The Exchange

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When we look at the nightly news or study history we might easily come to this conclusion. We have armies and police forces, lawyers and judges, in order to protect us from each other. Is all of this violence a result of something inherent in human nature or the human condition? Or is violence exacerbated by society, for example through violent entertainment or by encouraging competition in all aspects of life? Is it possible to imagine a world without violence? But, is violence always a bad thing?

Socrates Exchange: Why do we give gifts?

Dec 10, 2010
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Every year during the holidays we spend our time, energy, and money in the search for the perfect gifts for friends and family. But sometimes it feels like we are going through the motions or worse that we are just doing what is expected of us, not something that comes from the heart. Why do we go through this? Is it possible to give in a more genuine way? But there is any even more troubling problem. A true gift should be something that we give freely without any thought of our own benefit and that makes no demand on the recipient.

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Experiencing gratitude and appreciating various things seems essential to happiness and a good life. Why is this? What exactly is gratitude? Is it an emotion that we cannot control or is it a cognitive realization that I should express gratitude? If I do not “feel grateful” when someone gives me a gift I do not care for, should I expressed gratitude anyway? Why do we teach our children to say “thank you” when we feed them or otherwise give them something they deserve? Should I be grateful when a teller returns correct change?

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We often hear of people suffering from “information overload.” To what exactly are we referring? Is it just that our brains are too slow to process the information now available? Does more information necessarily lead to more truth? Does more truth necessarily lead to a better world? What are the existential ramifications of living in a world where all information is always immediately available? Are there reasons to slow down our development of information technology? Is slowing down even possible given competitive global markets?

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Do the ends ever justify the means? Assuming, for example, that lying, torturing, stealing, and murder are wrong, are such actions justified in rare instances in order to avoid some terrible consequence, or to achieve some great good? If so, how far does this go? Are all actions potentially justified, so long as the benefit is sufficiently great? Or are some actions so horrible that they are never justified, no matter what the consequences? What makes actions right or wrong in the first place-the consequences, or something else?

Guest

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/hermida/249513096/">Alfred Hermida</a> vis Flickr/Creative Commons

Our next Socrates Exchange discussion begins! This time we ask we ask “are there ethical limits to biotechnology?” From aspirin to artificial limbs many of us enjoy the benefits of biotechnology, but is there a point where it crosses the ethical line... steroids in sports, cloning or choosing the genetic makeup of your child? Post your thoughts below and respond to other postings.

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<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewrennie/4429438847/">Andrew Rennie</a> vis Flickr/Creative Commons

Are there some forms of expression that are simply too crude or too offensive to be allowed to be disseminated? What kinds of things, if any, should be censored? Who should do the censoring?

Guest

  • Max Latona, Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Anselm College

 

Background Reading 

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Citizens have a role to elect their representatives in, but then what is the role of the representative? Where should federal power end and state power begin? And in the end, who is really in charge, the citizen, the representative or the courts? The country, the state, the town or the citizen?

Guest

  • Max Latona, Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Anselm College

 

Background Reading 

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Are non-human animals merely a natural resource for human use? Do we have a responsibility to treat animals with dignity or to consider their suffering? Are we justified killing mosquitoes or pigs while pampering our pets? Do "smarter" creatures deserve more rights? If an animal is more intelligent than a cognitively disabled human, does the animal deserve more rights? Post your thoughts below and respond to other postings.

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Each of us within a particular religion think our religious beliefs are true, but how do we make sense of our neighbor, who thinks the same about her religion? Can all religions be true, even though they often contradict one another? Can they all be false? How can we make sense of religion in a pluralistic society? Post your thoughts below and respond to other postings.

Guest

  • Max Latona, Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Anselm College

Since the beginning of time, human beings have been making tools to make life easier, better, faster or more efficient, but is that always a good thing? Are human beings happier today, whether individually or collectively, because of telephones, washing machines, text-messaging cell-phones, and iPods? Are there limitations on how much technology we should produce, or allow in our lives?

Guest

  • Max Latona, Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Anselm College

 

Are we an excessively individualistic- and even selfish- culture? Does New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" ethos place too much emphasis on the rights of the individuals and not enough on the well-being of our communities? Is it ever justified to sacrifice an individual's rights for the sake of the collective? What are the dangers of valuing the collective more than the community? Post your thoughts below and respond to other postings.

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The Exchange's monthly discussion series is back, and our first question is on truth. Can we be wrong in our beliefs or are all beliefs equally correct, simply because they’re a matter of perspective and the product of different cultures? What evidence do we have either way? Most would say that two plus two equals four or that the Earth revolves around the sun. Fundamentalists in religion and politicians on the fringes take core truths even further by saying that their way is the right and only way.

In our next installment of The Socrates Exchange we're asking the question: “What is the relationship between money, happiness, and a good life?” Our culture may often tell us the personal wealth equals success, but most of us are suspicious of this. What really is the relationship between money, happiness, and a good life? If money isn't essential for happiness, why are we concerned with poverty? Is money, as some say, the root of all evil?

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In our next installment of The Socrates Exchange we're asking the question: “What is forgiveness?” Can we truly forgive? What are the key features of forgiveness? Is forgiving always a virtue, or can it be a sign of weakness or lack of self-respect? Post your comments, then respond to others on this page.

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Each month Socrates Exchange explores a different philosophical question, both on the air and on the web. This month we look at the question "Should race matter?" Is being the majority race still an advantage, or not? Do people of one race get special treatment or attention? If so, is that needed or right? Be part of the conversation.

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Each month Socrates Exchange explores a different philosophical question, both on the air and on the web. This month we look at what success means. Is it a good job? A good marriage? Lots of money or lots of happiness? A healthy life or a healthy family? Be part of the conversation.

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What does it mean to love one’s country? Does it mean that you’d make the ultimate sacrifice for it? Serving in the government or volunteering for your fellow citizens? To criticize your country when you think its heading in the wrong direction? Nationalism? Patriotism? Today we kick off our monthly series we are calling “Socrates Exchange,” where we use the Socratic method of inquiry to gain better understanding.

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