Speakers for the Marin Philosophical Society for 2017-2018
Upcoming Events 2018
January 15 Karen Ferguson Ph.D. Am I My Brother's Keeper? Dr. Karen Ferguson will provide a groundwork for understanding US Refugee Resettlement in the context of humanitarian aid and sanctuary, and the moral and ethical issues this raises for the US and worldwide. We are now experiencing the greatest migration of individuals and families fleeing war and persecution since WW II. What are our responsibilities, personal and governmental, to accept and support these vulnerable refugees? What are our moral and philosophical positions on helping such people? What is the balance between compassion and self-interest? The 1951 Geneva Convention established a global definition of refugees. Many feel this is a moral imperative for the US, but others see the very concept of accepting refugees through a lens of fear of terrorism and a preference to focus on those already on our shores. Dr. Ferguson will discuss these issues as well as explaining how refugees are selected for US resettlement, what happens once they arrive and how they integrate into our communities.
Dr. Karen Ferguson, a licensed clinical psychologist, is Executive Director of the Northern California offices of IRC – the International Rescue Committee. She leads IRC offices in Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, Modesto and Turlock, providing comprehensive services for newly arriving refugees, including help with housing, finances and employment. The goal is to enable refugees to achieve self-sufficiency and thrive in their new American communities. Prior to her work with IRC, Dr. Ferguson was Alaska State Refugee Coordinator. She holds a BA in Neural Science and a BS in Psychology from Brown University and an MA and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland.
February 19 Robert Strayer, PhD. has written a best-selling textbook and will explain his approach in a lecture titled, “World History: A New Approach to the Human Past”
Robert Strayer will describe the emergence of World History as a distinct genre of historical study over the past 4-5 decades. He will highlight some of its distinctive features: 1) a focus on macro-level changes (such as peopling of the world, the agricultural revolution, the rise of civilizations, globalization) 2) a constant comparative emphasis asking “what’s the difference?” (for example comparing agriculture in Mesopotamia and MesoAmerica; comparing the Russian and Chinese experiments with communism, and on and on) 3) an abiding interest in cross cultural or trans-regional encounters as a major driver of historical change (the role of commerce, empire, war, the spread of religions, the diffusion of technologies). And finally, he will argue that a global perspective on the human past enlarges and enlightens our understanding of more local and particular historical developments.
March 19 Bill Garrett, PhD. “Human Enhancement: To Gain the World or Lose Our Soul?” In the past century, human lifespan has been extended dramatically. Part of the story is progress in medical technology pharmaceuticals. This is indisputably good news. But the human engagement with technology has gone far beyond the therapeutic. In addition to treating disease and injury, we now use technology in the project of enhancement.
Far beyond the familiar enhancements of using steroids to become stronger and plastic surgery to change our looks, the near future holds the possibility to use pharmaceuticals to boost creativity and intelligence. Recent developments in prosthetics have generated unprecedented successes with accident and combat casualties. In addition, nanocomputers might be embedded in our brains to process and store information even faster― to the point, some suspect, at which the human and the technological become indistinguishable.
There are, however, thoughtful skeptics, who worry that the enhancement agenda might lead beyond what we today recognize as humanity― beyond what we cherish as human dignity. We will consider both the concerns and the hopes― and also the realistic, non-science-fiction, prospects― of human enhancement.
April 16 Fred Heitman will share his experiences in a talk titled: “Life in ER: Controversies in Modern Medical Ethics”
May 21 Peter Robinson will be delving into “The Philosophy behind the Pursuit of Happiness: Is it cultural, political, social, economic, spiritual or something else?” Thomas Jefferson’s phrase the "pursuit of happiness" as a basic right in the Declaration of Independence raises questions of interpretation as he failed to explain why, at least not in the original document, nor in his official correspondence exactly what he meant. One of the most influential theories doing the rounds is that Jefferson simply plagiarized the English political thinker John Locke, who championed "life, liberty and estate (property)." According to this view, Jefferson's replacement of the word "estate" with the "pursuit of happiness," was essentially a play on words. The "pursuit of happiness" was a euphemism for the pursuit of wealth. From this perspective, Jefferson's vision of happiness was the "rags to riches" version of the good life. Or later could be seen as the American dream.
Certainly the Greek thinker Epicurus had a major impact on his thinking, but. Epicurus did not teach in a lavishly funded Academy. He conversed with his students in a cozy, well-tended garden emphasizing simplicity and the need to tame desires, especially those not aimed at the "necessities" of life, and pretty well equated happiness with peace of mind.
Today everyone from neuroscientists to witch doctors have their own favorite take on the word ’happiness’. In 2017 I reviewed over 12 books with it in their title. For years researchers including psychologists and economists have examined whether there is a direct connection between one’s financial and emotional wealth. A Duke University study shows certain repeated behaviors — like regular religious practice and exercise — lead to lasting improvements in people’s overall happiness, in much the way that small changes in spending money on others seem to.
My talk explores the findings of several recent studies and opens up for discussion the very simple questions ‘What makes you happy and why?’ I guarantee no two answers will be exactly the same, but then if two people agree one of them is superfluous.
Author Peter Robinson, a graduate of Cambridge University (UK) has taught in universities in Europe, Japan and this country. He is the critic at large for KALW 91.7 fm (local NPR) covering books, movies and theater. He is president of the San Francisco Literary Society and editor of San Francisco Books & Travel. He lives in Mill Valle
June 18 Marlene Berkoff, FAIA “The Myth of the Rational Man” Based on her own experience and wide readings in behavioral economics, psychology, cognitive science and the study of decision-making, Marlene Berkoff will present and discuss increasing evidence that there is no such thing as “the rational man” -the classic concept upon which economists, politicians, decision-makers and even philosophers, based their theories of how humans behave and think. We pride ourselves on being educated, intelligent, rational people. But research and evidence developed over the last few decades have largely invalidated the idea that the decisions and attitudes that guide our actions are the result of our careful analyses, deep knowledge and rational considerations. Marlene will discuss the many other influences that challenge this concept and our rationality.
Marlene J. Berkoff, FAIA, is now retired after a long career as an architect leading complex academic healthcare facility projects. Influenced by her earlier background in economics and math, Marlene has nourished a decades-long interest in behavioral economics, cognitive science and decision-making–disciplines that played unexpectedly large roles in her strategic architecture consulting practice. Marlene has a B.A. in Math and Economics form Barnard College, NYC, and a B.Arch.and M.Arch from the University of Michigan. She is Fellow in the American Institute of Architects and is former President of the national AIA Academy of Architecture for Health.
July 16 Anna Ewins, PhD, will discuss “Modern Art: What’s It All About” including an overview of how art became “modern” and a discussion of its role in contemporary life and the challenges we encounter in making sense of it.
Dr. Anna Ewins holds a Ph.D. in Psychology with an organizational focus and is a Docent and Chair of the Public Guides of SFMOMA, as well as a member of the museum’s Board of Trustees.
August 20 Clark Chelsey, PhD will be Comparing Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton His lecture will focus on their concepts of human nature, their constitutional interpretation of the separation of powers, contrasting beliefs about liberty and security and their concept of private property.
September 17 Jim Stopher, PhD “What Making Music Can Teach Us About Life” Listening to music can make us dance, bring us happiness, and move us to tears. But making music — as active participants — can bestow upon us even more profound benefits. In this lecture, we’ll address music-making’s many surprising rewards, from simple joys to deep truths. (I need to find Jim's bio.)
October 15 To be announced
November 19 To be announced
December—MPS does not meet.