4th Annual Felician Ethics Conference

I have presented at two of these conferences and each time it has been a fun and rewarding experience. I strongly encourage people to submit something!

The fourth annual meeting of the Felician Ethics Conference will be held at the Rutherford campus of Felician College on Saturday, April 24, 2010, from 9 am – 6 pm. (Felician’s Rutherford campus is located at 223 Montross Ave., Rutherford NJ, 07070.)

The plenary speaker is Christopher Morris (University of Maryland, College Park), speaking on the topic, “Why Be Just?”

Submissions on any topic in moral philosophy (broadly construed) are welcome, not exceeding 25 minutes’ presentation time (approximately 3,000 words). Please send submissions via email in format suitable for blind review by Feb. 1, 2010 to:felicianethicsconference@gmail.com.

Alternatively, send surface mail to:

Irfan Khawaja, Conference Coordinator

Dept. of Philosophy

Felician College

262 S. Main St.

Lodi, NJ 07644

Undergraduate submissions are invited for a proposed session consisting of undergraduate papers.

If you have any questions, or would be interested in serving as a commentator and/or chair for individual sessions, please contact Irfan Khawaja, (201) 559-6000 (x6288), orfelicianethicsconference@gmail.com.

The Terminator and Philosophy: Call for Abstracts

The Terminator and Philosophy

Edited by Richard Brown and Kevin S. Decker

The Blackwell Philosophy and Popular Culture Series

Please circulate and post widely.

Apologies for Cross-posting.

To propose ideas for future volumes in the Blackwell series please contact the Series Editor, William Irwin, at wtirwin@kings.edu.

Abstracts and subsequent essays should be philosophically substantial but accessible, written to engage the intelligent lay reader. Contributors of accepted essays will receive an honorarium.

Possible themes and topics might include, but are not limited to, the following:

“Can We Really Change the Future?” or “Killing Sarah Connor”: Cyberdyne Systems, time travel and the grandfather paradox; Skynet and John Connor: philosophy of technology and creating our own enemies; “Sentience, Sapience, and Self-Awareness”: issues in philosophy of mind; Neural Net to Supercomputer to ‘Software in Cyberspace’: Skynet and multiple realization;“Is Skynet Justified in Defending Itself?” the ethics of war and artificial intelligence; “Irrefutable Delusions”: Sarah Connor, Delusional Beliefs, and Standards of Evidence in T2;“Stop Miles Bennett Dyson”: Sarah Connor’s transformation into a killer (is violence contagious?) or Sarah Connor’s transformation from ‘80’s ditz to Feminist Icon; “Judgment Day is Unavoidable” or “No Fate but what we Make”: eternalist vs. presentist perspectives on the original versus modified timelines; “John Connor is the Most Important Person in the World”: causality and the meaning of life; “To Preserve and Protect”: the contrastive values of human versus artificial life; “What is a Terminator?”: The Ontology of Fictional Objects; “I Have Data Which Could be Interpreted as Pain”: machines, consciousness, and simulated perception; The T-1000: adaptable machines and emergence; How Did They Build Skynet?: “truthmakers” and knowledge with no source; Andy and the Turk: killing the innocent to save the innocent or Are scientists responsible for their inventions?; “Terminatrix”: the T3 gynoid , feminism, and trangressive cyborgs; “Should we Stop the Future?”: Conservatism and the “Terminator Argument” in bioethics; “The Closest Thing to a Father I Have”: John Connor & the Terminator; “Desire is Irrelevant, I am a MACHINE”: Who is Responsible for the Terminator’s Actions? Or freewill vs determinism; “Assume the Shape of Anything it Touches”: The Metaphysics of Transformation in T2 & T3; The Govinator: Fantasy and reality in politics; Does the Future Exist now?: The nature of spacetime and reality; Embodied Artificial Intelligence: Is AI actually possible, and if so, how close are we to creating it?; Monstrous Technology: From Frankenstein to the Terminator.

Submission Guidelines:

1. Submission deadline for abstracts (100-500 words) and CV(s): September 8, 2008.

2. Submission deadline for drafts of accepted papers: November 3, 2008.

Kindly submit by e-mail (with or without Word attachment) to: Richard Brown at onemorebrown@yahoo.com

Polygamy & Incest

One thing you sometimes hear from the anti-gay marriage folks is that if we ‘change the definition’ of marriage to allow for same-sex marriages then we will have to allow polygamist and incestuous marriages, perhaps even people marrying animals (I actually think we should seperate marriage and civil unions but I ignore that issue in this post) . To start with the easiest first, animals. Whatever else marriage is it involves promise-making between two agents capable of making promises. This automatically precludes the possibility of marrying animals (in the cultures that allow people-animal marriage there is usually the background assumption of reincarnation thus the animal is thought of as something that can make a promise).

But what about incest? What is wrong with incest? This is a difficult question to answer. By incest I mean consenting sexual relations between related individuals (this rules out child molestation). But how related? It is legal to marry a 2nd or 3rd cousin. Is this incestuous marriage? Well, what about a brother/sister or father/daughter marriage? Should these be allowed? Arguably not. IF, as some people think, marriage is generally intended to encourage and support child rearing then the state has an interest in forbidding these kinds of marriages. Incestuous sexual relations of this sort almost always lead to children that are genetically damaged. In fact this is probably the reason that we are disposed to find this kind of behavior so revolting. But if the incest is really between consenting adults and precautions are taken against pregnancy then we should not automatically rule this as immoral. I think that, in a very, very, small number of cases it might turn out that this was allowable, but we still would not have to approve of incestuous marriages.

So, what about polygamy? If we endorse gay marriage are we committed to allowing polygamist marriages? First we must ask if there is anything wrong with these kinds of marriages? Martha Nussbaum has recently defended polygamy. I must confess that I find her views reasonable. If all parties consent, and if women are allowed to have multiple husbands (polyandry, apparently) as well as men having multiple wives, it is hard for me to see why we should care about this. Why does it matter if the Big Love people do what they do. True this isn’t for everyone, but no one is asking for it to be.

But even so, are we committed to allowing polygamy? I am not convinced that we are.

UPDATE: See the comments section of Nussbaum’s post for some interesting arguments against polygamy from Thom Brooks.

Marriage and Civil Union

As some of you may know, in celebration of the one year anniversary of Philosophy Sucks! I have been reposting some posts that I liked but that never got the attention they deserved. Well, this post was originally posted July 13th 2007, so it is not quite this day, but it is close and there seems to have been some confusion around here lately as to where this post was. So here it is.


If one looks at the history of marriage one sees two distinct traditions. On the one hand we have a pre-Christian secular contract based tradition that is concerned most with legalities and on the other we have the religious spiritual union based tradition. Now in the debate about same-sex marriage that is currently taking place in our society we see some who are pushing for these two traditions to be separated. So, surprisingly, the majority of Americans seem to feel that same-sex marriage should be banned (a sad fact: Every ballot that same-sex marriage has appeared on results in a defeat at the polls). Yet, at the same time most seems also to feel that same-sex ‘civil unions’ are permissible. A civil union is a state recognized union that grants legal rights comparable to those obtained by marriage. It seems from this that the opposition is religiously generated, presumably by what the Old Testament says about homosexual relationships (never mind that these same people ignore all of the other stuff the Old Testament says, e.g. like stoning to death women on their period who don’t leave town). These people argue that marriage is a religious sacrament and so should be controlled by the Church.

Now of course people like me, who think that all persons should have equal rights regardless of race, intellegence, religion, sexual-orientation, height, eye color, political party, socio-economic class, or shoe size tend to think that the suggestion that straight people get to be married and homosexual people have to have civil unions denies a basic human right to people who happen to be homosexuals.

But there is another inequality in the proposed split between marriage and civil unions. That is that I, as a heterosexual, can only get married: Me and my girlfriend cannot get a civil union. I am not a religious person (I am agnostic) nor is my girlfriend. If I were to get married it would not be by a priest, nor would it take place at a church. In short mine would be a completely secular affair. Nor do I think that what I just described is so out of the ordinary.

 So I say we should formally distinguish these two aspects. Let marriage be a religious institution and let civil unions be a secular institution. Let the church govern marriage and define it as between one man and one woman. And let the state govern civil unions and define it as they want; a loving commitment to partnership and family betweem two persons. That way religious people would get marriages and secular people would get civil unions.

Now I suspect that there will be those who are unsatisfied with this answer. They might insist that same-sex marriages should be allowed, that the Church ought to be forced to recognize same-sex marriage as legitimate. While I sympathize with this sentiment I think that it must be recognized that, for better or for worse, marriage has become partly a religious ceremony. It is in fact a sacrament of faith. So in so far as it is a religious instituion, and in so far as the Church has the right to run its instituions, the Church has a right to define marriage as it wants. Though there is an interesting question here. Could the Church define marriage as only between two people of the same race? Or of the same faith? If they could not then it seems arbitrary that they do get to stipulate ‘same sex’ and it does seems as though they couldn’t do the former. So maybe the Church can’t define marriage in any way that it wants.

Maybe if we press the above kinds of arguments and reason prevails then we will eventually see people with perfect equality in this respect and then every couple, regardless of orientation, will have the choice between the religious instituion of marriage and the secular instituion of civil union. But until then (don’t hold your breath!) by clearly seperating the two instituions and making civil unions available to all secular persons we can better focus on what the real issue is (i.e. one of the Church’s right to govern its instituions) and at the same time by raising the status of civil unions we address the worry that civil unions discriminate against homsosexuals; that it is somehow ‘marriage-lite’.  It is not as though civil unions are ‘less than a marriage’ it is just that they are a secular rather than religious instituion. The fight with religion to recognize gay persons as deserving equality is another fight.

Not as a Means Only

In an earlier post I argued that the categorical imperative entails that we are not allowed to use sentient beings as a means only. The semantic Terrorist challenged me on this (and other things) and argued that I couldn’t really mean it. But I did, and I still do. But what does it mean to not treat something as a means only?

Let’s start with the human case. Does the categorical imperative entail that I cannot ride the bus? Afterall, don’t I use the bus driver as a means when I ride it to work or the club or whatever? Not necessarily. I certainly treat him as a means, but I needn’t treat him as a means only. So, what the categorical imperative entails is that I recognize that he is an individual. This requires no more than a friendly smile, or greeting, and perhaps a ‘thank you’ upon exiting. What this will actually mean in detail will depend on the actual relationships that one has to these individuals. So, one has a duty to treat ones wife as an end in itself, and so too with the bank teller. But what it will actually end up meaning is quite different because of the relationship that one has. So there will be ways that you could treat the bank teller that might count as respecting his being an end in himself, but those same actions would not count as treating your wife as an end in herself, and vice versa.

It seems to me that this general idea can be extended to animals. We have a duty not to treat them as means only, which clearly rules out the way that we treat them now.  But we can treats them as means, but we are obligated to do so in a way that respects their sentient capacities. So, we are not morally required not to use the donkey or horse as a pack animal but we are obligated to recognize that the animal deserves to be treated with respect and in a way that does not cause it unecessary harm or suffering. It also seems that what ones duties are depends on the relation one has to the animal. So, one may be obligated to treat ones pet in ways that do not come up with respect to wild animals (that is, beyond the basics due to all sentient beings).

Freedom of Speech Meets Speech Act Theory

In celebration of my one year in the blogosphere I have decided to start a new (randomly published) series of posts highlighting a post from exactly one year ago that did not recieve much attention. Here is the First.


If you have been around here lately then you know that I have been working on a paper on the higher-order theory of consciousness, and right now I am supposed to be converting the paper into a PowerPoint presentation, but I was distracted by the following line of thought…ah well…why fight it?

Freedom of speech is a foundational value in American society, and indeed ought to be foundational for any free society. Yet, even so we all recognize that there ought to be some limits set of this freedom. The important question, of course, is just what these limits ought to be. Famously Mill argued for what has come to be know as ‘the Harm Principle,’ which says, as he puts it, “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” But what limits does this impose?

Here is a quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on Mill.

If we accept the argument based on the harm principle we need to ask “what types of speech, if any, cause harm?” Once we can answer this question, we have found the correct limits to free expression. Mill uses the example of speech related to corn dealers; he suggests that it is fine to claim that corn dealers are starvers of the poor if such a view is expressed through the medium of the printed page, but that it is not permissible to express the same view to an angry mob, ready to explode, that has gathered outside the house of the dealer. The difference between the two is that the latter is an expression “such as to constitute…a positive instigation to some mischievous act,” (1978, 53), namely, to place the rights, and possibly the life, of the corn dealer in danger.

This kind of argument is common is the free speech debate. It is akin to the adage ‘you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre’and the so-called “fighting words” exception to free speech. Recent times have seen an adaptation of this kind of argument (especially in Britten) with respect to inciting terrorism.

It seems to me that what this kind of an argument amounts to is an injunction on certain kinds of speech acts (i.e. an injunction against certain illocutionary forces especially when they have some harmful perlocutionary effect. (I take it for granted that you know some speech act theory (Austin, Grice, etc), if you don’t let me know in the comments and I will give you a brief introduction to the basic ideas)). In fact when one goes back and re-reads Mill with some speech act theory in mind, it becomes clear that he is defending our right to make assertions (read: express beliefs) that are unpopular/believed to be false by others and to express moral sentiments that others may deem immoral but this clearly does not apply to ever kind of act that we can perform with speech.

Once we see speech as a kind of action then it becomes obvious that we ought to prohibit some kinds of speech, in just the same way that we prohibit certain kinds of actions (this, I take it, is similar to Stanley Fish’s views and why he says that no speech is ‘free’ though he does not appeal to speech act theory). In particular it becomes obvious that some kinds of speech acts that fall under ‘hate speech’ ought to be prohibited. We would not allow someone to poke a random person on the subway with a stick repeatedly, just to annoy the person. Why, then, should we allow someone to psychologically jab at someone with a racial slur, just to annoy the person?

Let us invent a racial slur for discussion’s sake. Let us say that there is a group of people for whom to be called a ‘bagger’ is as hurtful to them as our English “n” word.  Now suppose that someone said “Baggers are less intelligent than Asians, and it is a waste of time to try to educate them.” On the view that I am advocating it would be allowable for someone to say that in the course of asserting that baggers are less intelligent than Asians, as that is the expression of a belief which is an allowable speech act no matter how repugnant the belief is, and also no matter how much it pains me to hear you express it. This is because the perlocutionary goal of assertion is to get someone to believe something and not to cause harm to that person. Any harm produced is “collateral damage.” 

But it would not be allowable, on my view, to say the same thing in the course of performing some other kind of speech act that had as its perlocutionary goal inflicting some kind of psychological damage on the person, or of inciting them to do violence. Thus what matters is not what is said, but what one is doing in and by saying it.

A Short Argument that Utilitarians Ought Not to Promote Atheism

It has been commonplace in the history of moral theory to argue that having an obligation and being motivated to fulfill that obligation come apart. I have argued that this was the conception that Hobbes and Locke had. Each of the philosophers thought that we could have obligations (even in the state of nature) but that we needed, in addition to the obligation itself, some other motivating reason to fulfil the obligation.  This can be seen as partly what a Kantian moral theory denies, in that they claim that the having of the obligation (or the recognition that one has it) is the only (legitimate) motivation to fulfil the obligation. So, if one has an anti-Kantian view of this sort one will have to appeal to some strong authority as an enforcer of the moral rules. Hobbes himself says that if there were a God then he would be the one to punish and reward those who break or follow the rules, but in his absence we need a strong Earthly authority.

It seems to me, though I admit that this is ultimately an empirical question, that belief in the existence of God and his willingness to punish and reward people who ignore or follow the dictates of morality is a strong motivator to obey said rules. It also seems to me that if people did not have a belief in God they would be more disposed to breaking the rules of morality when they were confident that they would not be caught by Earthly authorities (I mean, God is always watching, but the city of New York has its lapses). This is of course the problem of Hobbes’ intelligent Knave. Even if one is a Kantian about motivation (like I am), doesn’t one have to admit that fear of consequences has more motivational pull that does the recognition of obligation? Certainly not in all cases, but I mean generally among mankind.

Now, the utilitarian believes that the action (rule, preference, whatever) that promotes the greatest amount of happiness is the right action (rule, whatever) but our motivation for performance doesn’t matter. So, on utilitarian views one can do the right thing for the wrong reasons and still count as performing a moral action (though I sometimes think a Kantian has to say this as well). So, a world populated solely by atheists would be one that was less morally good than a world populated (mostly) by people who feared an all-powerful God. This is because, no matter how good the Earthly government’s enforcement of the moral rules is, it will not be 100% and so will not provide as much motivation to avoid immoral acts as belief that there is an all-powerful being who is always watching and judging you would. Given this it turns out that the utilitarian is obligated not only to avoid promoting belief in atheism, but also to promoting theism of a very strict sort.  

 Well, that wasn’t as short as I thought 🙂

New Classes at LaGuardia

I am lucky enough to come to LaGuardia at a time when they are expanding the philosophy major and we are trying to introduce four new classes to the curriculum. I am responsible for designing two of them; Logic and Philosophy and Medical Ethics (the other two are Aesthetics and Environmental Ethics). I thought I would post the course descriptions and outlines in the hopes of getting some feedback from any LaGuardia students lurking around here on whether or not classes like these sound interesting and would be something you might consider taking if it were offered.

Logic and Philosophy

Course Description: An introduction to modern symbolic logic with a focus on its application to actual philosophical problems. Topics to be discussed include validty, entailment, truth-tables, proofs, translations from English into symbolic form, as well as more philosophical topics like the relation of modern logic to earlier syllogistic logic, the possibility of the use of logic to resolve philosophical problems (e.g. God’s existence or free will), the relation of English to logic, and the possibility of ‘alternative’ logics.

Course Outline

1. Validity & soundness
–Logic and the philosophical method.
–Entailment, inference, and validity.
–Aristotle’s identification of validity with the form of the argument.
–The seperation of validity (formal structure) and soundness (truth of premises).
–The counter-example method of testing validity

2. Syllogistic Logic
–The square of opposition and the cannonical A, E, I, and O sentence forms.
–Categories and Venn diagrams.
–The mood and forms of the valid syllogisms.

3. Philosophical issues in syllogistic logic
–Does ‘all’ imply ‘some’?
–Are some logical truths known by reason alone, independently of experience?
–some arguments cannot be expressed in syllogistic logic.

4. Basic Propositional logic I
–Beginning definitions of formal symbols for ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘not’ and ‘if…then’.
–Simple translations into symbols.
–The truth-table test for validity.

5. Basic propositional logic II
–More advanced translations.
–Introduction of rules for symbol manipulation.

6. Propositional proofs
–Introduction to natural deduction.
–Introduction to truth-trees.
7. Philosophical issues in propositional logic
–paradoxes of material implication.
–why accept valid inferences?

8. Basic quantificational logic
–Introduction of ‘all’ and ‘some’ into the formal language.
–Translations and proofs.

9. Identity and relations
–Introduction of identity into the formal language.
-Introduction of relational predicates (e.g. ‘taller than’).

10. Philosophical issues in quantificational logic.
–Is existence a predicate?
–Do mathematical truths reduce to logical truths?
–Treating names as descriptions.
–Informative identity statements.

11. Basic modal logic
–Introduction of ‘necessary’ and ‘possible’ into the formal language.
–Introduction to possible world semantics.
–translations and proofs.

12. Philosophical issues in modal logic
–The metaphysical status of possible worlds.
–one logic, or many?
–Names and rigid designators.
–different concepts of possibility: Epistemic, metaphysical, and logical.

13 Final Exam

Medical Ethics

Course Description:An introduction to some of the basic issues in medical ethics. The course emphasizes the application of moral theory to the issues that arise in the context of medical research and practice. Topics to be addressed include, among others, the role and responsibility of heathcare givers in death and dying, the use of stem cells and animals in medical research, the use of genetic information to influence the outcome of human pregnancy, cosmetic surgical addiction, and issues involving involuntary psychiatric care.

Course Outline

1. Review of basic ethical theories
–Virtue ethics.

2. Killing those who can’t speak for themselves
–Active vs. passive Euthanasia.
–patients that can’t make their own decisions.
–defective infants.

3. Physician-assisted suicide

4. Ethical issues in reproductive science
–surrogate motherhood.
–fertility treatments.
–Over population.

5. The use of human embryos in scientific research

6. Elective cosmetic surgery and surgical addiction
7. The use of animals in scientific research

8. Issues involving justice and the allocation of medical resources
–transplants and alchoholics.
–Transplants and the black market.
–Expensive treatments.

9. Involuntary psychiatric care

10. Issues in genomics (genetic counseling/genetic engeneering)

11. Universal heathcare

12. Issues involving HIV/AIDS

13 Final Exam

A Random Thought about the Oscars

So, I was watching the Oscars last night and I was struck by the fact that there is a separate prize for best actor and best actress (in both lead and supporting categories). It seems to me that there is no reason to have separate awards for these, I mean we do not have separate racial awards (best Black actor, best Hispanic actor, etc), nor do they have seperate awards based on sexual preference (best gay actor, best straight actor). So why on Earth should they have seperate actor/actress awards? It seems to me that they should drop ‘actress’ altogether and group everyone under ‘actor’. That way men and women would compete for ‘best actor’.

Back in the Swing of Things

So I am back in NYC and settling into the Winter session course I am teaching…I am also mastering Assassin’s Creed on the Play Station3 🙂

 I hope that everyone had an exceptional New Years…I started the new year with some good news. I found out that I will be going to the Towards a Science of Consciousness meeting in Tucson to present HOT Implies PAM: Why Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness are committed to a Phenomenal Aspect for all Mental States, even Beliefs (which is a re-worked version of the first half of my paper Consciousness, (Higher-Order) Thoughts, and What it’s Like…you can see the virtual presentation from this summer’s Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness meeting in Vegas HERE). I am very exited to do this as I have had lots of great feedback and discussions about my argument with David Rosenthal and Rocco Gennaro and I think the argument is stronger than ever…

 Before I left for vacation I was having a very interesting discussion about Christmas and whether or not it is a Christian holiday (and whether or not, even if it is, atheists and agnostics ought to celebrate it). Let me re-cap what I think my argument was supposed to be.

1. The argument from etymology– The word ‘Christmas’ means ‘The Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ’ in English. There is no definition of the word in any dictionary which lists it as a secular holiday

This indicates that ‘Christmas’ designates a Christian holiday. Now, there have been two sorts of response to this argument.

R1. The actual holiday is a pagan holiday that the Christians took over and renamed, so whatever you call it, Christmas is not a Christian Holiday at all, but just the disguised pagan holiday

This doesn’t seem right to me. It is true that rituals of Christmas are taken over from pagen religions, but this was a common strategy that the Church employed to boost its numbers. The locals are less reluctant to convert when the new religion has familiar attriibutes but none the less the Church (in around 300 CE) created a new holiday to commerate the birth of Jesus Christ and they decided to call it Christmas (originally Christ’s Mass). The practices that we have today derive from that Chriatian tradition, not the earlier pagan one. The fact that the celebration occurs on a day that no one actually believes marks the actual annevesery of Jesus’ birth does not matter. We do not celebrate President’s day on Washington’s actual birthday, but it is a celebration of his birth even still…Nothing similar has happened that would make Christmas a non-religious holiday…This leads us to the second response that was made,

R2. That may be the meaning of the word, in some external sense, but what matters is what the person intends to be celebrating (the internal meaning of the holiday). So, if I celebrate Christmas in a completely secular way, not intending to be performing any religious rituals, or to be giving thanks for the incarnation of God in the flesh, then I am not celebrating a religious holiday.

But is this right? Suppose that I decided to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday (April 20th, I *think*)? Suppose that when challenged I replied that I was not intending to commemorate the mass murdering individual that was the Fuhrer of Germany, but rather the artistic vegetarian that Hitler was in his youth. It is important, I might continue, that we remember not to squander our talents. Hitler was a powerful persuasive personality and if only he had used his powers for good instead of evil the world might have been a very different place. So it is important to remember his birth.

Or again, suppose that I chose to celebrate Osama Bin Laden’s birthday? Suppose I gave the same sort of justification as above. It seems to me that whatever I intend to be doing, I am celebrating the birth of these hateful and wicked men.

Now, this response might be taken to mean that there is a separate holiday that is a secular celebration of family and helping the disadvantaged that just so happens to be celebrated on the same day as the Christian holiday (sort of like 4/20 a ‘stoner’ holiday is celebrated (accidentally I hope) on the same day as Hitler’s birthday). I don’t think that this is actually the case now (though maybe we are in the transition period and in the future ‘Christmas’ will be ambiguous in English as between a Christian and a secular holiday). At anyrate, I am sympathetic to this idea (this was the idea behind my ‘Family Day’ or, as I prefer now ‘Giftmas’ 🙂 but I think we ought to femphasize, and help formalize this process with the coining of a new name and specifically dedicating it to secular celebration.

Doing some research about this I discovered that the issue has been taken to court by some atheists. They argued that the fact that we get Christmas day off amounts to state endorsement of Christianity and so violates the seperation of church and state. Here is a nice little article on the case from About.com. The judge rules against the claim and denies that there is a violation of the seperation between church and state. The reason is not becaus ethe judge finds that Christmas is not a religious holiday but because the day off serves a “valid secular purpose’. Having Christmas day off de facto serves the purpose of bringing families togeher and that is a secular purpose of the holiday. I think this is right, but that doesn’t mean that the holiday is itself a secular one, unless someone declares it to be so…