Saturday, June 10, 2017

Blog #75 - Examined Life philosophers

Out of the several philosophers that we saw in The Examined Life, which of them seemed: 
1. To have the most appealing outlooks on life; 
2. To have the least appealing (or comprehensible) views of life? 


In summary, here they are in order of appearance in the film: 
1. Cornel West - Harvard and Princeton educated, Dr. West has spent the majority of his studies examining race, gender, and class in American society.  He is considered a "neopragmatist", similar to that of William James' pragmatism (something has value if it works), where language is the primary vehicle for understanding the world and trying to make meaning from it.  He has called himself a "non-Marxist socialist" primarily because he's a religious person and cannot reconcile the fact that Marxism dismisses religion.  He also tends to be suspicious of all forms of authority, because they can lead to tyranny and / or abuse.  One of his latest books is called Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism.  

2. Avital Ronell - her parents were Israeli diplomats and she was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia.  She is a professor of German language in New York and has translated French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his earliest works introduced into America.  She follows a school of philosophy called Deconstructionism where she tries to discover the underlying meanings of words and language.  She feels that " language is a material that cannot not interrupt, suspend, resist, exceed, and otherwise trip up the very message it is charged to deliver," because "words can go AWOL (absent without leave" or in many instances, be misunderstood or misinterpreted by the listener / reader.  In many respects, this problem with language has led her to believe that there are no guiding Truths.  One of her latest books is called Stupidity

3. Peter Singer - an Australian philosopher who has become very popular with his most well known for his strong moral beliefs about animals and eating meat.  He is opposed to animal experimentation as well as eating meat.  He follows in the school of Utilitarianism (John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham) which tries to maximize the greatest good for the largest number of people.  He also feels very strongly that the wealthy have an obligation to provide help for those in extreme poverty (remember the $200 pair of shoes ruined to save a drowning child).  On his own website, he claims to give 25% of his income to non-profit groups that are devoted to the poor.  His latest book is The Life You Can Save.  

4. Kwame Anthony Appiah - as mentioned in the film, he's the product of a Ghanian father and an English mother, he studied at Cambridge and has taught at some of the top universities in the U.S.  His studies have included examining the intellectual history of African Americans and he also deals with language and semantics - the underlying meanings of words.  In the segment we watched, Appiah talked about our notion of identity in a multicultural world.  He doesn't believe that race should form your identity, but that we should look for universalities between us to do that.  Forbes Magazine named him one of the Top Seven Most Powerful Thinkers in the world - Judith Butler is also on this list as well.  Appiah's latest book is called The Honor Code.  

5. Martha Nussbaum - is a professor at the University of Chicago with an interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy along with concerns over feminism, political philosophy and morality.  From ancient Greek and Roman philosophies, she has explored the idea of neo-Stoicism which acknowledges that things outside of our control have a great influence on us.  She has also tried to draw attention to the political and gender inequality and the lack of opportunities for women.  She's a strong believer in inclusion of other cultures and feels that those who promote Western culture (our culture) at the expense of others is paternalistic.  In the field of moral psychology, she wrote that emotions like shame and disgust are legitimate emotions to use to make legal judgments.  Her latest book is The New Religious Intolerance

6. Michael Hardt - Hardt is a political philosopher from Duke University who was born in 1960.  As he mentioned in the film, he spent time in Latin America during the 1980s learning from the Marxist political movements in Nicaragua and El Salvador.  He has criticized globalization and sees it as a form of American imperialism.  Nations' power to control their own destiny has declined as American (and European) companies have expanded to control various aspects of developing countries' resources.  His major work, written with Antonio Negri, is called Empire.  Globalization has spawned new forms of racism and cultural change, and that the focus of political power has shifted from governments to corporations.  This shift is less democratic because there's very little if any recourse to stop / control these corporations. 

7. Slavoj Zizek - Zizek is a neo-Marxist and has been considered the "hippest philosopher in Europe" by many and also called "the Elvis of philosophy."  He hails from Slovenia and has written many books.  He tends to provoke with his statements, like comparing Julian Assange to Mahatma Gandhi.  He rarely gives straightforward answers to questions: "I like to complicate issues. I hate simple narratives. I suspect them. This is my automatic reaction."  He is also an athiest and has written extensively on movies, violence, and other topics.  He apparently wrote a review of Avatar first w/o having actually seen it first: "I'm a good Hegelian.  If you have a good theory, forget about the reality."  His primary influence is philosopher Jacques Lacan.  One of his latest book is Living in the End Times.  

8. Judith Butler - is currently a professor of rhetoric and literature at the University of Berkeley, California.  One of her primary philosophical keys is gender studies and how sex and gender roles are flexible or shouldn't be as confining as we tend to see them in our society.  Gender identity does not necessarily reflect who are in our "inner core" - meaning, that just because we are men or women does NOT mean that we should be bound by those male and female roles.  Gender is supposed to be a secondary characteristic to who are, not a primary one.  Also, her political philosophy has been influenced by her religion, Judaism, and she believes in a "Judaism that is not associated with state violence," and has said that Israel does not represent all Jews.  As mentioned in the segment on Appiah, Forbes named her one of the top seven thinkers in the world and she has been called "a big-deal academic, ... and oft-cited academic superstar...the most famous feminist philosopher in the United States," "the queer theorist par excellence," and "the most brilliantly eclectic theorist of sexuality in recent years."  Her most popular book has been Gender Trouble.  

This blog will be due by Monday, June 12 by class.  

Also, please read this article for Monday for an enlightening discussion on the ethics of punching a Nazi.  https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2017/jan/31/the-punch-a-nazi-meme-what-are-the-ethics-of-punching-nazis 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Blog #74 - Hanna and Genetic Engineering

The subject of genetic engineering / manipulation came up during Hanna, though in an unrealistic sci-fi scenario where the CIA tried making super soldiers through invitro - genetic enhancement.  But while this sounds like sci-fi now, there are a lot of things today that can be done that are NOT science fiction that are pretty close to genetic manipulation.  
1. What happens if you want a boy in your family since your family already three girls?  What could you do to increase the odds?  Picking the sex of your child can be done now w/ invitro fertilization (IVF) once fertilized eggs divided into eight cells, that mass can be tested for sex and then implanted in the mother's womb. 

2. What if you really loved your dog or cat and wanted one exactly like it?  Apparently, a company existed for 2 years called Genetics Savings and Clone and was able to clone a couple of cats.  It shhut down in 2006 for reasons I can't quite fathom (besides my basic revulsion of the idea, other qualms), but here's an NPR link to a radio interview about the company when it opened in 2004 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4176651

  - Here's a more recent story from 2009 about a Korean company that cloned a Labrador Retriever for $155,000.  http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/AmazingAnimals/story?id=6762235&page=1

 3. What if your only child died or had was dying from an accident and making a clone to replace the missing or needed parts was the only way to replace or help that child?   This would be a tough one for me to answer b/c I've never ever been in a situation like this, and I don't know how desperate I might get to save my daughter's life.  If making a clone of my daughter to create stem cells could help her, I would be all for it.  Chances are, scientists wouldn't have to go as far as cloning to help her since our body makes stem cells all of the time. 
 - But, South Korean scientists in 2004 were successful in cloning a human embryo using the same person's cells (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1672523&ps=rs).  The idea was to aid the woman's health, not clone her.  Even so, a recent poll in America states that 84% of Americans feel that cloning humans is morally wrong.

 4. Would you be willing to be part of a genetic experiment that not only strengthened your muscles but prevented them from deteriorating with age?  Gene therapy can allow us to repair damaged cells but apparently scientists at the University of Penn have done such a thing with mice in 2004 - called "Mighty Mice."  This kind of therapy could help people with muscular dystrophy or ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  But could it also be abused by athletes and others looking for an edge, especially if they aren't injured?  Gene therapy doesn't usually show up on drug tests since it's supposed to be part of your natural body chemistry, so how do you know who's doping and who's not?  

 5. If you had the chance (and it were possible), would you pick certain traits for your child before he/she was born?   Would you want a child that is more predisposed to music, athletics, math, or would you try to pick the hair and eye color and let fate take care of the rest?  

 6. Is this kind of genetic selection ethical?*  Would it create a separate subspecies of humans like portrayed in the movie Gattaca - those who have been enhanced and those who haven't?  If you haven't been enhanced, you're stuck in a 2nd class citizenry status much like African Americans were before the Civil Rights movement, while those who have been genetically enhanced (those with money, of course) get the best pick of jobs, lives, etc. 

Pick at least three questions (one must include the last one about ethics*) and answer them by tomorrow before class.  Thanks.  300 words minimum. 

Sources:
Gallup Poll on Cloning - http://www.biopoliticaltimes.org/article.php?id=5736
Moral Obligation to be part of a medical research study - http://www.biopoliticaltimes.org/article.php?id=5909