200 and Counting!
Philosophy Talk

14 November 2009

Help Us Celebrate 200 Episodes of Philosophy Talk!
Our 200th episode is coming up, and to mark the occassion we're compiling a Philosophical Top 10 List.
 

What burning issue do you think philosophers and Philosophy Talk  should tackle in the years ahead?

Send your suggestions for our Philosophical Top 10 list to comments@philosophytalk.org or post them here on our blog.   We will be monitoring the blog during the show. 
 

Comments (12)


Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, November 14, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

In answer to the question about What burning issue

In answer to the question about What burning issues to address? I suggest you engage [debunk?] the emerging hype cycle about empathy (Einfuehlung), but do so in a profesional way. One point of view is that nothing sensible has been said about empathy since Heidegger called for "a special hermenetuic of emapthy" in a 1927 publication and then did not give one. Another point of view - last month (Oct 2009), Frans de Waal's The AGE of EMPATHY was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal - an excellent popular treatment of the subject based on his experiences with great apes at the Yerkes Primate habitat. Some excellent illustrations too. JD Trout (Philosophy Loyola University Chicago) tries to connect the dots between empathy and social security - I am not making this up - in his The EMPATHY GAP (Viking Books). Arguably these launched the inchoate hype cycle. I am not saying this is good or not good - I am saying it is time for a fundamental philosphical inquiry. See a contribution by yours truly at www.EmpathyInTheContextOfPhilosophy.com

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, November 14, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

In the near future how we reconcile the continued

In the near future how we reconcile the continued development of life quality and quantity extension with the continued population challenge on world resources will be increasingly a philosophical problem. One the one hand it is in many senses "Human Nature" to develop technologies that make it easier to live. Possibly the single greatest development, fire, has led to one of our greatest challenges to continued development, global warming. As more people exert their fundamental rights to live, carbon is burned. As our basis for development, energy consumption is inexorably linked to improving the human condition. And, improvements in the human condition are linked inexorably to human population. This has been bandied about for decades yet we face this mutually exclusive relationship in increasingly dramatic terms. If a very few (wealthy) humans are enabled to have medically and cybernetically enhanced life spans in an energy intensive ?post biological? future while the vast majority of humans are constrained to hard-scrabble, energy and food starved, shorter, less healthy lives in an environmentally damaged world, it will be a profound moral failing. Prometheus? legacy?

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, November 14, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

The Corporation as Person is at the heart of the m

The Corporation as Person is at the heart of the modern catastrophe of values and practice. As corporations have grown into "Global Persons" they have become increasingly anti-human in their character, and have become addicts to unsustainable Growth as the prevailing values that drive production, deceptive advertising, compulsory mis-education and professional life, providing financing to buy politicians and disseminate fallacious news reporting, toxic, mendacious punditry, and pumping pseudo-scientific obscurantism into public policy, etc.
The Corporate Person is THE modern Frankenstein monster who has in fact taken over the world and in many ways superceded the power of the nation state, and has absolutely superceded the power of the actual human person in every area except the ability to do good. The State has become the mere handservant of the modern corporate behemoth, fighting wars to protect the predatory rights of Corporations Uber Alles, bailing out corporate disasters, and providing protective immunity to corporate criminals, criminal institutions, and opportunistic stockholders. Corporate ownership of media has become an essential ingredient to corporate ?success.?
As media have become increasingly corporatized (including NPR), the nature of truth and community has deteriorated catastrophically, with people being fragmented into mere individualistic consumers of gadgetry and passive spectators of the actions of others. The media have been consolidated around a profitable interest in promoting mindless moral relativism and commodity fetishism at all costs (via seductive advertising and "balanced" reporting that gives equal airtime to utter falsehoods), in order to have a manipulable populace who can be led to buy anything whatsoever (gadgets, as well as political lies leading to war and financial fraud).
Side by side with this corrosive relativism (and the insecurity it breeds) is a correlative psychological tendency toward authoritarianism and brutish social Darwinism, as we witness with the flood of corporate-sponsored ?reality? TV shows based on survival themes where only 1 person is entitled to be a winner, and all the rest are authoritatively rejected and devalued as Losers. You're Fired, American Idol, Fear Factor, The Swan, Biggest Loser, Survivor, Hell's Kitchen etc. are all presided over by a mix of truly sociopathic, voyeruistic, hostile and sadistic personalities who are elevated to positions of social leadership and respectability, using fabricated competitions to promote the corporate value system of ruthless opportunism as a replacement for pro-social values of caring, community, and conscience. As spectators, we are invited to join them in their amused indifference to human suffering, its causes and solutions.
They are sickly reminders of the 1950?s program, Queen for a Day, where we were likewise ?entertained? by the humiliating desperation of women who competed to win prizes by telling the most tragic family story of poignant medical need, financial distress, or personal loss. Rather than being ashamed of its inhuman proclivities, capitalism perversely turns its systemic failures and cruelties into new forms of entertainment and diversion, creating cathartic dramas that re-direct and dissipate social revulsion and outrage against failures of the system, and turns them into harmless episodes of trivial, substitutionary justice and victory. The Queen for a Day gets a cathartic triumph symbolized by a Samsonite suitcase, a bottle of Tuvaché perfume, and a 30 second promenade down the walkway, wearing a crown and cape, to temporarily offset the miseries of her real life; and ?the system? doesn?t have to address the fundamental issues of having her home re-possessed by the bank, the lack of affordable health care for her ailing husband, or the company who laid him off from work. One woman ?wins? on the television, and a million women in the TV audience experience a temporary, cathartic identification with her victory, and the machinery of corporate capital can continue its predatory march through history un-opposed by any substantial popular opposition.
The corporate media are collectively promoting a corporate agenda of Darwinian survivalism not only as a perverse form of cruel, voyeuristic gladiatorial entertainment, but also as the brutish social ethic of the future, to reverse the less-profitable humanistic advances of pro-social modernity. Our media are using entertainment vehicles to promote an anti-communitarian allegory of regressive individualism, where lying, manipulation, selling each other out, and "anything goes" are the newly acceptable, brutish norms for the social contract of the 21st century. Corporate media are preparing us for a world where most people are going to end up as Losers and be thrown out of the game, off the island, to build their Loser lives in desperate, low-class mediocrity, outside the charmed circle of Rich Winners. The Rich Winners are deemed inherently admirable, and nobody else really matters because The Contest (i.e., corporate capitalism) has authoritatively defined them as Losers.
Reality TV becomes the offical venue where larger societal issues are narratively distorted and re-defined, and truly virtuous alternatives are never discussed or represented. Only the coarsest, least humane, least cooperative options are given airtime. Trivial ?treasure hunt? elements are constantly substituted for the real challenges of Reality, and the pacified spectator populace thoughtlessly grants acceptance and agreement to the increasingly dehumanizing Game that creates a thousand Losers for every Winner. Virtually no disgusting humiliation is excluded as a valid "test" for contestants, and this sets the stage for telling the rest of us in society to not expect anything better when difficult times are upon us. If you're not prepared to drink a smoothie made with blenderized grub worms, then you're not worthy to even be in the Game, much less ever be considered as a Winner. Reality games are re-defining human virtues in ways that routinely exclude truly human virtues, and that exalt truly sick, sadistic, and sociopathic traits.
The corporate myth of progress is built around constantly exaggerated valuing of its primary products every six months (?You gotta have this thing!?), and a profound under-estimation of the vast array of negative externalities involved in the production and consumption process, with global warming as the looming exemplar. Ignoring environmental and economic externalities is an essential element of corporate ?success,? and Darwinian entertainment is becoming an essential tool for inculcating a corresponding societal indifference to the social externalities (Losers) that we will increasingly be surrounded with, or become ourselves, as the global corporate mega-machine continues on its suicidal rampage of Profits Uber Alles, undeterred by revelations of massive financial fraud and environmental collapse.
The more corporations can help *debase* the standards of social life, the more of a manipulable consumer base they will have for the false values of corporate products and the false politics that are needed to provide an appearance of necessity and legitimacy to the brutish deterioration of civilization and the catastrophic destruction of the natural world.
The Frankenstein Corporation, driven by non-human and unsustainable economic pseudo-values, is the chief modern antagonist to human wellbeing. It must be confronted head-on and be made subordinate to human values.
Several concrete actions to take are:
(a) eliminate corporate personhood as a legal concept and entity.
(b) require all corporations above a certain size to have elected public Directors on the Board, to protect the public interest;
(c) require all corporations to submit to Re-Chartering every 5 years, based on a systematic review of pro-social and environmental criteria, as well as economic performance;
(d) create Corporate Liability legislation that will define long-term accountability for corporate officers and shareholders, so that long-term costs/liabilities /externalities can be retroactively charged to *all investors and beneficiaries* of corporate decisions (e.g., making stock holders liable to pay for future damages caused by toxic waste). Short-term profiteers, legislators, and lobbyists will be accountable for long-term impacts. Stockholders and their immediate family members who profit from any corrupt or damaging corporate practices will be liable to ?restitutional taxation? for up to 25 years for all investments and capital gains income (i.e., investment itself alone creates liability for restitution, regardless of whether capital gains are involved)
(e) corporations guilty of corrupt practices (including employee or public endangerment, fraudulent billing, and environmental damage) will be prevented from federal or state contracts for a period of 3 years;
(f) eliminate all corporate involvement in political campaign financing, and
(g) re-write FCC regulations to require all corporate broadcast licenses to include a Public Service component, requiring broadcasters to provide free prime time airtime for political candidate debates, public education, and public discussions.
Anything short of these measures will leave the Corporate Frankenstein, and its purchased political agents in Washington and state governments, intact and free to continue the systematic degradation of the planet and the social values that, over the centuries, have marked the fragile difference between civilization and barbarism.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, November 14, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

One topic which Philosophy Talk seems to have negl

One topic which Philosophy Talk seems to have neglected so far is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Why are humans so desperately hopeful to make a contact with other intelligent life? Are we conditioned by biology, mere curiosity, or narcissism? Would it be actually a good idea for us to reach out to a more advanced civilization? If our own history is any indication, the more primitive civilization always gets exploited in some form. What if the alien intelligent "life" isn't alive at all, but machines? Etc...

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, November 14, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

Congratulations on 200 episodes. May there be man

Congratulations on 200 episodes. May there be many more!

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, November 15, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

Dear John & Ken- Thanks for your radio program

Dear John & Ken-
Thanks for your radio program, I enjoyed the discussions on Sunday's 200th anniversary show, and I especially appreciated the points that Ms Nussbaum brought up.
I would like to contribute with a philosophical issue that faces us in the future. Although this topic had been brought up in an abstract and general way, I often think about it more specifically.
Definition of national identity and statehood, self-determination. When do a group of people, with a common cultural identity, have the right to declare an independent statehood apart from the nation they are currently under? Who authorizes these declarations of independence? How can a nation judiciously hold disparate groups of people, how can it protect the rights for all of its citizens? Who are nations accountable to? We see these issues in Israel/Palestine, the Uyghurs and Tibet in China, to name a few examples.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

I thank you, both Ken and John, for this mind expa

I thank you, both Ken and John, for this mind expanding show you bring to the air waves. Philosophy itself, at least in the public view, has become rather scarce. I personally think that a brief history of both Eastern and Western philosophies should be discussed.
Another topic would be rather engaging, would be a compare and contrast of materialism and transcendental idealism.
But, the most interesting topic to arise in the last three years is the LCH accelerator experiment in Geneva, Switzerland. Recently two Physicists, Holger B. Nielsen, The Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, & Masao Ninomiya, Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics, who have postulated a logical assertion based on experiments that they want to be done at the facility.
?While we find that there is a lot of structure from the past that exists today in its present state - at the level of pure physics - simple structures existing in the future, so to speak, do not appear to prearrange the past so that they are (Nielsen, Ninomiya, 2008).?
But either way, I am sure you will find some good stuff to elevate our consciousness as listeners. Keep up the good work!

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

I think we will be revisiting the issue of human r

I think we will be revisiting the issue of human rights in this century. When we first started discussing such rights, they were described as "inalienable", and God given. Now there are a broad range of human rights being encoded in international agreements and some nations' constitutions, including rights to employment, health care and education. Are these truly "God given" rights that we are born with, or are they choices about how we want to treat each other as fellow human beings? My view is that they are the latter, which gives us both greater responsibility and greater agency to make them universal.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, December 3, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

Great show. Certainly many of the most difficult i

Great show. Certainly many of the most difficult issues facing civilization require some form of cooperation among individuals, firms, organizations, and governments. But can one re-define people's preferences so that each of us, on our own, chooses socially optimal levels of activity? Or is it more effective to erect institutions and laws and norms that channel people's natural desires so that they effectively internalize the effects of their actions?
The difference is highlighted by John's and Jenaan's misconception of economics. John states that economics is based upon growth which requires an increase in population; Jenaan does understand that economics is based upon individuals making decisions in a decentralized manner but thinks that economics does not harbor the answer to the challenges confronting civilization.
I'd like to clear up each of these misconceptions. First, economists are concerned with growth, but not in total output, but in per capita output -- the value of goods and services produced per individual in the economy (including individuals who do not work). When this "productivity" increases, people have more freedom -- time and resources to purchase goods and services that give them pleasure, resources to be secure from the depredations of society and Nature, and even time to enjoy these pleasures. Consider the remarkable transformation over the past couple centuries, the last century, the last decade, even the last few years: by most any measure, almost everywhere on Earth, people are better off. Consider life expectancy, risk at childbirth, quality of life, shorter work weeks, better and safer working conditions, opportunities to communicate and travel across the world that have extended to a greater and greater percentage of the population, ... Very good wine used to be the provenance of only the wealthy, many weekend athletes had shorter careers following common injuries, our cars are safer and cleaner and require far less maintenance, ...
Yes, population has grown, but that is more a result of the decrease in childhood disease and the increase in life expectancy of adults. As the people in an economy become more productive, women acquire more education, have fewer children, and population growth slows (or even, as in much of Europe, declines).
Similarly, as economies grow, the stress they generate on the environment increases, but as they become wealthier (on a per capita basis), they start to devote more resources to cleaning the environment and pay more to keep production from damaging the environment in the first place.
All of these improvements (ask anyone who lived in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s, or recalls the scourge of acid rain in the northeast, or sees the ozone hole closing) are a consequence of sound science and good economic policy. Yes, individuals acting in their own self interest, and firms doing the same, CAN choose socially efficient levels of activities and produce goods in the socially efficient manners when governments ensure that ALL goods are priced appropriately. These are called Pigouvian taxes -- a tax on carbon emissions would be one such example.
Game theory, especially cooperative game theory, and mechanism design are subfields of economics that seek an understanding of what individuals would choose in different situations and the outcomes. Governments have "social welfare functions" that rank different distributions of resources, and "social choice functions" that translate the collective preferences of the individuals into actions that the government takes.
The process of an election itself is a way for the individuals within an economy of organizing how to aggregate their collective preferences and to then implement actions that best achieve those preferences. The use of international treaties that induce commitment both by punishing and withholding rewards from those that deviate are examples of cooperative game theory and mechanism design put into practice. The difficulties are that because individuals have an incentive to mis-state their preferences or lack the ability to commit or have different rates of time preference, the implementation and enforcement of these decisions is difficult.
But, as the numerous successes demonstrate, it is not impossible. It begins by understanding the goals of economists and the various sub-fields of economics and working with the systems go achieve more desirable aims. By increasing education and safety and security, societies become more productive and can use more resources to provide those goods and services that we enjoy and less to curtail harms and clean up messes.
To enjoy things such as: listening, from halfway around the world and asynchronously to podcasts that are engaging; communicating with friends and family at almost no cost; and even the ability to get together from across the country (or world) for holidays and celebrations -- travel that used to take enough time that people did not contemplate flying across the country for a weekend, or that was so expensive that only the rich could afford it.
To be able to enjoy well-told stories -- in a book or on a movie screen or on a laptop while lazing at a lakefront. To be able to experience diving at a coral reef or soaring into outer space. To walk the souks one day and the Champs Elysees the next before marveling at the Great Pyramids of Giza and walking along the Great Wall of China.
These are what economists pursue -- how to most effectively allow individuals to "consume" these goods and activities. And these are what have become feasible for billions more people the last century.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, December 3, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

These are what economists pursue -- how to most ef

These are what economists pursue -- how to most effectively allow individuals to "consume" these goods and activities. And these are what have become feasible for billions more people the last century.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, September 20, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Congratulations on 200 episodes. May there be many

Congratulations on 200 episodes. May there be many more!

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Dear John & Ken- Thanks for your radio program, I

Dear John & Ken-
Thanks for your radio program, I enjoyed the discussions on Sunday's 200th anniversary show, and I especially appreciated the points that Ms Nussbaum brought up.

 
 

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