Move Over Letterman: A Philosophical Top 10 LIst for the 21st Century
Philosophy Talk

17 December 2009

top 10 crop
 To mark the occasion of our
 200th episode, we invited three former  guests,  Brian Leiter, Jenann Ismael, and Martha Nussbaum, and also  our listeners to help us come up with a list of the 10 most pressing  philosophical issues of the 21st Century. We talked about all sorts  of ideas and it was hard to distill out just 10, but John and Ken  summarized the suggestions and compiled them on the fly at the end  of the show. But with a little more time to reflect, we decided to  clean the list up a bit. So what follows is an improved version of the  makeshift list that was generated during the broadcast. 

10.  Finding a new basis for common sensibilities and common values.
The world is more economically interconnected than it has ever been. But it still seethes with divisions and social fragmentation. Can we find a new basis for shared values that will bring us together rather than tear us apart?  

9. Finding a new basis for social identification.
Distant and powerful forces, not answerable to local communities, shape so much of our lives. Howcan we sustain local communities, communities with which we can identify?  Or is the very idea of a local community an outmoded parochial idea suited only to centuries gone by? 

8. The Mind-Body problem. 
Neuroscience is revealing so much about the brain. Does this new knowledge solve age-old mysteries of the mind?  Or does it reduce the mind to mere dumb matter and rob us of what we once thought was so special about us? 

7. Can freedom survive the onslaught of science?
Science, especially neuroscience, is revealing more and more about the true workings of the mind,  threatening to explode our ancient beliefs about things like the freedom of the will.  Can traditional practices that presuppose human freedom survive this scientific onslaught?  If we are not really free is it really permissible to punish people, and even put them to death, for their wrongful acts? 

6. Information and misinformation in the information age.
The 21st century threatens to wreak havoc on the social organization of information and knowledge. We are awash in a glut of information coming at us from all sources -- some reliable, some unreliable.  But the old top-down authorities that once functioned to certify some information as true and other information as false, are quickly being dismantled.  How can we distinguish the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff?  We philosophers for a new century thus face epistemological problems hardly imagined by our predecessors. 

5. Intellectual property, in the age of re-mix culture.
Ideas now spread like wildfire -- mixing and re-mixing in the blink of an eye.  Can the very idea of intellectual property survive in the age of re-mix?  Are outmoded ideas of property stifling the growth of a new culture?

4. New models of  collective decision making and collective rationality.
Solving the problems of the 21st Century will require coordinated rational action on a massive scale. But we really have no models of collective rationality, no idea of the institutional, social, political and economic structures that will allow us to meet these challenges.  Can philosophers help build them in time to guide us in meeting the challenges of this century?  

3. What is a person?
WIth the rise of cloning,designer babies, and drugs that can alter one's personality, enhance one's memory, or make one smarter, we may be forced to rethink the very idea of human person.   What exactly is a human person, when every aspect of our biological and genetic and psychological make-up can be manipulated at will?  What, if any,  part of a person is fixed and unchanging? 

2.  Humans and the  environment. 
What relationship should humans have to the environment?  Are we called to be stewards of the environment? Or is the environment just there for our exploitation and use?  Never in the history of humankind have such questions been so pressing.  But we have barely begun to think about them in a systematic philosophical way.  

And the number one philosophical problem for the 21st Century: 

Listen to to the 200th episode.

Comments (15)


Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, December 17, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

TO PHILOSOPHY TALK from STANFORD U., Some thought

TO PHILOSOPHY TALK from STANFORD U.,
Some thoughts on your ?Top 10 Philosophical Issues of the 21st Century?:
MY CONCLUSION: --- BACK TO BASICS!
10. Finding new basis for common sensibilities and values:
The Golden Rule: ?Do unto others as you would they do unto you!? Alone or in groups one must put oneself in the place of every object, animate or inanimate, to achieve best chances at justice for that object and themselves. This idea of being one with all is far more than a mere esoteric.
9. Finding a new basis for social identification:
Not only ?are all politics local?, they, like all else of man?s endeavors on his home world, are and have been - even in the age of the foot without wheel -
terrestrial also (mentioning worlds one can?t then use universal in this context, so terrestrial). Further may we agree that the global firestorm of corporate profit
motive, while in large measure having given comfort and ease in its justly regulated (regulated because of its attention to this greed, profit at cost to others) days, when given its randy head, has put this enormous clamp on the good, on our world that we now experience, so that going local, for example in building one?s food sources is the only way to ensure the very thing all life, as it was created to do, does, and that is survive?
So let?s be careful in extolling some half?existent reality of the going forwardness of so-called ?distant and powerful forces? as though they shall remain, or should, given that right of the people to decide whom shall serve them and how. Even with the bar-coded human staring in from the outside of the future corporations and sometimes authority would have it, even if some Titan shrugs.
8. The Mind-Body problem. Neuroscience is revealing so much about the brain:
One thing about the mind that may indeed never change, and that is its flexibility to resolve all to itself, as a tool to its continuance, without the plugged-in analysis that may find one day the electricity does not come.
As to what is so special about us.
Please if anyone can, decipher for me if you will, using the whale?s own perspectives, its knowledge of its chosen (a mammal that went from the land to the seas by choice in some bygone era) milieu, what it knows about the world and its creatures. But bare in mind, you cannot use human constructs/perspectives to do this.
Perhaps teachers like Occam and Heisenberg ought be better minded in our enquiries.
The artist asks of lessons learned.
7. Can freedom survive the onslaught of science:
What is freedom to an ant (mentioned in a 'Holy Book' as a creature for man to watch and learn from)? Can we say it is the ability to be of worth to and therefore kept by the colony? And of the bird, any bird. Can we say from what we see, that freedom for them is both a wing and a prayer. Wing, allowing large-circumference searches, and prayer in its peck and watch nervously, peck and watch?
Then for that so-full-of themselves you and I (the race of human beings ? as different from, we think, bird-beings and the ant-beings for instance), what is freedom for us?
Is it self, self all for narrowly defined individual self? Or is it self, self expansive all that makes up self? ? and this is no pie-in-the-sky toting happy, feely 3rd Century B.C. or 14th Century European Peasants Rebellions for justice, or 1960?s in the
United States of America?s hippy placing of flowers in gun barrels wish hope and prayer, but the reality of our place and where in fact Will fits into it.
And what does science and these so-named discoveries have to do with the simple truths that cannot be run from, nor searched out and quantified into new designation, again, behind the glass for our so clever perusal?
The ?free-will? to attack, bomb, kill innocents for cause and perceived justice, is this in fact free will, or is it a kind of insane vengeance-induced intoxication
and self-destructive stupor, that true intelligence, true big-brain mind, would find more thoughtful answers for, like perhaps the whale has?
6. Information and misinformation in the information age:
Information, let us here too agree, was never ought but hit and miss and let-time?s-quorum decide. If it has been other, that is: a staid, firm hand, believable in all parts and places, then what make we of the evolved/evolving skill/science of surgery herself?
Was she, this dame, a loose, grave-robbing,
illegitimate whore and fiend in her early (late by Egyptian, Greek and Arab standards) European days?
I will not drown you in examples drawn from the sciences of truths (in these examples read information vs. misinformation), that later were (politely) proven
no truth at all, and as for the charge of good or bad; what indeed is good, if not that it strives for clear, even-handed, uplift of all created things, bad being the
?clear? opposite of that? And if what is asserted, as I think might be: how does one tell the one from the other? Just by that, its sense of justice for all or not, its inclusion vs. its exclusion, its truth for truth?s sake vs. its dissembly, the meaning grasped (if nothing else) by they that can discern and report
truthfully. - Back to no too-breathy One, back to a sensible thought-out One, and do we belong there?
5. Intellectual property, in the age of re-mix culture:
What dredges here is a saying attributed to Thomas Stearns Eliot: ?mediocre writers borrow, great writers steal.? It has also been noted with little room for
dispute, that because one is influenced by the world, one can never truly be original. One Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe said, ?The most original of authors are not so because they advance what is new, but more because they know how to say something as though it had never been said before.?
How do men live successfully in the world without knowing their histories?
How do we not know that many of the Hebrew and Christian, etc. commandments or best ways of living
'laws', come to us from the Egyptians who wanted to be
?true of voice? and hold their hand(s) from aggression (even though in much of it, they, as we, fail(ed)?
Is there indeed ? ?nothing new under the sun? as I think
Solomon in his ?Vanity of Vanities? might have said?
So how ?gentle-persons? can we own anything, when
indeed we, as in the case of our own creations, borrowed and ?stitched? it from the world around us and all that came before, or we have it on loan, as the American Indians say of The Earth, from our children.
Still, may I not posture overmuch ? being ?a poet-hearted fellow? I should like to think there was a Copyright law that might protect my work as that,
within reason (and they be: beyond quote and paraphrase, that in the writers case, I feel, when there is no ambiguity of origin, must be affixed) a thing I made.
4. New models of collective decision making and collective rationality:
Is it true, ? we?have no models of collective rationality.?? Maybe it is in its specific i.e. world-action taken within a specific time frame, but let me
sound here for the fact that all ideas that spread out from one or a very small source(s) to become ?worldly? did so from that/those small/individual voices and
sources so that it took only the taking-up and the following for the mass of men.
The world religions and ethical ideas did this. Ideas proffered by science and art and every means and discipline have so done, so that now, in Our dire need of joint action, to literally save ourselves and our posterity, we need listen ? Go Back - to all those voices that have asked for cooperation and leniency between men for all of his existence. All the ?law-givers?, the Abrahams, Solomons, Homers (in his, really it was/is, indictment of war), Socrates?, Jesus Christs, Joan de Arcs, etc. etc. etc.
- Or may we take the model of several Persian kings of antiquity, who were I think best at ruling, judging, deciding with a strong but equal/tolerant hand.
Toleration is more than the front-porch of empathy, it is a way into the house, and has an aura of the giving-of-respect to it, which is the saving-of-face that must attend negotiations on all sides.
3. What is a person:
Maybe the things such as cloning and altered, ?drug?-enhanced personalities that are here mentioned ?will force us to rethink the very idea of a human person?
but it will not be the first set of prods or the last. The re-hashed, but oft forgotten ethics, again, of earlier ages that have come to most of today?s peoples by way of religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, for example, changed what it meant to be human in many cases. Witness how eventually it became unacceptable in many places where Christianity set down, especially in its early, ripe days, to kill without much thought as in Roman coliseums of that fast receding past ? though it took time to ?take hold?. Sight how peoples in the lands of early Islam were righted and even led to cleaner, healthier lives by adherence to the rules/ideas set out by the Prophet of that religion.
And let me do mention the ?simple? Back-to-basics trough Darwin led us to, or Newton, or Galileo, or Einstein, to name but a very few.
(Socrates) Plato thought all knowledge was memory.
Mother Mnemosyne must be proud of him!
All these single minds acting in consort with their immediate environment and the ages ? the shoulders we climb on ? changed what is was to be human, what it was to know, and to know what. And there were scare and fear mongers lurk in the bushes to say, this is it, God is dead! The sky is falling! Nothing will ever be the same! So I for one, though my faith in mankind?s
capacity for wisdom acted aright flags, have more hope and yes faith, that sense and reason and indeed self-preservation will show us the way before all is verboten.
2. New models of the human relationship to environment and resource conservation:
?For our exploitation and use!? say the destroyers. And all of us do the destroying, if not outright for the immediate quarterly profit, I?ve-got-to-get-mine-now; my-daddy-was-an-axeman-and-that?s-what-I-do; oh-don?t-bother-me-there-will-always-be-war-somebody-has-to-make-the-munitions; I?m-only-a-shareholder; I-only-bank-here;
I-only-buy-here, or by our acceptance of an ?easy? way of life come by being handy and quick with the apathy. But one looks for the awakening some say is coming, where men Will grow up and become the parents of ourselves and this commonality we have some responsibility for.
1. Global justice:
I can?t tell you how disappointed I am at reading, ?The philosophy of the past has given no real models? ?to help us manage distinctly 21st Century problems like
preserving the environment?principles of Justice?poorer nations?.
Few want to hear simple truths because they smack of unscientific religion, faith, belief and doing-the-right-thing, which is what many have given their lives for (Socrates and Jesus Christ again).
I think there were persons who were very much against the chopping down of the vast groves of Palestinian Cedars.
Gerard Manely Hopkins has a poem called,
?Binsey Poplars? in which he bemoans the cutting of those trees and how future generations ?cannot know the beauty been?? Was the coast of Asia Minor once a
thriving forest? Were swaths so fast, they are equivalent to smaller or larger states in the United States cut down in the Amazon only ?just now??
And Africa, how dear aunt you have been mistreated by the civilized!
Plato?s ?Crito?:
Socrates. And is it just to repay evil with evil as the multitude thinks, or unjust?
Crito. Certainly it is unjust.
Socrates. For there is no difference, is there, between doing evil to a man and acting unjustly?
Crito. True.
Socrates. Then we ought not to repay injustice with injustice or to do harm to any man, no matter what we may have suffered from him. And in conceding this, Crito, be careful that you do not concede more than you mean. For I know that only a few men hold, or ever will hold, this opinion. And so those who hold it and those who do not have no common ground for argument; they can of necessity only look with contempt on each other?s belief. Do you therefore consider very carefully whether
or not you agree with me and share my opinion. Are we to start in our inquiry from the premise that it is never right either to act unjustly, or to repay injustice with injustice, or to avenge ourselves on any man who harms us, by harming him in return?...?
Examples of higher consciousness, of plain, just, thoughtful living, of ?how to be a man?? Many!
Of the doing of it, for most of us? Easy enough if instead of the dread and murder and prurient misplaced interests the world?s irresponsible media and poor-hearted studios and studio heads send us we had the responsible and the we-can-do-this!
We as a race of beings could make this a veritable long awaited heaven on earth it could be with just a little less taking and a lot more giving.
I pray, yes, that word too I use.
I pray we might,
- Joseph Duvernay

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Guest

Thursday, December 17, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

I was glad to see No.6 included, which seems to me

I was glad to see No.6 included, which seems to me to be the most challenging issue philosophers need to deal with, as well as the one which frames all of the others. The cynic in me sees all the others as merely age old philosophical problems, fashionable dressed (no harm in this - we need to connect somehow with current concerns). But No.6 is genuinely, startlingly new. I look forward to the development of some intellectual tools from engaging with it - ones that could empower the citizen and help him/her confront the other global issues you list. Good luck.

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Friday, December 18, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

8. The Mind-Body problem. Neuroscience is revealin

8. The Mind-Body problem. Neuroscience is revealing so much about the brain
Does this new knowledge solve age-old mysteries of the mind? Or does it reduce the mind to mere dumb matter and rob us of what we once thought was so special about us?
I don't like either of those options. New knowledge about the mind and brain don't seem to bear on the question of how there can be a subject of experiences at all (at least, not in the sense that it leads us closer to a solution); and for this very reason, they don't reduce the mind to dumb matter (insofar as we mean by "mind" a qualitative experience of thinking, not mere functions that connect behavior to the environment), or rob it of its apparent specialness.

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Guest

Saturday, December 19, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

First a question/request - Why doesn't your web la

First a question/request - Why doesn't your web lackey make it so a thread is opened for every episode of phil talk as soon as (or perhaps before) it is aired, regardless of whether either of the Philosophy Brothers has the time or interest to write their own contribution? After all, they have already 'blogged' on the air, so they've had their say, while we plebs, whose intellects have presumably been stimulated by their on-air discussion, would like to comment. What's the down side of automatically making every episode of phil talk postable (hint - you can do the automatic part through the miracle of the modern programmable electronic computer). You stimulate our thinking and then cut us out of the conversation. Why? One is left to conclude that you really don't give a rat's posterior about what any of your listeners have to say. So please set up auto topic creation for the comments. Thank you.
That said, I will now post my actual comment here, which is not about David Letterman but rather about your latest show on 'What Would Jesus Actually Do?', because there is no place to post otherwise (see above preface). I actually sent this as an e-mail during the show, but I think that has even less chance of getting any eyeball time). Thus:
Jesus (via the New Testament) is trivially used to justify whatever policy a nation or individual person has already decided to pursue. If you throw in the Old Testament - in which a vengeful, jealous, essentially psychotic superintelligent alien named God runs rampant over the world - it's even easier to justify anything. No one ever actually looks to jesus for advice as to what to do, but only for justification for what they have already decided to do (e.g., George Bush, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Harry Truman, etc., etc., etc., etc. ad infinitem). This illustrates the duplicitous, immoral and unredeemably toxic nature of appeals to jesus - they are used to relieve the most repellant people (as well as just regular repellant people such as ourselves) of any personal responsibility whatsoever for the immoral actions we intend to carry out regardless.

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Guest

Saturday, December 19, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

The problem with philosophy is it never answers th

The problem with philosophy is it never answers the questions of what should be most important to humans now. Is it contentment, wealth or just the number of copulations acquired in a lifetime for a man and offspring count for a woman?

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Guest

Friday, December 25, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

It seems Mr Dunaway has covered most of this. My

It seems Mr Dunaway has covered most of this. My primary concern may be covered by # 3, WHAT IS A PERSON, but I see a PRACTICAL philosophical problem, analagous to slavery in USA constitution. Soon, we will have created functional human beings, clones of individuals, or other sentient beings. I believe human governments are not capable to resist the incentives to allow these new beings to be abused. They will quite surely become slaves, for sex, labor, organ harvesting.
I think it rises to a philosophical question: how can our laws protect these beings?
Such abuse will surely corrupt us all. Probably Asimov, et al, SciFi plots have addressed this.
It seems this must surely raise issues impacting current perceptions of ABORTION, ie, when does human life begin.

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Guest

Saturday, January 2, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

I think that one of the most pressing problesm of

I think that one of the most pressing problesm of our world today is how can we make our leaders more accountable. Very often our leaders feel thst their ideas or beliefs supercede the beliefs of the population that they govern. By definition, any group of people will have a diverse set of beliefs, and values, and that the leaders should recognize this and make decisions accordingly. However all too often, once they are in power, they only act on issues based on their own values, and make decisions that clearly are not a compromise across the groups that they represent.
Whether they are conservative or lberal, gay or straight, black or white, religious or indifferent ; once they assume leadership they should at that point recognize their responsibility toward the WHOLE group that they govern and make decisions that take into account the positions of ALL of their constituents. That is not happening today, and many leaders acros the world will do or say anything to get power, and then will make decisions based on their personal views instead of recognizing that the office exists to represent the people, instead of mandating to the people. With the wide range of leaders across the world today, how can we as a society develop better methods to choose leaders who will work for the betterment of society, without being at the expense of others

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Having been a part of the Online Universal Work Ma

Having been a part of the Online Universal Work Marketing team for 4 months now, I?m thankful for my fellow team members who have patiently shown me the ropes along the way and made me feel welcome
www.onlineuniversalwork.com

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Guest

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Your missing only One important ingredient that ca

Your missing only One important ingredient that can easily resolve the rest of your top ten issues, and that is TRUTH.
I have good news: Its been found!
=
MJA

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Guest

Saturday, March 6, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

All these single minds acting in consort with thei

All these single minds acting in consort with their immediate environment and the ages ? the shoulders we climb on ? changed what is was to be human, what it was to know, and to know what. And there were scare and fear mongers lurk in the bushes to say, this is it, God is dead! The sky is falling! Nothing will ever be the same! So I for one, though my faith in mankind?s capacity for wisdom acted aright flags, have more hope and yes faith, that sense and reason and indeed self-preservation will show us the way before all is verboten.

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Guest

Monday, August 23, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Ok yet again I'm surfing through old posts. My two

Ok yet again I'm surfing through old posts. My two cents on post #8. Neuroscience is indeed figuring out an immense amount of information on the brain, but I still feel as though we are AGES away from actually understanding it. If we did understand it then we might even be able to use more than 10% of our brain. I can only hope
-Travis

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Guest

Thursday, September 9, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Your missing only One important ingredient that ca

Your missing only One important ingredient that can easily resolve the rest of your top ten issues, and that is TRUTH.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, September 9, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

The problem with philosophy is it never answers th

The problem with philosophy is it never answers the questions of what should be most important to humans now.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, September 9, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Is it contentment, wealth or just the number of co

Is it contentment, wealth or just the number of copulations acquired in a lifetime for a man and offspring count for a woman?

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, September 9, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Does this new knowledge solve age-old mysteries of

Does this new knowledge solve age-old mysteries of the mind? Or does it reduce the mind to mere dumb matter and rob us of what we once thought was so special about us?

 
 
 

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