A Philosopher's Blog


Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on September 21, 2007

When it comes to relationships people often talk about the matter of settling. Settling seems to involved getting into a relationship with someone who is regarded as not really being quite good enough. People claim to settle for a variety of reasons including fear of being alone and being tired of the whole dating process. While there are people who settle, there are also those who have decided they will not (or will no longer) settle.

Choosing not to settle can be an excellent idea. First, it hardly makes sense to be content with less than you think you deserve. To use an analogy, if you can win first place in a race it does not make sense to settle for second or third. Second, settling can lead to discontent. A person who settles believes s/he can do better and this belief will always be there in the back of his/her mind. In most cases this will tend to make a person feel badly about the relationship. After all, it is hardly pleasant to think “well I’ve got someone who is okay, but I could do so much better.” Further, if a person thinks s/he has settled, s/he will probably be on the lookout for an opportunity with someone better. This makes settling in this case morally questionable since the “settler” could simply be using the other person until someone better comes along. Using people, as Kant and others have argued, certainly seems morally wrong-especially if the person thinks they are actually loved.

Of course, there is a risk in choosing not to settle. One thing I have learned from years of teaching critical thinking is that most people tend to overvalue themselves. This is not surprising-people see those they love in a better light and most people love themselves most. The obvious difficulty is that when someone is deciding whether she is settling or not she will be basing her evaluation of what is good enough based on her own overvaluing of herself. This leads to two possible problems. First, the person might never find anyone that meets his standards because they are too high. Second, the person might meet people who meet her standards but they will see her as unworthy because she is expecting far more than she has to offer herself. Either way the person will be alone until he either settles or finds someone who is willing to settler for him.

My perspective is that we almost all will have to settle to some degree. None of us are perfect and all relationships require compromise. Success depends, as with most matters in life, determining what can be compromised and what cannot.

As usual, here is a dialogue to illustrate this discussion:

Her: “I’m sick of settling. I’m not going to settle anymore. I’m going to find the right man.”

Me: “Yeah, I guessed that.”

Her: ‘How?”

Me: “Well, I could hear the song blasting out of your iPod as you approached. I didn’t catch all the lyrics but the gist seemed to involve not settling…and something about hitting men and/or their trucks with baseball bats. As loud as you play that thing, it is a wonder you are not deaf…or that your brain has not been sonically zapped into pudding.”

Her: “What? You need to speak up. I can’t hear you over my iPod.”

Me: “Nothing. So, you’re not settling. What does that mean?”

Her: “Just like it sounds. I’m not dating anyone who is not good enough for me anymore.”

Me: “So, I must assume that you have been carefully and objectively assessed to determine your value.”

Her: “Um, why would I do that?”

Me: “Well, in order for you to know that a guy is good enough for you, you’d need to know just how good you are. You know, it is like determining the selling price of anything. If you wanted to sell that iPod on eBay…what is it with these names…you’d determine what it was worth so you’d know whether you were settling for less or not.”

Her: “Well, I know what I want. That’s what is important!”

Me: “Yeah, that is something different. Being good enough for you and being what you want are two very different things. You might want to get a million dollars for your iPod but that is different from what would be a good enough selling price. You might want the perfect guy, but that is different from what would be a good enough guy for you. Unless, of course, you are the perfect woman.”

Her: “But I am the perfect woman.”

Me: “Of course you are.”

Her: “Hey!”

Me: “Well, laying aside your desire for the perfect man, what would be good enough for you?’

Her: “He’d need to be smart, but not nerdy, strong but not a bully, kind but not a sissy, honest, loving, faithful, handsome, educated, employed, sensitive, know what I want, understanding, always even tempered, rich, supportive of my career, good with children…”

Me: “I assume you could go on for hours like that.”

Her: “Hell yes.”

Me: “Isn’t that expecting a lot from a person?”

Her: “Well, he does have to be good enough for me.”

Me: “So, would you be good enough for him? Can you match that ideal man point for point by being the ideal woman? Can you do that all the time?”

Her: “What?”

Me: “Fair is fair. If the man has to meet all your ideals, then you have to meet his.”

Her: “But men set their ideals too high. They expect too much from women. How could we ever meet those ideals?”

Me: “You can’t, obviously. But the same is true for men. We’re all imperfect beings and are not always at our best.”

Her: “So, are you saying I should settle for some slob who will yell ‘woman, fetch me a beer and some nachos’ while he’s watching thirty six straight hours of NASCAR DVDs?”

Me: “I think you’d secretly enjoy that. They have NASCAR on DVD?”

Her: “Damn you. Yes, I’m sure they do.”

Me: “Seriously, no. You can and should have standards. You just need to be realistic about what you can expect from people.”

Her: “Hmm, all that wisdom yet you’re still single.”

Me: “Well, I’m waiting for the ideal woman.”

Her: “Well, I am the ideal woman.”

Me: “Then fetch me a beer, some nachos and a NASCAR DVD.”

Her: “My hate for you could scorch the sun.”

Me: “My work here is done. Now for some pie.”

Philosophy & Cold Medicine

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on September 20, 2007

This past Sunday I woke up at midnight with that most wonderful of things-a sore throat. Not just a bit sore, but the sort of pain one might experience if a crazed porcupine decided to set up housekeeping in one’s throat. Well, perhaps not quite that bad, but rather bad.


Naturally, I had to teach three classes on Monday. If there is anything more fun than a having a sore throat it would be talking for a few hours with a sore throat. Of course, I turned to the healing power of modern medicine. Well, not really a healing power-more like a masking power. As far as I can tell, cold medicine works by confusing your body-you are still sick, but you just don’t care. I understand that is what is like to be a Republican, but I could be wrong.


Since I’m a professor and, in theory, am supposed to present coherent lectures, some might wonder what effect all these medicines had on my teaching. Here is how things have gone this week:



Student: “Do gay penguins go to hell?”

Me: “Clearly.”

Student: “Is that bad for them?”

Me: “Yes. They are accustomed to the cold so the fires of Hell will be extra uncomfortable for them.”

Student: “That makes me sad.”

Me: “As well it should. But, the penguins only have themselves to blame.”

Student: “Should disobedient children be stoned?”

Me: “Well, the bible is pretty clear on that.”

Student: “That seems harsh.”

Me: “Well, look at it this way. Following that precept will result in fewer people. This means less time waiting in line or trying to find a parking space. Think about that the next time you’re waiting to check out a movie at Blockbuster.”

Student: “I find that intriguing. Tell me more about this idea.”

Me: “Hell, I’m hallucinating again…I’m still in my office and class is 20 minutes away.”

Student: “No, you’re in class now. Um, where are your pants?”

Me: “I think the penguins stole them.”

Student: “Then they should be stoned.”

Me: “You have learned well young Jedi.”

Isis: “Wawoof”

Me: “Thank goodness, it was just a dream. I’m still at home. Hey, where are my pants?”

Penguin: “Muhuah.”

Me: “Damn penguins.”


And so it goes.

Is God Compatible with Evolution?

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on September 18, 2007


While the theory of evolution is considered as a matter of established scientific fact, there is still very significant opposition to the theory from the religious community. The main concern is that the theory of evolution is a threat to faith and religious belief. Some thinkers content that religious belief is compatible with evolution-that a person can have science and God. It is to this matter that I know turn.



Addressing this matter requires being clear about what exactly is being debated. If the theory of evolution is taken to involve the claim that there is no God, then obviously God and the theory are not compatible. While this is a commonly held view, the theory does not actually explicitly deny the existence of God. What is does is postulate a mechanism of natural selection in place of an intelligent designer. So, rather than having an intelligent being design and create life forms, new life forms emerge through mutations and selection in terms of survival and reproduction. Mutations that survive and breed can eventually differ enough from the original species that they become a new species. As odd as it might seem, natural selection seems initially compatible with the existence of God.



God could have created the universe and put in place the method of natural selection as the means by which new life forms would arise from older ones. So, rather than designing each life form in hands on acts of creation, God would set the universe up so that a natural mechanism of selection did the work for Him. This sort of view is not without precedent. Many thinkers have argued that God created a world of laws and natural machinery that run without his direct intervention. The best known version of this view is deism.


Of course, there is the question of why God would use such a method and whether it is compatible with His other alleged traits.



God is, in Philosophy 101 terms, supposed to be all good, all powerful and all knowing. These attributes do seem to clash with using natural selection. First, if God is all powerful and all knowing, He could simply create the life forms He wants and not have to rely on a mechanism to do the work for him. An obvious reply to this is, however, to re-emphasis the view that God is the divine watchmaker who builds a world that can run on its own. Of course, many religious thinkers, such as Berkeley, regard this view as unacceptable. After all, if laws and mechanisms do all the work, what need is there for God? In any case, this does rekindle the old debate over the degree of God’s involvement in the world.



Second, if God is all good, then natural selection seems incompatible with God. This is so for two main reasons. The first reason is that natural selection seems to be terribly wasteful and brutal. It seems almost inconceivable that an all good being would allow so many species to simply perish. The second reason is that natural selection seems arbitrary. It is, after all, a chance driven mechanism. To leave survival up to chance hardly seems like the action of a perfectly good being.


Of course, this sort of problem is really nothing new-it is but the problem of evil with the twist of natural selection added in for a different flavor.



Thus, the logical conclusion seems to be that God is compatible with evolution, but serious problems arise with reconciling God with the nature of natural selection.

Unlimited? Not Exactly.

Posted in Business, Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on September 16, 2007


Companies generally try to get and keep customers but recently some companies have intentionally gotten rid of customers. Some of these cases seem morally questionable.


As reported on page 41 in the October 2007 Issue of PC World (“Companies to Customers: You’re Fired”, by Tom Spring) some companies have been terminating or degrading services. There are three main types of cases.


First, some ISPs like Comcast have started terminating service for residential users who use more bandwidth then the company deems suitable. This typically results from downloading large files and large numbers of files. While companies do have the right to deny service, Comcast advertises its service as unlimited. While this is a marketing term, it is also a term with a very clear meaning. “Unlimited” is, by definition, without limits. Hence, one cannot use the service too much.


It might be objected that “unlimited” is like “all you can eat”-it does still involve some limits. At an all you can eat buffet a person cannot stuff food into his pockets, pack it into a back pack or take food from the buffet and just keep dumping it in the trash. By analogy, there are some limits on “unlimited” service.

In reply, “unlimited” is much less restrictive than “all you can eat.” After all, the “eat” part takes care of such improper uses as throwing food away or saving it for later. “Unlimited”, as mentioned above, is quite clear in its meaning. If Comcast wishes to terminate service for people using too much bandwidth, then they need to make that part of the contract and they must not advertise their service as unlimited. If they meet those conditions, then they can justly terminate service for excess use.


Second, some phone companies have started terminating service for customers who make “excessive” calls to customer service or roam too often (Sprint Nextel) and others have restricted or terminated services for customers who roam or use the data services too often. As with Comcast, this sort of behavior is fine provided that the details are spelled out in the contracts. However, as with Comcast, some companies advertise their digital services as being unlimited when these services are not actually unlimited-as some customers found out when their services were terminated. A better solution would be to be honest about how the service is really handled and then provide suitable fees to motivate people to comply. And if people do not, then the company will have no reason to terminate their contracts-after all, they will be making suitable profits.


Interestingly, The New York State Consumer Protection Board has contended that Sprint should pay the terminated customers $200 each-the fee Sprint charges to customers who terminate their contracts early. From a moral standpoint this is certainly fair. After all, the justifications Sprint uses for such fees can simply be used by the customers who have had their contracts terminated early.


Third, as most people know, Netflix offers a service in which a customer can get an unlimited number of DVDs for a flat monthly subscription fee. Some customers use the service so much that Netflix is losing money. In retaliation, Netflix punishes them by giving those who rent fewer DVDs priority access to new titles. The company contends it is acting in a way that is “equitable.” However, this is not the case. If Netflix offers an unlimited service, it is unjust to punish customers who take advantage of what they are paying for. As with the other unlimited services, the company should be honest and upfront and simply refine its services so that they can maintain profits without having to resort to such tactics.


Thus, companies should avoid these problems by either ditching the use of the term “unlimited” (or similar terms) and clearly spelling out what the limits are. To punish customers for using what they pay for is unjust. Naturally, companies like to use terms like “unlimited”-it is a good marketing phrase and most customers will not take advantage of it. But, when a promise is made, it must be kept. After all, most companies expect their customers to abide by their contracts and they retaliate when they do not.

For Doug: Yes, Al-Qaeda is Evil.

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on September 14, 2007

My conservative friend Doug pointed out that although I have been critical of the Bush administrations endorsement of torture and its violations of privacy rights I have failed to argue that Al Qaeda is evil for conducting terrorist attacks and cutting off heads. I initially thought that, given my criticism of torture, it would be safe to assume that I would be morally opposed to beheadings and the murder of innocents. But, for the sake of making my views clear, I will argue that Al Qaeda is evil. I’ll focus on their terrorist attacks and beheadings.

Terrorist attacks, of the sort conducted by Al Qaeda, are evil. Their beheadings are also evil. In support of this claim, consider what would be considered morally acceptable reasons to kill people. In general, these moral reasons fall into three broad categories. The first is that the people killed deserve to be killed. For example, they have committed acts that justify their deaths. This sort of justification is applied in cases such as the capital punishment of murderers. The second is that while the people do not deserve to be killed, they may legitimately be killed for other morally relevant reasons. For example, it is generally accepted that the killing of a soldier in battle is not an evil action (there are obviously exceptions). The third is that the people killed died as the result of actions that are otherwise justified. Such deaths, it might be said, are regrettable but acceptable if they were unavoidable. For example, civilian causalities are generally accepted in war provided that certain conditions have been met (they were in a legitimate target area such as a munitions factory, etc.) Such deaths might also be justified on consequentialist grounds-while regrettable, if the deaths are the result of actions that create more good than evil, then they would be morally justified.

In the case of the terror attacks and beheadings, the people killed generally do not deserve to die. Terror attacks, in particular, are often aimed at the general population and often kill young children. At the very least, the children cannot deserve to die. After all, they almost certainly have not done anything that warrants death. Further, terrorist attacks are generally intended to create terror-as such, they strike at the general population and not on the basis that the targets deserve to die.

In regards to the second justification, it might be argued that terrorist attacks are acceptable because they are fighting a war that recognizes no distinction between soldiers and civilians so that everyone is a legitimate target-even infants. The main flaw with this view is that it simply ignores all morally relevant distinctions. By failing to recognize the distinction between an armed combatant in a war zone and a baby in a day care center this view is clearly morally unacceptable. It might be replied that my reply begs the question-after all, the position being argued against is that there are no such moral distinctions. However, it is those who hold this position that are begging the question. Our moral intuitions clearly indicate that an infant is morally distinct from an armed soldier on the battlefield. Hence, the burden of proof rests on those who would advocate that the murder of children is morally acceptable.

The third justification is the most plausible. After all, in its war on terror the United States has inflicted civilian casualties and these have been deemed acceptable in some cases. It is, as has often been argued, one of the necessary consequences of war. Since defeating terror is a moral goal, the deaths of civilians (by accident) can be morally justified in terms of that goal. The terrorist can, of course, use the same logic.

On the face of it, the argument would seem to work-unless, of course, one is willing to condemn all killing of innocent people. That moral position would be quite laudable. It would also, some might say, ignore the realities of war.

Even allowing that the United States tolerates civilian deaths, one important moral distinction is that the United States does not intentionally set out to kill civilians. For example, in Iraq the American policy is to kill combatants and terrorists while avoiding civilian deaths as much as possible. Soldiers who murder civilians are treated as criminals and punished. Al Qaeda takes a different approach-they have shown their willingness to murder anyone. That is certainly relevant difference. Of course, since the argument is on consequentialist grounds, it could be replied that what matters is the consequences.

Al Qaeda purports to have a moral goal that justifies their murders. However, this does not seem to be the case. They do use moral language and invoke God, but their end seems to certainly lack moral purity. The fact they are willing to use such terrible means when moral means would serve as well ( or better) does more to reveal the truth about Al Qaeda than their words. They are clearly evil people doing evil things to achieve evil ends. So there, Doug.

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Hate Crimes

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Race by Michael LaBossiere on September 13, 2007


Recent news stories have brought hate crimes into the national spotlight. A hate crime is defined in terms of the criminal’s motivations. Put in general terms, a hate crime occurs when the criminal targets someone because of his/her membership in a specific group. Typically, the group is defined in terms of race, religion, sexuality, nationality, age, gender, political affiliation or other such factor. While the name seems to suggest that hate is the defining factor, committing a crime that is motivated by hate is not a sufficient condition for a hate crime. For example, if Bill (a Caucasian) beats Sam (also a Caucasian) to death with a tire iron over the course of several hours because he hates Sam for being successful, then no hate crime has been committed. If Bill throws a beer can at Juan (a Hispanic) while yelling a racist slogan about Juan’s ethnicity, then he has (potentially) committed a hate crime.


The importance of defining something as a hate crime is that it typically changes the legal seriousness of the action. For example, suppose that Alice and Bill commit crimes that are otherwise the same. If Bill commits a hate crime and Alice does not, then Bill will typically receive a more severe punishment than Alice. This raises important questions about the justification of such disparity.


On one hand, there do seem to be good grounds for punishing hate crimes more severely. One reasonable justification can be found in the fact that motive is a relevant factor in assessing a crime. As an obvious example, if Alice kills Jane it makes a great difference whether she killed Jane to protect herself from a senseless attack or because she was angry about Jane sleeping with her husband. Another reasonable justification can be found in the fact that punishment is often intended to bring about a social good. Many of the relevant groups, such as those based on race, sexual orientation or gender, have often been given far less protection in the past. For example, in the United States African Americans were often subject to terrible crimes (such as lynching) and the wrongdoers were not punished. By having special punishments for crimes against members of such groups, a message is sent that such evil will no longer be tolerated.

It might be objected that the law should simply be enforced and that the special punishment is unjustified because punishments should match the crime. It can be replied that “over-punishment” is needed to make sure that the message is clear and also to make it more likely that the deterrence will be effective. After all, one might argue, the more severe the punishment, the greater the deterrence value.

On the other hand, there seem to be grounds for questioning the disparity. One thing worth considering is that while motive is an important factor in assessing a crime, there seem to be cases in which the distinction would not warrant a different punishment. For example, if Alice kills Jane because she hates Jane for being so pretty, then Alice has clearly done something very wrong and should be punished for murder. But, suppose that Alice kills Jane because she hates her for being Hispanic. Morally, the cases seem the same. Both involve murder that is motivated by hatred. Further, the situations involve factors that are accidental in the philosophical sense: Alice did not choose to be born pretty nor did she choose to be born Hispanic. In both cases, Alice is killed because Jane hates a quality about Alice that clearly does not warrant such hatred. In either case, Alice is just as dead and the motive is hatred. From a moral standpoint, there would be no reasonable justification for punishing Jane more in one case than in the other-the harm and the motives are morally equal.

It might be objected that the hate crime is worse. After all, if Jane killed Alice for being Hispanic, then Jane is, in a way, attacking all Hispanics. This makes the crime worse. The obvious reply is that if Jane killed Alice because she hates pretty people, then she would be attacking all pretty people. Thus the crimes would be on par.

It might be further objected that perhaps hate crimes should be defined so that any crime based on group membership would be a hate crime. The obvious problem with this is that everyone belongs to many groups, so it would seem that all crimes would be hate crimes. Naturally, it could be said that the motivation has to be based on the person being part of a group, so that a crime aimed at an individual for other reasons would not be a hate crime. For example, if Jan stabbed Carl because she wanted to steal his wallet, that would not be a hate crime (unless, of course, it is a hate crime directed against people who have wallets). If she stabbed him for being a transsexual, then it would be a hate crime.

Naturally, in either case Carl would still be stabbed and presumably the motive would not be his main worry. Of course, this then again raises the question about whether the motive in such cases would be a relevant difference. From the standpoint of Carl, it does not seem to be a relevant difference-what seems to matter is that he was stabbed by a person who was acting from an evil intent in both cases. Thus, it does seem that while the motive can be a relevant factor in assessing a crime, the distinction between crimes committed from hate and crimes committed out of other evil motivations does not seem relevant in assessing the just punishment.

A second factor worth considering is that punishing people more severely in order to send a message seems unjust. If punishing people more for committing a hate crime is intended to deter hate crimes, the same logic should apply across the board. If it is justified in the case of hate crimes, then it would also be justified in the case of other crimes. Unless, of course, it is somehow less important to prevent crimes then it is to prevent hate crimes. In this case, the disparity would be justified. However, this does not seem to be a justifiable position. One point well worth making is that hate crimes are often more brutal and vicious than “regular” crimes. In such cases they should be punished more severely. This is not because they are hate crimes, but because they would be worse crimes regardless of the motive of the evildoer(s).

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Posted in Race by Michael LaBossiere on September 12, 2007

I saw on CNN this morning that what appears to be a noose was found hanging in a tree at the University of Maryland on September 6. The tree is near the Nyumburu Cultural Center. Because the Black Faculty and Staff Association and the Black Explosion newspaper are located in this building some suspect that the noose was put in the tree to send a message of hate. There was, however, no not attached to the rope and no one has claimed responsibility or sent any threats.

The rope was apparently in the tree for a while anyone noticed it. This is hardly surprising-campus trees often have various items stuck in them and the noose was rather small and a fair distance from the ground. If someone was trying to make a statement with it, they certainly did not put a great deal of effort into making it clearly visible and recognizable. Of course, if someone was going to send a racist message of hate on a well observed campus (there are apparently security cameras on campus), they would probably want to do so quickly so as to reduce their chances of being caught.

The police are seriously considering the possibility that the placing of the noose is a hate crime and undertaking an investigation. Many members of the community are quite concerned by the matter and it is, as noted above, now receiving national attention.

On one hand, it is good that the matter is being taken very seriously and getting national coverage. In the past, racism was often encouraged or at least tolerated in the United States. The fact that this incident is being treated as a possible crime is a sign of how the United States has progressed: racist acts are now regarded as what they truly are-morally wrong and criminal in nature. Also, the coverage shows that people take such matters as a national problem and not something to be quietly tolerated.

On the other hand, there are grounds to be concerned about how the matter is being handled. While racist actions are wrong and should be dealt with, there is the concern that the people who commit such acts are being empowered. If those responsible for the noose intended to send a message of hate or a threat, their message has been broadcast around the world on television. Also, by focusing so much attention on the matter, it becomes an important event and thus those who placed the noose have become important players in a major incident.

To use an analogy, it can be compared to being insulted in public by a stranger. While it is tempting to respond to an insult, that is no doubt what the person wants. By treating their insult as unworthy of response, the insulter is denied what they desire. Of course, a reasonable counter to this is that some insults and threats simply cannot be ignored. They might be so serious that they require a response. Or, in some cases, failing to respond will send a message of weakness and merely encourage such behavior to continue. A noose in a tree is one such insult-it cannot simply be ignored.

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Six Years

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 11, 2007

Today is, of course, the sixth anniversary of those terrible events that brought death and destruction to America. It is hard to write about such events. How can mere words really say anything in the face of such horror? But, the silence can be too awful to endure and must be filled with words.



I vividly remember watching the news coverage of the towers. I had grown up during the Vietnam era and I had seen horrible things on television before. But never anything quite like what I saw that day. Being something of an amateur historian, I had seen many documentaries of wars. I had seen films of bombed and murdered cities. But, of course, there is a vast difference between seeing images from decades ago and seeing burning buildings on live television.

The horror of these events was matched only by the kindness and heroism they also generated. While people were talking about avenging the deaths, people were also extremely kind to one another. Even people in countries usually hostile to America expressed their sympathy. For brief while millions, perhaps even billions of people were united by the best feelings of humanity.



Sadly, as they say, all good things come to an end. The good feelings faded. The Bush administration did its best to squander the sympathy the world felt for America. America turned away from being at its best and instead was led down a terrible path that included torture and the violation of the basic principles of the nation.


One of the saddest questions is “what if?” I can only imagine what might have been if we had stuck with the good feelings of unity, kindness and compassion and stayed away from secret prisons and torture.


Fortunately, the path we are on can be left. We still have the capacity for all those fine feelings that those deaths brought out in is. These fine feelings are the ones that should guide us. Hopefully it will not take the deaths of more innocents to remind us of what we can be.



Naturally enough, someone will say that fine feelings are no match for hate and people who want to kill us.


This does contain an element of truth. Being good is no shield against a bomb, a bullet or a crashing airplane. That is why we also need to be ready to resist such attacks.



But, we can resist terror and hatred without giving up what it is best in us.


As others have said, the war against terror is a moral struggle. I agree with that. It is ultimately a battle between what is good in us and what is evil in us. What is all too often forgotten is that moral victories cannot be won without being moral.

A Bit on Philosophy, Science and Religion

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Science by Michael LaBossiere on September 10, 2007

What is Philosophy?

The word “philosophy” literally means “love of wisdom.” While wisdom is a critical part of philosophy, the nature of wisdom has been extensively debated. In fact, there are some philosophers who have claimed that philosophy, in the current sense, has nothing to do with wisdom at all.

Philosophy and Science

From both a historical and a theoretical standpoint, the sciences arose from philosophy and so there is a special relationship between the two areas. Both address similar (and even identical) questions and employ similar (and even identical) methods. Both are concerned with the origin of the universe, the nature of the mind, the nature of space-time, the foundations of ethics, the basis of human behavior and so on. Both employ observations, symbolic logic, mathematics, hypothesis testing and so forth.

Because of these similarities, the boundaries between science and philosophy are somewhat vague. This often leads to controversy over what counts as scientific and what belongs in the realm of philosophy. It is a common mistake to assume that science is concrete and provides definite answers and that philosophy is merely theoretical and provides no definite answers. However, the facts of the matter are that both are highly theoretical and are swamped in unanswered questions and intellectual controversy.

Philosophy and Religion

Philosophy and religion are distinct areas and have experienced both conflict and cooperation through the centuries. Currently though, faith (religion) is often seen as being in conflict with reason (philosophy). This conflict dates back to the origin of philosophy-the discipline began by offering alternative explanations to those given by Greek religion. In many respects this tradition of competition has remained strong. Contemporary philosophers are often regarded as atheists and anti-religious and faith is often seen as irrational or beyond reason. In the past, early Christian thinkers blamed philosophy for many of the early heresies. Some religious thinkers claimed took reason as a threat to faith and something that misleads people.

Despite the existence of conflict between the two disciplines, there is also extensive overlap. Philosophers and religious thinkers address many of the same problems such as the existence of God, the nature of morality, the origin of the universe, and the purpose of existence.

Although many contemporary philosophers are atheists or at least agnostics, many philosophers have been religious thinkers and many religious thinkers have been philosophers. Among these thinkers are Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, and Berkeley. These thinkers and others made use of reason to defend and support religion.

One important debate in both philosophy and religion has been over defining the proper sphere of each. Some thinkers take the spheres to overlap in some degree so that philosophy can address some, but not all, matters in religion and vice versa. On this view, philosophers and religious thinkers have legitimate concerns within each others’ disciplines. Naturally, thinkers vary in their view about the extent of the overlap.

On one extreme, some thinkers take the spheres to overlap completely so that one can address all the matters of the other. One view is that religion should be used to address all allegedly philosophical problems. For example, questions about reality and morality are to be addressed by religion and not by a distinct discipline of philosophy. Another view is that philosophy/reason should be used to address all allegedly religious problems. A third view is that religion and philosophy can be used interchangeably-truth is truth, no matter how one reaches it.

On the other extreme, some thinkers take the spheres to have no intersection at all-each must stick to its own domain. On this view, religious methods are useless in dealing with philosophical matters and reason has no role in religious matters. Some scientific and philosophical thinkers, such as Freud, take the religious sphere to be ‘empty’ and hold that religion should be studied purely in scientific terms. One example of this is the view that religion should be looked at entirely as a psychological or sociological phenomenon. Freud, for example, took religious belief to be a psychological phenomenon and even wrote a work on religion entitled The Future of an Illusion. As another example, Marx considered religion to be “the opiate of the masses” and regarded it as a social phenomenon without a metaphysical foundation.

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Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on September 9, 2007

I was recently discussion relationships with a few different friends and the talk naturally turned to what is needed to make a lasting relationship. There are, of course, many possible answers because no one relationship is quite like another. But, one thing that seemed plausible is that a relationship will endure better if it is built on a foundation of friendship.

One reason that many relationships fail seems to be that people jump right into dating and a relationship before they get to know each other very well. In many cases, the dating timeline is quite a bit quicker than the friendship timeline-I know of many people who will enter into a relationship faster than they will settle into a friendship. In some cases, this works out well. In most cases it does not. One reason is fairly obvious: when people meet and feel a “spark” they are on their best behavior and driven by the excitement of a new relationship. This excitement and emotion tends to blind a person in the sense that what they see is not so much the other person but a fantasy version of the person. Over time, these initial factors begin to fade and one is left with the real person. If there is nothing solid under that initial “emotional rush” then things will not endure.  A second reason is also fairly obvious and can be shown by the following analogy. If a person is interviewed quickly for a complex job and then given the job based on that first impression alone, it is hardly a shock if the person does not quite work out for that job. Similarly, if someone starts a relationship rather quickly, then the person they end up with might not be a person who is actually compatible.

An obvious way to avoid these problems is to take the time to get to know a person first. Learn what they are like and see if there is something substantial, namely the possibility of real friendship, underneath that initial attraction. Although relationships vary, a solid foundation of real friendship seems to be a very important factor in maintaining a good relationship. Of course, real friendships take time to build-you have to get to know the person and build up trust.

Of course, trying to build such a foundation can put a person at a serious disadvantage. Many people seem in a rush to date or to get into a relationship and they lack the patience to work on a friendship. So, if you try to get to know such a person, they will probably perceive this as a lack of interest and move on quickly to jump into their next relationship-which will probably fail. Most relationships do, after all. Of course, this could be seen as a good thing-someone who is in such a hurry might not be an ideal choice.

Another disadvantage is that if you take the time to get to know someone and build up a friendship, someone who is not so burdened might well swoop in and start dating the object of you affection. As with most things, timing is very important. This risk can be mitigated by compromising-get to know the person enough so that you have reasonable idea about them and then, if you have competition, start dating a bit sooner than you might otherwise.

It might be objected that if a person will go with the “competition”, then s/he is not really interested in you and hence is not right for you. This does have some merit, but there is also the fact that most people are not willing to wait and wait for someone to take action. So, someone might be interested in you, but if you wait too long they might take this as evidence of a lack of interest and turn to someone else. As mentioned above, timing is very important.

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