The Importance of A Secular Political System

Presentation to the Melbourne Atheist Society, November 14, 2012

It is appropriate, given a recent interest in the affairs of the United States of America to refer to some writings of early political leaders of that country, and compare them with words from some of their contemporary leaders. For the latter are very well known. They have been raised to prominence in the world media in the most recent weeks. For it is in the political system that the distinction between the secular and theocratic have the greatest practical importance. The state, and all its subsystems, are what makes up so much of our lives in a direct and visceral manner, and highly influences our environment and habits. Many atheists obvious enjoy picking on what they consider to be the comically irrational among metaphysical theists of all shades - "Fundies Say The Darnest Things" certainly makes for entertaining reading. Sometimes however there is anger; Richard Dawkins, for example, argued that we should take astrology seriously as "a wicked fraud". To be sure, there are an unfortunate few who take it seriously, but through perception, expectation, and motivation these can even have a positive placebo effect - the same can be said about various forms of ritual and prayer, psychoanalysis, and so forth. Likewise we can also find a great deal of value in the inquiry of metaphysics where it is intellectually challenging; the debate between the atheist, the gnostic, the pantheist, the panentheist, the deist, various forms of personal theism, the antitheist, the questions of immanence and effability, and so forth. Sometimes however people become very angry at these discussions - at which point a dose of apatheism, a practical lack of pathology on theological issues question, is suggested. When Denis Diderot was accused of being an atheist, he responded with indifference: "It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God."

Utopian Tragedies : Cautionary Tales for the Philosophy of Politics

Presentation to the Melbourne Unitarian Philosophy Forum, Sunday 4th November, 2012

1.0 Politics and Philosophy
1.1 A definition of the relationship is the contribution of political theory (the management of the polis, the community of people) to philosophy (ontology, epistemology, logic) and the application of philosophy to political theory. Political theory is the point of intersection between politics and philosophy.
1.2 As a pragmatic complex political theory must account for individual behaviour towards the social world (i.e., moral reasoning), the systematic considerations of institutional effectiveness and efficiency, and where these positive claims meet normative claims in law. As an applied knowledge, political philosophy will review questions of liberty, property rights, and legitimacy.

Animal Ethics, Rights and Welfare

Most of you know me well enough probably to be aware of my prejudices and commitments regarding today’s topic. But as I have been asked to lead the discussion I will make my vested interests clear: I have been a vegan for about 32 years and I am a member of Animal Liberation Victoria.

Is Anybody Out There? Little Green Men and the Fermi Paradox

The Christian holiday of Christmas is a story which has several supernatural miracles which nearly here should find improbable, if not impossible. But many years ago, when I barely an adolescent, I had a discussion with a much older adult of a fundamentalist Christian religious persuasion. They were most distraught with a newspaper report at the time which stated that most high-school students thought that the alleged miraculous conception of Jesus, the appearance of angels and the ascension to the heavens could be explained by alien visitation.

Leonard Felder: The Ten Challenges (The First Challenge)

The attempted reconstruction of the absolute dictates commonly associated as the Ten Commandments to procedurally based orientations as the Ten Challenges begins with "a request from God whether we believe in and want to be partners with the Infinite One". Immediately Felder establishes a dichotomy between the "skeptical" Freud, drawing from a rather bombastic quote from "The Future of An Illusion" and the "curious" Jung and James. It is a rather unfair start as Freud updated his thoughts on the matter a few years later in "Civilization and Its Discontents", especially with an exploration of the 'oceanic feeling'. Although he considered it resulting from an infantile pre-ego experiences, he accepted its existence and potentially its value (he claimed that he had no experience of it himself).

Crito Review

The opening of Crito, the third dialogue of the last days of Socrates, involves the appearance of the title character at Socrates' prison cell before dawn, having "done a kindness" to the warden and gained ingress. Crito does not initially awake Socrates for he is in such a peaceful slumber given the burden he bears. As with the Apology, Socrates again mentions that at his age death should not be something that someone at his age should be worried about. In any case, Socrates has dreamt that on the third day a ship from Delos will arrive and that will be when he dies.

Leonard Felder: The Ten Challenges (The Third Challenge)

The historical Third Commandment is a point where the Talmadic and Philonic divisions meet, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." (Exodus 20:7); according to the Augustinian division this is the Second Commandment. Historically, as Felder points out, this has taught to children as to not swear or curse. Further examples are used, which are a more mature application, that one should not make promises or condemnations ("I swear to God", "Damn you") with Divine invocations unless they are treated with appropriate seriousness - after all, this is the Divine and inner core of a person that is being put on the line here. It would have been appropriate here to also mention the historical and Biblical link between testify (attest, testament, contest etc) and testes.

Taoism Review

1. What is the Confucian Triad and how does it form [a] cosmological basis for Taoist thought?

Apology Review

The second book of the Last Days of Socrates is the Apology, which refers to the early definition of that word as a defensive explanation, rather than an admission of guilt and request for forgiveness. With the exception of a brief discussion with his accuser, Meletus, the text is effectively a transcript of Socrates' own defense. Adopting a philosophical position from the outset, Socrates requests that the jury do not allow themselves to be swayed by his eloquence, but rather to concentrate on the truth; obviously he has high opinion of his own speaking ability! He also asks for complete impartiality - that they treat him as a stranger, rather than a well known public figure.

The Monadology

Gottfried Leibniz's The Monadology (1714) is a brief, numbered text, of some ninety paragraphs. The style is similar to to Nietzsche's aphorisms or Wittgenstein's Tracatus Logico Philosophicus. The latter is a more accurate description as the content is meant in strictly logical sequence whereas Nietzsche was far more poetic in style and sequencing (Leibniz and Wittgenstein had their poetic moments of course). The two core metaphysical arguments in The Monadology refer the principle behind "the monad", the fundamental building block of universe, and an argument concerning theodicy, divine justice.

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