A Philosopher's Blog

Topic Suggestions

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on November 21, 2010
Suggestion Box (6/365)
Image by Ms. Tina via Flickr

Magnus recently put in a comment asking if I could have a thread in which people could suggest or request topics for me to write about. So, I will start it with this blog.

I’ll check the comments regularly and respond to interesting suggestions.

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65 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on November 21, 2010 at 6:53 am

    This is a good idea, but I won’t take credit. I think it was TJ.

    Here’s one: If allowing gays in the military is considered the moral thing to do in an egalitarian society, how does this compare with age limits for enlisting or gaining a commision in the military?

    The standard argument may be that aging people cannot perform to the physical standards that younger people can. But what about the instances in which they can in fact keep up and in some cases surpass younger people in physical ability? And, wouldn’t any negatives of age be off-set by by the knowledge and experience of older people, especially in an information powered world?

    And ultimately, this question: Is allowing gays into the military more about helping gays, or making a better fighting force? I’m betting that allong 35 year olds into the Marines would help more than allowing gays in.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 21, 2010 at 11:17 am

      My view is that gender or age restrictions should be replaced by standards. To use your example, if an old guy (or gal) can meet the physical requirements for the military, then /she should be able to enlist. After all, what matters is being able to do the job. Being a runner, I know plenty of old folks who could easily meet the requirements-they regularly put the hammer to the young pups in races and triathlons.

    • WTP said, on November 21, 2010 at 12:52 pm

      Not to dismiss your point too easily, as I believe it has some merit, but when I looked into this matter a few years ago a recruiting officer (actually, I think he was probably not an officer, we only talked over the phone, but such is how they are described in the MSM) pointed out to me that the military makes an investment in a recruit with an expectation that this investment will pay out over a time period of time, which they hope to be greater than two years. Bringing in an older person, the probabilities of their bodies breaking down, especially during a mission critical situation, let alone in boot camp, are significantly higher.

      As I was in pretty good physical condition myself at the time (OK, I could lose 10-15 pounds), I thought that, while such may be true of most American couch potatoes, it wouldn’t apply to someone like me. About a year or so later, a very minor shoulder problem that I’ve had all my life suddenly became a significant problem. And as much as I push myself to do the same physical routines I used to be able to do just a year or so ago, the old age I’ve been pushing off has been hitting pretty hard and I know I now would constantly be “bringing up the rear” with even the laziest group of 20 year olds. I’m just now starting to see that officer’s point. As a person with a degree, I think I could at least perform as an officer in a less demanding physical position, but perhaps that would be a logistical issue in a such a large organization like the Army, Navy, or Air Force.

      Other aspects of the DADT policy and such are subjects I’d be interested in hearing about and/or discussing, however.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on November 21, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Diversity is a topic I’d like to see discussed, particularly in the way it is used nowadays.

    Here is an example. Right after the Fort Hood shootings, the Army brass was more worried about backlash against Muslims than about preventing future murders.
    “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse,” Casey said.

    There has been a substantial amount of research to indicate that “diversity” weakens social connectedness. This is from an NPR interview with Robert Putnam of Harvard:


    I do need to step back a minuet and say I think that the – it’s not merely a fact that America’s becoming more diverse. It’s a benefit. America will – all of us will, over the long run, benefit from being a more diverse, more heterogeneous place. Places that are more diverse have higher rates of growth on average and they have better cuisine. And it’s just a more interesting place to live.

    So in the long run, waves of immigration like we’re going through now and that we’ve gone through in the past and increasing diversity is good for a society. But what we discovered in this research, somewhat to our surprise, was that in the short run the more ethnically diverse the neighborhood you live in, the more you – every – all of us tend to hunker down, to pull in. The more diverse – and when I say all of us, I mean all of us. I mean blacks and whites and Asians and Latinos, all of us. The more diverse the group around us, ethnically, in our neighborhood, the less we trust anybody, including people who look like us. Whites trust whites less. Blacks trust blacks less, in more diverse settings.


    I find it fascinating that he maintains his faith that diversity is a good thing, even though it is contradicted by his research.

    • T. J. Babson said, on November 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

      Just to clarify: I am a fan of the “melting pot” as opposed to the “salad bowl” vision of America.

      • magus71 said, on November 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm

        Great idea. It’s of interest that Chancellor Merkel here in Germany recently made an astounding public statement that didn’t get much media attention–likely because they didn’t like what she said.

        She said that the muliti-cultural experiment had failed in Germany. That it led ot more strife and problems in the economy.

        I liken multi-culturalism to tribalism. And you get many of the evils that come with that.

        I’ll keep my comments about General Casey’s Ft. Hood shooting statement to myself, because he’s in my chain of command… But you can guess what I think.

  3. WTP said, on November 21, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I missed out on the “Is Philosophy Useless” thread, though there does appear to be some interest in reviving it.

    One subject I find interesting, though not philosophical itself per se, but I’m curious as to what draws those of us here to be interested in philosophy.

    Another subject is the dilemma of the elected official. When one’s responsibility to one’s constituents conflicts with one’s responsibility to the realities of what can be accomplished, where is the decision point? Perhaps an elected official may be a way too complicated subject since politics really muddies up the issues. Perhaps say a manager’s commitment to a product schedule vs. the realities of a work force’s limitations? That’s probably too complicated too, but I’m looking for an ideals vs. reality trade-off kind of discussion.

    I found that trolley-car “thought experiment” discussion over at The Philosophy Magazine quite interesting until it got me banned long before we could get to the interesting bits. Perhaps we could discus that here, and I will try harder to contain myself. 😉

    Thought of a half-dozen others during my Sunday morning constitutional today. Slipped my mind now…

  4. WTP said, on November 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Ah, another one…
    Why, in this war(s), do we report US Military deaths but not those of other countries? And specifically, why not those of the enemy? Why do we not keep a count of civilians killed by the enemy, given that there have been numerous attempts to guess at how many we killed in Iraq? Perhaps the US military is not “officially” keeping an enemy body count. If so, why not? We’ve done so to some extent in past wars. Why did we stop?

  5. WTP said, on November 21, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    One more…
    What is a job? Where do jobs come from? What was the first job and where did it come from?

    OK, and one more…
    Is it important to wait until Christmas morning to open presents? Why or why not?(Assuming that such a question isn’t offensive to Flying Spaghetti Monsters PBUH, or similar dieties and/or prophets).

    • magus71 said, on November 23, 2010 at 6:41 am

      Nothing sets a Moonbat into a rage like Christmas…

      • magus71 said, on November 23, 2010 at 6:49 am

        Which reminds me. In the spirit of Chistmas, I plan on doing as much as I can to offend liberals. You know, the ones that are as offended by a manger scene as they are 9/11.

        I’ll post lots of happy pictures of my family during Christmas, lots of posts about my Christian beliefs, lots of reminders of the beliefs of the Founding Fathers.

        Man, it’s gonna be a good Christmas.

        • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm

          Woot! Pre- very Merry Christmas!

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm

          I’m sure Jesus would approve of you using his birthday as an opportunity to offend people. After all, he was always preaching about offending thy neighbor.

          • magus71 said, on November 23, 2010 at 2:52 pm

            But it’s too easy, Mike. See I already succeeded with you. All I have to do is mention Jesus or Christmas. I told you exactly how I’d do it.

            Is there anything wrong with what I said? Did I say I’d go on a jihad? Oh wait–that wouldn’t offend you. Here Mike goes again–trying to use others’ beliefs against them–even though he doesn’t believe in the veracity of those beliefs. Same thing he does when conservatives don’t act conservative enough. Tries to make something look bad, that he actually thinks is good. Since Mike doesn’t believe what the Bible says is true, and is anti-conservative…

            So are you saying that I shouldn’t speak about Christianity because it may offend someone? Did Jesus say that? Nothing offends liberals more than Christianity or any talk of it–except talk that makes it seem evil.

            So how will I offend some, Mike? By talking about my own experiences as a Christian. By telling them of all the good changes that occured in me because of Christianity. That will offend them to no end.

            As Paul said: “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.”

            Actually, I can find many Bible verses in which Paul and Jesus intentionally offended the right people.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 23, 2010 at 3:25 pm

              “So are you saying that I shouldn’t speak about Christianity because it may offend someone? Did Jesus say that? Nothing offends liberals more than Christianity or any talk of it–except talk that makes it seem evil.”

              Obviously I am not. Nothing in my comment stated or even implied that.

              While I am not religious, I see the point of Christmas being to wish goodwill and peace to all. I don’t think it should be used as a means of offending people or to try to score some sort of points against “liberals.” For me, Christmas is a time to be be more of the person I should be: more giving and more forgiving. Plus, I love eggnog.

            • WTP said, on November 23, 2010 at 9:21 pm

              Some people aren’t interested in peace and goodwill. They’re too closely associated with Western concepts like freedom. Shouldn’t we respect the diversity of Scrooges and Grinches, too, lest they be offended? Just kidding…I think…

            • magus71 said, on November 24, 2010 at 3:45 am


              Well, in hopes I don’t offend anyone. Merry X-Mas and Happy Holidays.

              Kernunos got the joke. Moonbats didn’t.

  6. kernunos said, on November 22, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    How about a topic on who voted for Obama?


    What is interesting here is it looks as if either the uneducated or lazy white voters vote for Obama combined with the overly educated, your intelligencia if you will. Hmmm, would make a good topic.

  7. T. J. Babson said, on November 23, 2010 at 8:23 am

    I personally think media bias shows up most obviously in the questions that are not asked and the stories that are not covered. I think this would make for an interesting topic.

    • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm

      Oh, it would like how the Corporation for these new TSA scan machines spent millions lobbying on Capitol Hill or how their CEO went on the trip to India with the President?

      ..or how about how rich people are coming out again and saying they need to be taxed more? Do they realise there is nobody stopping them?

      …or how about Al Gore saying ethanol subsidies was a bad idea and Congress is about to pass another $5 billion dollar ethanol subsidy? How about how ethanol subsidies make food prices skyrocket?

      ….or how about all the leftists being angry at George Bush for the Patriot Act when it was Joe Biden that wrote most of it?

  8. T. J. Babson said, on November 23, 2010 at 8:36 am

    Another topic I’d like to see discussed: why do people say that Obama is bright, but they would never talk about Lincoln or Churchill that way?

    • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm

      Why do they say Obama is bright yet he has to talk with the TOTUS or he gets derailed? How about how he thinks they speak Austrian in Austria or Arabic in Afghanistan or there are 57 states…..etc? How come we will never see his higher institution grades? How about how so many people think he is such a great speaker yet he would most likely get a C from a public speaking class because of all the ‘Uhhh…..uhhhh….uhhhh…….uh……..uh…….uh…uh…………uh……………..uh……………….uh……………………………uh……………………………….uh. s?

      • magus71 said, on November 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

        I’m being honest here. I’ve never seen anything that would indicate to me that the President has above-average intelligence. I’d love to see a debate between Obama and Dick Cheney. Smoke job….

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm

        Obama seems to be a reasonably intelligent person. In any case, you can disagree with a person without the need to question his/her intelligence.

        • magus71 said, on November 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm

          Like George Bush?

          • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm

            Hmmm, I wonder if Bush got better grades?

        • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 4:28 pm

          “Obama seems to be a reasonably intelligent person.” In what way? He can tie his own shoes? He obviously has no grasp on how to turn an economy around….or does he?

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm

            By that standard, no one is reasonably intelligent.

            • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 7:57 pm

              Oh really, because the Dems can’t do it there is no solution?

            • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 7:58 pm

              Oh, let me restate that. Oh, really, because the Dems choose not to make the right choices then there is no solution?

            • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 10:25 pm

              Just read this man’s books. I know if you only read the allowed literature at your school then you can only read Keynesian Economic books but the solution is simple.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm

      But they do. Lincoln has been extensively praised fro his intelligence. Also, Churchill was quite the wit and people noticed that.

      • T. J. Babson said, on November 23, 2010 at 4:19 pm

        I don’t know. Generally one talks about kids as being “bright.” For a president, the standard is “great.” Calling a president bright is like saying a girl has a nice personality 🙂

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm

          He has a nice personality, too.

          • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 7:57 pm

            A personality like Spock without the logic/honesty and questionably the intelligence.

            • magus71 said, on November 24, 2010 at 3:28 am

              Yup. So you supported his election.

        • T. J. Babson said, on November 23, 2010 at 8:04 pm

          Actually, the concept of human greatness would make another nice topic for discussion.

  9. kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    How about how the little people were not able to participate in the IPO for Government Motors? Fidelity said you can’t even participate unless you buy at least 500,000 shares. China got to buy 1% by the way. Obama is so much for the little guy.

  10. Asur said, on November 25, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    I’d like to read a post about your philosophy students, Mike…like about the kind/quality of work you see turned in on essay prompts, your thoughts in general, or experiences with students who wanted to be philosophy majors or even philosophers…anything, really.

    Maybe just a list of things you’re always glad to see in your classes, or things you wish you didn’t have to see.

    As a student, I’m at least comfortably familiar with the student perspective on these things, but I’ve never really heard them from the teacher’s perspective before.

  11. kernunos said, on November 27, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    How about we talk about this?


    How the original investors of GM stock lost everything and were given nothing in return from the bailout. Much of the GM bailout money went to the UAW to pay for unsupportable pensions(taxpayer money to pay for pensions they don’t recieve). Now the UAW gets another huge piece of the pie when the little guy is not allowed to invest. I say don’t buy GM.

  12. magus71 said, on November 28, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Here’s a topic: I’d like to know the trends you’ve seen in the education field, as far as how the students do their work in a timely fashion and how the attitudes of students have changed and thus affected (or not) their work over time.

    Has it changed their grades? Do people miss homework more? Do people miss class more? I’m sure you don’t have matrics on this, but do you have an instinctive opinion?

    Let me also point out that I’m not sure that philosophy majors are a great indicator of students overall, because they tend to be more conscientious.

  13. Asur said, on December 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Mike, would you be willing to do a post on feminism?

    For years, I had thought that ‘feminism’ was synonymous with ‘gender equity’ in its broadest sense, but now I’m not sure…is that naive? a minority position in the field? spot on?

    • erik said, on December 5, 2010 at 3:22 pm

      I think that whole subject has been so corrupted by the term “feminazi” that even a specific discussion of fairly extreme feminism would quickly degenerate into meaningless name-calling. Perhaps Michael could deal with gender equality and specifically where that concept intersects with the term “feminism” in the US. Does biology make it impossible?

      • Asur said, on December 5, 2010 at 4:07 pm

        “Perhaps Michael could deal with gender equality and specifically where that concept intersects with the term “feminism”.”

        That sounds good.

        Regarding biology, though, I don’t think it actually matters as far as social equity is concerned: I don’t think social equity is predicated on people being the same per se (which would be impossible, as they are not…), but rather on discriminating between people only according to their contextually meaningful traits.

        For example, I am not propagating a social inequality by dating only women, as the fact that they are women is contextually meaningful to my desire to marry and have children (the latter of which I would be unable to do with another man).

        • erik said, on December 5, 2010 at 4:48 pm

          I just threw that out there. I don’t think biology should matter either. Would you agree that”. . . only according to their contextually meaningful traits” is an idea that has been evolving and will probably continue to evolve as society inevitably changes morally and technologically? Before the 19th amendment women weren’t considered mentally fit to vote. For some reasons I still don’t understand, the ERA has not yet been ratified. . .

          • Asur said, on December 5, 2010 at 6:47 pm

            I think the relation it expresses is immutable, but I agree that applying it requires individual judgment — which doubtless evolves over time and is where bias and error creep in.

            In my opinion, this is starting to touch on how philosophy and science interact…as I see it, philosophy generates the principles for right action, and science generates the tools and information needed to apply those principles.

            Using your example, I would say that the mental fitness of women relative to men is a scientific question whose answer feeds into the proper application of the philosophic principle of social equity — realizing that women are as mentally fit as men, it follows that voting rights should be distributed without regard to gender.

            • erik said, on December 5, 2010 at 8:17 pm

              Too often where individual judgment (subjectivity) is applied bias and error don’t creep it–they rush in with blindfolds on. Call me a cynic.

              ” . . .realizing that women are as mentally fit as men, it follows that voting rights should be distributed without regard to gender.” And other rights as well? We ratified the 19th 90 years ago. Are we ready for the 28th?

            • Asur said, on December 5, 2010 at 8:53 pm

              And other rights as well, certainly; that was just one context.

              Given that we can’t escape the need for individual judgment, I hope you would agree with me on both the possibility and importance of identifying and excising bias and error from it.

              Even if we are just involved in a process of approximation where the goal we aim for is unattainable, I hope you agree with me on the necessity of continually refining those approximations.

            • erik said, on December 5, 2010 at 11:06 pm

              I didn’t mean to imply, and I don’t believe I did, that every effort should not be made to eliminate as much bias and error as possible by whatever (legal) means possible. I was merely expressing my personal cynicism about the likelihood that much can be accomplished in that regard (esp. where deep-rooted political and ideological biases are concerned).

            • T. J. Babson said, on December 5, 2010 at 11:22 pm

              I’d be happy to argue that we are at present living in a matriarchy.

              Just the use phrase “voting rights should be distributed without regard to gender” instead of “voting rights should be distributed without regard to sex” speaks volumes.

            • Asur said, on December 6, 2010 at 12:04 am

              @erik: Aye, I really was hoping you agreed.

              @TJ: Hah! It’s funny you mention that, I wrote ‘sex’ originally. What stopped me was thinking about that old SNL skit where Pam says, “Yes, please.” I’ve never been able to get that out of my head, and it’s been a looong time.

              If my choices are limited to a patriarchy/matriarchy binary, then we’re still in a patriarchy — but, as I think you’d point out in arguing the contrary, it’s possible that enough changes have already been made to result in a mild matriarchy given enough time for the dust to settle. I think, though, that a lot of this is meant to just expedite equity, kind of like how a booster rocket functions when launching something into a stable orbit — it works to get it where it’s going, then gets jettisoned once the job is done.

  14. T. J. Babson said, on January 7, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    In the NYT there is an op-ed on the reading of the Constitution:

    “The Constitution deserves better than this airless exercise. It was a work of political genius, largely because its authors handed its interpretation to the open minds of posterity.”


    I disagree with this view. The constitution can be amended as needed, but should not be endlessly re-interpreted because in this case the Constitution will eventually cease to mean anything.

    I think this would be a good topic.

    • WTP said, on January 7, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      Heh…Reminds me of an ’80s hit by Missing Persons…”What are words for, if no one listens anyway”.

    • erik said, on January 7, 2011 at 2:25 pm

      When the SC (an entity described in Article III of the Constitution) is asked to judge a case that is based on a specific aspect of the Constitution, how do we manage to avoid endless reinterpretation when the make-up of said court shifts from time to time between conservative majorities and liberal majorities? Who’s to say the majority knows what the Constitution means and the minority doesn’t and vice-versa? John Scalia? 🙂

      It’s not difficult to find well-reasoned opinions from very respected legal scholars (including his fellow SC members )that oppose Scalia’s in many areas. Is he correct? Are they incorrect? We can’t resurrect the Founding Fathers, lock’em in a room, and find out once and for all whether Scalia’s full of it or not. I’m betting that that revered group would split roughly 50-50 and would be happy that they did. Because that’s what keeps this country alive. The debate. The constant work involved in keeping the system alive and well.

      It’d be nice if we could believe Justice John Roberts’ promise to respect precedent (i.e. avoid more reinterpretation). Alas, it doesn’t appear that he’s keeping his promise. Given the chance, there will be morereinterpretations . Perhaps Roe v Wade. When that happens, X will crow with delight because his interpretation of the constitution has been vindicated. But that doesn’t mean his interpretation is correct. Even in the originalist sense. It just means the balance on the SC , a body created by the Founders in Article III to make just such decisions, has shifted.


  15. Asur said, on January 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Mike, I’d like to read a post about why you chose to pursue philosophy professionally rather than, say, on the side.

  16. Asur said, on January 21, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    How about a post on Animal Rights?

    If animals have rights, where do they come from, and is there any necessary limit to the rights they can possess?

  17. magus71 said, on June 1, 2011 at 10:45 am


    Do you think the internet/Google are having negative and/or positive effects on people’s intellectual abilities? If so–what do you think they are? Do you see differences in your students from now to 10 years ago, and can the differences be attributed to the internet?

    The Pulitzer nominated book, The Shallows, says there is real evidence that the internet is taking away our ability to think deeply.

  18. magus71 said, on June 7, 2011 at 1:31 am

    Another one: Can an entire population, culture, or nation be considered evil? For instance, was Nazi Germany evil? Were the Aztecs evil? Is Pakistan evil? Iran? Does the evil of a nation only flow from its leadership? Or can a population be evil, too.

    Maybe you can tie this in to tropes. The common argument against calling Islam evil or the root of terrorism, is that not all Muslims are evil or terrorists. Yet the majority of terrorists we kill are Muslim. If this argument is true, how can we call Nazi Germany evil? The average German killed no Jews, and many were not part of the Nazi Party. Yet few would not call Nazi Germany Evil.

    Most people who argue that a nation or culture is evil know that not every single person in that country is evil..

    • frk said, on June 7, 2011 at 11:01 am

      Can an entire —— be considered ——–?

      Not all —— are —( pl. noun)—-, yet the majority of ———– that we —(verb)———- are –(p. noun)—-.

      Fill in the blanks. I’ll be back later with some choices.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      In theory, an entire population could be evil. However, actual societies probably have a mix, even when the regime is wicked.

  19. frk said, on June 7, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Generalizations are handy shorthand, but they require the application of more than a small amount of clear thinking to drain the potential for error out of them.

    “The common argument against calling Islam evil or the root of terrorism, is that not all Muslims are evil or terrorists. Yet the majority of terrorists we kill are Muslim.”

    If one can bring oneself to admit and honestly believe that “not all Muslims are evil, or terrorists”, the (fact?) that “the majority of terrorists we kill are Muslim” under closer examination carries less and less weight. Set the world population of Muslims (about 1.4 billion) up against figures such as these:


    Note that some of the victims are (gasp!) Muslims–who may or may not believe in the “cause”. Also note that Al Queda has become the face of the evil Muslim terrorist. Sunnis and Shiites kill one another in sectarian battles, using terrorist methods, but are they therefore correctly called terrorists?
    And there’s this:


  20. WTP said, on July 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Searched but could not find anything on this blog about the Dunning–Kruger effect. Certainly an interesting philosophical subject.

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