Thursday, September 29, 2016

Do Atoms Exist?

Most of us in this day and age consider our belief in atoms as old news in the ontology of the universe.  Why would we ever question their existence?  Yet if you think carefully about the history of science, the principles of induction, and the practical evidence we have available to us, we ought to wonder for just a moment: Why do we believe that atoms exist?  More specifically, what evidence do you have--your average educated person--for belief in the existence of atoms?

Imagine that you’re back in 1860, at the first international Karlsruhe Congress.  The topic then was whether in fact atoms existed or not.  The players: Mendeleev, Meyer, and a series of other big name scientists in the history of chemistry.  During this time, you have to remember, chemistry, along with many of the other sciences, was in a state of complete transition.  Most chemists believed in atoms and molecules, of course, but nobody could agree about their formulation or could give rational justification for their existence.  Consider for example, that in 1860 chemists didn’t even agree about the molecular formula of water, with many leading chemists believing at the time that water’s molecular formula was OH, and not H2O.

So seriously, why do we believe that atoms exist?  Let’s think about this.  Why do you believe that atoms exist?  

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Philosophy Opportunity

Philosophy students, if you would like an opportunity to get some experience doing academic philosophy, consider being a reviewer for the undergraduate journal STANCE.  See the information below.


An International Undergraduate Philosophy Journal


Stance seeks undergraduate philosophy students to serve as external reviewers. This is an exciting pre-professional learning opportunity. Reviewers hone their writing, researching, and reviewing skills by collaborating with a groundbreaking journal. Reviewers must have advanced undergraduate experience in philosophy, strengths in writing and editing, and the self-motivation necessary to complete work by given deadlines. As such, in addition to this application form, one letter of recommendation is required.

Chosen reviewers will be given one of two opportunities. Most will be External Reviewers and will be responsible for reviewing one or two papers in early January. A few will be selected to serve as Assistant Editorial Board members on our review teams. Assistant Editorial Board members will read and review approximately 20 papers in December. All reviewers receive training material that explains what is expected in the review of each submission. Reviewers will also be credited in both the print and electronic versions of the journal.

If you are interested, please provide us with the following information:


Name of School:

Year in School:


Philosophy Courses Taken:

What is your specialty or concentration?

What experience do you have that would qualify you for this project?

What goals do you have that working on Stance will support?

What, in your opinion, are the makings of a good philosophy paper?

Students should:

(1) return this application to (include "External Reviewer Application" as the subject heading) and

(2) arrange for a philosophy professor to send a letter of recommendation to (include "LOR" as the subject heading for recommendation letter). These can be found at

For more information, see

Deadline: October 21, 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Killing for one's "Best Interests"

The distinction between killing (act) and letting die (omission) is nuanced and controversial in ethics.  It divides theorists into many different camps given its potential application and implications in medical scenarios.  On the other hand, Trolley Problem cases appear purely theoretical.  More often than not, testing our moral intuitions by thinking about whether we'll pull a lever or push someone onto some railroad tracks appears useless...interesting sometimes, but not really helpful.

What if we combined the issues, however?  In a recent paper, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics (31 August 2016), Dr Zoe B. Fritz of Warwick University proposes a way to determine whether we should actively kill an "incapacitous patient", i.e., a patient that is in a permanent vegetative state, in order to harvest their organs.  Is it possible to evaluate what the "best interests" of that patient might be in order to make this decision?  Dr. Fritz suggests the use of trolley problem scenarios to help answer this question.


"In this paper, I explore under what circumstances it might be morally acceptable to transplant organs from a patient lacking capacity. I argue, with a developed hypothetical based around a mother and son, that (1) ‘Best interests’ should be interpreted broadly to include the interests that people have previously expressed in the well-being of others. It could, therefore, be in the ‘best interests’ of an unconscious patient to donate a non-vital organ to a family member. (2) Further expanding upon this case, and developing a variation on the ‘trolley problems’ I argue that where it is inevitable that an incapacitous patient is going to die—and specifically when it has been agreed through the courts that a patient in a permanent vegetative state is going to have clinically assisted nutrition and hydration withdrawn (with the inevitable consequence of death, and causing desiccation of the organs such that they are no longer able to be donated)—it could be in a patient's best interests to actively end their life with a drug that would stop the heart both to minimise potential suffering and in order to be able to have vital organs donated. I argue that in this case the strict adherence to the distinction between acts and omissions is not in the patient's best interests and should be reconsidered."

To read the full article, click HERE