Thursday, October 29, 2009

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: What does respecting someone mean?

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing a rather curious and interesting subject:
What does respecting someone mean?

As I try to argue in my short essay, the subject is very important, but
not necessarily from a philosophical point of view. I believe I have
presented a strong argument for my position but of course there is
always Sunday to discover how successful (or not) my arguments are.

See you Sunday and take care



+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
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-Old essays:
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tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147


What does respecting someone mean?

As far as a philosophical debate on respect is concerned, the essay by
Robin S. Dillon "Respect" in the The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(substantive revision Tue Jan 2, 2007: is the definitive work for
many years to come. And although Immanuel Kant paid considerable
attention to the topic, I personally do not think that this topic is a
central issue in philosophy any more. Respect, however, is a key factor
in politics and social interaction.

I say that the topic of respect is not central to philosophy because I
don't think it will spring any surprises; understanding respect from a
philosophical point of view is quite straightforward. Of course, we are
in a better position today to understand this concept than Kant could
possibly have been. Our knowledge of biological systems, game theory,
and survival strategies give us an edge over past philosophers.

A central issue is the debate on respect is whether respect is a moral
attribute. And as Dillon makes clear in his essay, central to the moral
debate is the status of personhood. So, do we respect someone out of
moral consideration? Ought we respect someone because it is the moral
thing to do? And finally, who ought we respect?

It is generally accepted that we ought to respect a person, except the
debate is of course who is a person? Is a person a rational being, a
moral being, a sentient being? The problem with deciding this question
is that philosophers, and everyone else, in the past excluded biology as
a possible criteria of what constitutes a person. And this is precisely
were we ought to look for the answer to this simple question. In another
essay (What is a person?) I argued that basically a person is someone
who is born from a human female mother. Inany case Dillon refers to Kant
as supporting the view that "all persons are owned respect just because
they are persons.." I think that this question is settled for a few
generations to come.

The more serious question is whether respect for others is a moral
issue. And the associate question of whether we respect others from
moral motivation. A problem with considering respect as a moral issue is
that we tend to use respect for everyday matters rather than big ticket
human acts. We respect people when we deal with them in our work, on the
bus, at philosophy meetings, at the theatre and so. But I would hardly
consider respecting someone during the seating process at the theatre a
moral issue. It seems that these activities are a matter of respect and
good manners.

But just because respect is not a moral issue it does not mean it is not
an important issue. And as I have already claimed, respect is important
especially in politics and social interactions.

However, respect makes sense if we consider it in the context of
biological systems and not rational or moral agency. Because we respect
others in normal every day social interactions it suggests that the
system of being respectful and expecting respect is purely a survival
strategy. If we are nice to people we stand a better chance that they'll
be nice to us; if we are aggressive to people for no real reason then we
can expect them to be aggressive back to us. If we're nice we increase
our chances of people being reasonable with us, and therefore live
another day. After all aggression always creates some physical risk.

But what's the reasoning behind this approach? And to answer this
question I think we have to look at a different question: under what
circumstance are we not respectful to others? Ironically, and if Dillon
interprets Kant properly, Kant was very close to finding the answer to
our negative question when he rejected the idea that someone deserves
respect because of their social status. In reality it is social status
that determines how solid and steadfast is the principle of respect.

And the test is how do we behave when we consider someone to be inferior
or subordinate to us; inferior because of our prejudices and subordinate
because of our perceived social status.

We are all familiar with the studies that show the relevance and the
part played by aggression and cooperation in biological living systems.
Human beings are no exception contrary to the beliefs of previous
generations and present day "romantic" view of life; at least for some

Expressing anger, frustration, impatience, use imperative language, and
pointing accusative fingers are all mild forms of aggression. On the
other hand, patiently listening to the lengthy exposition of someone we
disagree with, waiting in a queue whilst the person in front of us looks
for the bus ticket, or simply accepting that some made a mistake and try
to help them recover the situation are all examples of cooperation and,
of course, respect.

At the normal, every day goings on of our lives, we use these mild and
rudimentary instincts of aggression and cooperation to survive. We
simply cannot go about our lives hitting people at every slight

Moreover, it is not everyday that we are in a situation when we have to
decide whether to kill someone or not. In fact, many of us have never
been in such a situation or similar circumstance. However, it is
everyday that we have to accept the opinion of someone we disagree with,
wait for them to finish a task, tolerate unusual behaviour and so on and
so forth.

I therefore think that "respect" belongs more to our every day
relationships whilst moral systems are more valid for substantial
issues. And usually moral issues do not only affect us alone, but others
around us. When a murder takes place the whole community is affected,
interested and involved, but when we fail to respect a fellow
philosopher is not front page news.

I propose that respect at the personal level functions more as a means
of communicating our intentions and state of mind to others rather than
whatever benefit the other person receives from our respect. When we
respect a colleague to finish what they are saying even though we
disagree with them, what we are really communication is that we are not
going to behave aggressively towards them for annoying us. That they can
finish what they are saying is a consequence of us not being aggressive
and not of our respect.

Another version of the test of respect is not when we agree with the
other person, but rather when we don't agree with them.

And by implication, when someone shows no respect towards other people
we can safely assume that they are mentally or psychologically unstable
or just plain aggressive and antisocial. Unfortunately, we mustn't
forget that aggression and antisocial behaviour can sometimes pay
handsome dividends.

I started by saying that respect is very important in the sphere of
politics and social interaction. What do I mean by this? We are more
likely to respect others if we treat them as equals instead as
subordinates or inferiors. Thus a political system that confers equal
human rights and reasonable political duties is more likely to motivate
people to respect others in their day to day affairs with fellow human
beings. I would argue that this issue can be settled by looking at the
empirical evidence and see what is the norm.

In our society we feels seriously offended and aggrieved when someone
fail to show us respect. But how many news reports have we seen where
people in developing countries are treated with utter contempt; in
shops, at railway stations, in the streets, in traffic etc.

One final issue that is more practical than theoretical is the idea in
our society, of respect for other cultures and traditions. Dillon refers
to the issue this way, "One issue is how persons ought to be respected
in multicultural liberal democratic societies...."

Despite the use of the word respect in describing this problem I would
be more inclined to think that this was more a moral issue than a
question of respect; at the very least on my definition and use of the
concept of respect. The issue about other cultures is really quite
straightforward, the problem is what to do about any anomalies. To help
us decide such issues we can ask ourselves a simple question: does the
tradition (or cultural practice) involved convey a right on the
individual without taking away someone else's rights, or does it take
away a right from someone to convey a right to someone else?

I suggest that this multicultural issue is first a moral issue and then
a political issue. Therefore, it has no bearing on our debate on
respecting others.

One issue I have not discussed is the respect to someone's property.
Once again this is a very important concept in our society and political
system. However, from our perspective this topic is covered by legal and
ethical systems. Hence, personal property would be outside the limited
scope I have imposed myself for this essay. In reality, though, if we
respect the person we also respect their property.

To sum up, respect is very important for a functioning society, but to
understand this idea we have to consider the issue from the biological
perspective and not some metaphysical perspective. Moreover, respect is
an information laden activity that we need and use for our day to day
survival. A real issue for us is whether we can respect each other so
much that we create a some sort of false security to the point of
failing to recognise aggression. Can we be too nice?

My immediate reaction is that respect is not a threat to those of us who
know the rules of the game (i.e. the game of cooperation). The problem
for those who do know the rules of the game is to be able to distinguish
between those who know and those who don't know the rules of the game.
And worse still, those who use the game to take advantage of us.

Take care


from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: What does
respecting someone mean?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Does history matter?


Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing Does history matter?

Indeed twenty years ago we saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and today we
are enjoying the benefits of the mother of all recessions. In both cases
the writing was on the wall so to speak. The first world war was a
precursor of things to come in politics and the liberalisation of the
money markets in the eighties was a test run of the financial frenzy we
had these past few years.

So, does history matter and can we learn from it?

Take care and see you Sunday


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
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Does history matter?

In effect, by asking this question we are asking ourselves to make a
value judgement on the subject of history. For example, is history
useful or relevant for us; us being the people living today. But by
extension people that belong to other generations also have the right to
ask the same question for themselves.

We can even go a step further and use the often asked question: can we
learn from history? But to go from Does history matter? to Can we learn
from history? we have to bridge a huge philosophical gap.

Ideally before we can arrive to consider this gap we first have to be
clear about the terrain we are about to traverse. And to do this we
normally have to define the topic, i.e. what is history? And to meet
this criteria I will offer you this definition by Daniel Little from his
essay Philosophy of History (Philosophy of History: Daniel Little: First
published Sun Feb 18, 2007: )

To quote Little's definition of What is history?, he says "Most
prosaically, it is the human past and our organized representations of
that past."

And on the question of learning from history, Little writes: (Philosophy
of History) It raises the possibility of "learning from history." And it
suggests the possibility of better understanding ourselves in the
present, by understanding the forces, choices, and circumstances that
brought us to our current situation. It is therefore unsurprising that
philosophers have sometimes turned their attention to efforts to examine
history itself and the nature of historical knowledge.

However, although the answer to the question What is history? seems
quite adequate I want to argue that a definition of history is dependent
on two important issues:

The first issue is: when (or where) does history begin and experience
ends? For practical purposes, I will consider history to be human
history although there is no reason not to include non-human events in
human history. For example, the role played by earthquakes, oil
reserves, ice ages and so on.

The second issue is whether the problem with history is the same problem
of deriving an "ought" from an "is" (Hume: Hume's Fork: is/ought
dichotomy); or more generally the problem of induction (scientific

Hence, as far as we are concerned, before we can even ask What is
history? we have to ask when does history begin (for us)? For example,
twenty years ago, in October and November, we saw the fall of the Berlin
Wall. Many of us would remember the images and news reports of people
breaking up the wall which was in effect the breaking up the Soviet
Union and Soviet style communism. It would be natural to say that this
was indeed a historical event. However, it is also our experience, many
of us were alive at the time and not only could we relate to the events
but those events affected our lives. We might even have changed the
course of our lives because of those events. But is the fall of the
Berlin Wall history or my (our) experience? And what makes the fall of
the Berlin Wall history and not say the dinner we had on the 20 October

My point is that somehow we have a kind of proprietary right over our
experience which we do not have for history. My experience is mine and
it affects me and what I do, not to mention that what I do also affects
others. But not so for history? The Normandy landings do not belong to
me as experience, and nor can I do anything about it. I cannot go on the
cliffs of Normandy and look at the landing crafts arriving on the
beaches. But many people alive today did go on the Berlin Wall and chip
away at the concrete, and those of us who saw the events affected us

Our experiences cause feelings, reactions, actions and opinions in us
which are different from the feelings, reactions, actions and opinions
we have when we read about events in the past: i.e. history.

With our experiences we have a one to one relationship with our
environment, our society, and the world we live in, but not so for
history. With experience we also have a blood and guts connection. In
other words, I can participate in the world around me, even to the point
of changing the status quo. With history we only have an epistemic or
intellectual relationship with the events we are interested in. So does
it make sense to speak of participating in the world of history. I
certainly cannot affect what happened in Normand (although what happened
in Normand does affect me) and I doubt whether you can.

You might ask what is wrong with accepting that an event might be both a
historical event and a personal experience; after all most people think
this way and we might have done it ourselves. But you will recall that
Little's definition of history includes "the human past" and "organized
representation...". Sure the Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago, but my
experiences are part of me today as much as they were twenty years ago.
Just because events happened twenty years ago they do not cease to be
part of my. And by implication who has the right to "organise" my
experiences other than myself? Not to mention that I do not have a
representation of my experiences, I have experiences.

I am suggesting that although a headline that an event might be both an
historical event and a personal experience might be emotional, it is not
good enough for philosophy. We might use the cut off point at the time
the last person from a generation passes away. Certainly a good idea,
but not necessarily practical. Are we prepared to wait that long before
we can call something history? Nor do I want to enter into a discussion
on utilitarianism and pragmatism.

But this has a direct implication to the second issue; i.e. is history,
at the very least, tainted with the problem of induction if not, that
is, induction being the essence of history for us?

What we experience is indeed a fact and what we do as a consequence of
our experience is also a fact; thus what happened (to us) and what we do
are both facts (our feelings etc are facts). In other words, when we act
as a consequence of our experience we are deriving an "is" from and
"is". For example, the fall of the Berlin Wall (fact) makes me want and
do go to Berlin and visit East Berlin as a free person (fact). However,
something we do or feel or act because of history we are in effect
deriving an "ought" from and "is". The allies won the first world war
(fact), but the reparations the Germans had to pay were irresponsible
(ought) and therefore war reparations is not a very good political
policy (generalised ought). Indeed, the first instance when the is/ought
dichotomy (and induction) creates a problem for our topic it directly
involves ourselves. How much opinion can we reasonable have about the
past, and still reflect reality on the ground, instead of being an
amusement game during dinner parties?

But what right do we have to derive an ought from some event that
happened in the past? And why should our ought be better than someone
else's ought who might have a different opinion?

The issue of induction in history is also present in a different way.
You will remember that scientific induction is a form of theory building
by arriving at universals from particular instances (all ravens are
black; all swans are white: see Wikipedia on the subject). However, by
the very nature of how induction works, conclusions based on induction
are not certain. Induction only leads to degrees of confidence and

Of course, this does not mean that we cannot do anything with some
generalisation just because we are not totally certain. However,
induction does have consequences if we are to employ it in our
reasoning; and if we choose to be reasonable or rational. One of these
consequences is that we have to be prudent, very prudent, about what we
decide to do with our inductive conclusions. Especially conclusions
based on history.

Another important consequence is that by definition, induction has an
inbuilt epistemic deficit or an absence of information. And by its very
nature information, especially about historical events, starts to
deteriorate if not lost, immediately it is created. Documents
deteriorate, artefacts get lost, recordings lose audibility and so on.

But most important of all we do not have access to the very people who
can tell us most about what they did, why they did it, how they felt and
so on. In other words, we don't have access to the very same information
we rely on when deciding how to act and do act in our lives. What is
also clear is that when we act we act without knowing what the
unintended consequences are going to be. If we object to our
experiences, opinions, feelings and motivations to be reorganised by
others I'm sure that Napoleon, Patten and Stalin would feel the same.
Remember, this is not about being good or bad, but about being a human

Whichever way we look at the situation we are always one or many steps
away from reality when we consider history. But if we accept this
information gap about history we must also accept that whatever history
might be, we certainly do not have complete access to it. And this is
precisely the problem with history, how can something have a value if we
do not have access to the salient information about it? It's like doing
medicine without access to patients.

The issues of history and experience, and that of induction are not
meant to deny the existence or importance of history, nor the
objectivity of history and not even to shed scepticism on the whole
project of studying history, but to show that our tools, certainly our
present tools, are far from adequate. How inadequate these tools are
have a direct bearing on our question, does history matter? and on the
practical question, can we learn from history?

This is important for two main reasons, (1) how relevant is the
historical information we have for our purpose of learning from history?
And (2) how dangerous can the wrong information be for any actions we
might embark upon based on what we thought we have learnt from history?
You will also notice that I have not even mentioned such ideas as what
is good or bad or what is morally acceptable.

Indeed we do want to say that history matters because some how we are
convinced that we can learn from history. But I believe that I have
argued that the task of learning from history is not as straightforward
as we would like to think.

As far as history mattering I think we can safely say that it does
matter and it does because history is a valuable source of information.
Moreover, science and technology help us access information from the
past (e.g. archaeology forensics) and/or decipher information we gather
from the past. Thus narrowing the uncertainly gap with induction.

However, information by itself does not help us bridge the gap between
history mattering and learning from history. From the philosophy of
information we know that information introduces problems with meaning
and truth. (see Wikipedia and Stanford Encyclopaedia on Philosophy of
Information) And meaning and truth lead us to value judgements.

We can now ask ourselves two very relevant questions: What is history
really like? And can we really organise history? In the meantime does
history matter because we made a value judgment that it does or because
we have solid evidence that it does?

Take care



Dimas Taxi service: mobile 627 219 316 email


Tertulia with Ignacio and friends: Every Thursday, from 19:30 to 21h, at
Moore's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal).
**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Does history matter?

Friday, October 16, 2009

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Emotional Intelligence

Dear friends,

This week we are discussing Emotional Intelligence. I wrote a rather
short essay, but do apologise in advance for any typos and mistakes. I
wrote it this evening and did not really check it in detail.

Take care



+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Yahoo group >> <
-Old essays:
- Blog:
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-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is about an issue that is as old as the hills and
the mountains behind them. Basically EI can be reduced to the following
question: can we trust this stranger? And although EI is about us as
much as it is about other people is still about doing what is right when
the occasion arises. EI is also about predicting future human actions.

I used the following two references as background information.

1) Emotional Intelligence as a Predictor of Academic and/or Professional
Frank Romanelli, PharmD, Jeff Cain, MS, and Kelly M. Smith, PharmD
College of Pharmacy, University of Kentucky
American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2006; 70 (3) Article 69.
Submitted August 4, 2005; accepted October 6, 2005; published June 15, 2006.

2) Emotional intelligence. (2009, October 14). In Wikipedia, The Free
Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:45, October 15, 2009, from

What I want to do is to identify what I think are some basic key issues
on the topic. Of course, the two references deal with the problems of EI
quite succinctly and clearly so I won't try to venture into what has
been said already.

One of the more serious issues about EI is precisely how to define it.
And although this is still a hot issue I think that the definition given
Romanelli is more than adequate for our purposes, and I quote it here in

In simpler terms, emotional
intelligence might be defined as the set of skills people
use to read, understand, and react effectively to emotional
signals sent by others and oneself. These are skills
such as empathy, problem-solving, optimism, and selfawareness
which allow people to reflect, react to, and
understand various environmental situations.

More about this later.

Although EI is considered as a psychology subject and that the term is
quite modern, EI is as I said in the introduction, an old problem and
therefore a philosophical issue as well. Emotions and human behaviour,
especially concerning normal and rational people are always the concern
of philosophy. The first question I would therefore ask, is whether it
makes sense to focus one aspect of human intelligence only. And is
emotional intelligence within the domain of intelligence or emotions?
And if it is emotions can we study EI by investigating EI in animals?

However, since EI is more popular as an applied methodology, especially
in the sphere of employment, it is only fair that we looked at this
aspect in more detail. One of the criticisms of applied EI is that the
companies who conduct EI tests keep their information in proprietary
databases. In effect, peer reviews and independent investigation of the
data is very limited, if done at all.

But if EI tests in a commercial setting are not peer reviewed can it be
claimed that this system is scientific and objective? Peer review is
indeed a foundation practice of what we understand to be the scientific
method. But if applied EI is not based on a valid scientific method what
claims can be made about the objectivity of any tests? In other words,
and this is a question for lawyers, are employers misinforming and/or
misrepresenting the facts when they give the impression to prospective
job applicants that EI tests are scientific and/or objective? And is
there an implied belief that the test is scientific and objective by
using such academic terminology as Emotional Intelligence? Don't forget
that EI is also an academic – scientific subject that is even more

Since EI is also used during selection processes we have to ask
ourselves how valid are any decisions based on EI given that a candidate
in a selection process would have already been through a natural
selection process which may or may not include objective and scientific
processes; for example the financial and social status of the family of
the candidate, cultural background, personal experience of life.

So, unlike say genetic testing, were the tests are performed on samples
of biological material from the candidate, emotional skills adequacy
have to be studied in the context of the environment (see the previous
paragraphy) of the candidate. Not only is this complex but would involve
other people and issues of confidentially and privileged information.

The definition above talks about emotional signals and of skills such as
empathy, problem-solving, optimism etc. But these are emotions and
skills that are value judgement neutral. In other words, we can
determine whether a person can empathise with others but it cannot say
whether he or she ought to be empathic is a given context. A murder can
empathise with a fellow murderer who is experiencing a hard time getting
used to prison life, but is this what we are talking about. So if
emotions and emotional skills are value judgement neutral how can these
be used to make value judgments, for example in selecting a person for a
leadership position?

Even such skills as problem solving can be poles apart. I will use a
real life example that happened this week in Britain.

Trafigura: A few tweets and freedom of speech is restored
* Robert Booth
*, Tuesday 13 October 2009 22.06 BST

Basically, Trafigura is multinational oil trading company and when the
Guardian and other media tried to report, in 2006, on its activity of
toxic waste disposal in the Ivory Coast the lawyers of the company
issued the Guardian with an injunction to stop it reporting on the case.

On Monday 12 October this week, the Labour MP, Paul Farrelly, tabled a
question in parliament regarding the activities of the company in the
Ivory Coast. When the Guardian tried to report this question the lawyers
once again issued an injunction to stop them from reporting the question
tabled in parliament.

This week two things happened. First, the House of Commons was outraged
since the media have absolute privilege in reporting parliament, a right
that was established since the Bill of Rights of 1688. And there is
nothing in Britain that is above parliament. The injunction was
withdrawn within a short time.

But irrespective of the power of the injunction, as soon as the Guardian
published a story saying it cannot report on a story that was happening
in parliament, the twitter community started investigating the problem.
By early evening everything the twitterati could find on the story was
published even though there was an injunction in force. Read the story
for the details.

For our purposes, we have a real life case where two parties used
different actions to solve a serious problem. One party used the force
of the law to issue an injunction against the media. And the other party
(twitterati) published the facts and the details anyway. And they did so
out of outrage at what was happening.

Maybe the Guardian story shows that normal and rational people have
enough capacity to act emotionally and intelligently when put in a
corner. However, I doubt if there is a method that would predict what
people would do when put in a corner.


Dimas Taxi service: mobile 627 219 316 email


Tertulia with Ignacio and friends: Every Thursday, from 19:30 to 21h, at
Moore's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal).
**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Emotional Intelligence

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Human Instinct + Visit to Bustarviejo Saturday

Visit to Bustarviejo

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing Human Instinct.

I have not written an essay for this topic since I need to think a
little bit about the topic and also because I want to send this email
today with the details of our visit to Bustarviejo on Saturday.

Anyway, the Wikipedia article on Instinct is quite interesting although
it may lack the rigour of other articles. But the most relevant claim in
the article is that scientists do not speak of instinct or Human
Instinct any more. The discussion has moved on to inherited behaviours
though genes or learned instincts due to factors in our environment.

This begs the question, of whether Human Instinct is a legitimate
philosophical subject. Of course, what causes human instinct is a
different matter from the consequences of our instincts and how we use
these instincts in the first place. These are, in my opinion,
philosophical issues.

What is sure is that as city dwellers we have an instinct to answer the
call of the wild and to be at one with nature. And to satisfy this
primordial instinct we are visiting Bustarviejo on Saturday. For those
who do not know where Bustarviejo is, it is the next village after
Miraflores. These are the details:

Bus 725 from Plaza Castilla (new Bus Terminal). The bus LEAVES at 9:30am
and arrives in Bustarviejo at 10:45am. I suggest you arrive early in
Plaza Castilla because the new terminal is quite big and not well signed

A quick visit to a bar for a coffee would be the best thing to do as
soon as we arrive. After the coffee we can then start walking to the
nearest patch of nature. Hopefully to build up an appetite for lunch.

From past experience (Kim and myself) the best option for lunch would
be a menu del dia in Miraflores. We can catch the bus back to Miraflores
at 2:00pm or 3:00pm which takes fifteen minutes.

Of course, if it starts raining on Saturday, we have plan B: go to
Miraflores and find a decent menu del dia and skip the hassle of
building up an appetite with the help of nature.

Take care, see you Saturday



+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Yahoo group >> <
-Old essays:
- Blog:
tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

Dimas Taxi service: mobile 627 219 316 email


Tertulia with Ignacio and friends: Every Thursday, from 19:30 to 21h, at
Moore's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal).
**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Human Instinct +
Visit to Bustarviejo Saturday

Thursday, October 01, 2009

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Crime

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing Crime.

Quite rightly, people are generally interested and concerned in the
crime wave that always seems to take place in their neighbourhood. Even
more, we are afraid of being the victims of crime and more seriously,
some still suffer from the effects of actually being victims of crime.

When Donohue and Levitt (Steven D. Levitt of Freakonomics fame)
introduced the Donohue-Levitt hypothesis, which basically claims that
the introduction of abortion in the US in the mid 1970s was responsible
for the reduction of crime in the 1990s, many people did not like this

And this is the problem with crime, it is so emotionally charged that
what can be discovered by scientific investigation might be thwarted by
political or social expediency. For example, it might be easier to put
people in prison than say to sort out their economic and social
conditions before some of them go on to commit some crime or other.
Let's face it, putting people in prison is fighting crime, putting
people on a good economic base is just a humanitarian challenge. And
where is the kudos in dealing with a humanitarian challenge unless we
need to do something pronto for our PR image?

Of course, I'm not saying that some people do not deserve to be put in
prison, nor am I saying that crime can be explained away by social or
family circumstances and therefore no one deserves to be sent to prison.
Nor am I saying that there is something deterministic about economic
circumstances that leads some people to crime and not others. In
reality, irrespective of any circumstances the majority of people just
do not commit crime.

What I want to argue from my observations are a number of things.

First of all, crime is like a tube of toothpaste, no matter how hard we
try to squeeze the paste out of the tube, there will always be some
toothpaste left in the tube. The same with crime, no matter how hard we
try to get rid of crime there will always be some crime around.

My point about fixing, for example, economic circumstances (fair and
stable wages), or social liberties (family planning, abortion, divorce,
etc), is that these actions might offer some people the opportunity to
stay away from crime who maybe under different conditions might be
susceptible to crime.

Therefore, whilst jurisprudence might be concerned with the intention to
commit a crime, I submit that for the political scientist the issue
ought to be whether a person had an opportunity not to commit a crime.
How can we hold someone guilty of intent (in committing a crime) when
that person had no opportunity not to commit that crime?

Let me illustrate my point. If society discourages, prohibits or somehow
makes it difficult for a married couple to separate should their
marriage fail, how can we hope to deal with the difficult issue of
domestic violence. If society insists that people stay married then
society ought to make resources available for when such unions fail. Or
to put it in another way, if society likes the stability of marriage,
society ought to make provisions for any instability human nature is
susceptible to. After all, human nature is more fragile than some of the
lofty speculations some people insist in exercising about human

But what are the issues for the philosopher? At least one issue is the
distinction between what is just, what is fair and what is moral? For
example, why is it that if someone goes into a bank and steals a
thousand Euros this is a crime, but not necessarily a crime if
recklessly speculate and lose a few billion Euros of depositors' money.
To say that there is a law that decides both cases is, of course, not a
philosophical answer.

The reason why justice, fairness and morality matter is because
reasonable people use these epistemological structures in their daily
lives. The fact that very few people seem to agree on what is just, fair
and moral is an indication that the services of philosophers are still
required. Or at least not until the scientists can manage to squeeze out
all the uncertainty from the scientific method.

All the best,



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from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Crime

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