28 April 2017

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are religions a need?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Are religions a need?

We have discussed many issues and questions on religion in the past so
I'll give the links at the end of this short essay.

Before we can answer whether religion are a need, there is an equally
good question that is: why do we have religions in the first place? And
since both questions are purely empirical questions, we have to tease
out the reasons why religions (religion) ought to be a concern for
philosophy. The fist and obvious answer is that religions are a type of
beliefs and behaviour that affects many human beings on the planet.
Secondly, most human activities are legitimate philosophical subjects.

Having said that, philosophy cannot establish the truth value of
religion type statements, even if these statements are couches as if
they were statements of fact. Indeed all statements of fact are subject
to a veracity test. However, although it is not the function of
philosophy to prove the existence of a god, it is the function of
philosophy to establish whether any statements purporting to be true or
false about a god are valid statements. That is establish which
religious statements reflect philosophical rigour.

Statements of fact necessarily depend on some methodology that satisfies
human reasoning. The problem here is that any methodology used to
establish statements of facts must be formulated in a way humans can
access and understand the information thus generated. Moreover such a
methodology is accessible to anyone who wants to learn the ways of the
methodology. Methodology, and hence religious methodology, is indeed a
valid philosophical subject we can investigate. But even if there is
nothing wrong with the methodology this does not mean that we can claim
to have found a truth value for religious statements of fact.

And even more important, just because religious methodology is sound it
does not fallow that any religious statement of belief, fact or
prescription is also good for us. After all, many hard and addictive
drugs are made with sound and scientifically rigorous methods but it
does not follow that hard drugs are good for us. But even if we cannot
decide what is good and bad, we can still establish whether something,
as in our case religion, is needed and whether it is also useful.

We can therefore interpret need to mean a hard-need, something we just
cannot do without, in the sense that we need water to survive, or we can
interpret need to mean a soft-need for example something to help us
along with life such as entertaining ourselves over the weekend is a
need we all long for during the week. And even useful, needs further

Is it a necessary condition for humans (live humans that is) to have a
religion? Or is religion useful in the sense that we can achieve more in
life if we had one and if we didn't have religion life would be more
difficult? But before we can arrive to this question we have to further
clarify what is religion here. In common use language religion can mean:
theology, religious behaviour/moral behaviour, and cultural norms.

For want of a better definition, theology is the body of belief that
tries to validate religious type statements of fact. For example
theology answers such questions as "does god exist?" or "what is a holy
life?" This is also the main source of religious methodology and
therefore a matter for philosophy. However, religious behaviour is
different from verifying religious statements of fact. It seems, at face
value, that Theology is the justifying source to prescribe certain
behaviour which we would qualify as morally good: help the poor; do not
worship false gods, etc etc. Indeed, "what is a holy life?" is first and
foremost a behavioural prescriptive question, for example: do x to be
holy or good.

The problem is that religions tend to justify prescriptive behaviour,
but they don't demonstrate that religions are needed or useful. Indeed
we are all familiar with the various scientific studies that try to show
people do benefit from observing some religion; there are many issues of
methodology and data with these studies. Of course, these studies do not
verify whether God exists nor whether religions are necessary. After
all, studies about the Mediterranean diet also demonstrate that it is
useful and probably necessary for a healthy life; ,or that a well
nourished stable family is also necessary for children to grow into
stable adults.

We also know that historically there was no clear cut distinction
between religion and the state, or religion and culture. It is,
therefore, not surprising that in the 21st century we still find many
societies and countries where religion plays a central role in the life
of people; and in many cases religion is forced on people rather than an
act of free will and free choice.

At the practical level, some people need religion because religions are
very good at providing some readymade beliefs to deal with issues of
life and death and our existence. Religions also have one advantage over
psychology and psychiatry: religions do not have the sigma and taboo of
mental instability. Indeed, religions have the added bonus of being
spiritually pious; a visit to the psychiatrist is evidence of something
wrong with the person. In other words, god as a methodological
justification for behaviour is much simpler to understand than some P
value in some academic paper.

But because religions are based on simple and captivating beliefs they
are also susceptible to misuse and abuse; the simplicity of religion is
also their vulnerability. No doubt this can explain why many politicians
are so keen on religion.

At one level, religions have been around for so long that it would be
difficult to imagine humanity without religion. We accept religions even
though religions are basically incapable of fixing a tooth ache or a
bleeding finger. And yet recent attempts to use non religious statements
of facts to improve the psychological and material welfare humans have
not exactly been a roaring success.

One of the most recent efforts of non religious set of beliefs to
improve our lot has been the teaching of Karl Marx and communism but
this ideology has failed miserably for the same reason that religions
have failed miserably: it is based on a promise and not on factual
delivery. Communism has also been abused and misused. Even if we take
the above example of the Mediterranean diet, which is supposed to be
very good for us (the Japanese diet is much better), how come there
aren't any jihadists demanding that governments make Mediterranean diet
food available for free in the supermarkets? Being good, it seems is not
enough to motivate action, being simple to understand is more suitable
for action.

To borrow an idea from sales, if you make it people will buy it, so if
we have a religion people will want to follow it and, therefore, will
need it. So some people do need religion because it is readily available
like tins of baked beans are readily available. Others will need
something else, for example immersing themselves in the writings of Kant
or Hume. But what these bodies of beliefs have in common is that they
are the product of a human mind that's fatally infected by one of the
deadliest diseases know to humans: language. Most problems in philosophy
are indeed language problems, and hence most problems in life are also
problems of language, religions are one of them, religions won't exist
without language. And nor would a Mediterranean diet exist without the
exotic nature of the language used; a balanced diet is no doubt the best
there is, but it's not simple enough, the language is not emotional enough.

Best Lawrence

Do Religions help people?

Religion and Education

Religion free society

Symbolism in Religion [symbols in religion]

Why are religions obsessed with s€x?.

Why are religions so successful?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/

PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are religions a need?

21 April 2017

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: International Relations

Dear friends,

Hope you had a good holiday. This Sunday, we are discussing:
International Relations (Relationships)

In today's world of the internet, low cost flights, international
cuisine and cultural mix we might be forgiven in thinking that
international relations are the norm; but what keeps all this together?
And what are the philosophical issues or principles that keep all this

International relations

This is an important topic that features in political philosophy since
nothing has more influence on our lives than politics. Politics at the
state or national level is the exercise of coercive power over people
within the boundaries of influence of this power. This power may or may
not have legitimacy but it might certainly affect the people within its

A number of questions are relevant for our discussion. Are international
relations the same dynamic as personal relationships with others? Is
there a difference between citizens of one state or nation and other
citizens from other countries? What legitimises international
relationships and how are commitments undertaken from international
relations enforceable?

We can safely say that international relations are no different from
relations among tribes and gatherings of people at the dawn of humanity.
The idea of "us" and "them" is probably one of the early concepts human
beings developed about self awareness and self consciousness. This,
indeed, could have only been derived from that equally primitive sense
of the "I" and personal identity. Today we represent these fundamental
ideas with such expressions as "birds of a feather flock together,"
"blood is thicker than water" or even "as thick as thieves".

On the other hand, these ideas and concepts must have given rise to sets
of unintended consequences that today resonate within the world of
politics. From the idea of us and them we have developed the idea of
cooperation to achieve objectives which wouldn't be possible if we tried
alone. But we also have the opposite ideology of xenophobia and racism.

There is no question that the separation of the "I" from the "them" is a
key condition for survival. It is important that we are able to
distinguish between "I am in pain" from "they are in pain." It is also
useful, as I said, to distinguish between "us" or "I" and other people
who I/we are cooperating with.

But where does the idea springs from when we think that we are civilized
or superior beings and the others are inferior beings or, worse, not
human beings at all? Racism and xenophobia makes it easy for groups of
people to be aggressive and belligerent towards others. And there is no
doubt that this also applies in international relations: cooperating is
always hard work even if the rewards are better and the best we'll ever
come at guaranteeing an objective.

International relations based on cooperation also involve a degree of
trust and risk; and although these are necessary conditions to create
stability we also know from history that stability in the long term is
not always certain. But stability does create an environment for
relations to develop and prosper.

The problem with the cooperation model of international relations is
that it assumes that all the parties are equal economically and in
population. But as we know there are very few countries in the world
that meet this assumption. Moreover, looking at the present world
situation, Russia, China and the USA are not the best examples of
international relations. Having said that, these three super powers do
realise that world stability and stable relations amongst them is for
their best interest. This is why conflicts between these three powers
are settled in war amongst their surrogates: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan
(Part 1) and today Syria to mention the obvious examples.

Relations based on cooperation amongst unequal countries tend to be more
the norm. No doubt the more powerful the country, and sometimes
countries, the more it has the means to provide economic stability and
sometimes security to other countries. The European Union is a case in
point; Germany with France and until last year the UK have provided
leadership to the rest of Europe by providing political and economic
stability. The United Kingdom itself is a historical example of close
international relationships based on security: i.e. Scotland, England
and Wales. Some might argue that this Union was more based on coercion
than a union based on free will for mutual benefit; the UK might have
more in common with the unification of historical Germany (Prussia
against the other small states), than today's NATO defence organisation.

Despite the ethnic divergence one might find within a country, citizens
who are identifiable and the nature of the state defines the
relationship between the state and the citizens. In international
relations this is not that clear even though today we have such complex
organisations as the EU and the United Nations. International treaties
also help create unified interests between states, but these are as
strong as the signatories are prepared to honour these treaties.

Indeed international treaties do tend to create a strong sense of
stability, especially on neutral matters such as shipping, trade, and
standards. But it still remains a fact that nations can leave
international treaties, but individual citizens do not have real options
to leave the hold of the state on them. Notwithstanding the fact that
individuals have recognised rights as refugees escaping from oppressive

International relations are, more often than not, means to establish
trade relations. After all is said and done, life is about exploiting
resources and the environment for our existence. So what really brings
order to international relations is self interest. But even self
interest is a relative term since the operating condition of self
interest is the ability to defend and protect these interests.

Trade has made and broken empires. Venice is a good example of a rich
city founded on trade; and although Venice is a medieval city, that
model still brings decent riches today based on tourism exclusive
experiences such as the theatre. The classical example of trade making
an empire is the British Empire. Before there was a British Empire there
was a very huge and successful company called the East India Company,
that grew so wealthy and powerful trading between India and Britain,
that it became a direct threat to the very existence of the British
state itself that the crown. The government of the time decided they
have no choice but to nationalise the company and take over its
activities. The East India Company might very well be the first empire
to be born from a nationalised company.

Today, empires are not nationalised international conglomerates. Today
empires are built through sovereign funds, state owned oil companies or
natural resources, and dumping of cheap goods made by state labour.
Today, empires are not made by occupying other people's land; it's
enough that they own their means of production such as power stations,
car factories, airline companies, free hold properties and so on.

Money has, therefore, always been a source of enforcing international
commitments. And in its own way money, or, rather, the owners of money,
have always called the shots regarding international relations and
stability. But this brings us back to where we started from; there is
always a fundamental problem with stability: everyone gets rich and
prosperous when there is economic and political stability. So why should
those few who control most of the wealth want to share it with other
people? Don't forget, charity is a gift; sharing wealth is an act of

And this is a fundamental philosophical problem in political philosophy:
why should someone who has most of the wealth want to share it with
anyone else?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/

PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: International Relations

07 April 2017

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Philosophy and Language

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing the topic: Philosophy and Language.

In my essay I do not discuss the issues of philosophy of language, but
rather the philosophical problems people have discussed because of the
vagaries of language. The mind-body problem (soul-body problem) is a
problem in philosophy because people like Descartes did not have the
right language to describe the functions of the brain: if Descartes had
access to a magnetic resonance imaging machine (MRI) I doubt there would
have been a duality or mind-body problem these past few centuries.

In the meantime don't forget you can also follow the group at MeetUp
https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/ .

Philosophy and language

One of the most spectacular events in modern philosophy was the Evil
Deceiver argument by Rene Descartes. You will remember that Descartes
was trying to find something certain to what exists. And the evil
deceiver was an argument not to trust any beliefs since beliefs might be
put there by some evil deceiver. We know the rest.

The problem with this sort of scepticism is that we cannot really take
the argument to its logical conclusion. And the logical conclusion would
be to doubt everything including the vary language we use to express our
scepticism. We have here a good example of how I want to interpret this
subject, Philosophy and Language, not as a discussion in the philosophy
of language, but rather something more basic. How philosophical problems
can emerge because of the language we use.

My example from Descartes describes a very serious issue in philosophy.
At the time of the 1600s what really exists was an important question to
understand the world. Whilst language highlights the limits of
philosophy (eg use of terms like evil deceiver, god, soul), in the same
way that infinity highlights the limits of mathematics, the evil
deceiver argument is still good "intuition" as demonstrated by the
scientific method. A method based on the understanding data, probability
and statistical methods and, therefore, very prone to error as much as
knowledge. But the bottom line is that certainty is based on methodology
and not contemplation. Today, we understand the "evil deceiver" argument
because from biology we understand how parasites and bacteria function.
And as conceptual words for a "deceiver", "falsehoods" and
"manipulation" we would use today such terms as "marketing", "dogma" and

We can safely say that the limits of our language are also the limits of
philosophy in the same way that the limits of mathematical understanding
are also the limits of science. But I use the evil deceiver example as
an illustration to set out the nature of my interpretation of the topic.

Indeed, I would argue that the evil deceiver argument is the equivalent
of intellectual entrainment. Descartes contributed an even more serious
problem in philosophy: the mind – body problem. This problem has been
discussed for centuries and continues to be discussed even today. And
even more telling, the concept that we possess two entities, a mind and
a brain, still persists today. But this wouldn't be so bad if we didn't
also think that we have a soul and a body. This duality idea is well
engrained in our language.

If, however, Descartes had access to data from a Magnetic resonance
imaging (MRI) machine I doubt he would have come up with the duality
problem and to continue talk of minds, or souls. As an analogy, our use
of "mind" today is more akin to talking about having a chocolate
birthday cake. There aren't two cakes: a chocolate cake and a birthday

The mind body (brain) problem has been one of those very serious history
changing events in philosophy, a topic we discussed recently, that these
concepts have engrained themselves in our psyche and language. The truth
is that we only have one cake for our birthday and we only have one
thought generating organ in our body, i.e. the brain.

But there is a viscous circle type of issue here. Our lack of knowledge
of the world means that we don't have the linguistic tools to describe
new experiences. Consequently we revert to our inadequate language or
concepts to describe new experiences. A good example of this is the use
of the concept of "ether" to describe quantum mechanical phenomena, for
example, light.

But quantum mechanics challenged the millennia held beliefs that
"certainty" must mean "universal". Our historical idea of "certainty"
that it must be precisely the opposite of our own epistemological
limitations is just false: certainty is not the opposite of our
feebleness, weakness and intellectually limits. But this meme of
certainty to mean universal, has probably been the single most damaging
concept for the development of human beings. And we find this language
in such words, deity, god, infinity, omnipotent and so on.

Indeed, our state of language today creates the dichotomy that what we
know for certain is that the scientific method is the most reliable
certainty we have: a method that, at heart, is based on the uncertainty
of probability. Our language does not help us here either. From the
discipline "science" we derive the noun "scientist" or "biology" to
"biologist" or "politics" to "politician" and then make the mistake to
assume that failures of the practitioner are the failure of the discipline.

Immanuel Kant came up against this problem when he tried to establish a
universal moral code. The idea that we can derive derive universal moral
laws based on humanity was not an option for Kant. So he sought, like
his peers at the time and before, something independent from the world
we live in. But then again Kant and his peers did not have such language
concepts as human rights, charters of human rights, labour laws, duty of
care, genetics, viruses, bacteria, and DNA. The idea that a universal
moral law is universal because it applies to all human beings, all the
time, was not part of the language of the day. Nor the idea that we do
not know what is the right thing to do by just looking at individual
people. There are many things we can say about what is the right thing
to do for humanity and a lot of that isthe result of medical science;
jurisprudence, biology etc.

The idea that universal truths must somehow reside in our heads without
an explanation of how these truths get there is just a reflection of the
limits of our past epistemological state. A lot of what Kant said in his
moral discourse can be covered by the idea "do not abuse human rights
and do not introduce policies that are in conflict with the charter of
human rights." The difference is that Kant could not say this sentence,
but we can and yet still do not follow this dictum. And the problem
might not be with what a priori moral principle we have in our head, but
maybe because we have no respect for fellow human beings.

I have left the most important issue language creates in philosophy to
the last. We all agree that philosophy is the "love of wisdom" at least
the ancient Greeks said so; so it must be true (or not)! Earlier I
hinted at the problem of associating what a practitioner of a discipline
does and the discipline itself. Thus what philosophers do must surely be
different from what is philosophy. Thus our practice of categorising
and classifying things has more to do with our limitations to process
information than how the world happens to be ordered. It is very easy
for us to think of biology for biological things and quantum mechanics
to physics. It is only recently that researchers have discovered the
promising field of Quantum Biology.

Thus philosophy as a discipline (love of wisdom) is not the exclusive
domain of those who call themselves philosophers. And the irony is that
this is demonstrated by two great scientists today who are also critical
of philosophers and philosophy. I am thinking of Richard Dawkins and
Stephen Hawking. Yet these two scientists today have identified more
philosophical type problems for us than most of the practitioners of
philosophy. The love of wisdom and, more importantly, the philosophical
analysis of "experience", is something we all do and have to do; except
many people don't call it philosophy.

But of course, just because we have a more complex language today with
more precise concepts and vocabulary, it does not mean that we don't
come across problems caused by language. One of these problems is
translating scientific knowledge, that is couched in mathematics and
complex conceptual terminology, into ordinary language people can
understand. Sure there might be many people who are happy with
explanations like "it's a miracle" or the "lord works in mysterious
ways" but many more want to know such things as: why electricity charges
keep increasing when we have all this wonderful technology to generate

Whilst many have a good idea why electricity charges keep rising, we
still have the philosophical question in political philosophy and
philosophy of economics: which is the right market model for an
efficient economy with equitable wealth distribution?

Again part of the problem is language: our sense of what is morally
just, or what is the right thing to do, is still based on what we
perceive of being good; politicians still fight with such terminology as
free-market economy, neoliberlism, state owned companies and
nationalised companies, profits and investments. Yet sociologists,
anthropologists, medical practitioners and psychologist keep telling us
that nutrition and stability are key factors for the development of
children; access to health care means that people are stronger and
therefore work more efficiently; that job satisfaction is more important
for most people in the long run than money remuneration after a certain
level of income.

To conclude, our love for knowledge or wisdom can only progress when we
have the means to exchange information about new experiences:
experiences that were never encountered before. Once our predecessors
realised that to pursue philosophy they required new languages rather
than the old natural language they opened the flood gates of knowledge.
Mathematics was one of those new languages.

I started by using Descartes as an example of the problematic issues in
our topic: but the genius of Descartes was not that he established the
"I" but that he used the right language, to describe a pressing problem
at the time, to the people of the time. Which formula do you understand
better (be honest): "I think, therefore I am" or "E=MC2"?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/ .

PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Philosophy and Language