Philosophy Talk asks: Why believe in Reincarnation?

May 1, 2015

According to Buddhist tradition, all people must suffer illness, aging, and death. Yet the universe is seen as a vast living entity, in which cycles of individual life and death are repeated without cease. Therefore death is a necessary part of the process of life, making renewal and new growth possible. So what does this view mean about the eternality of the self? Is there a single subject or consciousness that persists through all the cycles of death and rebirth? What are the karmic consequences of one’s moral acts for future lives?

Philosophy Talk asks: Is Economics really a Science?

Apr 21, 2015

With the recent global economic crisis, many people wonder if our economic policies are built on sound principles or on dubious, unscientific claims. What kinds of assumptions does Economics make about markets and the behavior of producers and consumers? What kinds of assumptions does it make about the rationality of individuals? How, if at all, are those claims empirically verified? Or are they just speculative theories proven false by the current crisis?

Philosophy Talk asks: What can non-violence really achieve?

Apr 10, 2015

We all hope for peace. Yet in the face of violence, it often seems the only recourse is more violence. Advocates of non-violence claim it’s not necessary to respond to war in kind, and that responding violently, even in self-defense, just perpetuates the cycle of violence. So how can we practice non-violence under the direct threat of violence? Can non-violent acts be spread to stop aggression and war? And are there times when violence is, in fact, necessary?

Philosophy Talk asks: What is Wilderness?

Apr 5, 2015

Nowadays we think of wilderness as a fully natural environment that contrasts sharply with the designed and constructed environments in which we normally move. But does that vision of wilderness really exist anymore? What is natural and what is artificial about wilderness? Should humans be understood as a part of nature or distinct from it? And how should we approach conservation efforts so that we balance the needs of a growing world population with the need to preserve some aspect of the wild in our lives?

Belief in God is thought by many to be the only possible source of morality, such that without a God, “everything is permitted.” Yet godlessness is on the rise in the West, with figures like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Lawrence Krauss leading the “New Atheism” movement. But if atheism is defined by its lack of belief, where do these non-believers find guiding principles? Are there any positive beliefs or values that atheists have in common? If so, are they based on a rational, scientific framework, or must non-believers, like believers, ultimately rely on faith?

Democratic systems of government are supposed to reflect the interests of ordinary citizens, and not some shadowy political elite. But more and more, we see the influence of big money and special interest groups in so-called democratic politics, while income inequality and voter suppression grow. With millions convinced that politicians don’t speak for them, is there a "crisis of representation" in the US? Are these problems a result of political decay in our institutions, or is democracy in trouble everywhere?

Philosophy Talk asks: Should hurtful words be forbidden?

Mar 14, 2015

Some words, like n****r, ch*nk, and c*nt, are so forbidden that we won't even spell them out here. Decent people simply don't use these words to refer to others; they are intrinsically disrespectful. But aren't words just strings of sounds or letters? Words have life because they express ideas. But in a free society, how can we prohibit the expression of ideas? How can we forbid words? Where does the strange power of curses, epithets, and scatological terms come from?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is the primary reference catalog for mental health illnesses. But whereas a medical textbook will show you the picture of a broken bone or a tumor, leaf through the DSM and you will find just one thing: lists of symptoms. Who creates these lists, and based on what criteria? Do such lists really capture the nature of a mental illness? What does it mean to be a disease of the mind versus a disease of the body? Does our classification system construct mental illness, or does it reveal underlying facts from genetics or neuroscience?

Albert Camus is most famous for his existential works of fiction including The Stranger as well as his philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus. He led the French resistance press during Nazi Occupation and became one of the youngest Nobel laureates in literature. His contemporary, Hannah Arendt, described him as “head and shoulders above the other intellectuals.” How does Camus' philosophy of Absurdism compare and contrast with Sartre’s popular existentialism, especially in their conceptions of freedom?

Whether it's making donations and signing petitions online, or using social media to highlight political causes, cyber-activism has never been easier. With a few clicks, we can make our voices heard around the globe. But who's listening, and is anything actually changing? Does cyber-activism mobilize real-world action on the ground, or does it reduce political engagement to simple mouse-clicking and ultimately threaten the subversive nature of change?