philosophy

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?

Philosophy Talk asks: Who (else) has a right to your body?

Feb 6, 2015

Most countries allow their citizens to smoke cigarettes, get intoxicated, and eat unhealthy food – despite the harms that such behaviors may bring to the individual's health and to the social and economic interests of the state. Yet taking certain narcotics, selling one's organs, and driving without a seat-belt are often prohibited by law. Is this an arbitrary distinction, or is there a principled reason for these diverging attitudes? What can government legitimately prohibit its citizens from doing to their own bodies -- and what can it legitimately compel them to do?

The number of chronically hungry people in the world is over 800 million, yet developed countries are facing health challenges from rising rates of obesity. The growing problems of food security and water scarcity seem an issue of distribution rather than availability. But other factors also influence the status of food and water security worldwide. So where does the problem with food and water security lie? Do developed countries – or any other entities or individuals – have any moral obligations to ensure a global network of water and food security?

Philosophy Talk asks: Why be moral?

Jan 16, 2015

Morality tells us how we ought to behave, if we want to do the right thing. But is there a reason why we ought to be moral in the first place? Both Plato and Kant believed that morality is dictated by reason and so a fully rational person is automatically a moral person too. But how can we derive morality from reason? Isn’t it possible to be a rational but amoral or even immoral person?

Philosophy Talk asks: Why (not) believe in an afterlife?

Jan 9, 2015

The question of what happens to us after we die remains as mysterious now as it always was. Some think that death amounts to total annihilation of the self; others adhere to certain religious traditions, which teach that the immaterial soul (and, in some traditions, the resurrected body) can ultimately survive death. So how are we to judge between these radically different views of what happens to us in death? What would it mean for the self to persist beyond the destruction of the body? Is there room in a scientific account of the mind for the existence of an immaterial soul?

The unexamined year is not worth reviewing:

The Year in Race and Justice with Chris Lebron, Professor of African-American Studies at Yale University and author of The Color Of Our Shame: Race and Justice In Our Time

The Year in Academic Freedom with Katherine Franke, Professor of Law at Columbia University and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law

Philosophy Talk asks: What's wrong with selling sex?

Dec 26, 2014

Some consider the commodification of sexual services inherently wrong, something that ought to be abolished outright. Others claim that prostitution is a legitimate form of commerce and that changing its legal status would reduce or eliminate most harms to sex workers. So in a just society, are there any conditions under which buying and selling sex are morally acceptable? Does the sex trade inevitably involve coercion of some kind, or can becoming a sex worker ever be a free, fully autonomous choice?

People tend to treat other people who differ from them, even in seemingly small and insignificant ways, as less than fully human. Our tendency to dehumanize the "other" has sometimes led to great atrocities like the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and the slave trade. It is arguably responsible for such widespread social ills as racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Where does our tendency to dehumanize others come from? Is it based on bad arguments hat can be rationally refuted, or are its origins deeper in the human psyche? Are we bound to see the "other" as less than fully human?

Philosophy Talk asks: Would you want to live forever?

Dec 5, 2014

Would you like to live forever? It is a tempting notion that has been explored and imagined for centuries. Perhaps immortality is desirable, but it might also be that death is a significant part of what gives meaning to life. So what would a society of immortal individuals look like? What might some of the challenges or rewards of an immortal life be? How would living forever affect our relationships with one another, our life goals, or simply the way we perceive time? Would the impacts of immortality ultimately be beneficial or detrimental to us?

Philosophy Talk asks: Is hypocrisy a vice or a virtue?

Nov 28, 2014

Hypocrites believe one thing, but do another. Jefferson opposed slavery, but owned slaves. Jesus professed universal love, but cursed an innocent fig tree. Jerry Brown opposes the death penalty, but as governor of California will be responsible for executions. Hypocrites all – but vile hypocrites? Surely it was better that Jefferson was a hypocrite, and articulated the case against slavery, than not opposing it at all. Does it take courage to defend a view that you, yourself, don't have the courage or the character to follow through on?

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