This week, our topic this week is Dangerous Demographics. Our goal is to discuss the challenges raised by our aging population. In many countries around the world, people are living longer. At the same time birth rates are declining – sometimes rapidly. The result: More old people; fewer young people. Take Japan. It has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Combine that with the world’s highest average life expectancy, and the result is a population that's both rapidly shrinking and rapidly aging. Now that’s dangerous demographics.
This week we're stepping over to the Dark Side of Science. Of course a skeptic might ask, what dark side? Without modern science, we’d still be bleeding the sick, travelling by horseback, and using carrier pigeons for long distance communication.
Sunday's topic: Lessons from the Trolley Problem -- When Is It Wrong to Save a Life?
There is nothing morally special about trolleys, except the historical accident that around thirty years ago the great philosophers Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson used trolleys in a series of examples, originally to help us think about moral aspects of abortion Since that time a zillion articles have been written about the trolley problem, applying it to all sorts of moral issues.
We’ve all experienced the desire for revenge, whether it be when some jerk cuts you off in traffic or you discover that your partner has been cheating on you. Wanting revenge when you’ve been wronged is a natural human response. The question we’re asking this week is whether this desire for payback is something we ought to act on. Is revenge ever the moral thing to do?
This week, we’re examining the limits of self-knowledge. That is, we’ll be asking how well we really know ourselves. There’s a long tradition in philosophy, of course, of thinking that we actually know ourselves quite well. Descartes, who has a reasonable claim to be the founder of this tradition, apparently thought that we had infallible and complete knowledge of everything going on in our minds. And he is certainly not the only philosopher to think that. Moreover, commonsense seems to agree with Descartes too. Suppose I want to know what I think or feel or plan do. I don’t have to consult some fancy expert or do some elaborate experiment. I don't have to consult some third party. I just need to do a little reflection and introspection.
It's National Hispanic Heritage Month, and this week on the program we'll be tackling Latin-American Philosophy. By Latin America we mean all the Spanish and Portuguese speaking parts of the Americas, including Mexico. We’ll just say American philosophy when we mean the U.S. and Canada, and apologize in advance for the somewhat arrogant terminology.
Sunday's program is about Diogenes the Cynic. Diogenes was born about 413 BCE and died in 323 BCE, the same year, and, at least according to legend, the same day as Alexander the Great, who had an unrequited admiration for Diogenes. Cynicism was a School of Philosophy that was founded in Athens by Antisthenes (455—366 BCE), a student of Socrates. The School lasted about 800 years after Diogenes, and was a major influence on Stoicism. Our modern words "cynic" and "cynicism" are historically connected to this School, but their meanings are only tangentially related to Diogenes views. These are known only by the testimony of later writers. If Diogenes did write anything, it hasn't survived.
This week our show is about The Moral Lives of Animals. We’re asking whether non-human animals could ever be moral. Can they possess moral virtues, like altruism or empathy, or act according to moral principles, like fairness or justice?
A knee-jerk response to this question might be to insist that any ascription of morality to animals is just a case of anthropomorphizing. People like to project all kinds of human traits onto animals, especially cute ones, and that’s what this is. Like most knee-jerk responses, though, this answer is not very satisfying. For a start, there are some prima facie reasons for thinking that mammals, at least, exhibit a lot of the same kind of pro-social behavior that we associate with human morality. They seems to act towards one another (and us) with empathy and loyalty. When they lose a loved-one they appear to feel grief. And what dog owner hasn’t seen that guilty expression on their pet’s face when they’ve come home to find trash all over the kitchen floor? When humans behave in these ways, we usually don’t think twice about ascribing certain emotions to them, emotions that form the basis of morality. But there’s often strong resistance when we do the same thing with non-human animals.
I bet that when most people hear the word ‘meme’ they think of the Internet and the viral spread of things like planking. Or maybe new expressions like LOL, or Gangnam style or the Harlem shake. This week's program may touch on that stuff, but that’s mostly not what we want to discuss. We want to discuss a serious scientific hypothesis about the evolution of human culture -- the idea that memes are to cultural evolution as genes are to biological evolution.
Some philosophers, including the guest on Sunday's program, Lanier Anderson, his teacher Alexander Nehamas, and their hero Nietzsche, are of the opinion think that we should think of our lives as works of art. I think Ken is sympathetic to this idea, at least. I"m a bit skeptical, but ready to learn.
Please contact Ken & John by email at email@example.com if you have an angle to add to any of the upcoming topics on Philosophy Talk, or if you have suggestions for future topics. You could be a guest caller on the air!
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Philosophy Talk With Ken Taylor and John Perry of Stanford University is produced by Ben Manilla Productions, Inc.