January 2020 Philosophy Think & Drink (Missoula)

Happy New Year!  What a great way to kick off the new year!   Talking shop with our fellow Think & Drink-ers about symbols and parasites!  Yup, you heard right.  Here’s how it all started….

The Questions on the Table…

  • How does intent function in our daily lives? (If you act with good intent on a lie, how does that square up?)
  • What does a symbol mean? Who gives it meaning? Should it have meaning? Can it have only one meaning?
  • Is there a human nature? What is human nature?
  • How should we consider the human species in relation to nature? Are we an apex species or a parasite on the planet?

The (First) Question We Chose…

  • What does a symbol mean? Who gives it meaning? Should it have meaning? Can it have only one meaning?

Some Things That Came Up in the Course of Our Discussion…

  • What are symbols?  Quick and effective forms of communication based on socially agreed upon meanings?
  • Does the intent in portraying a symbol matter? Or just the dominant meaning or how people might interpret it? (e.g., Swastikas on a state building before nazis, etc.) 
  • What about signs vs. symbols? What about symbols that have a richer meaning but a sign erodes them?
    • Ex: There’s something about fire that symbolizes warmth or destruction before fire symbols have a socially agreed upon meaning. Also long-standing historical symbols used for negative purposes in only part of their history: like the history of the Japanese crysanthumum.
  • Is any symbol irredeemable, due to the way it was used at a certain point in time?
  • How about more subtle symbols like the iron cross? Where do they stand? Apparently the German military still uses it, even while some white supremacists today do as well.  How have different crosses evolved given the different cultures that have combined (Celtic cross, Iron Cross, etc)?
  • What about the emotional intensity of symbols?
  • Unintentionally promoting a symbol? Symbol still has the effect on people, does intent matter here?
  • What about monuments, like confederate monuments? Should they stand as a reminder or be taken down because of their effect on people now? We don’t take down the pyramids because they used slave labor, yet at the same time, the pyramids are not being used to push (or perpetuate) an ideology today in the same way confederate monuments often are.

The (Second) Question We Chose…

  • Are humans parasites?  What is human nature?

Some Things That Came Up in the Course of Our Discussion…

  • There are a number of arguments that come up in light of this question.
    • Arguments about “the grand scheme of things” in regards to ecology and human nature; why do we only use that argument in the face of certain things and not others? Most people would not say that it doesn’t matter if your family dies because “in the grand scheme of things” everyone dies.
    • What about arguments of personal property? Hume and Locke. Descartes and the idea that we have a right to “own” anything that is not human.
  • What about cancer cells as a parallel for how we think of ourselves in relation to nature?  We can’t say that cancer has a goal, but do we have a goal?
  • How do you get people to care about something? 
    • Putting care ethics in an ecological light: when you care about an ecological system, it’s much more than caring about the people in direct relationship to your life, so could it be a stepping stone to global care ethics?
  • What do we think a human being is? Are we animals living in a particular context or are we disembodied minds attempting to transcend the limitations of our physicality?


Thank you to the Philosophy Learning & Teaching Organization (PLATO) for supporting philosophy in the community and helping us bring activities like these to the Missoula community!  

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