with sperm banks and clones. Three, to have love, and to give love. Rebuttal: People of the same sex are also able to give and receive love from each other. Four, to give women status e.g. women in India and Bali have no status as women unless they are married by a certain age. However, it is rebutted that this is a cultural feature, and hence not intrinsic to men and women. Five, to have counterpoint and diversity in their lives. For example, men are more goal driven whilst women are more process driven -- as shown in the observation that there are more male chess grandmasters (women play chess just to have a game, instead of to win). Furthermore, it is this counterpoint and diversity that leads to human progress. This last argument is not rebutted. (Indeed, it is mentioned again later.) Here are some reasons why women do not need men. One, even if you put a woman on a desert island, she will still be able to find a way to survive. Two, women depend less on men these days, given technology, financial independence etc. Three, the traditional complementary roles between men and women are vanishing, as each becomes more independent and self-sufficient. Four, history has for a long time had entirely female societies e.g. nuns. Five, women are becoming less concerned about what society thinks of them if they do not have a man in their lives. (This relates to argument four above.) The discussion shifts to what needs are relevant. Are we concerned about low level needs like food, shelter and clothing (for which women can today be self-sufficient), or higher order needs like self-actualisation (for which women may not be self-sufficient)? Or perhaps put another way: are we discussing needs, or wants? Generalising further, women have needs which they want satisfied (e.g. for a driver, a handyman, a listener, a sex partner, an emotional partner), but these needs may be satisfied by non-men. So the question really boils down to: Do women have a need that only a man can satisfy? That is, what is a man's USP (unique selling point)? This brings us back to the earlier point that men provide counterpoint and diversity in women's lives. Someone makes an observation: We have focussed on women needing men only as in a mate relationship. what about women and men as in kinship e.g. daughter and father, sister and brother? The evening is late; we do not pursue the matter further. We end the session at around 10.15pm.

Posted by philocafesg at 12:01 AM JST
Updated: Wednesday, 22 June 2005 2:47 PM JST
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Friday, 22 April 2005
Why is bullshit necessary or important?
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Philocafe Session Reports
My philosophy cafe session on Apr 20 saw a record turnout, because of a recent mention in a newspaper article. Our content was slightly different from the usual, in that its stimulus was a slightly dated (as opposed to recent) news item. A month ago, The Observer of London said a philosophical book entitled On Bullshit had just been published. Its author is Harry G. Frankfurt, a noted moral philosopher at Princeton University.

Frankfurt gives an example of bullshit. Wittgenstein phones his friend Pascal to ask how she was after her tonsillectomy. She says ?like a dog that?s been run over?. Wittgenstein replies: ?you don?t know what a dog that?s been run over feels like.? Pascal is spouting bullshit.

And so our group begins discussing our Question for the Evening.

The necessity or importance of bullshit (BS) lies in its purpose, or what it is used for. It is used for flattery, which in turn is often both necessary and important for survival (e.g. flattering the boss) and happiness (flattering the spouse). BS is also used in entertainment (e.g. comedy), which in turn clearly promotes happiness. So also is BS used to warm up an audience (e.g. so called icebreakers) prior to serious activity.

Someone suggests we define BS before we proceed further. I warn against the common philosophical danger of becoming obsessed with definitions, and of the entire evening being consumed by definitional activity. So we set a deadline time. Another participant points out that BS takes both noun (e.g. ?Pascal is spouting bullshit.?) and verb (e.g. ?Pascal is bullshitting Wittgenstein.?) forms.

We deal with the noun form first. Bullshit is false, deceptive, without substance, metaphorical, humorous, and relative to the speaker or listener. Next, the verb form. To bullshit is to think aloud, as in the Socratic method; to bullshit is to exaggerate or to distort. I suggest that these two are not necessarily compatible, but we decide not to turn the session into a definitional one. So, armed with a vague idea of what BS is (which is better than with no idea at all), we continue to consider our main question.

Bullshit is used to deceive. But this may not always be a bad thing, as in the case of white lies and buffers, which may be necessary to save jobs (e.g. to correct a mistake without telling the boss) and lives (e.g. not to tell a dying person about his true state of illness).

A suggestion is made that we need to distinguish necessity and importance. What is necessary is important; but what is important may not be necessary. An interesting question, but we do not pursue it, again for fear of entering into another definitional enquiry.

BS can also be used to create fantasies, which we use to destress ourselves from everyday life. All these can be said to be necessary and important.

I end the session by revealing Frankfurt?s views. Bullshit differs from lies, in that lies are known and conscious falsehoods whereas bullshit does not care whether it is true or false (hence a statement can be bullshit and true). This difference makes bullshit more dangerous than lies. Bullshit is more prevalent now than ever before because of the communications revolution. More information is demanded than truth can supply; so bullshit proliferates.

The most important discovery of the evening was that a serious philosophical discussion can be had on even so apparently outrageous a topic as bullshit.

Posted by philocafesg at 12:11 PM JST
Updated: Friday, 22 April 2005 12:22 PM JST
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