News Archives

Spring 2011 meetings

January 13th:
Nick Agar will be giving a talk on Thursday Jan, 13th at 4 pm (BH 172) entitled: "How Much Human Enhancement is Too Much?" Nick, the killjoy, wants to take away the brave new future where you would have genetically induced superpowers. (See the attached paper). Friday we will have a drink with Nick at the golf club at 3:30. This will also give us a chance to plot out a few more Sophia events for this semester. 


Febuary 1st:
Paul French will talk on Utilitarianism and Achievement at the next Sophia club meeting: Feb. 1st, 4:00 pm BH 172. Some background material can be found on Professor Vessel's  website: . A preliminary version of Paul's paper can be found below. We hope to see you on Tuesday!

Utilitarianism and Achievement
By Paul French
         Mark Walker has illustrated a problem in the Utilitarian view--i.e., he claims that it fails to recognize a
value beyond that of pleasure.  This monism, he argues, is disingenuous in its exclusivity.  His expedient
objection poses a thought experiment in which a rational being must choose to reside in one of two worlds;
both possess an equal and exorbitant amount of pleasure; however, in one of them beings enjoy achievement
as well.  The latter option seems much more alluring.  That we assume the choice of the pleasurable world plus
achievement over the former seems to highlight the value of this extra feature.  Thus pleasure is not the only
thing we ought to seek in terms of moral value.  For the Utilitarian this conclusion entails an obvious problem. 
How can Utilitarianism's monistic view be reconciled with the notion of other values?  In the following paper, I
will present a modified version of Utilitarianism in which secondary value is accorded to achievement.  However,
as Jean-Paul Vessel has mentioned, this escape offered to the view could become a breach through which
myriad amendments could crawl.  Should achievement and pleasure monopolize our value, or is there
something else?  But before we stumble into this mire it is necessary that we discuss achievement. 
What Is Achievement?
         The term, "achievement," as it's commonly used is extremely relative.  An achievement to one person
could be a parlor trick to another.  Therefore, to avoid this complication, achievement will be denoted simply as
the product of labor.  Anything that involves the expense of energy is an achievement.  Under this definition,
turning one's head is an achievement as is stooping to recover a dropped coin.  This is not to say that relativity
will be completely absent from our discussion.  It is still important when defining the value of a given
An Initial Value:
         An achievement's initial value is directly proportional to the amount of energy expended to accomplish it. 
A professional sprinter's achievement of finishing a forty meter dash in six seconds isn't very impressive.  As
his muscles are accustomed to much greater feats, this would not prove a significant exertion.  A slightly
overweight man, on the other hand, would struggle to accomplish this; and if he did, we would undoubtedly
perceive his achievement as more valuable.  This is because the value we grant to achievement is produced by
our relatability to struggle and the fruits thereof.  It's not hard for human beings to understand the struggle of
work, because it's something we've all experienced.  And when someone else achieves we can vicariously
experience that victory (however big or small).  In fact, we often favor underdogs rather than the advantaged
player because the value of the former's triumph will be significantly higher; and as far as vicarious pleasures
are concerned, the grander the better.  If an unknown mediocre boxer were to box the heavyweight champion to
a standstill, we would relish it.  Some would even be touched by this occurrence.  It could inspire them, or
simply fill them with joy.
The Utilitarian Value:
         It seems that there's an extra value to attach to achievement--that is, the amount of pleasure it creates or
the amount of pain it hampers.  If someone develops a cure for Morgellons Disease, his or her achievement has
a value corresponding to the amount of work it took to develop the cure plus the value for the amount of dolors
he or she has prevented.  The underdog boxer's achievement possesses an initial value compounded with the
amount of pleasure his performance generated amongst others.       
Push-up Man on Planet X
         Suppose there is a forlorn man living on Planet X, the conditions of which mirror Earth's.  This man
decides that he will strive to excel at push-ups. After a year and a half of straining his muscles, he creates a
record for himself with five-hundred.  This amount of effort confers a considerable amount of value on the
achievement.  However, unfortunately for Push-up Man, his achievement produces no extra value as it fails to
engender pleasure in others.  This achievement may elicit pride for Push-up Man as the years go by, but the
value cannot approach that of an equally talented Push-up Man on Planet Earth.  To deny this inequity would
be to deny the value of the pleasure produced by the latter.

Febuary 17th:
I'm sure most of you are familiar with Frank Gifford: NFL hall of famer and longtime Monday Night Football announcer. Well, the philosophy department is pleased to announce a talk on Thursday Feb. 17th, 4 pm (BH 172) by an individual with a similar name: Fred Gifford. Professor Gifford will be presenting a talk entitled: "Taking the Social Determinants of Health Seriously". Hope to see you there.

March 1st:
Christian Barentine will present his paper, "Surmounting the Roadblocks to Utopia", at our next meeting, Tuesday March 1st. You should find a draft of the paper attached. All our welcome--we have not standards. We hope to see you there. 

March 15th:
Christopher Carver will present his paper, "Problems with Euthyphro’s Dilemma", Tuesday March 15th, at 4 pm (BD 172). Here's a link for Plato's dialogue: More importantly, please find his paper attached. Hope to see you tomorrow.

To all members and interested individuals: If you would like to receive email reminders of upcoming meetings, please email the secretary, Fred Hennrich at and include in the subject "Please put me on the Sophia email list."

Feel free to explore our website for information concerning upcoming events, philosophical resources, conferences, and more.


Fall 2010 meetings

October 19th:
Our next meeting is scheduled to take place Tuesday, October 19th at 4:00 PM Breland Hall room 172. There will be a presentation by Donald Richter on David Sosa’s article, “Scepticism About Intuition". Please read the article and come ready for a lively discussion!

November 2nd:
This Tuesday, November 2nd, Sophia and Dr. Mark Walker’s Science and Public Policy class will be hosting a presentation and discussion on superlongevity to be held at 4:00 at Breland Hall in room 172.  Opposing views and proposed future legislation will be presented by Jason Denholm and Jeffrey Taylor. Please see the associated reading.

All are welcome.

Associated reading:

Technology assessment
Environmental Emergency Act

November 16th:
Greetings all,
This Tuesday, November 16th, Sophia and the Philosophy Department will be hosting a presentation by Shane Epting, a graduate student in Philosophy at UTEP, entitled, “Incorporating Sustainability into Urban Infrastructures: The tension between bio-cultural aspects and environmental considerations to be held at 4:00 at Breland Hall in room 172.  Please find the abstract below.  All are welcome.

Incorporating Sustainability into Urban Infrastructures: The tension between bio-cultural aspects and environmental considerations.  Shane Epting – University of Texas at El Paso
Our perpetual advances in technology have not only been detrimental to the planet, but we have harmed ourselves in the process. Some of this harm is a result of the shortsightedness of city planning.  The relationship between built and natural environments requires a delicate balance of interests.  We must consider the interest of the non-human world on one hand, and we must consider the interests of humans on the other. Today, however, environmentally friendly measures are now commonplace and words like “sustainability” are easily recognizable in the public sphere.  When considering the built environment, sustainability is viewed as a way to balance these interests.  For instance, many cities now have sustainability offices and managers who deal with the problems associated with implementing sustainability efforts into urban infrastructures.  While issues such as water and power are often at the forefront of the discussion, bio-cultural aspects often remain in the periphery.   The purpose of this paper is, firstly, to look at the relationships between humans, natural environments, built environments, and the complications that arise from these relationships. This examination exhibits that cities have an obligation to incorporate sustainability efforts into existing infrastructures.  What is more, this examination elucidates that, along with resources such as water and power, cities have to consider history and culture as resources too.  If cities do not consider these social factors, then they are guilty of “reverse anthropocentrism,” which is having a prejudice against humans for, well, being human. Lastly, we will look at the required ethical conditions to amend the anthropogenic shortcomings with respect to both the human and non-human world. 

Initial Fall '09 meeting (Wednesday Sep. 16th)

Our first meeting of the year will be held on Wednesday September 16th at 4:30 PM

in BC 103 (Business Complex) where Professor Mark Walker will be giving a talk about

healthcare reform possibilites. His paper on the subject cant be accessed via the link below.

Uninsured: Heal Thyself


Final Spring 09 Meetings (April 28th/May 5th2009 meeting)

Our next meeting is scheduled to take place Tuesday, April 28th at 4:30 PM in Hardman 208.

We will be holding elections for all of the officer positions, so if you're interested in running for an office or voting make sure to show up.

Additionally, the following week Tuesday May 5th at 4:30 PM in Hardman 208 we will hold our FINAL meeting and President Alexander

Raby will be giving his farewell address as well as giving a philosophical presentation on Bernard William’s Integrity argument against Utilitarianism.


"Split Persons and Time Travel" (February 24th 2009 meeting)

Our next meeting will take take place on Tuesday, February 24 at 4:30 PM in Hardman 208.

Victor Szczepanski will be giving a presentation dedicated to an analysis and criticism of Wright's recent "Personal Identity, Fission, and Time Travel" which can be accessed below.

Pertinent Documents:

Personal Identity, Fission and Time Travel by John Wright

Sophia Flyer Feb 24