Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Human, all too Human (BBC Documentary on Sartre, Heidegger, & Nietzsche)

From the good folks at the Open Culture blog:

Human, All Too Human” is a three-hour BBC series from 1999, about the lives and work of Friedrich NietzscheMartin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre.The filmmakers focus heavily on politics and historical context — the Heidegger hour, for example, focuses almost exclusively on his troubling relationship with Nazism.

Beyond Good and Evil, Frederick Nietzsche

Human, All too Human, Martin Heide

 

 

 

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Lecture on Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy

Highly recommend this introduction to our reading for tomorrow.

 

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#Philosophy12 in 2016: Introductory Readings, Documents of Learning, What is Philosophy?

Shuttleworth Bight

Just over a week into our course, Philosophy 12 moves into the digital today, with almost sixty new authors joining the site authorship and two new assignments beginning to take shape over the next few days. By the end of the week, our philosophers will be publishing their first Documents of Learning; as we look ahead at next week, the first signposts in our journeys toward developing personal definitions of “philosophy” itself in presentations to be delivered in class as well as posted to the blog.

In the meantime, I encourage new students to get to know this space: explore the subject categories, tags, and what past philosophy 12’ers have shared here. The site’s content runs from reflections, presentations, and critical analysis, to interesting videos people have made or found, archives of class discussions, and commentary offered by inquisitive minds beyond our school community.

To the first readings we have encountered this semester, I will add these past articles and essays with the hope that they help you further your thinking toward our first two assignments:

“Philosophy matters, simply, because the answers to philosophical questions matter. Not only is it a matter of life and death, but a matter of, to name a few examples, the nature of law, the role of language, where morality comes from, whether there is a God, whether there is a self and what constitutes our identity, and what beauty is. What makes these questions important is not only that they help societies to function (although they certainly do), but that they reflect something deeply fundamental about human beings: that we are physical creatures, but our consciousness is not restricted to physical matters. Indeed, philosophy is both reflective and perfective of human nature.”

“In most cases, obscurity is a defect, not a virtue, and undue concern with interpretation puts the focus on people rather than problems. It is not easy to write clearly, especially on philosophical topics, and it is risky. Clear writers stand naked before their critics, with all their argumentative blemishes visible; but they are braver, more honest and more respectful of the true aims of intellectual enquiry than ones who shroud themselves in obscurity.”

“The examined life does not need to be the life of the sage, removed from society in order to evaluate it impartially. In fact, in order for it to serve in guiding the lived experience of individuals, it is actually a deeply practical enterprise. Another Greek philosopher, Epicurus, believed that a philosophy that did not assist a person in living a flourishing life was akin to medicine that did not heal the body: it was pointless. This is a little extreme: in some fields such as metaphysics the practical implications may not be immediately evident and it would be foolish to expect them to be, but even in these cases, the knowledge obtained by such reflections can be, and should be, shared because knowledge itself can be a constitutive element of the good life.”

 

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Logic Post: Truth, Validity & Soundness – Mr. Jackson

Assignment

  • Find a news clip (video), editorial, debate, blog post, or other expression of an argument online
  • Post an excerpt or relevant segment highlighting the main point(s) of the argument you have chosen
  • Summarize the argument being made by identifying possible premises and conclusion
  • Assess argument for Truth, Validity and Soundness

 

 

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Is great philosophy, by its nature, difficult and obscure?

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A good question posed on the always-provocative site Aeon:

To some degree, all texts need interpretation. Working out what people mean isn’t simply a matter of decoding their words, but speculating about their mental states. The same words could express quite different thoughts, and the reader has to decide between the interpretations. But it doesn’t follow that all texts are equally hard to interpret. Some interpretations might be more psychologically plausible than others, and a writer can narrow the range of possible interpretations. Why should philosophy need more interpretation than other texts?

As we look ahead at some of our more challenging units – thinking specifically of Metaphysics and Epistemology – the article may help frame the difficulty of engaging these more opaque topics, not in as much as it makes the unclear clear, but hopefully for offering the rationale and some inspiration to dig deeper when the going gets tough:

…some great philosophy is creative in a way that is incompatible with clarity. It doesn’t seek to construct precise theories; rather, it reaches out to unmapped areas of thought, where we do not yet know what techniques to employ, what concepts to use, or even what questions to ask. It is more like artthan science, and it makes its own rules. It is not that such work is defective by being ambiguous; it is trying to do something that cannot be done clearly, and its aim is precisely to stimulate diverse interpretations.

 

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Metaphysics Unit Reflection and Self-Assessment

 

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“Pics or it didn’t happen”

Image via MemeCenter

The mantra of the Instagram era:

Think about the pictures of a horde of tourists assembled in front of the Mona Lisa, their cameras clicking away. It is the most photographed work of art in human history. You can see it in full light, low light, close-up, far away, x-rayed; you can find parodies of parodies of parodies; and yet, seeing it in person and walking away does not suffice. The experience must be captured, the painting itself possessed, a poor facsimile of it acquired so that you can call it your own – a photograph which, in the end, says, I was here. I went to Paris and saw the Mona Lisa. The photo shows that you could afford the trip, that you are cultured, and offers an entrée to your story about the other tourists you had to elbow your way through, the security guard who tried to flirt with you, the incredible pastry you had afterwards, the realisation that the painting really is not much to look at and that you have always preferred Rembrandt. The grainy, slightly askew photo signifies all these things. Most important, it is yours. You took it. It got 12 likes.

This is also the unspoken thought process behind every reblog or retweet, every time you pin something that has already been pinned hundreds of times. You need it for yourself. Placing it on your blog or in your Twitter stream acts as a form of identification – a signal of your aesthetics, a reflection of your background, an avatar of your desires. It must be held, however provisionally and insubstantially, in your hand, and so by reposting it, you claim some kind of possession of it.

 

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Economic Epistemology

Image courtesy of Cliff Kule

In recent years I’ve been curious about the fluidity of presumed objectivity at the heart of modern economics. Chiefly, its occasional lack of ability to explain the behaviours of markets:

Central bankers still debate whether it’s possible to recognize asset bubbles when they occur, and whether they can or should be deflated. Regulators and bankers are still at odds over new financial products such as credit derivatives: Do they simply improve the market’s ability to process and reflect information, or do they also present new dangers of their own? This is a failure that left the world unprepared for the most recent financial crisis, and the economics profession has been far too complacent about it. Economists can’t be expected to predict the future. But they should be able to identify threatening trends, and to better understand the conditions that can turn a change in prices into a financial tsunami.

Following events such as the financial crisis of 2008, and rising levels of destabilizing inequality (especially in the United States, at the center of the world economy) in the years since, a growing number of economic minds have begun conceiving of a “Brave New Math:”

While the limitations of GDP have since been echoed by many prominent economists including Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen (whose landmark 2010 report included dozens of important socio-economic measures drawn from the developing world), there has been little change in the obsessive overreliance on GDP as the primary economic barometer. And if GDP was an unreliable indicator in the pre-globalized world, it is woefully misleading today. Increasingly, understanding the quality of GDP and its composition, especially the weighting of its four constituent parts—consumption, government spending, investment, and net exports—is most important to our long-term national health. Yet few governments have managed to divorce themselves from the simple GDP figure, regardless of how irrelevant it has become.

Editorialists at the New York Times have opined that:

“Infinite growth in a finite world is impossible, growth based on speculative finance is unstable, and since the 1960’s, GDP growth and self-reported well-being have been completely uncorrelated phenomena. In this sense holistic, deep-reaching change of both thought, education and practice is needed. Indeed, we were brought together by an increasing realization that our global economic troubles aren’t just a few bad apples; the problem is indeed the apple tree.”

 Writers at the Guardian have called for an expanded undergraduate economics curriculum

We propose that neoclassical theory be taught alongside and in conjunction with a broad variety of other schools of thought consistently throughout the undergraduate degree. In this way the discipline is opened up to critical discussion and evaluation. How well do different schools explain economic phenomena? Which assumptions should we build our models upon? Should we believe that markets are inherently self-stabilising or does another school of thought explain reality better? When economists are taught to think like this, all of society will benefit and more economists will see the next crisis coming. Critical pluralism opens up possibilities and the imagination.

From a certain perspective it could be stated that we are reaching the end of an economic paradigm, giving us something of a real-time example to examine in the realm of Epistemology, as old truths are investigated, and assumptions are tested against the possibilities of the new.

Or not.

That’s the thing about shifting paradigms: How do we know that the existing paradigm is flawed to its foundation? Might it require merely ‘tweaks’ as opposed to full-scale revolution and regeneration?

How do we ensure that this conversation has a means of happening democratically?

 

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How to argue with a Scientific Consensus

Via Scientific American

We brushed up against this topic with Vanessa’s logical example examining Donald Trump’s statements about climate change. For those wondering how Trump (and others) attempt to refute the overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are indeed responsible for the perils caused by climate change, the New Republic article  quoted below looks into the ‘finer’ points of their argument.

How do those who deny the scientific consensus look to make their claim? Are they attacking the validity, factual correctness, or soundness of the IPCC’s reporting on climate science? And do they have sufficient ground to be making these denials?

The main criticism of Cook’s study is that it omits the vast number of papers that take no position on global warming’s causes. That’s true: Cook’s study of the 12,000 abstracts found that 66 percent of them took no position, so he excluded them in calculating the percentage. As Cook explained in an online video, he omitted these papers because abstracts are short summaries that “don’t waste time stating something they assume their readers will already know”; just as most “astronomy papers don’t think it necessary to explain that the Earth revolves around the sun,” he said, “nowadays most climatology papers don’t see the need to reaffirm the consensus position.”

The deniers’ criticism hardly discredits his study. After all, roughly 4,000 of those abstracts did take a position, and 97 percent of them endorsed anthropogenic warming. And it’s hardly the first study of its kind.

Cook’s finding is backed by a field of literature. A paper in the journal Science published a decade earlier by Naomi Oreskes found 75 percent of peer-review literature from 1993 to 2003 agreed on man’s role in global warming. That percentage has only risen as the scientific study on climate has progressed. In June, a longtime research of the subject, National Physical Sciences Consortium director James Powell, found that 97 percent might be too low. His paper, which has not yet been published, found 99.9 percent of the field agreed in 24,000 peer-reviewed papers published in 2013 and 2014.

“The fact that each of these studies have used completely different methods to arrive at the same result demonstrates just how robust the overwhelming consensus on climate change is,” Cook said, pointing out that these studies have relied on techniques like directly surveying climate scientists, analyzing public statements, and examining peer-reviewed papers. All these approaches confirm the same point on the vast agreement.

Even if you want to ignore the consensus literature, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—which includes the most robust panel of respected climate scientists in the world—said in its most recent and fifth assessment that it has 95 percent confidence that humans are driving warming (equivalent to the scientific certainty that cigarettes cause health problems).

That’s not the only case deniers make against the 97 percent figure. They argue that if you include non-experts (academics in fields unrelated to climate change) or only look at the studies that say global warming dangerous, you’d get a much lower number. There are some obvious problems with these arguments: Shouldn’t expertise in a field matter? And how to define “dangerous” warming was outside the scope of Cook’s study. After all, the whole point of the study was to answer a simple question that cuts through the rhetoric of climate politics.

All this debate over one statistic might seem silly, but it’s important that Americans understand there is overwhelming agreement about human-caused global warming. Deniers have managed to undermine how the public views climate science, which in turn makes voters less likely to support climate action. According Gallup polling, only 60 percent of Americans think that most scientists believe climate change is occurring.

 

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Logic and Neutrality Reading & Discussion

 

Image via New York Times.

Today our discussion will centre around Timothy Williamson’s post on the New York Times’ philosophy forum, The Stone: Logic and Neutrality.  His closing paragraph gives an idea of where he takes his thinking about logic as a rational science:

Of course, we’d be in trouble if we could never agree on anything in logic. Fortunately, we can secure enough agreement in logic for most purposes, but nothing in the nature of logic guarantees those agreements. Perhaps the methodological privilege of logic is not that its principles are so weak, but that they are so strong. They are formulated at such a high level of generality that, typically, if they crash, they crash so badly that we easily notice, because the counterexamples to them are simple. If we want to identify what is genuinely distinctive of logic, we should stop overlooking its close similarities to the rest of science.

Williamson makes several points worthy of our discussion, especially following our study of various philosophies of science last week. Please respond to / address a combination of at least three of the following questions in a reply to this post (naturally, look to extend the discussion by commenting, prodding, and pushing the thinking of your peers by commenting on their replies before class time Thursday):

  1. How does the author describe logic? How does his reading align or inform you view of philosophy (from the beginning of the year)?
  2. How would you paraphrase what the author describes as the “power of logic”?
  3. What do you think the authors means when he writes, “logic is not a neutral umpire”?
  4. Summarize one of the author’s “challenges” to logic.
  5. What similarities does the author highlight between logic and science?
  6. Which view of science do you see reflected in the author’s perspective on logic?
 
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