Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


What Follows is a Culmination of the Blog Posts Created by One Dominic Sean Cunningham between February and June of the year 2016



Phil’s Day Off (Metaphysics): Early Stages of Negative Behavior

With my focus on the philosophy of redemption, deciding on how to explore this during a Philosophy Day Off was an initially difficult task. As I’ve discovered that reformation takes a good amount of time to really cement itself in a person, it would be futile to find a reformative event happen in a single day. Instead, I decided to explore another aspect of change in human mentality; how a person is formed in the early years of life. Thus, my Philosophy Day Off was spent at the Coquitlam Centre, observing the ways children behaved with their parents.


I firmly believe that much of our behavior and mentality is created by our parents’ influence. Though there are also factors such as the environment and social class one grows up in, parental figures can control the influence of these factors to some extent. Even if we can eventually control any negative attributes our parents may have imbued in us, we can still feel them in the back of our minds. My goal at the mall was to consider the different ways parents behaved around their children, and any reflections of those behaviors in how the kids themselves acted.


In Wal-Mart, I witnessed perhaps the calmest example of the ones I record here. The parents in question had agreed to buy their two sons, both about five or six, a new figure for the video game Disney Infinity. I believe that even the best parents can sometimes forget how their every action can directly or indirectly impact their children’s mentality, and I saw this demonstrated here. There was a plethora of characters to choose from, and the kids were having trouble deciding on one. The parents, however, were bored, impatient, and often passive-aggressive the whole way through. Their initial method to help the kids with their decision was to line up all the figures that they didn’t have yet, and then remove the figures the kids decided that they didn’t want. It might seem like a decent idea, but in using this plan based on what the kids don’t want, the parents are indirectly teaching their children to have a pessimistic mindset. They’re telling their kids to look for the characters they don’t want, and they might continue to concentrate on things they don’t want or don’t like.


Next, I went to HMV. The store is filled with lots of cool memorabilia that would seem enticing to fans and collectors, but a parent might not consider some of the products as the most appropriate toys for their young children. This was demonstrated in the small but emotional incident I witnessed here. A mother was visiting the store with her son, who was about five. Eventually, the mother told her son that it was time to leave, but on the way out, the boy caught sight of a small box near the cash register. I couldn’t see the product clearly, but it was likely a bobblehead or something of the like. The boy asked his mother if they could get it, but the mother refused in a frustrated rush and stormed out of the store, leaving her son to run after her in tears. Children at such a young age don’t really have a concept of money. To them, money might seem like an intangible force that their parents appear to have an endless supply of. As such, young children often ask their parents to purchase items they suddenly have an impulsive lust for, but are unlikely to pay it much attention once it’s theirs. This was a small, foolish moment that is a poor use for tears, and while I don’t believe that the mother did anything wrong, per say, I do think there was a better way to deal with the issue. She could have taken a moment to tell her son that he should think longer and harder before he decides that he wants something, and thus turned the issue into a positive learning experience for her kid. Instead, the mother acted out of frustration, and missed an opportunity to teach her son an extremely valuable lesson. And shouldn’t a parent’s primary duty be to bring valuable life lessons to their children?


I next visited EB Games, where I found the youngest child and the biggest fallout. The boy was hellbent on getting a Minecraft plush, to the extent that he even ran back into the store and basically stole it after his parents refused. This all culminated in the boy’s father carrying him out sideways and shrieking. Now, I wouldn’t expect such a young child to have learned the concept of monetary exchange and theft, so I personally would have considered a different approach with that in mind. I would have gotten to the child’s level and told him that he could have the plush toy after exhibiting particularly good behavior for a period of time, perhaps in school. This could then imbue the boy with a concept of earning instead of taking at an early age.
Overall, the main problem I noticed across these instances was that the parents were more concerned with short-term results. They were so focused on getting out of the store or keeping their child quiet that they didn’t consider how their actions would influence their child. This Phil’s Day Off has definitely made me carefully consider how I will act around my children, as well as how “bad” people might become bad in the first place.

Close up portrait of angry boy shouting. Isolated on white background



Phil’s Day Off 2: Epistemological Boogaloo

Image Courtesy of sunrisebasictraining.com


My goal for Philosophy’s Day Off was to test my belief that all negative knowledge and experiences are positive in some way. While not my original plan, I ended up making this test during my Sunday shift washing dishes at the Westwood Country Club restaurant.

I came in expecting an average shift. While there was a wedding on, there were two other washers with me and we were only scheduled until 11:30. I came in feeling optimistic and relaxed. However, at the last quarter of our shift, we found ourselves trapped behind carts of dirty dishes like prison cage bars. Such a quantity of dirty dishes is unsightly to a dishwasher, but the three of us kept at it at the bars eventually disappeared. Then one of the waiters came and ruined our recently uplifted moods; we would be resetting tonight. Resetting means that all the dishes must be washes before we left, so that they could all be returned to their proper place as if the restaurant were opening for the first time.

Yeah, that sucked.

We stayed an hour longer than we were originally scheduled, which never feels good. As I drove home, realizing that I would wake up “later today” instead of “tomorrow”, I considered all the consequences of my extended shift. Sure, I felt exhausted, cheated, and generally annoyed at the whole experience, but then I thought about the realm outside of my immediate reaction. More work means more money, and since I’ve recently become more devoted to the collection of comics, books, films, and such, more money is always helpful. I considered the people responsible for resetting, and how their job had been made easier because of my extra efforts. I know that, were I in their shoes, I’d want the dishwashers to have everything ready for a reset.

I went to sleep feeling not completely irritated, having proven my belief that my negative experience had a positive outcome.

In my Metaphysics study, I studied the idea of people who are incapable of redemption. I have a similar remaining question with my current study; is there any kind of negative experience or knowledge that has no positive undertones whatsoever? The bloody murder of one’s entire family comes to mind, but is there something perhaps a little more subtle?

Compared to my last Phil’s Day Off, where I observed parents’ behavior around their children in public, this one was very different. Most of the consideration was done after the activity, as opposed to during it. I also felt that I had more conclusive results than my last one, which mainly furthered my understanding of the concept.



Acknowledging Knowledge: Discussions and Ideas About Epistemology

At the beginning of this unit, I formulated three propositions relating to knowledge. First; knowledge is growth. As we learn, we evolve as both individuals and as a species. Second; knowledge is power. The more one learns, the more equipped one becomes to tackle life’s problems. Lastly; knowledge is everywhere. There is nothing that you can learn that is useless, as all learning fuels your growth and empowerment.

It was these three propositions with which I entered a number of discussions with my peers. Adam and I discussed the concept of humans creating new knowledge, the way an engineer invents a new machine. This new knowledge can come in the form of new laws, philosophies, works of art, methods of creating art, and so on. While we agreed that knowledge is based on fact, people have been known to create new things that would become fact, and subsequently knowledge. As an example, we imagined if Stephen Spielberg has never been born, and how the impact of his film making would never have occurred. The knowledge of film making that people have taken from his films would not exist. As such, Spielberg can be considered a creator of knowledge.

With many others, I discussed whether knowledge is internal or external. My theory is that we are surrounded by facts and information, none of which have any meaning until we properly consider them. Once we have absorbed this information, we attach meaning and value to it, and it becomes knowledge. In short, knowledge is fact which we have given meaning to. Thus, knowledge is internal, but the ingredients needed to create knowledge are external.

With Brian and Micaela, I discussed the relation between information, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. We came to a mutual agreement that the four concepts can form a process. As stated earlier, we absorb information, and by attaching meaning to it, we create knowledge. Different people, however, can interpret knowledge in different ways. This leads into understanding, with the power of a person’s knowledge depending on how deeply they understand it. Greater understanding leads to greater wisdom; the ability to apply knowledge in a positive way. To summarize, information gives us knowledge, and our understanding of that knowledge determines our wisdom.

I entered these discussion with the mindset of any and all knowledge leading to empowerment and evolution. My explorations have only broadened my understanding of this idea. I now know that knowledge is an idea dependent on human consideration, that people are capable of creating new knowledge, and how well we understand our knowledge determines our wisdom.



Epistemology: Why Bad Experiences are Good

An epistemological concept that grabs my attention is the value of painful memories. It is my belief that all knowledge contributes to the growth and empowerment of the learner, but how can something help and hurt you at once?

“One of the most effective ways to create an enjoyable experience is to stack the painful parts of the experience early in the process.”

-James Clear

This article by James Clear discusses how enduring painful things earlier can results in an increasingly enjoyable overall experience. For instance, if you endure a long wait for a roller coaster, you will ultimately enjoy the ride itself much more. It’s a concept a known as delayed gratification; most things feel more rewarding if they are waited or worked for.

I applied this concept to the greater picture of significant life experiences. We all have important moments in our lives that we never forget, and sometimes we wish that we could. As stated earlier, my belief is that all knowledge allows people to grow. This is where delayed gratification comes in; sooner or later in life, you will endure a great and agonizing hardship, whether it be at school, at home, socially, or otherwise. Let’s say, for instance, that you fail an important test. Not only is this a personal blow for you, but you’ve more than likely been met with your parents’ furious disappointment. You wish this horrible period of defeat would end so you can forget about it, but in actuality, this experience has been very helpful to you. Your memory of such tremendous regret will keep you from ever repeating this mistake. Thus, by enduring this painful experience, delayed gratification has rewarded you with the growth that comes with all knowledge.

It’s a simple lesson, but it’s an invaluable one. No matter how painful the experience, if you can bear to endure it, you will emerge a greater and more powerful person that you were before.



Reformation: Are Some People Incapable of It?

In my last post, I explored the possibility and process of redemption, using Eugene Francois Vidocq as an example. Having confirmed that people can reform and how that takes place, I’ve begun exploring a related possibility; are there people who are simply incapable of reforming?

I explored this question through discussions with other classmates. One fellow told me two stories, the first being about two friends of his. Both of these people had struggled with drug addiction, but only one of them ultimately sought help. In my last article, I discovered that the key to reformation was experiencing an epiphany of some sort; an event or even a moment that would make the person in question realize the error of their ways. It seems that only one of these two people experienced such an epiphany, despite both of them having similar flaws. One of them must have gone somewhere or done something different from his friend that exposed him to the necessary inspiring moment.

The second story I was told was about a man who incessantly speeded on the road. His reckless behavior got his license suspended, but once he got it back, he was right back to driving dangerously. One could say that the suspension of his license should have been an epiphany. Perhaps this man even viewed that event as such and planned to change his ways, but once he was back behind a wheel, he couldn’t help himself but to continue endangering himself and others on the road. Perhaps this man’s lust for fast driving overpowered the potential for reformation within him. Others like this man may just have feelings of lust or greed that are irrepressible. This would answer my new question; some people simply lack the mentality or willpower necessary to acknowledge the epiphany leading to redemption.

This leads me to another question that I want to hear your thoughts on. Should people incapable of redemption be removed from society, ie, sent to prison for life? Is it worth giving people multiple chances in the hope that they’ll eventually feel an epiphany and change their ways, or is it not worth the drain on resources and risk to the well-being of others? Leave your thoughts in a response below.



Eugene Francois Vidocq and Reformation – Dom Cunningham

Image Courtesy of hannahhowe.com

I am fascinated by the idea of horrible people becoming good. Many of my favorite stories feature a major character who undergoes such a change, and I’ve developed characters of my own with similar arcs, as well. Characters such as Darth Vader from Star Wars, Stitch from Lilo & Stitch, and Marvel Comics’ Scarlet Witch all demonstrate that some of the most contemptible people are capable of changing for the better. Is the message sent by these characters true, though? Can bad people change their ways? Or is reformation as much of a fantasy as the aforementioned characters’ extraordinary powers. These characters, combined with my own experiences with both pleasant and unpleasant people, have inspired me to pursue this question further. I believe I have found an answer.

Vidocq had the ultimate story of fall and redemption.

Vidocq: Hardened Criminal and Detective

Eugene Francois Vidocq lived a life of constant imprisonment and escape. His crimes ranged from theft to attacking soldiers, and the disguises he took on to vainly avoid capture came in even more variety. Eventually, Vidocq realized how futile his constant fleeing from the authorities was, and agreed to assist the police in exchange for his freedom. From there, Vidocq used the skills and knowledge gained from his life of crime to revolutionize police work. He would use science and manipulation to find criminals and suspects, and his efforts eventually led to him founding the French National Police. And so, a petty criminal becomes the world’s first detective.

My research into Vidocq gave me hope. If a man like Vidocq was capable of making a positive change, then many others of his formerly petty stature could do likewise. The key, it seems, is having an epiphany. Vidocq came to realize that his life of crime was taking him nowhere, and that realization inspired him to try helping the police instead of fleeing from them. If anybody similarly despicable were to have such a realization, then they might find the motivation to reform as well.

So how might Vidocq’s story be relevant to others? My research also revealed that the events of Vidocq’s life have inspired many well renowned writers, including Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. One must only look at the characters these authors created to see Vidocq’s influence. Themes of reformation are evident in many of them.

Image Courtesy of pennlive.com

For instance, Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a widely known reformed character. Much like Vidocq, Scrooge experiences an epiphany; the spirits of Christmas reveal the horrifying consequences of Scrooge’s selfish actions, both to himself and those around him, and he is inspired to become more charitable.

Image Courtesy of tumblr.com

If we look to Victor Hugo’s work, we see Jean Valjean reflect Vidocq’s change even more so in Les Miserables. Much like Vidocq, Valjean is first seen as a convict on parole, but the kindness of a priest inspires him to change his ways. Years later, Valjean has become the mayor of the town. Hugo clearly believed, because of Vidocq, that troubled people are not only capable of changing, but able to become greatly positive influences on the world.

So what is the importance of the characters Vidocq inspired? These writers did not believe that Vidocq was a one-time situation. They believed that if a petty criminal could become the father of modern criminology, then anyone, from cynical businessmen to villainous aliens, could reform with the right inspiration. By sharing Vidocq’s story through their own, the inspiration required for reformation is made accessible to anyone who may need it. Somebody may witness the changes of Scrooge or Valjean or any such character and feel compelled to change for the better. Then those people’s stories may inspire others to make similar changes. And so a moment of inspiration goes on to change all who are willing to listen.

What are your thoughts? Do you know somebody who was inspired to change as Vidocq was? Is there anything we can do to help expose unpleasant people more easily to such inspiration? Is it worth trying to reform negative people, from school bullies to convicts, or are some people better left in a prison cell? Leave a comment below.




Apple Vs. FBI: Today’s Solution, Tomorrow’s Threat

Photo courtesy of ualberta.ca

Summary of Argument

The FBI’s dispute with Apple over requesting to access a terrorist’s phone for information has caught the attention of the UN. Al Hussein has argued that, while passing a law allowing authorities to bypass electronics’ security features may resolve the current dilemma, it could have catastrophic repercussions. It could be inviting authorities to abuse their power to violate the rights and privacy of innocents through their electronics.

Techcrunch.com reports Hussein’s speech:

A successful case against Apple in the US will set a precedent that may make it impossible for Apple or any other major international IT company to safeguard their clients’ privacy anywhere in the world. It is potentially a gift to authoritarian regimes, as well as to criminal hackers. There have already been a number of concerted efforts by authorities in other States to force IT and communications companies such as Google and Blackberry to expose their customers to mass surveillance.


Premises and Conclusion:

The argument that Hussein puts forward is as follows:

Authorities often abuse their power
Authorities want the power to hack civilians’ electronics
Authorities will abuse their power to violate civilians’ rights and privacy through electronics


Truth, Validity, and Soundness:

There is a doubtless number of occasions where authorities have abused their power at the expense of civilians, including the ones mentioned by Hussein. Even clearer is the FBI’s desire to hack electronics for information. Both of these premises are true, while the conclusion is only a speculation of what could happen. Given the truthfulness of the premises, though, it is likely that the speculative conclusion is true, as well.

Since both of the premises are definite and without contradiction, the argument is also valid. Hussein’s argument, then, is sound.



“Elephants Dream”: Short Film About Differing Ideas

This is a short film made in 2006 that I found a few years ago. It follows a young man named Emo and an older man named Proog, who guides him through an intricate and astonishing mechanical world. I’d like everyone to give the short a watch, and to consider how it reflects relationships and arguments between people with greatly differing ideas and perspectives on the same subjects.