Discussion questions for 2018

  1. Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Is beauty merely an expression of an individual preference? Or does it reside in the object itself? When discussing this question we need to keep in mind the distinction between beauty in the natural world and beauty in works of art. Further, when considering beauty in works of art, we need to distinguish between spatial arts such as painting, sculpture, and architecture, and temporal arts such as music, literature, and drama. Do we require different criteria of beauty for these different types of arts?
  2. Do obligations indicate the goodness of a thing or is goodness quite distinct from obligation? Are there any obligations which are binding on all of humanity or are they all merely socially and culturally relative? If we say something is good, can we also command it to be done? Or does this commanding diminish its goodness? If we say something is good, do we require a free-will so we can choose to be good, or is this goodness causally determined?
  3. What is a mind? Traditionally, minds are said to be either cognitive (they have ‘consciousness’), affective (they are emotional), or conative (they strive after things). If we say that mind is identical with consciousness, can you describe your own consciousness without reducing it to merely what you are aware of, your memories, hopes, etc? Do sleep-walkers have consciousness? Are they even conscious?
  4. Is a society merely a collection of individuals or is it something more than that? Is a beach more than a collection of individual grains of sand?
  5. Is political power the preserve of professional politicians or can it be found in everyday interactions? Is a truly equitable society possible to achieve or is it simply an impossible Utopia? Are Utopias worth striving to achieve? Is revolutionary violence an acceptable way to achieve a Utopia? Does the end justify the means?
  6. Do we know things directly and immediately or do we perceive things as mediated and represented to us? If we always perceive things as represented to us, then how do we ever know if we correctly or falsely perceive the representations before us? Can we have direct experience of our emotional states?
  7. If we live in a fully-determined universe then human history is also fully-determined. In other words, there is no free-will and we cannot choose our own history. If this is so, then are our actions meaningless? Are we simply biological, psychological, and social puppets?
  8. The theory of Freethought (also known as secularism or naturalism) is the theory that no supernatural explanations can be admitted for natural events. In other words, it is the theory that there are no ideas which are ‘beyond’ or ‘above’ discussion. Are there any ideas (for example, the heroism of the ANZACs) in contemporary society which are ‘above’ discussion? Freethought is also opposed to any form of censorship. Can censorship ever be justified? Do the terms sedition, blasphemy, and obscenity have precise meanings or are they simply socially and historically relative?
  9. Is education no more than instruction in the skills and techniques for the workforce to function effectively? What role does criticism play in the educative process? What is criticism? What is the purpose of the university? If the State pays for University funding does it get to say what gets taught within the university?
  10. What is a thing? Is a universe merely a collection of things? How are qualities related to things? Do they merely ‘adhere’ to things like redness does to a rose? What can we say of the relations between things? If I smell a rose and say that it smells fragrant, does the fragrance belong to the rose, to me, or somewhere between us?

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