Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hypatia: The Movie

Later this year comes a major motion picture depicting the life and death of Hypatia of Alexandria. It's called Agora and you can watch a teaser trailer below (the film looks quite stunning in its recreation of the ancient world!)

Hypatia preserved the legacy of Plato and Aristotle until she was attacked and murdered by Christians that mobbed Alexandria in 415 CE.

Lest you think that the Christians were mindless thugs bent on destroying philosophy, everyone should be reminded that the patron saint of philosophy is also a woman: St. Catherine (also from Alexandria, though she preceded Hypatia by more than 60 years).

Alexandria must have been quite the interesting city to unite both pagans and Christians around women philosophers.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Best Philosophy on the Internet: Vote Now

The folks over at 3quarksdaily are having a contest for the best philosophy blog posts of the past year. Our recent ruminations on the Sotomayor nomination are among the choices. So go over and check out some of the philosophy available on the internet and let them know what you think (and voting for Engage is good for your karma).


Should College Graduates Swear an Oath to Social Responsibility?

Peter Singer writes favorably about a new trend at Harvard Business School. New MBAs are taking an oath to use their skills and credentials to promote corporate social responsibility rather than just the bottom line. For years, mainstream capitalist theorists, such as Milton Friedman, have argued that the only responsibility corporate managers have is to make as much profit as they can for their stockholders (as long as they obey the law). Now, with the meltdown of the housing and credit markets, some MBAs are thinking they need to have a wider ethical perspective.

Singer admits that over 80% of Harvard MBAs have not signed on board to be more ethically minded, but he has hope.

This made me wonder whether college graduates shouldn't be encouraged to think about their social responsibility. As Singer points out, the idea of professionals swearing to "do no harm" is not a new idea. We should remember that the idea of a bachelor's degree comes from the medieval notion of having succeeded at being a baccalaureus--literally a squire to a knight. That is, one has mastered a set of special skills supposedly to be used for the benefit of society (saving widows and orphans and such).

There is a Graduation Pledge Alliance that champions the idea of college graduates taking such an oath. The oath goes something like this: “I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.” The idea has not really taken off beyond a few liberal arts and religious schools.

Is the idea of college graduate social responsibility an idea whose time has come or naive wishful thinking?

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Right to Deliberate: How the Health Care Debate Might Get with the Times

News reports from the past week suggest that Obama has fallen prey to the romanticism of the colonial New England; he has a nostalgia for the town hall meeting. These get togethers allowed village members to gather together to voice their views on matters of common concern in front of town officials and one another. They were sort of the nice version of the Salem witch trials.

Obama, and other Democrats, have been using this forum to raise awareness of the his health care reform proposal. But it seems that in many of these events, well-organized protesters have been able to take the focus off the specifics of legistlation and onto the expression of their anxiety, fear, and willingness to shout down anyone who disagrees with them.

James Fiskin suggests that maybe we should get over this nostalgia and update our political interactions in favor of deliberative poll forums.

Instead of a forum that gives a self-selected assortment of activists an opportunity to vent their anger and frustration, a deliberative poll forum encourages deliberation among participants. This means that people are chosen as representatives of the variety of opinions in a community, are given packets before the meeting that contain information and data about the specific question at issue, and then are charged to talk ("discourse") with one another. It is not sufficient to simply chant or repeat the views that one had at the beginning of the meeting. The hope is that the group can actually think through the issue together, weigh evidence, looks at counterexamples, and perhaps come away with a different understanding of the problem than they had when they came in.

Fiskin notes:

"...we have collaborated on more than 50 deliberative polls around the world. The process has certainly been shown to help overcome sharp divisions. In a 2007 deliberative poll in Northern Ireland on education reform, the percentage willing to agree that “most Catholics” or “most Protestants” were “open to reason” rose 16 points. Those agreeing that most Protestants or Catholics were “trustworthy” also increased considerably.

One we held in Bulgaria, about policies toward the Roma, or Gypsies, produced strongly reconciliatory policies at a time when loud fringe groups wanted to build walls around the Roma communities. And in a deliberative poll in Brussels just before the recent European Union elections, people from 27 countries, partaking in discussions in 21 languages, moved to support more tolerant policies toward immigrants.

If deliberative polls can produce mutual understanding in such cases of sharp ethnic and political conflict and across such linguistic divisions, surely this process can help members of Congress have civil, constructive conversations with their own constituents about health care."

For all the talk about politicians such as Obama tapping into new technology, like Facebook and Twitter, for campaigning, maybe we should also consider new ways of doing democracy that don't harken back to the days of powdered wigs and horse drawn carriages.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Religiosity and College majors: Where are all the Faithful?

For some reason, education seems to be the major that attracts, keeps, and strengthens the faithful in college, according to this study. Interestingly enough, the scientists are not turning the youth into atheists with their theories of evolution and such (yet, even though they don't think its important, they go to services anyway?). Seems that honor goes to the folks in departments like sociology and political science. The humanities are not far behind in making us secular humanists, though.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Sexist Jokes Promote Violence Toward Women

As readers know, I've been interested for a while in the use of humor (particularly satire) for social justice work, as well as understanding what makes racist and sexist jokes morally problematic (check out the philosophy of humor tag). Now Spanish researchers have done a study that suggests that young men who listen to sexist jokes somehow become desensitized to statements that justify aggression and violence toward women.


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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sotomayor is Confirmed 68-31

I spoke to a group of Latin@ high school students today and told them we need them to be the leaders of the community in the future. I told them we need to achieve like Sonia.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Democracy and Civil Disobedience: Philosophy Cafe @ Powell's Books: Aug. 1

Yesterday, I participated in the Philosophy Cafe at Powell's Books. Its a new event organized by a new friend of mine, Brian Eliot, and his colleague, John Farnum. The hope is to involve everyday folks in philosophical discussions about a wide variety of topics. My talk yesterday focused on "Democracy and Civil Disobedience". Brian and John told me we reached the highest audience numbers with this one (about 55 people total). After I gave my presentation, the audience asked some questions and then they were broken up into small discussion circles. John, Brian, and I listened in to some of the conversations. There was some great soul searching about whether or not people thought they would be willing to put their lives, jobs, reputations on the line for justice and whether non-religious people could have the same fortitude to engage in social justice work and nonviolence as figures like Gandhi, King, or Chavez, who were all deeply spiritual men. (I pointed out Barbara Deming's, work as a secular theory of nonviolence)

The talk I gave provided two views on the legitimacy of civil disobedience (which I defined, following Rawls, as "the public, conscientious, and nonviolent refusal to obey laws or commands of the government in order to bring a change in such laws or commands").

I offered two arguments from Socrates in the Crito which say that CD should not be allowed because: 1) laws and government institutions are "like parents" in that they provide the conditions for nurturance for a person to live and flourish and as such, they are owed obedience and gratitude by citizens who benefit from them; and 2) to the extent that a citizen stays in a society and abides by the laws and government power without dissent, then an implicit contract is formed in which the citizen agrees to accept the legitimacy of the laws and government. If a citizen does not like the laws, then he can leave; if he does not, he accepts them and the power they hold over him.

I then countered with Martin Luther King's point that even if a rule is legal this does not make it moral. There are just laws and unjust laws. While we have a legal and moral responsibility to obey just laws, we have a moral duty to disobey unjust laws.

I finished by talking about why nonviolence is the method with which we ought to think about making social change. Sometimes, when the injustices of our society are grasped in their enormity, it might seem that only violent upheaval can make the changes needed so that people will not suffer or die any longer. I offered some quotes by Cesar Chavez on how armed struggle rarely results in a situation of social justice and ended with the views of Barbara Deming. She says that nonviolence is the most ethical way to resist evil because it resists oppression "with one hand", but offers the other hand to the oppressor to reassure them that we do not seek their destruction or suffering.

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