PHILOSOPHY OF THE WORLD ASSIGNMENT

On March 7th, along with other UBC students from different faculties and years, I participated in the UBC student consultation on poverty reduction in British Columbia. There were approximately forty people that attended. The event, hosted by the Center for Community Engaged Learning, the AMS, and local organizations such as Raise the Rates and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, took place at the BC Hydro Theatre in the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) building and lasted from 1:00pm to 3:30pm. The purpose of this event was to give students a chance to contribute to BC’s first poverty reduction plan by recording their opinions and ideas into a report that would be submitted directly to the government. After some minutes of socializing with free buffet food, the moderator began to introduce the different participants of the event: the professors, the representatives of the local organizations, the student head of AMS, and the UBC graduate students who were in charge of organizing all the information from the small group discussions and compile it into a formal report for the government. After the introductions, both the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and Raise the Rates, gave a short presentation to give us context on BC’s current policies regarding strategies to reduce poverty. During their presentation, the two representatives explained that British Columbia has one of the highest poverty rates in Canada. Although it is a rich province, they discussed how BC has never put into action a poverty reduction plan and because of that many people are still living below the poverty line; students amongst them.

Afterwards, we all separated into smaller groups on large tables and started to discuss the current problems that the BC government should address in their poverty reduction plan. In my group, we discussed issues regarding the expensive housing market, food, transportation, college tuition and many more issues. During this, along with three other former UBC students, I was able to participate and give my opinion regarding the difficulties that come with paying tuition and finding adequate, affordable housing in Vancouver.

After some time, the moderator asked for volunteers to share with the entire room some of the issues discussed during the small group consultations.

Later on, the moderator asked us to discuss solutions to these problems. After writing down and talking about possible solutions, each table was given the instruction to choose one specific issue to focus on. We were then given the chance to switch to other tables to talk specifically about one topic: housing, tuition, food and etc…

 

At the end, apart from the official document that the UBC graduate students were to produce in the following weeks, all the tables recorded the solutions discussed on large white papers using colored markers. These large papers were then hung on the wall and each person in the room was given the chance to vote on which solutions or issues were most important by placing a red sticker on them.

 

 

As an international first-year student, I came to the event with limited background on BC’s current poverty situation. I assumed that, because BC is one of the wealthiest provinces and Vancouver is one of the richest cities in Canada, then the poverty rates would be lower than in other places. Due to these assumptions, I sometimes lacked the background knowledge to answer some of my group’s questions. Therefore, I asked many questions and clarifications on the current policies and situations of every topic so that I could form my answers more clearly. During our group discussions one of the facts that struck me the most was that currently one in five children in BC live under the poverty line. After our discussion, I felt more aware of the serious poverty problems that exist in BC and felt more strongly about the urge to put into action a plan.

I believe that university students offer a unique perspective on this issue, not only because they represent the future adult workforce; but also because university students often are amongst the group of people that struggle the most financially due to the high costs of their education; therefore, they have a lot of insight on what its like to live under hard financial pressures.

 

Philosophy is a study of all systems of knowledge such as ethics, reasoning and science. It investigates the knowledge produced by all sentient beings regarding different aspects of their reality. If we break down the origins of the word philosophy, “Philo” in Greek denotes love and “sophia” translates into wisdom. [1] Philosophy therefore stands for the love of wisdom. Philosophy seeks wisdom; and wisdom – true knowledge – can only be acquired through the evaluation of past, present and future knowledge: including individual and societal systems of beliefs, morals, values, mental maps of reality, assumptions about how different beings should interact, rules of justice and more. Philosophy therefore seeks to understand what is right or wrong, what exists or what doesn’t, and attempts to answer, through logic, some of the most difficult questions about our existence and how we should live it.This definition of philosophy fits with Peter Singer’s discussion on the ethics of human relationships because, as mentioned previously, philosophy is grounded on the search for wisdom, which encompasses the investigation of ethical and social obligation of human beings.

 

In his article “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, Peter Singer states, “…suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical are bad…”(https://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm). Therefore, he argues that human relationships should be based on helping one another and therefore it is our moral duty to help others who live under those bad circumstances. He goes on to say that the help humans are obliged to provide to others should not be based on their proximity to the person in dire circumstances. Singer underscores that there is “…no possible justification for discriminating on geographical grounds…” because if one is able to provide help, by any means, to others that are far away from them, then that proves how the moral obligation of a human cannot be limited to physical distance. Singer’s main argument is that, “if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.” His discussion also touches upon the notions between moral duty and charity. In his article, Singer discusses how giving money away to help others is believed to be an act of “charity” or “generosity”. However, Singer states that giving away money, to help others who are starving or suffering, instead of using it for one’s own commodity, is a duty. Singer’s discussion redefines the societal beliefs regarding the act of helping others; therefore, it aligns itself with my claim that one of philosophy’s core areas of study is the knowledge of ethics. His revised utilitarian view, allows us to see how if we can do something to promote happiness it is our moral duty to act; and not doing anything would be morally wrong.

 

 

The experience of attending the BC poverty event fitted with my definition of philosophy –the study of knowledge claims such as that of our ethical duty – because we had to discuss why it is important to help others in poverty, talk about the injustice that some people suffer under the greed of corporations, and come up with solutions to these problems. For example, we discussed how corporations that privatize the housing market reduced the availability of social housing. This phenomenon impeded paupers ability to afford housing. In this instance, I brought up the point that because those corporations are creating social inequalities it is their moral duty to help others if they are able to; therefore a solution to this problem would be to tax them. The government could then allocate that tax money for social housing and for local organizations to help reduce the population living in poverty. During the event we also discussed how we should ethically help others, while reducing acts of discrimination, as well as stigmatization. All the issues that we evaluated in the event are tied to the overarching goal of philosophical investigation: obtain wisdom and truth in the way we ought to relate to other humans and live our lives.

 

Participating in events with other people produces better ideas, rather than discussing by oneself, because different views and opinions yield better evaluations of an argument. For instance, an idea that one strongly believes in could be disagreed upon by another or redefined in other terms, which then allows for the premises of one’s argument to be further investigated so as to obtain a more truthful knowledge claim. Moreover, different perspectives can reveal overlooked aspects of an issue. For instance, when discussing the housing market, one person discussed that student homelessness is an issue that is not very much talked about but is a serious problem at UBC. This broadened our conversation and allowed us to understand that both national and international students should be able to afford a residence in order to study. Philosophical discussions like this are very important for they bring to light what truly matters for individuals and for a society at large. We can thus learn from other people’s perspectives and opinions what is moral, just and ethical.

Works Cited:

Singer, Peter. Famine, Affluence, and Morality, by Peter Singer, www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm.

[1] https://www.roangelo.net/logwitt/philosophy-origin.html

Philosophy in the World:Option A

Philosophy in the world 

Philosophy I believe is a way of analyzing the world in which we live in and determining what rights and responsibilities we have to those around us. It enables us to think through the duty we hold to society as a whole. 

A recent article by the CNN reveals that last year the top 1% received 82% of the total wealth generated and that 50% of the world population saw no increase in their wealth. Political leaders to industry titans argue that wealth inequality is the greatest scourge of this generation but none it seems are willing to engage in concrete action that would reduce this wealth inequality. The early part of this century has seen the world veer from the economic collapse caused by banks ‘too big to fail’, a modern-day housing crisis that punishes first-time buyers, the normalization of the minimum wage not supporting individuals to institutionalized corruption amongst financial institutions. This is a problem that has to do with a lack of understanding of the duties that we owe to our fellow man. The modern-day economic environment does reward those with access to resources that are willing to work hard, but it also rewards those willing to cheat their way to the top and that I feel is the reason we have ended up with such disparate economic inequality. 

Peter Singer is a philosopher who has long argued for active steps taken by individuals with the means to do so to reduce economic inequality by giving away their wealth not to the point of struggling themselves but to one that allows them to sustain a comfortable state of living. In his article ‘What should a Billionaire give – and what should you?’ He lays out a means by which the top 1% of the US population alone could more than easily meet the then millennium goals for human development, in fact going on to say that there would be no reason why we should fail to meet these goals given that individuals were not being asked to reduce the quality of their life to the point that it became unbearable to live.  

The example of Paul Allen is an interesting insight into both the level of philanthropy that an individual is capable of, but also the immense state of income inequality. As Singer points out in his article, Allen has given away nearly 800 million dollars to philanthropic causes that is a sum of money that is comparable to the working budgets of small countries that a single individual has been able to give away and yet it represents just 5% of his total worth. It has been said that the human mind cannot effectively comprehend numbers greater than about a dozen before they have to count them out. The potential in just his charitable donations alone is enough to care for all the needs of over 3000 children from birth to adulthood in the developed world (CNN). 

The center-piece of Singer’s argument for private philanthropy is that we all believe in fairness and would like those with the ability to do more to help those who are suffering. The fundamental basis of human cooperation is that all lives are equally valuable. An analogy he gives is that if we encountered a drowning person and had the ability to save them, there would be an expectation that we attempt to save them. Over a billion people in the world today are living in squalor, surviving on little less than a dollar a day and often with no prospects of achieving a meaningfully better life. One need only look at the images of drowned refugees attempting to reach Europe that have dominated headlines in recent years to see the sheer desperation that drives people into the arms of the smugglers profiting from their desperation. Each live lost represented not just a loss of future potential but is an immense emotional cost on those that knew and perhaps depended on the individual. 

In the developed world we see a generation whom can no longer realistically expect to achieve a better standard of living than their parents, caught between the traps of expensive higher education, a housing market that favors sellers and entry-level job with inordinate requirements. One study shows that the average entry level job requires three years of experience (Chakrabarti 2018). In the midst of all of this we are faced with increasing accumulation of wealth by the top 1%. To use his analogy the majority are drowning and it would hardly be a burden on the rich to help speed up redistribution of wealth as has been pointed out by Singer and it would as has been pointed by some commentators (Kurzegast) be a net benefit to society as a whole in terms of the increase in human capital that would result. 

Each individual now capable of living closer to their full potential would represent an increase in the development of new products, improvements in existing products and this in turn would start a cascade in which individuals experience an increase in their standard of living driving economic growth and further enabling even more people to advance. Another consequence of this would be a reframing of the way those living in the developing world are able to regain agency. Much of the discussion around those in the developing world portrays them as a helpless people, this ignores the action they use to improved their lives with limited resources but also leads to paternalistic thinking in wider society which engenders tokenistic actions such as economic agreements that are in fact heavily exploitative of the developing countries but also wider attitudes in society of those people as deficient or dangerous leading to anti-refugee or anti-immigration sentiment. Rhetoric by individuals such as Donald Trump or his surrogates portraying Mexicans for example as dangerous criminals invading the US and totally ignoring the actual facts about immigration into the US as a whole by all people represents a major hindrance to solving inequalities. 

Much has certainly been done at the political level in the developed world to institute policies that can be described as state led philanthropism and that effort should be commended as a start. At a general level however, there are still problems as a whole with how that philanthropism is understood. The conversation does not revolve around how that aid can be optimized to enable maximum benefit towards reducing inequality but instead on how that money represents a loss to the given people of the state who could have otherwise benefitted. Certainly, there are legitimate conversations to be had about that, however, in many cases the proportion given as aid is an essentially negligible part of the states GDP and the conversation needs to be redirected towards the proven facts about income inequality and how reducing it is in fact a net benefit to all. 

As I have tried to explain above, a major driving factor I believe that hinders greater or more focused philanthropy is simply a lack of understanding about the benefits of doing so. In my own life, I have made a focus on understanding the wide variety of factors that drive income inequality. From the ethically dubious practices of (Reuters) HSBC a bank that has found itself enabling the activities of drug dealers to the unholy alliances between big business and political elites that in many cases are leading to a pay to play political system. Knowledge is power and power is the only means by which there is any hope of reforming the wider system to allow everyone to lead a better life. I am not yet at a level where I can be as usefully philanthropic as Paul Allen, however, I am able to exert the understanding I have to contribute to driving change via petitions on website change.org that allows individuals to start and sign petitions that ultimately are delivered to those currently with the ability to drive change at the highest level that is my means of attempting to create a better tomorrow for the people around me. 

Page Break 

Works Cited 

Singer, P., Prof. (2006, December 17). What Should a Billionaire Give-and What Should You? New York Times Magazine 

Viswanatha, A. (2012, December 11). HSBC to pay $1.9 billion U.S. fine in money-laundering case. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hsbc-probe/hsbc-to-pay-1-9-billion-u-s-fine-in-money-laundering-case-idUSBRE8BA05M20121211 

Vassel, K. (2017, January 9). Cost of raising a child: $233,610. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/09/pf/cost-of-raising-a-child-2015/index.html 

Chakrabarti, K. (2018, March 28). The Science of The Job Search, Part III: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3 Years of Experience. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from https://talent.works/blog/2018/03/28/the-science-of-the-job-search-part-iii-61-of-entry-level-jobs-require-3-years-of-experience/ 

Kottasová, I. (2018, January 22). World’s richest 1% grabbed 82% of all wealth created in 2017, Oxfam study finds. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/21/news/economy/davos-oxfam-inequality-wealth/index.html 

  1. (2017, December 07). Universal Basic Income Explained- Free Money for Everybody? UBI Retrieved April 06, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl39KHS07Xc

Philosophy in the world (Option C)

I attended the UBC student consultation on poverty reduction in British Columbia on Wednesday, March. 7th. Around 40 other people were present and there were small groups of tables of four to six people each. The event began with a short presentation by local activists outlining their organizations mission statements and informing the audience of issues regarding poverty that are occurring in British Columbia. We sat in small groups led by two grad students, one who acted as a facilitator and another as a note taker. We first discussed problems that we, as university students, faced and felt strongly about solving. Although my group was composed of all university students, we all had different concerns that were impacting us and then we moved to the larger discussion that included everyone to participate. We got to hear more from others and also heard perspectives from people who weren’t UBC students, such as, the organization members. Since we were asked to discuss problems that we personally face, concerns about affordable housing and reducing the financial hardship from university were brought up a lot, for example, reducing tuition prices and reducing the amount of non-academic additional fees that are charged continually and don’t impact all students. After this we split into different groups with whose concerns aligned with our own on what we felt we could contribute the most for finding solutions, then we brainstormed solutions onto posters and hung them onto the walls for everyone to see.  At the end, we all collectively voted on what solutions we thought would be the most impactful and should be a part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan that was produced and that we were submitting to the government. After the end, we were given the opportunity to reach out with the local organizations where I left my email in their sign-up sheets, for more information on further events and possibilities for volunteering in the future.

I expected the event to be more of an informatory session but I was surprised at the amount of participating taking place with the meaningful contributions I got to make by providing problems that I was concerned with but also giving solutions to the governments to combat these problems. I think, however, what really surprised myself and others was when the local activists mentioned the possibility of having free tuition through social activism to cause a change in policy. The fact this could happen hadn’t resonated with me before and to think it could be possible just seemed too good to be true but we were assured that even though it would be difficult, it’s definitely a possibility. An assumption I brought to the event was that as a university student I knew most of the student struggles even if I wasn’t experiencing all of them but this event proved to me there was a lot I didn’t know. For instance, I haven’t taken any student loans out yet but it shocked me to discover that while applying for loans that regardless of the fact if a parent is paying for university expenses or not, the parent’s income is taken to account and determines whether or not the student will get the loan. Additionally, I think that as university students, we did give a unique perspective and it is one that’s often overlooked in politics because unfortunately not all of us vote so our concerns aren’t always in the spotlight for politicians but having this discussion made me feel like the government is making more of an effort to listen to everyone’s concerns. If this event was done by non-students than the concerns brought up would be different than ours but would be just as valuable as ours because everyone’s voice matters and should be heard. After the event, I came away feeling differently about the poverty situation because I gained a more well-informed perspective on it. Moreover, I was surprised by the amount of poverty that is prevalent in British Columbia, for a lack of better words, it’s simply way worse than I had assumed. The issues brought up by the organizations about the difficulty in obtaining welfare and space in homeless shelters were unknown to me and the percentage of those who live in poverty was at such a high rate that was not only unbelievable to me but many others in the room.

Philosophy, in the simplest of terms and the universal message behind all of its definitions, is the discussion of methods on how everyone can live their best life possible. This most relates to the Epicurean philosophy in Letter to Menoeceus, where Epicurus states how to live a good life (Epicurus). He also discusses how natural desires, such as, food and shelter are needed to live the best life possible which is what generally was discussed at the event to achieve better accessibility to for all (Epicurus).  Although this definition does mostly apply to Epicurean philosophy and the event, the one difference is the discussion aspect. Epicurus mostly refers to his own methods and doesn’t regard much of his philosophies for debating this or listening to others about this, which was a big component of the event in listening to what others had to say. This aspect of listening to others, questioning others and ourselves, our beliefs, and on discussing what is right mostly aligns with the philosopher Socrates. Similar to the event, in Euthyphro, Socrates questions everything that’s being discussed to produce more thought in the conversation and therefore, this causes a discussion on life’s philosophies (Plato). Which, ultimately, was what the event was about, discussing life’s philosophies.

Participating in an event like UBC student consultation on poverty reduction in British Columbia ensures a better set of comments than just one individual sharing their perspective. There’s power in any voice speaking out but having multiple voices speak out incites a powerful conversation. That’s the key word. Conversation. When there’s more than one voice speaking you tend to hear different perspectives and also hear more concerns that need handling rather than just listening to one person’s point of view. Discussions, like the ones at this event, provide useful to individuals and society at large because not only does it raise awareness to problems that need focusing on but it submits solutions to the government to implement change in policy to fix what needs fixing. These discussions not only help individuals feel they’re voices are being heard but there’s action being taken which is different than just talking about what’s wrong. Actually getting to provide solutions to the government to take action is a distinction in this discussion that benefits individuals and society as a whole.

Philosophy in the World

On March 7th I attended the UBC student consultation for poverty reduction in British Columbia. Roughly 40 people were in attendance. The afternoon was broken into two parts: the problems and the solutions. It started with a brief presentation which outlined about five local organizations combatting poverty in BC and their main goals and accomplishments. We discussed both in small groups composed of UBC students, alumni, a facilitator from a local organization, and a notetaker. After approximately half an hour of small group discussion we joined together as a large group to discuss what had been brought up in our smaller groups as well as have the chance to suggest any new ideas participants may have. Our ideas for solutions were written on large pieces of paper afterwards and the group had a chance to vote on those which they believed would have the biggest impact or were the best suggestions. I signed up to receive newsletters by email from multiple organizations as well as put my name on a list to be contacted if volunteers were to be needed.

This experience is one I will likely remember for some time.  I found the space to be one I was very comfortable in and was therefore able to participate and provide my own opinions where applicable. I came into the experience expecting it to be mostly informative with limited opportunities for input. I was surprised upon arriving at the relatively small size of the event as well as the structure of the afternoon which allowed for ample audience participation. This expectation of a larger, more information based events prepared me to be more of a listener than a participant. To my surprise, these mental preparations I had made beforehand did not interfere with the degree to which I participated in the forum. I came away from this consultation with an enlightened sense of hope. Despite learning of the undeniably high levels of poverty present in our city, this event fostered the feelings of hope by showing the participants that our opinions and our actions can make a difference. With a provincial government that is listening to our concerns and propositions for solutions, we are at a point where we, can truly change the situation at hand. I believe that university students offer a unique perspective to the issue. The conversation was opened up to include the concerns of the majority of students surrounding tuition and board costs. As those who experience firsthand the effects of these expenses, I believe it was very beneficial to have university students in attendance.

Philosophy is the discussion of moral questions and the study of the different responses to these questions. This idea of philosophy is strongly rooted in the study of Socrates in his tendency to question those he is engaged in conversation with, this style coming to be known as the Socratic Method. This is seen in his dialogue with Euthyphro where Socrates actively listens to Euthyphro but questions aspects of his wisdom and ultimately challenges his self-perception and that which he claims to know. I found my experience at the Poverty Reduction Consultation to fit this style of philosophy quite well. It was through questioning and conversation that we, as a whole, were able to come to answers or agreements. This style of questioning also produced divides in the group where opinions may have differed which, in turn, lead to further conversation and discussion of the topic.

I believe consultations on topics such as this one with groups of people are extremely beneficial to both individuals and society at large. Conversation and discussion with others is, in my opinion, a much more useful and successful way to address problems. With more than one person attacking an issue, many more ideas and opinions are likely to come about. In a Socratic questioning style of philosophy, individuals are encouraged to share their beliefs where, in turn, these beliefs are questioned and the product from this type of conversation may be something entirely new. From debate or conversation ideas are expressed and are further discussed and improved by multiple minds thinking and working together. This type of discussion is key to decision-making in all areas as it accounts for an array of opinions and ideas.