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PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal

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P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728
http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/

Issue number 142
30 March 2009

CONTENTS

I. 'Philosophy's Present Perspective' by Jasper Doomen

II. 'A Critique of Peter Raabe on Placebo Philosophy and Religion' by
   Ruel F. Pepa

III. 'Response to Max Malikow on Altruistic Suicide' by Geoffrey Frost

-=-

EDITOR'S NOTE

This issue of Philosophy Pathways is dedicated to the memory of my wife, June 
Wynter-Klempner, who died last Wednesday, March 25 at St Luke's Hospice, 
Sheffield. A devout Catholic and also a talented painter, June special love was
religious art, and our home was full of her canvases, sculptures and 
watercolours.

We met at an art class in 1986. It was on my wife's insistence that I returned 
to philosophy after a period of doubt and self-questioning.

The theme of our marriage was 'difference'. My grandparents were Jews from 
Eastern Europe; June's parents emigrated to the UK from Jamaica in the 60's. 
The conclusion of my 1998 paper, 'The ethics of dialogue' shows the strong 
influence of our marriage on the development of my philosophical views:

     Commitment to moral dialogue binds us together as social, 
     moral beings. Nothing, finally, exhibits that fact more 
     starkly than the custom of two individuals solemnly 
     agreeing to share the rest of their lives together, 'for 
     better or for worse'. Between the partners of a marriage 
     there is no accepted buffer zone of 'tolerant' indifference;
     arguably, an essential ingredient in the cement of human 
     society at large. I have to be prepared to justify each and
     any of my actions to you -- at least, those which impinge on
     you or the children, which is near about all -- as you have 
     to be prepared to justify each and any of your actions to 
     me. More than that, each of us must answer to what has 
     become of our life -- the life we planned, or dreamed, 
     dreams brought to fruition or which we sorrowfully failed 
     to bring to fruition, a life racked and riven by painful 
     adjustments and renunciations on both sides, coloured by 
     the resentment over lost hopes and opportunities, 
     periodically and continually thrown into question as if we 
     were free to start with a blank sheet when in truth there 
     seems precious little room for anything but the occasional 
     marginal scribble. Yet for all that, you are my truest
     'thou' (in the popular phrase, my 'significant other') and 
     to break off our dialogue now, after all that has gone 
     before, would be to choose a spiritual death. -- Is a form 
     of human society conceivable that did not have choice of 
     relationship at its core? Would it be possible for all 
     moral dialogue to be conducted 'safely', at arms length? --
     Such a society would surely be a society without a centre
     at all.
     
     Geoffrey Klempner 'The Ethics of Dialogue'
     http://klempner.freeshell.org/articles/dialogue.html

The funeral will take place at Our Lady and St Thomas of Beauchief Catholic 
Church, Meadowhead, Sheffield S7 at 10 am, Wednesday, April 1, followed by 
interment at Hutcliffe Wood Cemetery, Abbey Lane. Reception at the church is
on Tuesday, March 31 at 6.30-7.30 pm.

-=-

In this issue, Jasper Doomen gives his take on the current state of academic 
philosophy, criticizing the trend to over-specialization which he argues is 
contrary to the true spirit of philosophy.

Ruel Pepa raises some pertinent questions about Peter Raabe's provocative 
article, 'Placebo Religion and Philosophy' which appeared in issue 135 of 
Philosophy Pathways.

Geoffrey Frost responds to Max Malikow's article, 'Altruistic Suicide' which 
appeared in the most recent issue, 141, of Philosophy Pathways.

Geoffrey Klempner

-=-

I. 'PHILOSOPHY'S PRESENT PERSPECTIVE' BY JASPER DOOMEN

Philosophy's position vis-a-vis the sciences has evolved from an encompassing 
one, in ancient times, when mathematics and natural sciences had not yet 
produced results to such an extent to qualify them as separate disciplines, 
through an auxiliary one in the medieval academic curriculum, embracing what is
now known as the humanities and some basic education in mathematics and 
astronomy -- characterized together as the artes liberales -- to a present, 
relatively clearly demarcated one.[1] As the various sciences have progressed, 
several new fields have come to the fore, having been divided as 
specializations, e.g. biochemistry, geology and linguistics. Philosophy itself 
has only recently presented itself as a distinct discipline.[2]

This development is usually beneficiary or even necessary: there is often a 
high degree to which one needs to command a specific knowledge or to be able to
perform very particular tasks. In the case of the sciences, a number of external
factors call for the specialization. In the field of medicine, for instance, new
inventions make it possible to cure diseases, or facilitate treatments; new 
applications of techniques in the field of architectural engineering, to 
mention another relevant domain, have a great impact on our infrastructure.

This situation does not apply to philosophy, or at least not necessarily. 
Philosophy is a reflective discipline. It, too, has flourished and seen the 
rise of new branches, such as philosophy of mind, and its body of thought has 
vastly expanded. Moreover, within the already existing branches, it has seen a 
degree of specialization not unlike that in many of the sciences. It may now 
prove to be as difficult for someone who has focused on one of its fields to 
comprehend -- let alone gain a sufficient overview -- the results obtained in 
another. The developments in the field of logic, in particular since the rise 
of predicate logic, for example, have been impressive, both quantitatively and 
qualitatively; it can be very hard -- and not just as a result of a lack of 
time -- to command them for a supposedly relatively informed scholar, such as 
someone who has acquired a general knowledge of philosophy and has concentrated
on an unrelated field as aesthetics. Some of the specializations in philosophy 
may nowadays indeed be regarded as fully developed fields of study, with enough
literature and relevant topics at one's disposal to fill a Bachelor's program if
one would so desire.

This state of affairs is easily contrasted with those in earlier times. As 
simplistic and outdated as some theories propagated by ancient and medieval 
philosophers may seem to be at present -- though I would by no means want this 
to imply that they in fact are -- at least those thinkers could discuss their 
topics in common. Of course, one may object that the reason this was possible 
lies precisely in the fact that these were still, in a number of respects, 
somewhat crude and lacking: a limited amount of information is easily shared. 
Though this is not without merit, it rather points to something else. None of 
the issues previous philosophers have dealt with have been resolved at present 
in a philosophical way; if any answers have been found (albeit provisional ones),
 they can be qualified as scientific, having been emancipated once 
rubricating the results obtained necessitated this process. Actual responses 
were found, so that any philosophical interest waned. The real philosophical 
discussions have merely become more sophisticated. Further, some discussions in
philosophy are closely connected with scientific issues, such as artificial 
intelligence,[3] psychology,[4] Darwinism,[5] physics,[6] mathematics[7] 
economy,[8] and law.[9]

The thorough specialization which has slowly become characteristic for 
philosophy in the same way as it has for the sciences has led to results not 
unlike those which can be ascertained in the realm of the sciences. It is not 
surprising that scientists of widely different disciplines can hardly 
understand each other's research -- a geneticist and an art historian, for 
example, have relatively little in common -- a situation which will only 
increase as time goes by and there will be a growth in results, which will 
moreover become more intricate than before.[10] As I said, external factors are
largely responsible for this outcome. As long as one wants to maintain the 
standard of living one has come to know and to strive for progress (in whatever
way one wants to comprehend the word),[11] benefiting from new cures to
diseases, relatively safe ways of transportation, and such, this situation, at
least to some degree, must be accepted.

Philosophy's position differs from this in that the presence of the external 
factors mentioned is less compelling. There is no need for philosophy to 
produce material results craved for by society. Its presence is justified by 
its task to reflect on issues such as those discussed here. In order to 
maintain this position, however, it seems necessary that it is not scattered 
like the sciences. In the case of the sciences, this is to some extent a result
of their own success; in the case of philosophy, no similar success has been 
reached. By developing as it has, it will in the end render itself useless as 
the justification mentioned will have ceased to exist. To be sure, the highly 
specialized debates it produces are not devoid of value, but this consists 
primarily in the exercise of (academic) abilities; because of the ever higher 
degree of differentiation, it will prove to be difficult to share thoughts 
except between a small group of specialists, which is exactly the case for the 
sciences, with the crucial difference, again, that in their case there is a 
need to resort to this state of affairs, a need which does not rise for 
philosophy.

How, then, could some sort of unity be maintained in philosophy? It seems 
necessary to ascertain a canon of literature, comprising the most important 
works which have appeared. Of course, it may be a matter of debate which would 
be included. Still, the problem is not yet as great as it might seem. At the 
moment, there is still enough coherence and some consensus about the literature
appears to exist, considering contents of the courses taught at universities. As
to the writings, it is necessary that one focus on the content rather than on 
the quantity of secondary literature mentioned. If it serves a supporting role,
the use of literature is desirable, but it should not replace the primary goal, 
to convey one's message, a danger which lurks with the ever growing amount of 
(secondary) literature one is expected to keep up with.[12]

Footnotes

1. There was, of course, no specific moment when this situation presented 
itself; rather, a gradual development occurred, and it may be argued that as 
late as the 18th century, philosophy was not yet regarded as a separate 
discipline in some respects (R. Posner, The Problematics of Moral and Legal 
Theory, pp. 111, 112. Cambridge, Mass/ London: The Belknap Press of Harvard 
University, 1999).

2. Cf. R. Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 131. Princeton, NJ: 
Princeton University Press, 1980.

3. E.g. J. Searle, 'Minds, Brains, and Programs'. In The Behavioral and Brain 
Sciences, vol. 3, issue 3: pp. 417-457. New York, NY: Cambridge University 
Press, 1980.

4. E.g. D. Dennett, Consciousness Explained. Boston/ Toronto/ London: Little, 
Brown and Company, 1991.

5. E.g. D. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea. London: Allen Lane, The Penguin 
Press, 1995.

6. E.g. W. Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy. New York: Harper and Row, 1958.

7. E.g. H. Poincare, La Science et l'Hypothese, Ch. 1-5, 9. Paris: Ernest 
Flammarion, 1912; P. Benacerraf, 'Mathematical Truth'. In The Journal of 
Philosophy, vol. 70, issue 19, November 8, 1973.

8. E.g. J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press,
1999.

9. E.g. R. Posner, op.cit.

10. One may, of course, relativize the value of these results from an academic 
perspective (cf. T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, pp. 163, 164
. Chicago/ London: The University of Chicago Press, 1996).

11. It may be difficult to maintain that progress may be realized at all, but a
discussion on that matter would lead to too great a digression here.

12. Ironically, this paper itself contributes to this problem.

(c) Jasper Doomen 2009

E-mail: jasperdoomen@yahoo.com

-=-

II. 'A CRITIQUE OF PETER RAABE ON PLACEBO PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION' BY
   RUEL. F. PEPA

At the beginning of his essay 'Placebo Philosophy and Religion'[1], Peter Raabe
acquaints us with an understanding of the concept of 'placebo':

     [A] placebo is a faux-medication (such as a sugar pill) 
     with no active therapeutic ingredients. A placebo effect is
     when the patient believes that the faux-medication he is 
     receiving has active ingredients in it because he's 
     convinced he can feel its non-existent effects.
     (italicization supplied)

Prof. Raabe's point in the above statements is specifically in the area of 
belief -- i.e., how the mind accepts (or rejects) something that the body 
receives. What he talks about in this sense is something that has been 
introduced to the body and the mind takes it as the real thing. This point 
should be kept in memory as the author later in the paper appropriates the same
concept to describe a certain type of religion and a certain type of philosophy 
which to him are not acceptable. However, such application of the concept of '
placebo' is very much different from what he later says:

     I define placebo religion as when a believer believes that 
     a piece of supposedly spiritual writing he is reading has 
     active spiritual 'ingredients' within it. The same piece of
     writing will cause different believers to understand the 
     spiritual message in very different ways. But like the 
     placebo pill, placebo religion has no 'active ingredient' 
     in it; the message of placebo religion is always vague, 
     ambiguous, full of cliches and New Age platitudes, so that 
     multiple interpretations can all seem correct.
     
This concern is about an idea (which is supposed to be 'spiritual') introduced,
of course, not to a person's body but to his/ her mind and therefore the mind 
has a direct or immediate even automatic access to it through cognition. In 
this case, nothing is 'placebo.'

Supportive of his own assertion, Prof. Raabe further comments:

     In placebo religion all the benefit comes from the belief 
     of the believer. Not surprisingly there are psychological 
     benefits, just like there are with a placebo pill, but 
     there is no evidence that there's any spiritual benefit in 
     the writing itself. For example, there is no evidence that 
     there is an 'absolute Truth' or that finding it will lead 
     to some sort of miraculous change in one's life. Without 
     belief a placebo religion, just like a placebo pill, has 
     nothing substantial to offer. And to offer placebo religion
     as though there's something substantial in it is clearly 
     deceptive and immoral.
     
The problem with this view is the author's failure to signify the fact that all
religion is a matter of belief -- in fact, a matter of faith -- wherein no 
factual basis is deemed necessary. In religion, what is given due weight are 
the resultant notions of in-depth reflections driven by the human desire to get
to a better and more coherent understanding of the human condition regardless of
how a certain aspect of reality is perceived objectively.

Accepting Prof. Raabe's view on religion logically leads us to conclude that 
there is no religion that is not placebo. As far as 'spiritual benefit' is 
concerned, it is not Prof. Raabe nor anybody professing her/ his religion has 
the right/ duty/ capability to determine a person's 'spiritual benefit' from 
her/ his religion except the person who practices the religion herself/himself.

What makes the situation worse is, Prof. Raabe's attempts to further extend his
claim into the realm of the philosophical as he scores that,

     [u]nfortunately, not all philosophy is beneficial. There 
     exists quite a bit of what I call placebo philosophy. The 
     ancient philosopher Epicurus said that philosophy which 
     does not relieve any human suffering is just empty 
     philosophy. Just like a pill that is empty of any medicinal
     ingredients is a placebo pill, philosophy that is empty of 
     any beneficial 'ingredients' is placebo philosophy.
     
Yet, it is important to note that this view could simply be understood as a 
matter of Epicurus' opinion. Philosophy may lead one to suffering but such a 
situation is all because of one's commitment to always search for truth. One 
thing that we should realize is that searching for truth -- which is a serious 
philosophical commitment -- does not always make us feel good. In other words, 
engaging in philosophical exploration/ adventure/ inquiry is oft-times (if not 
always) 'painful' and not 'relieving.'

The misleading notion advanced by Prof. Raabe here is that for philosophy to be
genuine, it has to 'relieve suffering.' This notion is not only misleading but 
illusory because for philosophy to truly serve humanity, it should have its 
feet touching the ground of human reality which is generally characterized by 
sufferings. In view of this, philosophy's major role is to bring humanity face 
to face with reality whatever its condition may be.

Prof. Raabe disagrees:

     Empty intellectual philosophy consists of published works 
     that are difficult if not impossible to understand because 
     they're full of technical jargon, neologisms (invented 
     words), ambiguity, vagueness, New Ageisms, and 
     post-modernisms that lend themselves to a multitude of 
     interpretations.
     
With this, Prof. Raabe unfortunately fails to realize that such is the very 
condition that makes philosophy exciting and challenging: A multitude of 
interpretations. Why flee from the challenges posed by whatever form of 
philosophical/ intellectual discourse?

Footnotes

1. Peter B. Raabe 'Placebo Religion and Philosophy'
    Philosophy Pathways Issue 135, 2 May 2008
    http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/issue135.html

(c) Ruel F. Pepa 2009

Professor Ruel F. Pepa
Trinity University of Asia

E-mail: ruelfpepa@gmail.com

-=-

III. 'RESPONSE TO MAX MALIKOW ON ALTRUISTIC SUICIDE' BY GEOFFREY FROST

I have enjoyed reading Max Malikow's thought-provoking articles but I feel I 
must take issue with him about the most recent one on Altruistic Suicide.[1] I 
applaud his defence of the concept of altruism against the arguments of Daniel 
Robinson and Ayn Rand. It is the matter of suicide that I dispute.

The principal examples used do not meet the definition of suicide viz.'the act 
or instance of intentionally killing one's self'. It is the intention of those 
in the examples that is at issue because their actions were each intended to 
further quite another objective than killing themselves. The pilot wanted to 
avoid harming the children in the playground, Clementine Geraci wanted her baby
to be born unharmed, the naval chaplains wanted to save the lives of other 
sailors.

That all of them were prepared to accept an inevitable death demonstrates, not 
that they sought this, but the steadfastness of their other purposes. If they 
could have achieved their aims without dying they would surely have done so. 
Had they chosen to die unnecessarily, when their aims could have been achieved 
another way, the moral status of their actions would have been compromised.

The US Marines and the Japanese Samurai seek to act honourably in conflict, not
to die, even if they are prepared to do so. Kamikaze pilots intended to destroy 
their targets. Soldiers who behave recklessly, seeming to seek their own deaths,
are often considered to be in pursuit of their own glory and thus not 
altruistic. By virtue of their recklessness they are neither good people nor 
good soldiers.

Considering suttee, in the West, at least, we have moral objections to the 
practice which I think are these. First; the main objective is the death itself,
an outcome which can't be regarded as good in itself. Second; any other 
objectives (perhaps the honour of the family and demonstration of devotion) are
only to be achieved by virtue of the death itself. Third; because of family and 
cultural pressure, or the perception of that by the widow, the action may not 
be freely entered into. If it isn't free, action isn't altruistic.

As I understand the gospel accounts of the death of Jesus, he was crucified by 
people who were free agents like everybody else, as a result of their 
intentions, not His. That He was aware He would die and accepted death is not 
to say that He intended it. This may be a simplification of complex theology 
but I think it is a defensible analysis even if there is a lot more to be said 
on the matter.

In the light of the above I am very doubtful if there could be any instance of 
true altruistic suicide. The instances Max Malikow cites do not persuade me 
otherwise, not as Ayn Rand and Daniel Robinson might argue because altruism is 
disputed but because suicide has not been established.

Footnote

1. Max Malikow 'Altruistic Suicide'
    Philosophy Pathways Issue 141, 30 January 2009
    http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/issue141.html

(c) Geoffrey Frost 2009

E-mail: frostytowers@hotmail.com


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