Thursday, October 30, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is war inevitable in history?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Is war inevitable in history?

No doubt war is part of the survival process of human beings as
biological systems. Wars have always been waged for territorial
purposes, in other words to gain resources or living space, or
ideological purposes, to spread religious beliefs most of all. The cold
war, fought in SE Asia, the Middle East and Africa and South America to
an extent, was a war for ideological influence as a way to gain access
to resources. Although some might even argue that the Cold War was a
conflict to establish who is top dog, but even top dogs needs a
prosperous economy to support their spending habits.

Thus, the use of violence has been a well proven method to persuade
people or to capture people to exploit them. We now know, however, that
violence works only on a small scale; we can bomb a village, or even a
town, but this seems to be very inefficient. Look at the campaigns
during the Second World War; the ineffectiveness of carpet bombing of
the allies was matched by the illogical weapons programmes of the Axis.
Today violence is equally limited in scope, a terrorist's bomb exploded
in a city centre is as ineffective as dropping laser guided bombs on a
mud hut.

We should, however, be in no doubt that war or conflict violence does
hurt and kill people and does change to course of history. But this does
not mean that the course of history will be changed to the one we went
to war for in the first place. The 100 hour war in Iraq of George Bush
senior did not change history in the way it envisaged in the Oval office.

If by war we mean the use of violence for an end, then maybe some wars
are avoidable but this does not mean that wars are not inevitable. Even
with the limited effectiveness of violent wars, these are inevitable
even if we try to limit present conflicts to only the unavoidable
conflicts. The problem with violence is that the results are immediate
but the unintended consequences are endless.

If, however, by war we extend our concept to the suffering or even
enslavement of people then this is indeed inevitable because we are
still much closer to the mind set of biological systems with reactive
impulses than the rational contemplation of philosophical kings. Today,
effective wars are more likely to be based on economic power and

Today, not only the methods used to kill and enslave people have
changed, but also who is killed and who is enslaved. The reparations
Germany had to pay after the First world war were not only meant to be
compensation and humiliation but also to reduce the economic power of
Germany. For a long time now, we have used natural resources, and
especially energy resources, as a means to control and manipulate other
people. In the twenty first century the shift is now more towards
expropriating information rather than merely pilfering natural resources.

However, the biggest shift in modern warfare, in the wider meaning of
war, rather than mere violence, is that this kind of war is being waged
not against other nations, but against social classes. Today we accept
the money and contracts of corrupt dictators, governments or organised
criminals in a country, but use legitimate immigrants for that same
country as examples for racial policies for immigration controls. People
from all over the world are welcomed to buy luxury properties in the top
city centres of Europe with their ill gotten money, but others are
prevented from accessing health care despite being law abiding people.

As I have already said, war, of the violent kind, is inevitable although
many wars, past, present and future, were and are avoidable.
Exploitative wars, that enslave people or deprive them of just economic
rewards, are today more common, and as oppressive as ever. For example,
these past few weeks it has been officially recognised that average
salary earners in the UK cannot afford to buy a house; tertiary
education in many English speaking countries will cost students close to
50,000 Euros for an average degree of little value, not to mention that
in many countries people have to pay directly for health care in the
same way they have to pay for a kilo of potatoes.

Why would a system demand such exorbitant payment from individuals when
collectively paying for these services would be more efficient and
cheaper? If we had to pay 50 Euros every time we made a search on
Google, the company wouldn't exist, but because the search is free
Google is the richest company on Earth. Sure, some might argue that we
still pay for the success of Google in the prices we pay. We've always
had to pay for advertising costs is the same way that we still have to
pay for health care with our taxes. However, thing I buy from suppliers
who advertise on Google are not life saving services. If we are not
given the individual bill for every bullet fired in war, why are we
given the bill for emergency treatment we might need so that we can go
to work in the morning to pay the taxes to buy the bullets in the first

If violent wars are avoidable in history it is not because violence has
all of a sudden become more effective, although it might have become
more cruel, but probably because something more efficient and more
profitable have been invented to replace them. For example, the
overdraft, credit cards or even the most effective weapon of all, the
limited special offer.

Best Lawrence

In the meantime Ruel has sent us a link to his essay:

Hi Lawrence,
Here is the link to the essay I wrote on Sunday's PhiloMadrid topic.
See you on Sunday.


Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is war inevitable
in history?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Compassion + NEWS (XIX JORNADAS Internacionales de Filosofía)

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing the topic: Compassion.

Some regard compassion as that emotion which leads to an act to help
others when they are in pain. In other words, compassion leads us to try
and stop the pain of others, especially when in some way or other we are
part of the cause of that physical pain. Or at the very least, we can do
something about it. Hence, the effect of compassion should really be a
causal effect on our part on the physical pain or suffering of others.

Compassion is rather different from empathy since a feeling of empathy
leads to a mind state in us and not necessarily an act from us to stop a
pain. It is also different from feeling sorry for others since when we
feel sorry for some, there need not be physical pain present although
there might be distress or psychological pain present. For example, when
someone's pet dies or, worse, when someone loses their job after a year.

Of course, pain on its own is not a sufficient condition to lead to
compassion. For example, some medical treatments cause pain when
administered. Compassion is usually the feeling of pain by someone else
that is associated with the feeling in us that this is caused by some
injustice or some unfair situation. Thus, when a doctor is in the
process of administering a painful treatment (knowing there is no
alternative) the idea of compassion does not arise. And indeed the
feeling of compassion has to reside in the doctor and not us observers.
This explains why we put the burden on health carers (and politicians)
in cases when the patient wants to terminate their life with dignity
under severe conditions of suffering. And of course we do this because
we reasonably believe that the doctor can comply with the wishes of the

The problem when we expect others to have a sense of compassion is that
we are experts on pain, especially our own pain, but we know very little
on how others feel pain; what makes someone else feel pain? Thus, it is
very difficult to want others to be distress when someone feels pain. We
can of course cite moral principles but that assumes that the person
needlessly causing the pain on someone else has the same values as us.
This, of course, makes life difficult for us and, for example, health
carers when we expect them to show compassion is cases of extreme
suffering. We know about our pain, but they know about their pain but
also medical science and the relevant law.

Thus the distinction must be made between the instances when we ought to
feel compassionate about someone's pain and others feeling compassionate
for someone. The common factor between the two is: who is causing the
pain or who can stop the pain?

When we want others to stop what they are doing that is causing pain to
someone, or indeed, do something to stop the pain when they can do
something, we wouldn't automatically call what we are feeling
compassion. We may now distil the two questions at the end of the
previous paragraph to a single question: what can I do to stop the pain?
If we can do something about it then what we are feeling is compassion.

In the meantime Ruel has sent us the link to his essay:
Hello Lawrence,
Below is the link to the short essay I wrote on the topic for Sunday's
See you on Sunday.

---From Miguel
XIX JORNADAS Internacionales de Filosofía
Pensar lo SAGRADO
27 y 28 de octubre de 2014
de 19:00 a 21:00 horas
Facultad de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales. Universidad Pontificia Comillas.
Si se desea certificado de asistencia se deberá realizar la
correspondiente inscripción
Más información
Facultad de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales
Tel. 91 7343950 María Jesús Vega (ext. 2620)

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Compassion + NEWS
(XIX JORNADAS Internacionales de Filosofía)

Friday, October 17, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The will to convince

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: the will to convince.

Convincing people is not easy, and this requires effort and resources.
This week we have three (two and a half really), one from Ruel and
Antony, and the half from me.

---from Ruel
Hello Lawrence,
Below is the link to the essay I wrote on the topic to be discussed on
Sunday in PhiloMadrid.
Thank you and see you on Sunday.
All the best,

----from Antony
Advertising- Brief History, Techniques and How to Resist It
By Antony Rotunno (2014)

---from Lawrence
The will to convincing others is not easy. And the more vested interest
others have, the more difficult it is to convince them that an
alternative is much better than their position. Moreover, if we want to
convince others to give up power or wealth, than that's going to be a
tough one indeed.

To have a will to convince others one needs to have a conviction and a
belief in one's cause or objective. As the successful sales manager told
a budding young sales person, "To be successful in sales you have to
believe in your product."

But to have that kind of conviction we need to be well informed.
Conviction, I would argue, does not come from mere wishing or desire.
Conviction comes from really wanting something before anything else. In
a way conviction should drive one to action.

Whilst many of us can have this kind of conviction about something or
other we have to agree that things are not made easy for us. For
example, our education system does not reward creativity but conformity.
This means that we must first overcome mental and psychological
restraints whether put there by the educational system, society,
religion or whatever. The most important constraints of all would
probably be family and peer pressure.

Conviction and fighting for a cause required resources and support;
which are always in limited supply. And although we can achieve quite a
lot by ourselves, the results are always better when we cooperate with
others. Hence we not only need to convince our objectors but even more,
we need to convince our friends and allies.

But such an undertaking requires more than just getting up in the
morning and doing something. Thus whilst convincing others is not easy
getting ourselves to do what it takes is even harder.

At the end the real challenge is dealing with success. In other words,
what happens after we've convinced someone to our cause?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The will to convince

Friday, October 10, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is racism natural or cultural?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Is racism natural or cultural?

Just when we thought it was safe to go to a hospital we have the scary
state of affairs in Spain of a potential ebola epidemic in the making.
Despite the seriousness of having this virus in a densely populated city
like Madrid, we must admire virus like ebola if only because they don't
discriminate nor are they racists.

They neither discriminate against people who belong to a particular
race, nor do they only discriminate against imbecile politicians. Ebola
knows one thing, "you make one mistake with me and that's going to be

However, we human beings do not have these very simple rules; we
discriminate against people simply because they have a different skin
colour and we still fall in love and elect imbecile politicians even
though they want to disadvantage everyone else.

In my short essay I argue that to answer our question we need to first
be able to distinguish between excluding other and discriminating
against others.

In the meantime Ruel has kindly sent us the link to his essay:
Hello Lawrence,
I managed to write a short essay on the topic "Racism" for Sunday's
PhiloMadrid and here's the link to it:
Hope to see you on Sunday.

And for those who missed the news on Facebook, Miguel has sent us a link
to a YouTUbe video on the impressive singing capabilities of Anna:

polyphonic overtone singing - Anna-Maria Hefele

Is racism natural or cultural?

Although the key feature of racism is discrimination on the basis of
one's race we must distinguish between discriminating to disadvantage
and simply excluding others.

Indeed, by having our meetings in English we are excluding a large
number of people who do not speak English. But of course, this is not
excluding to disadvantage those who do not speak English but what we are
rather doing is to include those who want to discuss philosophy in
English. I wouldn't think that Plato spoke Greek to racially
discriminate against me who does not speak Greek!

However, racism is precisely using race to disadvantage others;
disadvantage beyond excluding. The list of how and why we can
disadvantage others is long and wide but I will use hypothetical
examples to tease out this important difference: to exclude vs to
disadvantage. What is important for us is to be able to recognise when
we are excluded because of the way the world works or being excluded
because of our race (or background) and hence to be disadvantaged.

Thus, a restaurant in the city centre might not have a copy of their
menu in my language (i.e. English) but there is nothing racist about
this. However, there is no doubt in my mind that this would easily be a
case of racism if they over charge me simply because I am a tourist who
speaks a different language. But what if we take the same example and
add a little twist to it and ask the question: would it be racism if I
do not go to restaurants where they have menus in my language (i.e.
English) on the grounds that they might cheat me for being a foreign

Would I be simply excluding a category of restaurants in my travels or
would I simply be discriminating against restaurants in a different
country because I do not trust restaurant owners in other countries?
This might not be a good example on the grounds that we do all sorts of
things when we travel based on our experiences.

Hence, we can go a step further and indeed introduce language in our
test. The first question is whether language (our natural language) is
an instrument of racism or simply a cultural practice that excludes many

The second question is maybe too specific and maybe only language
teachers are sensitive about and paranoid about to make an issue of it,
precisely: is a language accent a racist instrument or simply one of
those things we come across in life? For example, and apart from the
ridiculousness of the question, if someone was to offer English classes
teaching British accent (there are many) or American accent (there are
many) would this be an act of racism? Of course, for a professional
English teacher this makes no sense, but for a prospective student, who
by definition have very little idea about English, they might invest in
classes thinking that a British accent might be a unique advantage and
therefore superior English.

My point is that an accent is both a natural phenomenon and a cultural
peculiarity and very easily used as a criterion to racially discriminate
against people. However, I would that race is a natural phenomenon, and
although being able to speak a language is a natural characteristic,
speaking a particular natural language (Spanish, Greek, Swahili etc) is
a cultural event.

To exclude others is very tribal and even very natural, but to
intentionally disadvantage others simply because of their race is
definitely racism. And my conclusion is based on the ground that one's
race, in and of itself, is neither a threat nor a danger to others.
Being bigoted and malicious is a threat and a danger to others and these
are precisely excellent qualities that make a racist.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is racism natural
or cultural?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Friday, October 03, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Heroism + NEWS

NEWS: Invitation to Gloria's book presentation at the Mexican Embassy

Dear friends,

This Sunday, yes it is Sunday, we are discussing Heroism.

Once again we are discussing a rather slippery subject; heroism is one
of those things we know what it is when we see it but we'll be damned if
we can describe it! In my few paragraphs on the topic I take the view
that this is just another language game, but for once our inability to
decide what heroism is, works in our favour.

Ruel has also sent us his thoughts on the topic:

Hello Lawrence,
Below is the link to the short essay I wrote on the topic "Heroism" for
Sunday's PhiloMadrid:
See you on Sunday.
All the best,

---reminder from Gloria:
I have published my second Friki stories book.
This book will be presented at the Mexican Embassy from Madrid on
Tuesday October 7th at 19:30 and if you can be there it will be very nice.
Best regards.
Name of book: FREAKING OUT (Lo Esmás flipando) es. Chiado
First book: WHINNY: Cuentos o relatos negros pero blancos (1985-2013)
ed. Palibrio
Best regards
María Gloria Torres Mejía

--- from Norma – course and programme about Seville see link to blog
La magia de los mitos, la literatura y la ópera inspirados en Sevilla
a cargo de Norma Sturniolo
---- Curso -- Los martes a partir de las 18:00. El curso empieza el 7 de
octubre y finaliza el 20 de enero de 2015----
More details:

---review one of Gloria's books
If anyone would like to do a book review of one of Gloria's books for a
blog or media please get in touch with me.
Name of book: FREAKING OUT (Lo Esmás flipando) es. Chiado
First book: WHINNY: Cuentos o relatos negros pero blancos (1985-2013)
ed. Palibrio

----short essay Lawrence


A meaning of heroism is that this is the quality, or qualities, needed
for a person to be a hero. And a hero is someone who is brave and
courageous against adversity and dangerous situations. Usually fatal
situations but this is not a necessary condition.

We usually apply the term heroism and hero to someone who has gone
beyond what is reasonable for them to help others when in need. Someone
saving a potted plant wouldn't normally be described as a heroism;
unless we are talking about a plant that will cure all diseases known to
human kind and a stray dog was about to do its business in it.

However, we would describe someone a hero if they single handedly fly a
helicopter in a huge storm to save the lives of the crew of a trawler or
the crew of a ship. Heroes usually do things to help other people,
whether they are comrades on the battle field, life saves on the high
seas, and even people like you and me who happen to be in a situation
where courage and bravery are needed to help someone.

It seems to me that helping others is a necessary condition for heroism
but being brave and courageous are not sufficient conditions for
heroism. But is a dangerous or threatening situation a necessary
condition for heroism? And indeed, is a dangerous situation a necessary
condition for a person to bring out the heroism in them and thence
become a hero?

Of course, it is quite natural to ask, what is a dangerous situation and
what is courage? As I have just argued courage and bravery are not
sufficient conditions for heroism, but they are nevertheless very
laudable characteristics for people to display and nurture. So how do we
know when an act of courage is also an act of heroism?

I am inclined to argue that when we come to decide whether someone is a
hero we take a wide range of criteria into account. For example, the
outcome of the act of the hero, the context of the act, the difficulty
of the act, the effort required, although effort is a relative term
since an effort for us might be great but not for the hero.

Of course, part of the answer to the question what is heroism (or a
hero), and maybe even the whole answer, would depend on the language.
Whatever language term or expression we care to sue to describe
someone's act, that term does not have a meaning unless it has a
context. Thus our hero who wants to save the plant from the dog must
have a context otherwise we won't be able to call him or her a hero.

As I have just described this example (the potted plant) it just makes
no sense, the context is nonexistent and the language is too vague to be
of any use. So what would we say if the dog was a rabid dog with a
dangerous strain of rabies? I would still say that this is still
nonsense since it does not matter what strain the disease is given that
in saving the plant the hero would save themselves if they are bitten by
the dog! The hero just has to administer some of the plant to destroy
the rabies. Hence, no disease, no hero because there is no risk involved.

But if the plant can only cure half of the known diseases, then we have
enough context to say that the person who tries to save the plant from
the dog is a hero. But this is not a numbers game, and we intuitively
agree with that, saving one person and saving a million people, what
matters is the saving part; but be in doubt that saving a million people
is a spectacular feat. Sure, as philosophers we are also entitled to
give our emotions their rightful dues when witnessing spectacular feats,
but not more than what is rightful.

So if heroism is not a numbers game, what is it? Courage is not enough,
how many people we help is not enough, how about altruism? The heroism
of the hero is all these but also an act of altruism. One can save a
million people but the act need not be selfless and hence not
altruistic. Indeed this is the argument put forward for attacking Japan
with atomic bombs during the Second World War.

The President was not a hero in ordering the bombing of Japan, even
though it required courage and more to come to that decision. The pilots
of the bombers might have been heroes if they honestly believed that
they were saving more lives in the end; not that they knew what was
going to happen. But then again they were following orders; although I
am inclined to think that like following orders is not always a defence
against an atrocity, it is also not a negation for the status of a hero.

Apart from the fact that we tend to associate heroes with risks beyond
what we believe is reasonable, heroism and a status of being a hero are
titles conferred on someone by the community. This brings me back to the
language issue above.

Terms like heroism are not terms that we can use to predict what acts
would qualify to the title of heroism; the way these words function is
for the act to happen first and then we qualify those acts as heroism.
This works quite the opposite way from scientific words; for example we
can qualify and predict in advance what the area of a square is. Thus
"area-ism" has that predictive quality which heroism, courage, bravery
and altruism do not have. But these are not words that we use after
making a judgment, unlike say legal terms. Legal terms are conferred on
acts carried out by people after applying the relevant law; thus we
cannot say whether someone is a robber until the courts have decided the
issue. But we know what tests to apply to establish "robbery": religions
function in a similar matter.

We cannot even apply ethical rules, if there are such things as ethical
rules, to the term heroism on the grounds that what is ethical for some
might not be for others. A tribesperson killing a lion as a rite of
passage does not carry the same ethical package as an aristocrat killing
a lion as an act of bravura. Of course, we mustn't mix the rules for
heroism with the way the military or the government decide who is a
national hero!

Hence, whilst what is heroism and who is a hero are a language game, our
inability to pin these term down leaves us with the freedom to apply
these terms on our own best judgement. Whilst we might not be qualified
to decide whether a soldier is a hero or not when they saved their
comrade on the battlefield, we are very well qualified to use the terms
hero and heroism when we want to express our regard and esteem for
someone we consider to be special for what they have done or even do.

Thus a doctor or a nurse might well be doing their job, but they are
also taking upon themselves the challenges of nature and the deadly
consequences of diseases. A bus driver might also be doing their job,
but they also have to deal with the ever growing reckless behaviour of
drivers. The issue is not that the doctor or the bus driver can leave
their job and do something else; it is that they still do their job and
help others by taking the risks we would otherwise have to take for

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Heroism + NEWS

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