PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, July 24, 2014

from Lawrence, SATURDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Vacations or Holidays

Dear Friends,

For our last meeting for this season we are discussing: Vacations or

Apart from our instinct to subconsciously think we've had our holidays
or we are still waiting for our holiday, the topic is an apt one because
it affects all of us whether we work or not. The question I address in
my few paragraphs is: what is a holiday really? We think of holidays as
a rest but are they a rest because we escape for our routine or are they
a rest because they are a change?

In the meantime Ruel has sent the link to his essay:

Hello Lawrence,
I wrote a not-so-philosophical and very shallow essay on Saturday's
PhiloMadrid topic. Here is the link:
See you on Saturday.


Finally, as you know our last meeting is this Saturday until we start
again on Saturday in September. We usually meet in August for drinks on
Sunday at the Cafe Commercial approx 7:30pm, so please let me know if
you want me to send out an email to this effect in August.

--- Lawrence


For our purposes vacations also means holidays which is the standard
term in UK English. This is the activity we perform twice or even three
times a year when we stop our routine to relax and do things we usually
do not have time or money to do during the rest of the year. In many
case, this means going away somewhere else in the country for a few days
or even abroad for weeks.

Most of all, we usually associate holidays with time off work; even
though those who do not need to work or have retired from work still
have holidays. But also many people throughout the world do not have
holidays because they work under oppressive conditions or because they
do not have money to go away for a few days or simply because they do
not have work at all. Indeed a large portion of the world's population
is engaged in agricultural labour which means that they are tied to the
land and probably do not have the opportunity to just leave their land
or animals.

Holidays are also our means to rest, especially from our daily routine.
In fact today we know that we need to rest from work to be at our best.
For example, we know that there is an ideal limit to the number of
slides we should included in that modern work tool the presentation. And
that concentration, during a presentation and even a meeting, tends to
take a U shape: a high peak at the beginning, a low and then another
high peak at the end. We have also invented the coffee break in the
morning and the afternoon tea break as other examples of our need to
have a rest between activities.

Rest is a well established practice in biology; we rest to recover our
composition, say after an exercise, to digest, to let the biology of our
body to go through its process hence sleep and napping. But this
stop-start rhythm of our biological make up is incompatible with the
continuous production line of modern industrial work practices. The
biological rhythm is slow and reaches a state of equilibrium at the
point our biological system is fed enough energy to arrive to a balanced
state; our ancestors hunted an animal to eat it and once they killed the
animal they stopped hunting and ate the animal.

The introduction of machinery, however, meant that production does not
cease at the point of biological equilibrium but, of course, they keep
on producing. Except that machines do not need to rest, although they
still need servicing and maintenance and still break down, but people do
need rest. Hence, the need and introduction of shift work! The
production model we have today, and even inherited historically,
functions on the principle of producing artefacts at the shortest
possible time. Hunting and up to an extent, agriculture, depended on the
chase and this limited reach of any weapons. But today we have replaced
with biological equilibrium to balanced bank accounts and then a surplus.

Thus work that requires us to perform beyond our natural rhythm requires
that we adapt to the new environmental conditions. Hence, training,
acquisition of knowledge and of course health care we need to be able to
work in our work environment today. Work models based on slavery or
sweat shop conditions do away with this adaptive period and just use a
large number of workers to achieve lower quality products than a trained
labour force. Thus some human beings have been turned into disposable
labour units like disposable nappies. And disposable workers do not need
vacations or holidays.

Indeed, holidays themselves are an integral part of the economy today.
Dozens of countries survive on the tourist industry, marketing of
holidays is big business and of course transporting tourist is the
mainstay of the aviation industry. In a way, therefore, our vacation or
our holiday is probably someone else's day at the office.

Thus, the idea of taking a holiday to get away from it all might not be
an accurate description of what holidays are. It is unlikely that we
would be given time off for free, despite the appearance of have a right
to a holiday. Maybe, holidays are a not an escape since we they still
require hard work, checking in at airports, valid credit cards, booking
into hotels, limited facilities if we move to other towns and cities for
the holiday period and for the adventurous, grappling with foreign
languages. In retrospect, maybe a holiday is not an escape but a change,
and a change is as good as a rest. But is a change as good as a rest?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SATURDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Vacations or Holidays

Friday, July 18, 2014

from Lawrence, SATURDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Poverty and Welfare


Dear friends,

The topic we are discussing this Saturday is: Poverty and Welfare.

This is a very trendy topic these days and given the economic and social
mess we are in we might be justified in thinking that these issues go
together. But as I tried to argue in the few paragraphs below, although
welfare and poverty might inhabit the same abysmal grounds they are not
necessarily blood relatives.

In the meantime Lola has also sent us her ideas on the topic she
proposed and Ruel has kindly sent us the link to his essay.

Hello Lawrence,
I wrote something on Saturday's PhiloMadrid topic and here's the link:
Thanks. See you.


It seems that human society may have long periods of welfare going back
to an increase of poverty again.
The cyclical issue provides with golden and obscure ages throughout times.

After world war ll, there has been a long period of prosperity and the
nations seemed to race up in the pyramid of wealth more a more all
through the western developed countries in the past seventy years more
or less.

So, what happened? Now the tendency seems to go back to pre-war times in
terms of unemployment and flight of capital anxiously looking for better
profits, it looks like "end of world" attitude. It is not that big money
doesn´t earn enough, but it is for capitalists certainly not enough if
they cannot count of big sums of money coming into profits.

Capitalism should be punished for antisocial attitudes, but reality
tells us that nobody is good enough to stop it, so they can turn lives
of millions into misery without any legal problem or conscience´s.
Nowadays the capital is sacred, the individual investments whatever they
are based on are also sacred. Everywhere there is fear; it seems as if
it should be the end of times.

I think one principle has been broken: progressive tax to people with
higher incomes is no longer applied in some countries such as Spain.
Rich people express great tension and they need to protect themselves
with unconceivable laws to encourage this.

So, the transfer of funds to services provided, mainly healthcare and
education is been jeopardized. Obviously the immigration tide has much
to see in this subject, as society leaders have turned to contemplate
people, not as co-nationals but as a mass of greedy people trying to
solve urgent problems their countries of origin do not provide them
with, as rulers are autocrats in countries they think they own. So we
have all become European immigrants in our own countries in spite of
paying high taxes to ensure basic social services.

Welfare state has been damaged in such principles as equality of
opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth and public responsibility
and very important: to ensure minimal provisions for a good life.

Capitalism is endangering ethics, as they have got an army of thousand
of million people in poor countries fighting for survival to be enslaved
freely, with greedy governments ready to cooperate or look on the other

Lola Garona.


Those political commentators who usually argue agaist welfare put
forward two arguments. The first is that welfare is subject to abuse to
the extent that countries with generous welfare systems attract economic
migrants that are a burden on the system. The second argument is that
welfare discourages people from entering the labour market and thus
become contributors to the economy.

I am not convinced that poverty and welfare are necessary determining
causes on each other. Hence, although in some respects they are
connected, poverty and welfare have a scope independent of each other.

Without going into too much detail the modern version of the welfare
system is conceptually based on the British system that was a political
promise made to the British people for their sacrifice during the Second
World War.

The system was based on a sort of pyramid scheme where one third of the
nation would finance and support the rest of the country and the very
same workers who might find themselves in financial trouble.

The irony is that today's failure of the welfare state system is caused
by the very same factor that has caused the collapse of the neo liberal
economic system. This factor is the assumption that there will always be
a net growth in the economy and hence businesses and job creating
institutions will always be net recipients of this wealth. The welfare
state was never supposed to be financed by borrowed money and the neo
liberal economy was supposed to create new money. However, the economy
post 1980's was beginning to affect the welfare system and labour
market. One of the big changes at the time was that credit was no longer
a vehicle to enable transactions but a means to create more money in the
system by simply buying everything today and pay later; except more
money in the system does not equate to wealth. And as everyone knows
today many people are going to be unemployed later. Money is what we
need for transactions but wealth is what we need for investment: buying
a car is a transaction, owning the patent rights of the car is wealth.

But creating money and especially wealth takes time and time is what
people who wanted to get rich quickly did not have. Hence the situation

It is true that abuse of the welfare system can put strains on the
system but abuse in and of itself is not an argument to reduce or get
rid of the welfare state. After all no one suggests that we should get
rid of the government just because some ministers abuse their office.

One of the most effective ways for people not to abuse the welfare state
is to create a stable economy for companies to create wealth and thus
offer stable jobs to people. But wealth creation is incompatible with
quarterly profits higher than the previous quarter.

The other way to reduce welfare abuse is to have a mechanism that makes
abuse difficult but legitimate users easy to obtain. Helping people in
kind rather than cash can go a long way. People who abuse the welfare
system are usually after the cash and not the services it provides.

As for the argument that welfare creates a dependency for people that
make it difficult for them to want to enter the labour market is
probably also based on a fallacy. The irony is that neo liberal economic
thinking (and I am using the term rather loosely here - another non
academic term would probably be free-for-all economics) is that although
there is no ration agent to model economic behaviour, the rational thing
to do for a person on welfare is to stay on welfare if the alternative
is not sufficiently profitable.

Furthermore, even if we discount labour movement, not only must a job be
more profitable than a welfare payment, but more importantly, there must
be jobs to go to. What is clear is that there are not many jobs in most
economies to cater for the various skills one finds in an economy; and
still pay a fair wage. It is beyond a coincidence that the welfare
system is mainly used by unskilled people and not many bank presidents
or CEOs of multinationals rely on the welfare system for their income.

What was once a system that served as a safety net for people in
transition between jobs or hardship periods has today become a long term
country club where governments underwrite the subscription fees so that
the private business sector can pursue short term profits instead of
long term wealth and growth.

The only relationship between poverty and the welfare system is that
poor people are more likely to be excluded from the profitable labour
market. But poverty is not just a matter of not having money but also a
mind set, or group culture. Many people don't have money but still
retain their dignity and still manage to be in reasonably paid jobs.

What is happening today is that there seems to be a class shift
downwards. Those people who once occupied the lower and middle levels of
the middle class have had their real income reduced substantially to the
extent that their living standards have been reduced but their asset
costs have increased (i.e. mortgages, cost of education, transport,
health costs). The poor have always remained poor and those who made it
out of this class did so on their own and through hard work. The middle
classes were never meant to be members of the welfare system but net

But if you remember, the middle class was the creation of more complex
machinery of state that was required by monarchs to keep their enemies
away from their wealth. The king (sometimes queen) had enough people to
help them plunder the wealth of the land and that of others. He only
need a middle class when more people wanted part of the action and
started offering their more sophisticated ways to plunder more
efficiently. Today, these maverick kings are not called kings, but CEOs,
heads of families, presidents, offshore investors, and "bosses". And
like their predecessors they do not need to employ many people to
channel the bulk of global wealth their way.

Thus poverty is inequitable distribution of resources probably based on
the natural instincts of greed and domination of others. The welfare
system was a political pact in recognition that those who operate the
machines of state and production (working classes) are worthy of
recognition and help when they need it. However, this pact in now in
tethers because the state as a model of power and wealth distribution
has been abrogated in favour of wealth concentration by a few economy
outriders and their sidekicks.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SATURDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Poverty and Welfare

Friday, July 11, 2014

from Lawrence, SATURDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Is Justice Revenge?

Dear Friends,

This Saturday we are discussing: Is Justice Revenge?

In my few ideas on the topic I try to argue that this idea of -Justice
being Revenge- would be a limited perspective of Justice given its
ubiquitous nature. But what is justice really? Ruel has also sent us a
link to his essay:

Hello Lawrence,
I wrote a short essay on the topic to be discussed on Saturday at
PhiloMadrid. Here is the link:
See you there on Saturday.


Is Justice Revenge?

To think of justice as revenge is probably to think of only a narrow
spectrum of the complex topic of justice. Precisely, crime and
punishment in criminal law and maybe punitive damages in tort and civil law.
But even in criminal law within free constitutional democracies,
punishment is not regarded as revenge but rather social disapproval of
certain behaviour and as a deterrent to stop similar behaviour by people
in the future. Now whether the punishment fits the crime, that's another

Indeed the idea of justice is usually associated with what is acceptable
behaviour, for example the traffic regulations are usually there to tell
us what is safe driving. Thus justice is there for us to know in advance
what we can rightfully expect to have or claim as ours or our right. the
other form of justice is restitutional justice: if someone crashes into
our car we have a whole body of regulations and laws on such things as
compensation and replacement to make sure we are not worse off (up to a
point) than before. In most cases these situations are not criminal
offences. But even if a particular accident was a criminal offence this
would be a separate issue. Usually criminal offenses are matters for the

But so far I have referred to justice only in the legal context, so what
about in philosophy and maybe general usage?

Of course "is justice revenge?" is not really a philosophical problem on
the grounds that not all justice involves punishment and not all revenge
involve justices. For examples, some situations are clearly unjust but
no crime like acts have been committed a good example would be at work
where you do the hard work and the boss gets the glory. This is not a
crime. And no matter how angry you are it is probably not a good idea to
put a laxative in your boss's coffee because that might very well be a

In a way justice is a pragmatic way of fixing broken relationships. We
need to find ways where the damage someone has caused us is repaired
without causing serious physical consequences; for example being beaten
to death.

If justice is a pragmatic way to restore relationships, revenge must be
an emotional impulse when this pragmatic measure fails. Thus the
expression "getting one's own back" is a clear indication that we feel
that the social structure of justice has failed us.

Feeling that we are victims of some wrong doing is also a natural
emotion clearly linked to self preservation. Restoring the state of
equilibrium is also a natural reaction we are compelled into by nature.
The question is whether revenge is also a natural instinct or whether it
is an emotional calculation over riding of our sense of justice. It is
one thing to seek a balance and justice and other to also seek emotional
or physical harm on the perpetrator. We can look at revenge as the
interest due on the injustice caused to us.

thus while our legal sense of justice may, more or less, coincide with
our social and personal sense of justice, the weakness of this set up is
our emotional perspective on the injustice caused to us.

The failure for social justice to take into account our emotional
perspective might certainly lead to undesirable behaviour such as
revenge. And despite the attempt by the leading brains in jurisprudence
to deal with this situation by taking into account psychological
distress, another way of saying emotions, the situation is less than

The classical example of this state of affairs is fatal accidents by
drunk drivers. Sometimes the punishment for killing someone under the
influence of alcohol when driving is less than shoplifting a loaf of
bread. Clearly the law does not take into account the feelings of those
close to the victim.

The final philosophical question we can ask is whether justice is really
an issue for morality and ethics. That acts and behaviours can be right
or wrong are indeed within the domain of ethics. But justice, as I have
argued, is about restoring broken relationships by overriding any
emotion instincts.

At the very least justice should be part of philosophy of mind because
it is about our ability to reconcile conflicting emotions in our brain:
to seek revenge on the one hand and on the other hands not to over react.

Thus although revenge cannot be said to justice, both can be practiced
independent of each other. And both have their benefits and fallout.
Justice restores relationships but many times at the cost if emotions
and revenge appeases the emotions but at the cost of escalating the

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SATURDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Is Justice Revenge?

Thursday, July 03, 2014

from Lawrence, SATURDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: The limits of personal autonomy.

Dear Friends,

Don't forget that in July we now MEET on SATURDAY at six thirty pm.

In the meantime our topic this SATURDAY is: The limits of personal
autonomy. This is quite apt given that everyone in the city takes off to
kingdom come for the next three months thus limiting our autonomy to
meet when we usually do for our philosophy meetings.

In the meantime Ruel has sent us the link to his essay:

Hi Lawrence,
Below is the link to the essay I wrote for Saturday's PhiloMadrid.
See you next time.
All the best,

And I have written a few ideas on the subject.

------from Lawrence

The limits of personal autonomy.

We can agree that a working definition of autonomy would be independence
from external influences. However, this cannot possibly be unlimited
ability and opportunity to act at will.

To being with, our bodies are limited to the laws of physics and even
more important to the biological structure it is made of and made for.
Thus our first limitation is related to our very biological body that we
are. Furthermore, we usually ascribe more properties to personhood than
mere body existence. For example, we don't ask about the limits of
autonomy about a fridge. Refrigerators are designed to function with set
of mechanical objective and that is it.

But it is also true that we see our actions as being willed and we will
our body to go through a series of physical movements to bring about a
physical state of affairs to satisfy our person desires. Even a very
metaphysical objective such as a will to do good to others requires
physical acts that have to be willed from our part.

In reality, however, even our acts which we perceive as being free and
independent are themselves limited to a number of factors that are not
biological or physical limitations but human made limitations. The
capacity to spell-check my errors whilst writing is a direct product of
the algorithm written by the IT engineers who designed my word
processor. But since the algorithm sometimes gets it wrong because it
has to deal with my text in English and its default Spanish setting
because I bought my PC in Spain, is clearly a limitation on my personal
autonomy. We can argue about PC design flaws but we can accept that this
is not necessarily a limitation to limit our freedom to act or maybe as
an act of aggression against us.

But is my inability to afford a house another of those neutral
limitations or something more. Maybe my inability to buy a house and the
African worker's inability to afford to buy a loaf of bread every day is
more than just a neutral happenstance. Maybe my inability to buy a car
is designed in the economic model of income remuneration for labour.
Natural objects are physically scarce objects, so we just cannot produce
enough cars for everyone. Even the ubiquitous mobile phone is limited to
distribution costs.

So when we think we are free and independent to act on personal volition
we are really acting within the confines of our sphere of independence
set up within the economic model. I can give one million Euros in
charity because I have access to an income large enough to make it
possible to have spare money to make a one million euro donation to
charity. In reality our actions are always limited to our physical
capacity; even those who not paid up empiricists would find it difficult
to pray to god every minute of their life. Sooner or later they will
drop dead like the rest of us!

Thus our personal limits are first and foremost dictated by our
biological make up and secondly our autonomy is limited by the physical
make up of the environment around us. We can even go so far as to accept
these limitations as neutral limitation absent of malice. But what about
the boss who keeps holding us back on a promotion because of jealousy,
would this be a neural limitation or a malicious act? And when a
government taxes their people such that it takes them the equivalent of
six months wages to pay, would this be another of those things or a
malicious policy to oppress people?

In reality the limits of our personal autonomy are very numerous indeed.
To use an analogy, being able to buy a house and live a comfortable life
is the equivalent of man going to the moon in space travel terms; it
looks impressive from our context but irrelevant in the big picture.
Thus being able to choose what house or what car to buy might seem
spectacular from our perspective, but irrelevant from the perspective of
the empirical universe we are boxed in by our more powerful competitors.
The good news is that even these powerful competitors are limited by the
empirical forces activated by scarce resources.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SATURDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: The limits of personal


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