International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 142 30 March 2009


I. 'Philosophy's Present Perspective' by Jasper Doomen

II. 'A Critique of Peter Raabe on Placebo Philosophy and Religion' by
   Ruel F. Pepa

III. 'Response to Max Malikow on Altruistic Suicide' by Geoffrey Frost



This issue of Philosophy Pathways is dedicated to the memory of my wife, June  Wynter-Klempner, who died last Wednesday, March 25 at St Luke's Hospice,  Sheffield. A devout Catholic and also a talented painter, June special love was religious art, and our home was full of her canvases, sculptures and  watercolours.

We met at an art class in 1986. It was on my wife's insistence that I returned  to philosophy after a period of doubt and self-questioning.

The theme of our marriage was 'difference'. My grandparents were Jews from  Eastern Europe; June's parents emigrated to the UK from Jamaica in the 60's.  The conclusion of my 1998 paper, 'The ethics of dialogue' shows the strong  influence of our marriage on the development of my philosophical views:

     Commitment to moral dialogue binds us together as social,
     moral beings. Nothing, finally, exhibits that fact more
     starkly than the custom of two individuals solemnly
     agreeing to share the rest of their lives together, 'for
     better or for worse'. Between the partners of a marriage
     there is no accepted buffer zone of 'tolerant' indifference;
     arguably, an essential ingredient in the cement of human
     society at large. I have to be prepared to justify each and
     any of my actions to you -- at least, those which impinge on
     you or the children, which is near about all -- as you have
     to be prepared to justify each and any of your actions to
     me. More than that, each of us must answer to what has
     become of our life -- the life we planned, or dreamed,
     dreams brought to fruition or which we sorrowfully failed
     to bring to fruition, a life racked and riven by painful
     adjustments and renunciations on both sides, coloured by
     the resentment over lost hopes and opportunities,
     periodically and continually thrown into question as if we
     were free to start with a blank sheet when in truth there
     seems precious little room for anything but the occasional
     marginal scribble. Yet for all that, you are my truest
     'thou' (in the popular phrase, my 'significant other') and
     to break off our dialogue now, after all that has gone
     before, would be to choose a spiritual death. -- Is a form
     of human society conceivable that did not have choice of
     relationship at its core? Would it be possible for all
     moral dialogue to be conducted 'safely', at arms length? --
     Such a society would surely be a society without a centre
     at all.
     Geoffrey Klempner 'The Ethics of Dialogue'

The funeral will take place at Our Lady and St Thomas of Beauchief Catholic  Church, Meadowhead, Sheffield S7 at 10 am, Wednesday, April 1, followed by  interment at Hutcliffe Wood Cemetery, Abbey Lane. Reception at the church is on Tuesday, March 31 at 6.30-7.30 pm.


In this issue, Jasper Doomen gives his take on the current state of academic  philosophy, criticizing the trend to over-specialization which he argues is  contrary to the true spirit of philosophy.

Ruel Pepa raises some pertinent questions about Peter Raabe's provocative  article, 'Placebo Religion and Philosophy' which appeared in issue 135 of  Philosophy Pathways.

Geoffrey Frost responds to Max Malikow's article, 'Altruistic Suicide' which  appeared in the most recent issue, 141, of Philosophy Pathways.

Geoffrey Klempner



Philosophy's position vis-a-vis the sciences has evolved from an encompassing  one, in ancient times, when mathematics and natural sciences had not yet  produced results to such an extent to qualify them as separate disciplines,  through an auxiliary one in the medieval academic curriculum, embracing what is now known as the humanities and some basic education in mathematics and  astronomy -- characterized together as the artes liberales -- to a present,  relatively clearly demarcated one.[1] As the various sciences have progressed,  several new fields have come to the fore, having been divided as  specializations, e.g. biochemistry, geology and linguistics. Philosophy itself  has only recently presented itself as a distinct discipline.[2]

This development is usually beneficiary or even necessary: there is often a  high degree to which one needs to command a specific knowledge or to be able to perform very particular tasks. In the case of the sciences, a number of external factors call for the specialization. In the field of medicine, for instance, new inventions make it possible to cure diseases, or facilitate treatments; new  applications of techniques in the field of architectural engineering, to  mention another relevant domain, have a great impact on our infrastructure.

This situation does not apply to philosophy, or at least not necessarily.  Philosophy is a reflective discipline. It, too, has flourished and seen the  rise of new branches, such as philosophy of mind, and its body of thought has  vastly expanded. Moreover, within the already existing branches, it has seen a  degree of specialization not unlike that in many of the sciences. It may now  prove to be as difficult for someone who has focused on one of its fields to  comprehend -- let alone gain a sufficient overview -- the results obtained in  another. The developments in the field of logic, in particular since the rise  of predicate logic, for example, have been impressive, both quantitatively and  qualitatively; it can be very hard -- and not just as a result of a lack of  time -- to command them for a supposedly relatively informed scholar, such as  someone who has acquired a general knowledge of philosophy and has concentrated on an unrelated field as aesthetics. Some of the specializations in philosophy  may nowadays indeed be regarded as fully developed fields of study, with enough literature and relevant topics at one's disposal to fill a Bachelor's program if one would so desire.

This state of affairs is easily contrasted with those in earlier times. As  simplistic and outdated as some theories propagated by ancient and medieval  philosophers may seem to be at present -- though I would by no means want this  to imply that they in fact are -- at least those thinkers could discuss their  topics in common. Of course, one may object that the reason this was possible  lies precisely in the fact that these were still, in a number of respects,  somewhat crude and lacking: a limited amount of information is easily shared.  Though this is not without merit, it rather points to something else. None of  the issues previous philosophers have dealt with have been resolved at present  in a philosophical way; if any answers have been found (albeit provisional ones),
they can be qualified as scientific, having been emancipated once  rubricating the results obtained necessitated this process. Actual responses  were found, so that any philosophical interest waned. The real philosophical  discussions have merely become more sophisticated. Further, some discussions in philosophy are closely connected with scientific issues, such as artificial  intelligence,[3] psychology,[4] Darwinism,[5] physics,[6] mathematics[7]  economy,[8] and law.[9]

The thorough specialization which has slowly become characteristic for  philosophy in the same way as it has for the sciences has led to results not  unlike those which can be ascertained in the realm of the sciences. It is not  surprising that scientists of widely different disciplines can hardly  understand each other's research -- a geneticist and an art historian, for  example, have relatively little in common -- a situation which will only  increase as time goes by and there will be a growth in results, which will  moreover become more intricate than before.[10] As I said, external factors are largely responsible for this outcome. As long as one wants to maintain the  standard of living one has come to know and to strive for progress (in whatever way one wants to comprehend the word),[11] benefiting from new cures to diseases, relatively safe ways of transportation, and such, this situation, at least to some degree, must be accepted.

Philosophy's position differs from this in that the presence of the external  factors mentioned is less compelling. There is no need for philosophy to  produce material results craved for by society. Its presence is justified by  its task to reflect on issues such as those discussed here. In order to  maintain this position, however, it seems necessary that it is not scattered  like the sciences. In the case of the sciences, this is to some extent a result of their own success; in the case of philosophy, no similar success has been  reached. By developing as it has, it will in the end render itself useless as  the justification mentioned will have ceased to exist. To be sure, the highly  specialized debates it produces are not devoid of value, but this consists  primarily in the exercise of (academic) abilities; because of the ever higher  degree of differentiation, it will prove to be difficult to share thoughts  except between a small group of specialists, which is exactly the case for the  sciences, with the crucial difference, again, that in their case there is a  need to resort to this state of affairs, a need which does not rise for  philosophy.

How, then, could some sort of unity be maintained in philosophy? It seems  necessary to ascertain a canon of literature, comprising the most important  works which have appeared. Of course, it may be a matter of debate which would  be included. Still, the problem is not yet as great as it might seem. At the  moment, there is still enough coherence and some consensus about the literature appears to exist, considering contents of the courses taught at universities. As to the writings, it is necessary that one focus on the content rather than on  the quantity of secondary literature mentioned. If it serves a supporting role, the use of literature is desirable, but it should not replace the primary goal,  to convey one's message, a danger which lurks with the ever growing amount of  (secondary) literature one is expected to keep up with.[12]


1. There was, of course, no specific moment when this situation presented  itself; rather, a gradual development occurred, and it may be argued that as  late as the 18th century, philosophy was not yet regarded as a separate  discipline in some respects (R. Posner, The Problematics of Moral and Legal  Theory, pp. 111, 112. Cambridge, Mass/ London: The Belknap Press of Harvard  University, 1999).

2. Cf. R. Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 131. Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1980.

3. E.g. J. Searle, 'Minds, Brains, and Programs'. In The Behavioral and Brain  Sciences, vol. 3, issue 3: pp. 417-457. New York, NY: Cambridge University  Press, 1980.

4. E.g. D. Dennett, Consciousness Explained. Boston/ Toronto/ London: Little,  Brown and Company, 1991.

5. E.g. D. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea. London: Allen Lane, The Penguin  Press, 1995.

6. E.g. W. Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy. New York: Harper and Row, 1958.

7. E.g. H. Poincare, La Science et l'Hypothese, Ch. 1-5, 9. Paris: Ernest  Flammarion, 1912; P. Benacerraf, 'Mathematical Truth'. In The Journal of  Philosophy, vol. 70, issue 19, November 8, 1973.

8. E.g. J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1999.

9. E.g. R. Posner, op.cit.

10. One may, of course, relativize the value of these results from an academic  perspective (cf. T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, pp. 163, 164 . Chicago/ London: The University of Chicago Press, 1996).

11. It may be difficult to maintain that progress may be realized at all, but a discussion on that matter would lead to too great a digression here.

12. Ironically, this paper itself contributes to this problem.

(c) Jasper Doomen 2009




At the beginning of his essay 'Placebo Philosophy and Religion'[1], Peter Raabe acquaints us with an understanding of the concept of 'placebo':

     [A] placebo is a faux-medication (such as a sugar pill)
     with no active therapeutic ingredients. A placebo effect is
     when the patient believes that the faux-medication he is
     receiving has active ingredients in it because he's
     convinced he can feel its non-existent effects.
     (italicization supplied)

Prof. Raabe's point in the above statements is specifically in the area of  belief -- i.e., how the mind accepts (or rejects) something that the body  receives. What he talks about in this sense is something that has been  introduced to the body and the mind takes it as the real thing. This point  should be kept in memory as the author later in the paper appropriates the same concept to describe a certain type of religion and a certain type of philosophy  which to him are not acceptable. However, such application of the concept of ' placebo' is very much different from what he later says:

     I define placebo religion as when a believer believes that
     a piece of supposedly spiritual writing he is reading has
     active spiritual 'ingredients' within it. The same piece of
     writing will cause different believers to understand the
     spiritual message in very different ways. But like the
     placebo pill, placebo religion has no 'active ingredient'
     in it; the message of placebo religion is always vague,
     ambiguous, full of cliches and New Age platitudes, so that
     multiple interpretations can all seem correct.
This concern is about an idea (which is supposed to be 'spiritual') introduced, of course, not to a person's body but to his/ her mind and therefore the mind  has a direct or immediate even automatic access to it through cognition. In  this case, nothing is 'placebo.'

Supportive of his own assertion, Prof. Raabe further comments:

     In placebo religion all the benefit comes from the belief
     of the believer. Not surprisingly there are psychological
     benefits, just like there are with a placebo pill, but
     there is no evidence that there's any spiritual benefit in
     the writing itself. For example, there is no evidence that
     there is an 'absolute Truth' or that finding it will lead
     to some sort of miraculous change in one's life. Without
     belief a placebo religion, just like a placebo pill, has
     nothing substantial to offer. And to offer placebo religion
     as though there's something substantial in it is clearly
     deceptive and immoral.
The problem with this view is the author's failure to signify the fact that all religion is a matter of belief -- in fact, a matter of faith -- wherein no  factual basis is deemed necessary. In religion, what is given due weight are  the resultant notions of in-depth reflections driven by the human desire to get to a better and more coherent understanding of the human condition regardless of how a certain aspect of reality is perceived objectively.

Accepting Prof. Raabe's view on religion logically leads us to conclude that  there is no religion that is not placebo. As far as 'spiritual benefit' is  concerned, it is not Prof. Raabe nor anybody professing her/ his religion has  the right/ duty/ capability to determine a person's 'spiritual benefit' from  her/ his religion except the person who practices the religion herself/himself.

What makes the situation worse is, Prof. Raabe's attempts to further extend his claim into the realm of the philosophical as he scores that,

     [u]nfortunately, not all philosophy is beneficial. There
     exists quite a bit of what I call placebo philosophy. The
     ancient philosopher Epicurus said that philosophy which
     does not relieve any human suffering is just empty
     philosophy. Just like a pill that is empty of any medicinal
     ingredients is a placebo pill, philosophy that is empty of
     any beneficial 'ingredients' is placebo philosophy.
Yet, it is important to note that this view could simply be understood as a  matter of Epicurus' opinion. Philosophy may lead one to suffering but such a  situation is all because of one's commitment to always search for truth. One  thing that we should realize is that searching for truth -- which is a serious  philosophical commitment -- does not always make us feel good. In other words,  engaging in philosophical exploration/ adventure/ inquiry is oft-times (if not  always) 'painful' and not 'relieving.'

The misleading notion advanced by Prof. Raabe here is that for philosophy to be genuine, it has to 'relieve suffering.' This notion is not only misleading but  illusory because for philosophy to truly serve humanity, it should have its  feet touching the ground of human reality which is generally characterized by  sufferings. In view of this, philosophy's major role is to bring humanity face  to face with reality whatever its condition may be.

Prof. Raabe disagrees:

     Empty intellectual philosophy consists of published works
     that are difficult if not impossible to understand because
     they're full of technical jargon, neologisms (invented
     words), ambiguity, vagueness, New Ageisms, and
     post-modernisms that lend themselves to a multitude of
With this, Prof. Raabe unfortunately fails to realize that such is the very  condition that makes philosophy exciting and challenging: A multitude of  interpretations. Why flee from the challenges posed by whatever form of  philosophical/ intellectual discourse?


1. Peter B. Raabe 'Placebo Religion and Philosophy'
    Philosophy Pathways Issue 135, 2 May 2008

(c) Ruel F. Pepa 2009

Professor Ruel F. Pepa Trinity University of Asia




I have enjoyed reading Max Malikow's thought-provoking articles but I feel I  must take issue with him about the most recent one on Altruistic Suicide.[1] I  applaud his defence of the concept of altruism against the arguments of Daniel  Robinson and Ayn Rand. It is the matter of suicide that I dispute.

The principal examples used do not meet the definition of suicide viz.'the act  or instance of intentionally killing one's self'. It is the intention of those  in the examples that is at issue because their actions were each intended to  further quite another objective than killing themselves. The pilot wanted to  avoid harming the children in the playground, Clementine Geraci wanted her baby to be born unharmed, the naval chaplains wanted to save the lives of other  sailors.

That all of them were prepared to accept an inevitable death demonstrates, not  that they sought this, but the steadfastness of their other purposes. If they  could have achieved their aims without dying they would surely have done so.  Had they chosen to die unnecessarily, when their aims could have been achieved  another way, the moral status of their actions would have been compromised.

The US Marines and the Japanese Samurai seek to act honourably in conflict, not to die, even if they are prepared to do so. Kamikaze pilots intended to destroy  their targets. Soldiers who behave recklessly, seeming to seek their own deaths, are often considered to be in pursuit of their own glory and thus not  altruistic. By virtue of their recklessness they are neither good people nor  good soldiers.

Considering suttee, in the West, at least, we have moral objections to the  practice which I think are these. First; the main objective is the death itself, an outcome which can't be regarded as good in itself. Second; any other  objectives (perhaps the honour of the family and demonstration of devotion) are only to be achieved by virtue of the death itself. Third; because of family and  cultural pressure, or the perception of that by the widow, the action may not  be freely entered into. If it isn't free, action isn't altruistic.

As I understand the gospel accounts of the death of Jesus, he was crucified by  people who were free agents like everybody else, as a result of their  intentions, not His. That He was aware He would die and accepted death is not  to say that He intended it. This may be a simplification of complex theology  but I think it is a defensible analysis even if there is a lot more to be said  on the matter.

In the light of the above I am very doubtful if there could be any instance of  true altruistic suicide. The instances Max Malikow cites do not persuade me  otherwise, not as Ayn Rand and Daniel Robinson might argue because altruism is  disputed but because suicide has not been established.


1. Max Malikow 'Altruistic Suicide'
    Philosophy Pathways Issue 141, 30 January 2009

(c) Geoffrey Frost 2009


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020