2016-2017 Schedule

Thursday, September 15: Do we have too many guns in our country?

We're going to test the mettle of our group by opening this year's Cafe series with a topic that everyone seems to shout an opinion about yet no one seems to listen: do we have too many guns in our country?  Does having easier access to guns contribute to the rise in mass-shootings?  Have their number actually risen or is the media just covering more of them?  Are so-called “assault weapons” to blame?  Surely if we removed as many as we could from public hands the frequency or at least death toll of these terrible shootings would decline, wouldn’t they?  We are hearing a lot of talk about guns lately, as regards their access and harm, but little of it seems to be working toward a solution.  At this year’s first Philosophers Café Prof. Andy Austin of Democracy and Justice Studies will help us to think about and discuss the constitutionality, merits and demerits, pros and cons, of gun ownership, use, and abuse in our country.

Thursday, October 13: Monkey see, monkey do – is that a bad thing?

We often think that it is immature to mimic or imitate others without an understanding of why it works. However, some researchers believe that imitation is a very sophisticated way of learning, suggesting that it is the fundamental difference between human and non-human animals. What are the psychological processes that allow children and adults to imitate and learn from others? Is this something unique to humans, or do monkeys (and other animals) do the same? We will discuss why we imitate, the evolutional origin of imitation, and its implication for our culture.

Thursday, Nov. 10: The State of Play: Video Games and Modern Culture

Are video games just for fun anymore? Far from their yesteryear home underneath the black and white cathode TV and just above the basement's shag carpeting, video games are today a $23 billion cultural industry, touching our lives in ways both obvious and not. It's time we started taking games seriously from all sides. How will new technologies like mobile GPS and augmented reality change our physical and mental interaction with games? How are games creating a new social reality with the rise of trends like e-sports and social gaming? Are games reflecting the identities of the people who play them, or does the industry have a long way to go toward accurately representing the diversity of our world? How can we use games to improve our health, learn more about the world around us, and teach our children? We are looking at a medium that has grown rapidly before our eyes and is no longer just the domain of children and hobbyists but a form of art and commerce unlike any other. Good, bad, or otherwise, this Philosopher's Cafe explores video games and how they reflect and impact our culture and world.

Thursday, Dec. 8: Please Check a Box: Gender, Identity, and Public Transparency

“Oh you had a baby! What is it?” Even those of us who hope and work for a society that does not limit opportunity because of an individual’s sex may find ourselves uncomfortable with uncertainty. For better or worse, sex is seen by societies as fundamental to an individual’s identity. As our social views progress, and we understand better the immense complexity of variation in sex and the related concept of gender, we must ask ourselves, “Why? Does it have to be? Should it be? Just whose business is a person’s sex and gender?”

Thursday, Jan. 12: What are numbers?

Do numbers just describe relationships that appear in mathematical structures – the formalists’ view – or are they real, as Plato argued? To aid with the discussion, we will: describe a few number systems, check out a few infinities, toss in a function or two, and see what this might have to do with the so-called ‘butterfly effect’. It will be clear where we start, but it will be debatable if the trajectory of our discussion is deterministic or not!

Thursday, Feb. 9: The Art of "Thinking Together"

Especially on the heels of a contested presidential election, it can seem as if the loudest and most reactive voices attract the most attention. Reflective dialogue, intentionally cultivated, can serve as an antidote to the combative rhetorical exchanges that often substitute for or overwhelm dialogue. Reflective dialogue privileges not only personal reflection but also listening and understanding, which means that it can also serve to build community. Participants in this Philosopher's Cafe will be invited to participate in a reflective dialogue about the meaning and significance of dialogue itself. Is meaningful dialogue even possible in a tumultuous democratic society?

Thursday, March 9: The Past, Present, and Future of Workers, Jobs, and Organized Labor

Since the 1970s--in both Wisconsin and in the US--workers have become more productive, but they have failed to see their wages rise.  Unions have seen their power eroded as manufacturers moved jobs overseas and, in Wisconsin, Act 10 has stripped rights from public employees.  Employers have also used technology to replace workers and institute more flexible forms of work like independent contracting in so-called "sharing" arrangements.  This discussion asks what place is there for organized labor--or other political responses--in this dramatically altered economic climate.

Thursday, April 13: Politics in an Age of Polarization

Political polarization is one of the defining features of contemporary American politics. Political parties in Congress are increasingly divided on the basis of ideology—with Democrats becoming more liberal over time and Republicans becoming more conservative. Ordinary citizens also appears to be polarized on a variety of issues and are increasingly ideologically divided. Given the sharp differences that exist within society and our political institutions, what are the prospects for making progress on important political issues? What would it take to bring people together? Why do we appear to be so “stuck”? In this forum, we will talk about the effects of political polarization on politics at all levels of government. We will also explore ideas and reforms that might help overcome some of the ills of polarization.

Thursday, May 11: Does Reality come in Degrees?

Plato famously posited in addition to the ever-changing particulars that surround us a realm of eternal entities that are the true objects of knowledge and causes of particulars. Aristotle demurred, preferring to privilege the reality of objects around us and championing reality as something that is fundamentally basic and uniform. Are entities merely real or not real, or might reality come in degrees? What sense if any can we make of the notion that some things are ‘more real’ than others, and is there any benefit to how we understand the world in doing so?