Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Organ Donation Ethics – EmmaJ

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My personal ethics can be simply summed up as 1) Treat others how you want to be treated and 2) happiness must be pursued with an awareness of the people around you. As Eleanor Roosevelt says, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” In the study of Ethics, like all areas of philosophy, there is never a definitive answer and different people will have different opinions on what is right and wrong based on their own unique experiences. I believe that as long as you have good intentions and you can make peace with your decision, it can be considered the “right decision”. Every moral dilemma is unique and there are more variables than could ever be properly represented in an ethical calculus equation, I don’t there is or ever will be the perfect formula.

In terms of the essays we have studied in class, I agree most strongly with John Rawls’ Theory of Justice because I feel it is closest to my personal morals. When the Veil of Ignorance comes into play it forces people to have compassion for all areas of humanity and develop rules for a society where all are given basic liberties and equal rights. I also appreciate the idea that some inequalities must exist so long as they are beneficial to everyone, especially the disadvantaged. I believe that slight inequalities, so long as they are not excessively harmful, help move society forward and motivate people to work to improve themselves and increase their own success and happiness. Additionally, the happiness gained from helping empower those who are less fortunate is a higher level happiness than can ever be purchased.

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In theory Utilitarianism seems like a good idea, especially when carried out by self-aware thinkers full of integrity, however these conditions aren’t common in the real-world. Pursuing one’s own pleasure and avoiding pain are the perfect conditions for creating a crude, narcissistic and stagnant society. I believe it is far too easy for utilitarianism to be abused and used to justify unethical actions. From genocides to nuclear bombs, some of the most horrible things in history have been done for “the greater good”. While “majority rules” may be good for deciding what type of pizza to order, it is too simple to make decisions pertaining to human lives.

I align with Kant’s ideas regarding Good Will and that the right things must be done for the right reasons. If you have good and noble intentions it is easy to live with your decisions regardless of the outcomes they may create. I also agree that people, or more specifically rational beings, should not be used as a means to an end and that everyone has value. However, this point becomes murky when it comes to the topic of my ethical inquiry: deceased organ donation.

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Deceased organ donors are people who have either been in accidents that render them brain dead or who have suffered a cardiac death. Deceased organ donors can be any age and a single donor can save up to 8 lives and benefit up to 75 people. At first deceased organ donation in Canada may not seem like a very serious ethical dilemma, people are free to consult their personal morals and register to become an organ donor if they so choose. However, this system is not working and many people believe it needs to be changed. While organ donors save many lives every year, the majority of people waiting for an organ transplant don’t receive one because they die first. This is due to the fact that hundreds of healthy, useable, and in demand organs are buried and cremated every day. Deceased organ donation also raises many tough questions like “what does it mean to be dead?” or “what does it mean to be alive?” and “is there an afterlife?”

A large misconception about deceased organ donation is that it is condemned by most religions but this is not the case. Major world religions including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism all support organ donation or encourage their followers to act on their own conscience. In many cases these religions refer to organ donation as an honourable act of charity and love.

When it comes down to it there is really only one big problem: no one wants to think about dying. According to the Canadian Transport Society, 90% of Canadians say they support organ donation but less than 20% have made plans to donate. People tend to avoid conversations regarding organ donation with their loved ones and put off making plans until it is too late. This issue is only exaggerated by Canada’s current Opt-In System for organ donation.

There are currently two types of models in place for organ donation globally: Opt-In, where citizens are required to sign up on registry to express their wishes to become a donor and the more controversial Opt-Out system. In an Opt-In or Presumed Consent system all citizens are assumed to be organ donors unless they sign up on a registry to express their wishes to not donate their organs. While presumed consent may seem extreme, it has successfully increased the organ donation pool in countries including Spain, Greece, Finland, and most recently France. On January 1st, 2017 the presumed consent law came into effect in France and since then Canadian politicians have begun to express their interest in implementing similar laws. This idea is especially popular in Saskatchewan where less than 1% of eligible people are registered organ donors.

Taking organ donation systems a step further, some people believe that consent is not necessary for organ donation and that people should have a duty to donate organs for the good of the society. Some ethicists even go as far to say that it is immoral for a person to decline consent for donation of their organs. These ideas support the Conscription Model, simply put the state owns your body and anyone who can donate must.

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Utilitarianism

In a utilitarian society I believe the most likely system for organ donation would be an opt-out system. The happiness resulting from people gaining extra years of life would likely override any unhappiness regarding presumed consent. Additionally, the ability to register to abstain from donation would at least appease those against organ donation and provide them with a personal sense of happiness. However, in a utilitarian society I believe there is a serious risk for abuse happiness for the majority that could lead to inhumane methods for obtaining organs more extreme than organ conscription. For example, supporting the needs of “the greater good” could lead to the justification of the sacrifice of a living person in order to save the lives of 8 sick people. When laws only exist to uphold the happiness of society the rights of individuals are not protected.

Categorical Imperative

A main point of Kant’s Categorical Imperative is “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end…” This may seem to be in conflict with organ donation as it can be interpreted as literally using someone as a tool to survive. However, under an opt-in system and even an opt-out system where people can easily abstain, I believe Kant would support organ donation. Organ donation is done with a good will, it is meant to save the lives of others and therefore it is good. Furthermore, once an individual is in a braindead or has suffered a cardiac death they are no longer able to really Be or exist as a rational being.

 

A Theory of Justice

I believe that behind the veil of ignorance everyone would recognize the demand for organs and agree to put policies in place to increase donation, knowing full well that they may be the person in need or the person donating. I believe that the most likely system put into place would be the opt-out system because it would provide a larger donor pool and increase the chances of sick people receiving an organ in a timely fashion. I also believe that there would be a focus on government regulation of organ donation in order to ensure the distribution of organs is as fair as possible. In a Rawlsian society illegal organ harvesting and trade wouldn’t occur since it is the powerful preying on the vulnerable.

I believe that every theory of ethics or moral system would support organ donation in one way or another. Can’t it be assumed that for an otherwise terminally ill person a new lease on life would be the ultimate happiness for not only them but their loved ones as well? For this reason I support organ donation and the implementation of a Presumed Consent Law. I also encourage you to look into becoming an organ donor and have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations with your loved ones.

 

 

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Finding Beauty in a Flaming Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

To begin I think it is important to state my own definition of an aesthetic experience. I believe that an aesthetic experience can be positive or negative, lasts for a limited amount of time, and is markedly different from everyday experiences. There are three criteria for an experience to be aesthetic, the first being an emotional connection to the experience. If an experience is able to elicit strong emotions associated with pleasure or disgust and a feeling of personal connection within someone, I believe it becomes vivid and aesthetic. Secondly, a high degree of mindfulness is necessary during the experience. I agree with the definition of mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” The final criterion is a sense of novelty or rarity surrounding the experience, more specifically, an experience that is either new, or familiar but rare. When an experience is new there is a higher level of concentration associated with it and you are more in the moment. When an experience is familiar but rare there is a strong emotion and connection but it still requires concentration.

In terms of how aesthetics fits with other areas of philosophy, I believe it fits very well with both metaphysics and epistemology, especially the inquiries that I chose to pursue for these topics. In metaphysics I looked into the self and concluded that the self is a product of our life experiences, in epistemology I looked into memories and how they are created and become knowledge. I believe that the aesthetic experience is a major contributor to our memories which in turn contribute to our knowledge which makes us who we are and builds up the self. The more diverse a range of aesthetic experiences we collect, the more complex and intricate the self becomes.

My aesthetic experiences over the holidays led me to develop my third piece of criteria, that an aesthetic experience should have a sense of novelty or rarity. A few examples of new aesthetic experiences I had include meeting my baby cousin for the first time, watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and taking a foam rolling class. Although this collection is very diverse, each experience required a state of mindfulness, provoked emotions or sensations, and was pleasing. In each case, I feel as though I gained new knowledge and made connections to previous knowledge resulting in a contribution to the bundle of my “self”.

In terms of familiar but rare experiences, I found that all of mine were either traditions or culturally specific. This led me to believe that our culture plays a significant role in shaping our perception of aesthetics. Our opinions regarding fashion, food, music and even physical attractiveness can be influenced by our culture and upbringing. For example, my family has many German Christmas traditions including getting a scraggly uncultured Christmas tree, putting real candles on it and lighting them. While some people might not find beauty in a flaming Charlie Brown Christmas tree, it is aesthetically appealing to me because of the connections to my family and culture and past happy memories that it represents.

I also took part in celebrating Hogmanay or Scottish New Year by playing Auld Lang Syne on the pipes at 4:00pm on December 31st for a crowd of already inebriated people at the local legion. Bagpipes are a very polarizing instrument, you either love them or hate them, but I have found that the reasons people appreciate them are far deeper than the sound they produce. Bagpipes represent Scottish culture, are played at funerals and weddings, have strong ties to the military. When the pipes are played they rouse feelings of patriotism, grief, and joy. The majority of people who dislike them are judging them on their sound alone, they haven’t had experiences that led them to connect with the music on a personal level.

On a basic level aesthetics is about keeping us alive, as a species there are somethings that we all find pleasurable or disgusting and these instincts are linked directly to survival and procreation. However, these instincts constitute only a basic level of aesthetics. When it comes to an individual finding something aesthetically pleasing or revolting, I believe it comes down to a combination of nature and nurture or biology and experience. Beyond basic survival, aesthetics becomes very individualized and personal, the specifics of what people find attractive or repulsive depends on the thousands of prior experiences they have collected in their life up to that point.

When it comes to the opinions of other scholars of aesthetics, I agree with Leath and his point that the only universal defining characteristic of aesthetic experiences is concentration. My criteria of mindfulness is very similar to concentration in the sense that it requires being consciously present in the moment and aware of your own feelings and sensations. I also agree with Fromm when he says “if one is concentrated, it matters little what one is doing; the important, as well as the unimportant things assume a new dimension of reality, because they have one’s full attention.” I believe that by practicing mindfulness it is possible to begin to find beauty or aesthetic value in everyday objects and routines and gain more pleasure from life.

I don’t agree with Bullough on his point that emotional detachment and distance are essential for an aesthetic experience or with Kant’s idea that art should be judged autonomously. I think that the emotions provoked by a piece of art, poem, or play make it more vivid and profound for the person experiencing it, they create a personal connection with the viewer and cause them to leave with a deeper understanding of the piece as well as themselves. Art is meant to be provocative or communicate a deeper message, in many cases it is meant to be perceived and interpreted differently by different people.

I agree with Descartes ideas that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that beauty pleases. I think that the reasons for a person to regard an experience or piece of art as aesthetic or beautiful are as complex as the person themselves and depend greatly on said person’s previous experiences. For this reason, I think it is narrow-minded of Hume to believe that taste is universal, especially when he was the one to develop the bundle theory with premise that the self is a unique and constantly evolving collection of impressions and sensations.

In conclusion, seeking out a diverse range of aesthetic experiences especially new ones is key to building one’s “self” and having an enjoyable, full life. I believe that this can refer to the external stimuli of the experience itself or to the way in which we perceive it, for example approaching everyday experiences with mindfulness.

 

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You Are What You Know

 

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In order to lay a bit of a foundation for this post, I first want to clarify my beliefs regarding the self and where knowledge resides in a person or Being. After conducting my Metaphysics inquiry, I strongly believe in dualism and the idea that self is made of two components: a physical component and a non-physical component. I also believe that the non-physical component of the self is the most important part and is responsible for identity and making us who we are. Finally, I agree with David Hume when it comes to the Bundle Theory of the self, the idea that the self is a work in progress and constructed by our collection of life experiences. In terms of where knowledge resides, I believe that knowledge is the non-physical component of the self and therefore manifests in the mind as opposed to any part of the physical body. Although the non-physical mind and physical body are separate, I believe that they are connected by the brain. The body allows us to experience reality via our senses and the mind allows us to rationalize these experiences and develop knowledge, the brain acts like an adapter between the two. The body interprets reality and sends information to the brain which translates this information so it can be used by the mind to develop knowledge. Conversely, the mind makes us who we are and holds our knowledge, based on our previous knowledge it sends information to the brain which is then translated to control the way our body interacts with reality.

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My first proposition is that, aside from the small amount of a priori knowledge that we are born with, knowledge is gained through experience.

Premise 1: Knowledge is gained through rationalizing experience

Premise 2: During life one collects experiences

Conclusion: Knowledge is a synthesized collection of one’s life experiences

When it comes to gaining knowledge and the empiricism vs rationalism debate, I have a dualist view. Similar to the idea that the self is both physical and non-physical and cannot be a true self without one of the components, I don’t believe that knowledge can be gained purely through empirical observation or entirely through rational thought. In order to gain knowledge, empirical experiences need to be rationalized by the mind. Through this process connections can be created between new and prior experiences and diverse experiences can build upon each other to create an intricate and ever increasing network of knowledge.

For example, there is often a correlation between a person’s amount of life experiences and level of knowledge, especially higher level knowledge. Older people are considered wise because they have experienced more of the world and have gained a diverse network of knowledge. Likewise, young children are considered blissfully ignorant or innocent because they have experienced less of the world and are not aware of or haven’t developed knowledge of some of the awful things happening. This also is closely related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, gaining knowledge can be likened to moving further and further out of the cave and striving for enlightenment. While humans may not be able to ever gain enough knowledge to fully achieve enlightenment, I believe it is entirely possible for a society to do so and has been done in the past. When the collective knowledge of a society is synthesized it is possible to overthrow old beliefs and leave the cave to start again in the light, examples of this include the renaissance period and scientific revolution.

My second proposition about knowledge is that knowledge builds one’s identity.

Premise 1: One’s identity is built by a collection of life experiences

Premise 2: Knowledge is a collection of one’s life experiences

Conclusion: Knowledge builds one’s identity

During my Metaphysics project, I came to the conclusion that the self is a collection of life experiences interpreted by a person’s senses or more simply memories. After exploring Epistemology, I now believe that these “memories” or “interpreted life experiences” can be more accurately classified as knowledge. Our experiences, when rationalized, synthesized, and connected to one another become knowledge and this knowledge makes us who we are. Our previous understanding of reality will affect the way that we interact with reality in the future and therefore shape our identity, the way other people perceive us, and even the way we perceive our self.

This also supports the idea of individuality. Even if people arrive at the same understanding or gain the same knowledge they must achieve it in different ways. No two beings can exist in the same space and time; therefore, no two people can experience reality from the same point of view. Additionally, no two people’s senses can be guaranteed to be exactly the same. On the other hand, two people may share the same experience but gain different knowledge from it. Depending on an individual’s senses, pre-existing knowledge, and place in space in time they will experience and rationalize reality differently.

Learning and gaining knowledge of new things can alter a person’s self or identity. I have experienced this in my own life as a result of learning the bagpipes. Prior to learning, I had no understanding of the language of music, now I have a whole new set of knowledge and I’m able to think in a completely different way. I have also had opportunities to travel and compete across Canada, the US, and Scotland as well as gain friends and mentors from around the world. I have expanded my understanding of reality and this has in turn significantly altered my identity, I can’t imagine the person I would be without my understanding of bagpipe music. Similar to a person who has left the cave, it can be frustrating when non-piping people in my life don’t understand me but I wouldn’t go back into the cave and give up my knowledge, it would feel like giving up a piece of myself.

My propositions are supported by the ideas of philosophers including David Hume who introduced the Bundle Theory, Plato and his Allegory of the Cave, as well as by Immanuel Kant. I feel as though I align strongly with Kant’s ideas, especially transcendental realism, which I used as the first premise in my first syllogism, and a priori knowledge.

In conclusion, we gain knowledge through living life and experiencing new things and this knowledge contributes to our identity. For this reason it is important to constantly work to expand your horizons and gain new knowledge through new experiences and sharing knowledge with people different than yourself. This is the only way to strive for understanding and enlightenment and, in my opinion, the way to truly live life.

 

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A Trip Down Memory Lane

My question going into the Phil’s Day Off project was “what are memories and how do they relate to the self?” In order to tackle my inquiry I used The Bundle Theory of the self and I first had to address how a memory is created. My plan was to research experiences, memories and the self on Saturday in order to have enough information to hold an interesting conversation with my family members on Sunday. I wanted to collect a bunch of different opinions and information and synthesize them in order to form my own philosophy about memories and the self. In addition to this I also did a lot of self-reflection on my own experiences and memories and how they have contributed to who I am today.

On Saturday I researched how memories are created and what is necessary to turn an experience into a strong memory. I found some really interesting articles, from a variety of sources, including one about why you should stop trying so hard to make memories in the social media age. It introduces the term “futurepast” and poses the question “when did we go from living our lives to striving for memories?” I also found an article about the intergenerational trauma in First Nations communities as a result of Residential Schools. The article explains that self-destructive behaviour develops as a result of unresolved trauma and that these behaviours can then be normalized within a family or community and passed down to subsequent generations. This article highlights just how significant an affect experiences and memories can have on the self and the fact that future generations can be impacted by second-hand trauma. I found another article explaining the science behind creating memories which listed criteria for an experience to be memorable. These criteria include the novelty of the experience, the amount of attention a person is paying, and the strength of the emotions evoked. As a result of my research I created a mind map to lay out my ideas for discussion.

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On Sunday I conducted a conversation with my parents over dinner in attempt to develop a more personal understanding of the topic. We ordered sushi and talked about the following topics, which I took notes on. Here are some of the highlights:

 

  • Memories attached to specific items or places
    • Do the material objects hold a piece of the self?
    • Wedding rings, first car, childhood home, bagpipes, etc.
    • A symbol of important experiences
  • Incorrect memories
    • Why do we remember somethings incorrectly?
    • We remember what other people told us about one of our experiences instead of our own memory
    • Some incorrect memories are a mix of multiple experiences, this results in a memory that never actually happened
  • The self as you age
    • becomes more concentrated as you get older, only really important memories remain
    • when you are young you have fewer experiences and can remember a greater portion of your self
    • more experiences are novel and “life-changing” when you are a child
  • Dementia and the self
    • When you lose your memories you lose chunks of your self
    • You revert back through important past memories and eventually childhood memories
      • This implies that the self is constantly shaped by experiences and memories throughout our lives, starting in childhood.
  • Can other people’s memories affect your self?
    • Yes, my parents have bad memories of skiing and I’ve never skied in my life
    • My Opa loved soccer and played it all his life, my Dad also loves soccer and I played soccer throughout my childhood. My Opa’s positive memories of soccer affected my dad and my dad’s memories of soccer affected me.
    • Family values and culture are created by the experiences and memories of parents and have a significant impact on who the kids become.
  • Kids growing up in the social media age
    • They will have access to thousands of pictures and videos of themselves from the moment they were born
    • Will this affect the self?
    • Will this affect the role of memories in their lives
  • Earliest or significant childhood memories
    • We mostly remember experiences from when we were about 5 years old.
    • Do you not have a complete self until you are around 5 years old?
    • We don’t have a specific first memory of parents because they were always there
  • Shared experiences
    • Everyone remembers things slightly differently, different things are important to different people so they focus on different parts of an experience
    • Are shared experiences better?

While completing my Phil’s Day Off project I was able to gain knowledge and develop conclusions that have contributed to my own personal philosophy about the self. The first of which is that the non-physical components of the self or memories are more important than the physical components of the self or the chemical reactions and atoms. When it comes to making you who you are, experiences and memories are far more influential than the body they are contained in. If anything the body, like social media, is just a platform through which we can interact with others, experience, share and express ourselves. This idea can be supported by looking at dementia, when someone has dementia their physical self is still present and functional, they look the same. However, they are slowly losing their memories and their ability to interact with the world around them, they are losing their self and their ability to continue to build up their self. Without their memories chunks of their self are missing and they aren’t the same person.

Another thing I realized is that no two selves are the same, although people may have many shared experiences they can’t have the exact same memories of said experiences and therefore can’t have identical selves. Even if two people experienced the exact same situation they would remember things slightly differently based on what is important to them, what they were focusing on, and the emotions they felt. This can be illustrated by interviewing people after a crime has taken place, people that all witnessed a shooting may remember numbers of shots fired, the appearance of the suspect or the getaway car differently. Although they all saw the crime take place they focused on different parts of it and none of them have the whole story. Therefore, the self is completely unique and also a very subjective record of experiences.

My final conclusion is that the self is dynamic and always changing because we are constantly having new experiences and creating new memories. People can change drastically throughout the course of their lives and part of growing up is having new experiences and finding yourself.  An example of this is the change in self that occurs when people move away to attend post-secondary school. For many it is the first time they have lived on their own, they are being exposed to vast amounts of new information, and they have the freedom to meet new people and try new things. The strong emotions and novel experiences presented by this situation are perfect conditions for strong memories to be made and collected by the self.

While conducting this project I also looked for real-world applications of the knowledge I had gained about the self. The strongest message I took away from this project was that memories are more important than material objects. With Christmas only a month away it is easy to get caught up in holiday consumerism and focus on the giving and receiving of presents when we should really be thinking about making memories and spending quality time with family and friends. One way to do this is to give people you care about experiences instead of presents, you can take them to a play or concert, try a new restaurant, or even plan a road trip. If you are looking for ideas or interested in learning more, check out the Create Memories, Not Garbage website.

In a very meta and unplanned way I actually had the chance to put my philosophy to work in real life and reflect on it. As a volunteer leader at a science club for elementary school girls I play a role in creating “self building” memories in the girl’s lives. This past weekend our theme was Genetics and we led the girls in chemically isolating their own DNA, an extremely cool lab that most people wouldn’t encounter until Biology 12 or university. For many of them Genetics was an entirely new concept and they were extremely excited and proud of their little vials of DNA. I believe that for many of them, this experience will become a strong memory and contribute to their future selves. The goal of the club is to help young girls develop the confidence and passion necessary to be a woman in STEM, it provides them with female role models and opportunities to explore different areas of science.

I know that this club has a significant impact on the girls who attend it because I was a member. I have a wide range of vivid memories from the club, including dissecting a tilapia, developing homemade pinhole camera pictures, and doing the UBC Botanical Gardens canopy walk. Part of my “self” was built as a member of the club, I developed a love for science and as a result I am pursuing a future in medicine and medical research. Some people may say that my future in science was determined before I was even born or that the physical components of my “self” make me interested in the sciences; however, I strongly believe that the experiences I had and the memories I collected as a young girl in the club are truly responsible.

 

 

 

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Beings with Non-Physical Selfs vs Selfs of Non-Physical Beings

During the discussions on Thursday my groups talked about a broad range of topics including astral projection, freewill, the dream-verse, Being, and non-physical existence. Although the topics were very diverse they all connected to the idea of the self and the possibility of non-physical components of the self. Whether it be the ability to disconnect from the physical body and enter the dream-verse/astral plane or trying to determine if there is a predetermined destiny and plan for our lives, it all comes back to the self.  What is the self? What is it made of? Is it static or is it built up throughout the course of our lives?

After taking part in the discussions I was left with more questions and felt slightly overwhelmed by metaphysics. I was having trouble comprehending my own topic let alone other people’s questions and opinions. I had more conversations with my family and friends about my topic of non-physical existence and if it is possible to have a whole self without a substance/physical component. Then I realized that I was actually interested in the non-physical components of the self as opposed to how much of a self a non-physical “Being” can have. In order to begin to comprehend and address big metaphysical questions I believe that I must first develop a strong philosophy and understanding of the self.

Moving forward I want to continue to explore the Bundle Theory, in addition to the idea that the self is a collection and projection of experiences as well as the process through which experiences become memories. Sticking with my original focus on social media I am interested in exploring how social media facilitates the collection and sharing of experiences, the preservation of memories, and the development of the self. I am also interested in the idea of vicarious experiences and how much of an impact other people’s experiences can have on your own self. Additionally, I want to explore the idea of shared experiences. Does sharing an experience with others create identical pieces of the self among a group of people, is this the reason they feel a deeper connection to one another? Can shared experiences be interpreted differently among different people based on their past experiences?

I have a lot of questions and a slightly more focused inquiry topic now and I am excited to explore them further during my Phil’s Day Off project.

 

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Non-Physical Existence

After discussing the basics of Metaphysics in class I am very curious about the ideas of the self and existence. When it comes to the self, I believe most strongly in the theory of dualism, the idea that the self is both essence and substance, material and non-material. I also believe in David Hume’s Bundle Theory, the idea that the self is a projection of the bundle of experiences we have collected throughout our lives. However, I am curious about just how much of the self can exist as either entirely physical or entirely non-physical. In a strictly physical existence, the self can be defined as a mass of molecules and a collection of chemical reactions. But when it comes to a non-physical existence there isn’t a clear definition. I want to explore the possibility of the self existing entirely separate from the physical body and the different ways in which this could occur. For this series of blog posts I have decided to ask the question: In what capacity can the self exist outside of the physical body?

 

What is existence?

To begin to approach this question, we must first define existence. What is existence? Existence can be defined as the fact or state of living or having objective reality, continued survival, or any person’s supposed current, future, or past lives on this earth. For the purpose of my inquiry, I am going to look at existence more in terms of Heidegger’s “Being” and less in terms of basic survival or occupying physical space. In order to discuss this I hope to find or develop some sort of system for measuring the level of “Being” that an entity has in order to objectively as possible discuss the capacity at which it is existing.

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What are the components of the self?

Another important concept to explore is the different components of the self and how they in turn relate to existence. I want to further explore the connections and separations between essence and substance as well as mind, body and soul. I also want to look into the similarities and differences between how an individual perceives their own self and how others perceive it.

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How can a non-physical existence occur?

Finally I want to ask, in what ways can a non-physical existence occur? And is it possible for a person to exist without a physical body? While most of us can agree that non-physical emotions like pride and love and hate exist, is this type of existence possible for people? To start off I’ve made a mind map of the different ways in which I believe a non-physical existence can occur.

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I am really excited to look into this topic, I think it is really relevant to the current state of society where more and more of our lives and interactions are happening online. To begin to answer my questions I have turned to Rob Horning’s essay Me Meme. In the essay Horning explores the relationship between social media and the self and proposing really interesting ideas about “the makeshift identity” most of us have on social media platforms. He goes on to state that “this identity can be shared and consumed not only by others but by oneself. This brings up the idea that the self we portray on social media can be, in extreme cases, completely independent from our true self and therefore may be considered a non-physical existence. Moving forward with this inquiry, I am really interested in looking into the way social media is facilitating the creation of less and less physical existences.

 

 

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Illogical Anti-Vaxxers

Vaccines are arguably the most important medical invention of all time. They have saved the lives of hundreds of millions of children, extended the lives of adults, and lead to the global eradication of deadly diseases like smallpox. Vaccines also contribute to long term health-care savings, prevent antibiotic resistance, protect against bio-terrorism, and enhance equity among different socioeconomic groups.

In the 220 years since, Dr. Edward Jenner developed the first vaccine there has been an upward trend in the number of children vaccinated globally. However, in 1998, a study by Andrew Wakefield was published linking the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) Vaccine to Autism. This paper was widely publicised and inspired a movement among parents around the world to not vaccinate their children. It was later found that Wakefield’s study was funded by the lawyers of parents suing vaccine producing companies and that there was actually no causal link between the MMR vaccine and Autism. The results of Wakefield’s study couldn’t be replicated, he was found guilty of ethical violations and fraud and was stripped of his medical license. Despite this, significant numbers of parents continued to boycott vaccinating their kids and pockets of mumps and measles began appearing in the UK, Canada, and the US, diseases that had been nearly eliminated before the paper was published. The Wakefield Fraud is considered to be one of the most damaging medical hoaxes of all time. A great deal of time and money from the scientific community has gone into debunking Wakefield’s findings, yet nearly two decades after the paper was retracted and found to be a blatant lie, anti-vaccination groups still exist.

As a person who is passionate about medicine and health policy, I get really angry when people try to rationalize not vaccinating their children. Especially in Canada, a first world country where the majority of vaccines are free and there are government programs in place to ensure they are safe and accessible.

In this blog post I am going to breakdown the most common argument used by Anti-Vaxxers to support their cause, analyze it for truth validity and soundness, and show why it is illogical. The argument that vaccines cause Autism originated from Andrew Wakefield’s retracted paper: lleal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. The paper states, “We identified…developmental regression in a group of previously normal children, which was generally associated in time with possible environmental triggers.” This basically states that the “environmental triggers” or vaccines were believed to cause “developmental regression” or delayed development in normal children that was then associated with the onset of Autism. Using syllogistic logic the statement can be broken down as follows:

  • Premise 1: Vaccines contain harmful chemicals
  • Premise 2: Harmful chemicals cause developmental regression and Autism
  • Conclusion: Therefore, Vaccines cause developmental regression and Autism

Premise 1 is false. Although vaccines are mostly water and antigens they require additional chemicals like formaldehyde and aluminium salts in order to remain stable and effective. However, the concentrations of these chemicals are so small that they are nowhere near harmful, even to infants. The amount of formaldehyde in vaccines is hundreds of times smaller than that in a piece of fruit and the amount of aluminium salts is less than children are exposed to through breastmilk.

Premise 2 is partially true. Exposure to toxins is one of the many things among genetics, head trauma, a low birth weight, and infections that can be linked to developmental delays or regression. However, this refers more to mothers smoking, drinking or using intravenous drugs during pregnancy. Additionally, the specific causes of Autism are not currently known but are believed to be related to genetics, not exposure to toxins. Also the onset of Autism and scheduled vaccines both occur in early childhood; therefore the fact that a child could both receive vaccinations and show signs of Autism is more likely a coincidence than evidence of an actual connection between the two.

The flaw in this argument first occurs in premise 1, the fact that vaccines don’t contain harmful amounts of chemicals makes the argument untrue although it would otherwise be somewhat valid. Since the argument is neither true nor valid, the conclusion that vaccines cause developmental regression is not sound and illogical.  The small amount of additional chemicals in vaccines are not enough to possibly be linked to developmental regression. As Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician in Texas, points out “It’s in our soil, in our water, in the air. You’d have to leave the planet to avoid exposure.”

Those who choose to not vaccinate their children are not only putting their children at risk but entire populations. As the World Health Organization points out, “vaccines have also been used to protect those in greatest need of protection against infectious diseases, such as pregnant women, cancer patients and the immunocompromised” People with supressed immune systems who are unable to get vaccines themselves, rely greatly on healthy members of society to be vaccinated in order to maintain herd immunity. The illogical misconception that vaccines are dangerous is a destructive step backwards for medicine and public health and it puts far more people at risk than just children who are unvaccinated.

 

 

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Spelunking: noun -the exploration of caves, especially as a hobby.

I am certain that Before Philosophy 12 I had never heard of The Allegory of the Cave. Despite this, it seems like such a familiar concept and it has left me with a haunting sense of déjà vu over the past few days. This in turn has made me contemplate the way the cave appears in our society, my own level of enlightenment, and if there is a responsibility of the enlightened to enlighten others.

As we grow up we slowly move farther and farther out of the bottom of the cave, we become wiser, more independent and begin to develop our own beliefs. However, the enlightenment of growing up can only take us so far. I believe that at some point in our young adulthood we face a life altering experiences, be it good or bad, that either drives us back towards the shadows or further towards the light. I think these experiences can appear in any number of ways, from moving out on your own to the death of a close family member or friend, anything that is enough of a shock to make you question your life and beliefs up to that point.

The first time in my life when I felt enlightened was when I took part in the SHAD Program. It was the first time in my life I had been completely alone, away from home and people who knew me. I flew across Canada by myself not knowing exactly what to expect when I arrived. I was excited and scared but my month at SHAD was one of the best things I have ever experienced. I became friends with 47 other amazing youth from across Canada and gained a dozen enlightened mentors. Every day I was exposed to new ideas and possibilities on topics surrounding STEAM, leadership, business, and life in general. In addition to gaining a huge amount of awareness and wisdom, I was also pushed out of my comfort zone and constantly challenging my beliefs regarding my own strength and abilities. I find it really hard to explain the SHAD experience to people who haven’t taken part in the program but I can talk to people who have had their own SHAD experience for hours.

I believe that people that are able to leave the cave are the most successful. They are the innovators and leaders of the world because they are able to turn away from the shadows of the cave and into the light. Not only do they have the capacity to think outside of what is known and expected by society they also have the determination to pursue their ideas no matter the challenges they may face.

Right now I feel like I am near the opening of the cave attempting to turn my head towards the light, I can see flashes of the outside world from my peripheral vision but I can’t quite make sense of it yet. I want to turn my head I’m just not sure how to. I feel like there is more to life than I currently know and sometimes I think I come close to comprehending it but then it slips away. But I can’t help but wonder, if the cave is a spectrum, how far do you have to go before you are right up against the wall again? Until you are so intent on finding enlightenment that you are staring at shadows on a different wall of a new cave.

Another question raised by the class discussion on The Allegory of the Cave was “Are the enlightened obligated to show others the light?” If anything, I think that if you are enlightened you are morally obligated to enlighten others. This moral responsibility is similar to the one that falls on people trained in first aid when they are off duty. I am trained as a lifeguard and if I were to come across a first aid situation I would feel a responsibility to help even if there was a certain level of risk to my own safety. I can no longer relax when I am at the pool or the lake because I am acutely aware of the risk of drowning. However, I would rather be slightly anxious and have the ability to save someone’s life than be faced with an emergency and feel helpless. I think there is a certain level of burden that comes with being enlightened. Ignorance may be bliss but once you discover the truth I think most people would rather be troubled than return to their previous life of obliviousness. With this, I think there comes a desire to educate others and therefore a drive to enlighten anyone who will listen.

If The Allegory of the Cave is a metaphor for life, I still have many questions. How does one become truly enlightened? Do you even know when you are? Does the sheer fact that we are aware we are trapped in a cave make us enlightened? Who places the chains on us? How does one escape? And what is beyond the cave? Is it just another bigger brighter cave?

 

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Here, Have Some Wisdom!

Current Mood

Two weeks into Philosophy and I feel like I have an infinite amount of questions and no real answers. I came into this class expecting it to be a challenge as well as an opportunity for me to step outside my comfort zone and expand the way in which I interpret the world around me. I have the tendency to become engrossed by difficult questions and problems without a solution until I am able to find an answer. I am beginning to realize that this is not the case for philosophy and I need to be okay with the possibility of never finding an answer and not let it limit my thinking or stop me from asking questions.

One of the many question that has been bugging me lately is the very first questions we addressed in class what is wisdom? I don’t have a conclusive answer and in fact I have more and more questions on the topic every day. However, I currently believe wisdom is a collection of experiences, information and values that is built up over time by your nature and nurture. I also believe that there is nothing that we really know that has not been imprinted on us or shared by other people in our lives. This conclusion supports the idea that philosophy must therefore be “inherently social” as Nigel Warburton refers to it in his essay Talk with me. I believe that sharing information and experiences, or “wisdom”, amongst ourselves is the only way to begin to understand or strive for knowledge surrounding topics like the meaning of life.

I agree with Warburton on his points that philosophy should be a conversation and that philosophers need “an intelligent listener who could criticise and help [them] focus [their] thought.” I also think that the input from another person, with an entirely different perspective and set of experiences, not only adds value and perspective to a philosophical conversation but cannot be objectively replicated by any other means.

I also agree with John Stuart Mill* in terms of his ideas on the value of dissenters. It is very easy to gloss over flaws in your thinking when there is no one there to call you out on them. When conversing with someone of an opposing view point it actually allows a philosopher to strengthen their argument and increase their own clarity of understanding as they work to persuade the dissenter.

*Fun fact, John Stuart Mill was a white man born in 1806 and a feminist*

On the other hand, I don’t believe that philosophy must be a social practice all of the time. Warburton’s essay highlights a recurring pattern of great philosophers seeking out isolation in order to further develop their ideas and complete their written work. I think that there is a place for both heated debates and independent pondering and that taking time as a philosopher to sit with your thoughts is essential.

 

 

Another question posed in class that has resonated with me was what is school for? It was odd to really critically examine and question the motives of an institution that has been a significant part of my life for the past 12 years of my life. However, when it came to exploring educational philosophies, I wasn’t surprised that I agreed the most with progressivism. I consider myself lucky to have been in very progressive learning environments in the form of programs of choice from 6th to 10th grade and I believe they helped me become an autonomous and life-long learner. I really appreciate the progressive learning philosophy because I feel it helps students find and cultivate their strengths and passions in addition to preparing them for the real world. I strongly agree with the role of the teacher in a progressive classroom, as a guide for problem solving and scientific inquiry”. I believe that teaching students in a progressive environment is the best way to raise a generation of people capable of finding innovative solutions to societies increasingly complex problems.

 

In terms of my personal goals for philosophy, I am really interested in working to finding a mix of science and philosophy with which to approach big questions or problems. Although I am very scientific and left brained I also believe there are some things in life that just can’t be explained by science and that sometimes there are multiple correct answers. I am also excited about working to develop a personal philosophy and my own definition of a “good life”. As a grade 12 student, I’m approaching one of the most significant changes of my life to date. Within the next year I will be transitioning into adulthood and heading to university to start out on my own. I want to go into this new chapter with a strong personal philosophy and a defined “good life” to strive for. Most of all I would like expand my thinking ability by developing the skills necessary to conduct philosophical conversations and approach situations with an open mind.

Moving forward I am looking forward to discussing topics including intuition and coincidence, why some people don’t like bagpipes, and the effect of social media on philosophical discussions.

 

 
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