Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Wozzeck – Iris

It was the start of the 20th century, and the artistic world was shifting to a new interpretation of the world. The days of rich vitality and passion of the Romantics were fading away, and crawling to the surface was a gritty, twisted, yet painfully honest style.

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch

An artistic style based on the distortion of reality, to express meaning and to give a deeper emotional experience. In terms of music, expressionism is characterized by hyper-expressive harmonies, wide leaps, and instrumentation in high registers, harsh dissonance, sudden dynamic changes, and large jumps in the melody. A reaction to positivism, naturalism, as well as French Impressionism, the artists of the movement were furiously committed to creating an individual perspective evident in their work.
Most of all, it was the curiosity of the subconscious and the drive to give it a voice that defined expressionism.
Alban Berg, citizen of Vienna, champion of expressionism, and member of the 2nd Viennese School, was busy questioning his future in the year of 1914. World War I was fast approaching, and he was not excited to have to give up his gradually forming idea of an opera. He had been studying music with Schoenberg, leader of the group of musicians known as the 2nd Viennese School. However, war came anyways, and his progress on his opera was halted until 1917, when he was able to leave his regiment and resume composing. The work was completed in 1922, a grand work of his time, and it was named, Wozzeck.

English National Opera

English National Opera

Synopsis from  Vienna State Opera:

Alban Berg’s Wozzeck details the harsh existence of the title character, a former soldier in the German army who has to struggle mightily to make a living, even as others around him prosper. Wozzeck is living with Marie, a former prostitute and the mother of his young son. Wozzeck’s mental state seems to be increasingly unsettled, and he begins to see visions. Marie worries about him but does not know what she can do. Meanwhile, Wozzeck has agreed to be part of a dietary experiment by a doctor, who seems pleased with his patient’s increasing instability. While Wozzeck is out, Marie allows herself to be seduced by a flirtatious drum major. Wozzeck suspects that something has occurred, a suspicion that is inflamed when the doctor and a captain for whom Wozzeck works taunt him with hints about Marie’s faithlessness. His visions growing wilder, Wozzeck stabs and kills Marie, then drowns himself, leaving his son alone in the cruel world. ~ Craig Butler, Rovi

Based on the incomplete drama Woyzeck by German playwright Georg Buchner, Wozzeck was born from Berg’s own response to the play. He used fifteen of Buchner’s unordered scene and structured the opera into three acts with five scenes. He adapted the libretto himself, retaining the essential character of the play and its haunted realism for the life of the poor and the fragility of the human spirit. It was the first opera, and even more importantly, the first large scale composition that was written atonally. (Atonality= the lack of tonal key or centre; music without harmonies based on a home key) Atonality had been decried by its adversaries as “the technic for miniatures,” and for good reason. Music without a key leaves the audience searching for resolution and a feeling of “home.” To use it as a foundation for a grand-scale structure had never been done before, and very much avante-garde. So how did Berg maintain unity in such a large work without a key centre or home? Leitmotifs, such as character motives, created the sense of coherence necessary for an opera like this one. Established in the first act for each individual character, Berg also uses motifs to give the audience an insight into the character’s thoughts. The most significant motif is first heard sung by Wozzeck himself, to the words ‘Wir arme Leut’ (poor folk like us). Tracing out a minor chord with added major seventh, it is frequently heard as the signal of the inability of the various characters to transcend their situation.

I don’t  think I’ve quite put the peculiarity of Expressionist music into words quite well enough. Take a listen yourself. This is Act 3, Scene 5, the last one. The last few phrases may be my favorites of the opera.

So why did I choose this piece of art? And what is the aesthetic value of something so twisted, yet so jarring and powerful?

Growing up surrounded by rich, harmonious Classical (or pre-20th century) music, I remember the very first time I heard this opera. Sitting in the chair of my music history teacher’s piano room, I felt something the moment I heard the first phrase. Simply speaking, I was wary, if not repulsed by the key-less and dissonance sounds that seemed to go nowhere but straight into my face. The harmonies never resolved and the rhythm and dynamics kept trying to pull and push and stretch beyond what I had ever heard before. The singing was staggering; the melody that contained the voices exploded in register and the notes were continuously being dropped and re-strung in pitch. But the more I continued to listen the more tightly the music’s grip seemed to be. No, I was not captured by beauty, nor tenderness that gave me shivers. What shook me was the strange all-knowing power of each and every unusual note. It was in no key but each chord knew with affinity where it would go next. This opera, written to give a voice to the subconscious, was not beautiful, nor morale. Instead, it was full of clashing, unheard of dissonances and bloodthirsty murder and hallucinations. The fear occupying the undercurrent of the opera felt real inside of me. This piece of art made me scared, terrified at times. Did that go against our very basic instinctual love for beauty that created art? Aesthetically, it didn’t project the perfection that could or should exist in our world, but told a raw and realistic story of a poor, broken man. Yet, there is no possible way that I would ever consider it value-less, or not art. The power and honesty and musical inventiveness of Mr. Berg made me feel something. And a lot of that something.
When the scene ended, I leaned back in my chair and realized I was out of breath. The music had been pulling the air from my lungs and pushing me into the world of Wozzeck very deeply but I hadn’t quite realized until I resurfaced.

Though it may not be beautiful in a conventional sense, nor particularly pleasing, Wozzeck has the power to hit an audience at the core, making us feel both at mercy and entranced with the strange and fascinating voices that fill our lives.



Believing in Knowledge

Throughout this week, we have been discussing epistemology, touching on various branches of this topic, focusing often on the progression of opinion, belief, and knowledge. A brief, but somewhat broad definition of the three terms according to our Philosophy textbook and what we used in our discussions: Opinion- Statement that cannot be proven true or false. Belief – Statement that can be proven true or false. Knowledge- Justified true belief. Where a belief becomes knowledge was an area very much debated and broken down further. An idea that caught my mind was the definition of knowledge as society’s beliefs, as a collective belief.

Use Ptolemy’s theory for an example. It was once believed that all celestial bodies within our cosmos orbited around the Earth. Similar to how we now believe that the earth and the planets of our solar system orbit the sun, the people of Ancient Greece accepted the Geocentric model as truth, and more specifically, as knowledge. This theory was not only widely accepted but justified. There were two common observations that supported the idea that the Earth was the center of the Universe. The first observation was that the stars, sun, and planets appear to revolve around the Earth each day. Stars closest to the equator appeared to rise and fall, and circled back to its rising point each day. The second observation was that the Earth did not seem to move from the perspective of the Earth bound observer, remaining solid, stable, and unmoving. In other words, it was completely at rest. If the celestial bodies around the Earth revolved, and the Earth remained still, then the conclusion could be drawn that everything orbited the centered Earth.

Nowadays, however, our newest mathematical and scientific discoveries and theories, such as aberration, parallax, and the Doppler effect, have proven that the Sun is actually the centre of our solar system. We are taught in school and by society that this theory is fact, and is indeed observable out beyond our atmosphere if only our naked eye were able. However, how can we be sure that are current theory is true?

If common knowledge can be defined as beliefs justified by the agreement of society, then knowledge is but the overlapping of personal beliefs (beliefs defined as statements that can be proved true or false). The line in which a belief becomes knowledge is crossed with justification, but it seems justification is a grey shade that is solidified through agreement of the masses. This interlacing of personal perspectives questions whether what we know is true, but nonetheless affirms the world in which we live in today.



Leibniz and his Monad -Iris

Born in July 1646, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was German mathematician and philosopher. Since he was young, Leibniz absorbed philosophical and theological influences from his father, a Professor of Moral Philosophy. Welcome to explore the works of his father’s library at the age of seven, he became well-versed in the written philosophy of his time and soon became proficient in the language of Latin. At the age of 15, he had his bachelor’s degree, and a year later, he had his master’s. From the University of Altdorf, Leibniz earned his license to practice law and his Doctorate in Law. A academically successful and likable man, he was soon able to apprentice under a chief minster as well as receive patronage from two nobleman. During this time, he worked with mathematicians Christiaan Huygens and Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, and began to develop his mathematical discoveries that he would continue to write about throughout his life. Throughout his life, Leibniz was a firm believer of God.

Leibniz’s collection of philosophical writing consisted of various short pieces including journals, manuscripts and letters in correspondence. Though somewhat fragmented, he explored seven fundamental philosophical Principles in his writing. His most interesting philosophical idea, however, was the monad, which he wrote about in the Monadologie Leibniz’s Monad is a elementary particle that is eternal, in-decomposable, individual, subject to their own laws, and un-interacting. Most importantly, monads function on a pre-established harmony, following a pre-programmed set of instructions. They are made of no material or spatial character. They also differ from atoms by their complete mutual independence from each other. Each human being constitutes a monad. God, too, is a monad, and the existence of God can be inferred from the harmony prevailing among all other monads.

Leibniz’s monad’s falls under the Neutral Monism category. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind-body_dichotomy

Leibniz’s theory of monads is not widely believed today – if it all, though there are some similarities to what we know now. The monad can be looked at as a kind of fate, or similar to a godly power. Scientifically, the pre-programmed “instructions” of a monad can be seen as analogs of the scientific laws governing subatomic particles.

To me, it seems hard to believe such a thing exists, with all it’s untied ends and blatantly simple answers. It seems to be another thing of blind belief, based more on faith than reason. However, this particle opens up very much to the possibility of the unknown. This monad questions not only our free will, but the reason of our existence, and the meaning of it. Whether or not our existence is actually controlled by these little particles, monads provide a little change to what we believe today.



Red Light, Green Light

A while ago, my dad was waiting at a red light when he was hit by a car from behind. The driver hit my dad’s car with a solid amount of force, causing it to bump into the car in front. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. That is, no humans were injured. Both the front and back of my dad’s car was more or less totaled, and car that hit my dad was also damaged. Funny thing was, my dad’s car was very much dented in the front, meaning that the car in front of him had been hit with considerable force. However, the driver did not stop after the accident. He (or she) simply drove away when the light turned green. He (I’ll use “he” from this point on) would of definitely felt the jarring bump and heard the crunch, but neither caused him to stop and inspect the damage. This part of the story brought about much speculation when my dad told everyone what happened. The driver that took off would have held no responsibility and would only be given enough money to repair his car if there was any damage. He held no blame. There was no reason to be afraid to stop… unless he was afraid of the people who would be at the scene. More specifically, the police.

This was more or less the point where the listeners of my dad’s story reached. If the driver chose to continue driving and get away, it must have because he wanted to avoid the police. Moreover, he did not want the police to identify him and his car.

The driver had stolen the car he was driving.

Therefore, he drove away from the accident to avoid the police.

This is an example of a logical fallacy, and more precisely, a false cause fallacy, or post hoc.

Event x causes event y:

x = the driver stole the car

y = he drove away from the accident to avoid the police

Under the presumption of the driver being a car thief, his act of driving away seems to make sense. However, the conclusion is an assumption, an unjustified reason to the action. Just because the driver didn’t stop, doesn’t mean he was avoiding the police. He could have been running late, so he chose not to stop. He could have decided not to stop because he knew the accident was not his responsibility. In driving away, he placed more distance between himself and the police, but that does not mean that was his intention.

The action of driving away from the accident is given a false cause. Though “y” is true, “x” is but a guess attempting to fill a gap in the unknown. Thus, a fallacy is created.



Vonnegut Logic

No names have been changed in order to protect the innocent. Angels protect the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.

-Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box (1999)

The writer is deciding whether or not to change the names of real-life people as he incorporates them into his story. He justifies his decision with his statement that places the protection of the people in the hands of angels, rather than his own. I decided put the statements into the form of a disjunctive syllogism.

Either by changing their names when they’re used in fiction, or by NOT changing their names when they’re used in fiction, the innocent is protected.

By angels following their Heavenly routine, the innocent is protected.

Therefore, by NOT changing their names when they’re used in fiction, the innocent is protected.

A= changing their names when they’re used in fiction

B= NOT changing their names when they’re used in fiction

C= innocent is protected

D= angels following their Heavenly routine

Either A or B is a C

D is a C

Therefore B is a C

(I may or may not have spent a considerable amount of time choosing the form in which Vonnegut’s point would make the most sense.)

This argument is invalid. It does not follow the form of a disjunctive syllogism, therefore is a formal fallacy. Because the writer cannot eliminate A or B, or simply chooses not to, he adds a D to create the conclusion he wants. In terms of truth, the second premise may or may not be true, as the existence of angels is very much up for debate. Under these circumstances, we will say this is false, creating an untrue conclusion. The writer is simply providing some sort of justification for not changing the names of the people he includes in his books. For all these reasons, the argument is not sound.

In this case, we are dealing with Kurt Vonnegut. In my humble opinion, it is simply Vonnegut throwing out a perfectly defendable reason to say “Watch me not care.”



Bedtime Syllogism

All beds are for people to sleep on.
A riverbed is a bed.
Therefore a riverbed is for people to sleep on.

The conclusion of this syllogism is valid, as it follows the presented premises. However, this argument is not true, due to the untrue premises. As a result, this argument is not sound.

A: Middle Term = Beds

B: Predicate Term = For people to sleep on

C: Subject Term = A riverbed

This syllogism follows the proper form of a categorical syllogism: All (A) are (B). (C) is an (A). Therefore (C) is a (B).

Though at first glance the first premise may seem true, but due to its lack of clarity and specificity, it is not so. Without defining the word “bed”, the word can refer to any kind of bed, such as “roadbed,” “hotbed”, or “riverbed,” like in the premises. These examples are all some sort of base or foundation in which other materials or substances are placed upon, therefore all fall under the definition of beds. This disapproves that “All beds are for people to sleep on.” Therefore, the first premises is false. In order for this premise to be true, additional information is necessary. For example, if “that are designed for humans” was added on, it would now read: “All beds that are designed for humans are for people to sleep on.” “Roadbed,” “hotbed”, or “riverbed,” would no longer fall under this category of beds.

Though the conclusion is not true, one could still attempt to sleep upon a riverbed. Just because it isn’t for people to sleep on, doesn’t mean it can’t be.



Story Part 2 of 4 – Iris

“Take a seat.”
“Yes sir.”
I look him up and down. Seemed only yesterday when his mother brought him to see me for the first time. All bundled in his soft blue wool blanket, and looking as small as a peanut, I’d known he’d grow into a fine man. And grow he did. Now he’s moving to the big city and make a name for himself.
“Your father’s a good man. He’s taught you well. Your mother’s a good girl. She’s always been. And you’ve been a good son to them, and a good grandson to me. But soon you’ll be gone to the big city. Today I’m going to tell you something important. You listen, now.”
He nods.
“I brought up your mother and her brothers and sisters on our farm all those years back, and kept them healthy and happy and safe from harm. You mother and aunts and uncles all grew into fine people and married and brought up their families the same way I did: hard work and a good attitude. But there was one thing I did that I’ll never forgive myself for doing. And promise me you’ll never, ever, repeat what I had done.”
He nods again.
“There was one woman besides your grandmother that I ever looked at. She was a fine looking woman, and her name was Melissa. All those years ago I had fallen for her, and nearly spent our farm’s worth of money on her. She was a lie, a gosh darn scam. I doubt she even ever cared about me, or ever thought about me besides what my money could bring her. But I had fallen for that woman, and I had fallen for her hard.
“I met her one night at the old man’s pub that I always went to. This time I went to blow-off some steam. Money was getting tight, but that’s how everything was back then. I was sitting a table, waiting for my drink, when she walked by. I had never seen her before; she was from some town far away. But even for a beat-up, lonesome girl, she looked good. There was something about her that made me keep my eyes on her. She seemed out of luck, and out of money, but the way she moved, the way she looked around the room, she seemed smart, and refined, almost. Before I knew it, I had gotten her a drink and we were laughing the night away. That was a good night, a good first night that led to many more.
“For months I saw her every Friday and Saturday at the old man’s pub. Just looking at her made me so happy. So I wanted to make her happy. I bought her the best, even better than I ever got for your grandmother. Necklaces with stones that cost me hundreds and clothes that only city people wore.”
And for a second I stop. Her eyes and the way they brightened when I brought her something new now rush before me. The jewelry, the clothes, she was always so happy when I gave them to her. But she probably didn’t care. She only wanted to know how much they were worth, how rich she’d look with them on. She probably sold them a few months later.
“The last time I ever saw her was the day I nearly left your grandmother. We had been arguing all day long and I nearly hadn’t noticed it was time to go the old man’s pub. Money was running really low from all my spending on Melissa. She was suspicious, but I left anyways. When I met Melissa, my troubles just faded all away. I told her I wanted her to stay forever, never leave this town, and never leave me. I told her I’d choose her over anyone else. I had hoped so hard she would stay. She smiled at me, warm and ready. But for a moment her eyes filled with sudden fear. Was she was afraid because staying meant time for me to find her lies? Or had I said what her heart most feared? Was she afraid of love? When I looked again she was back to wearing that same charming look that made me want her so much more. In the end she told me that I would see her tomorrow, at the old man’s pub, as I always had. That’s all she said. No warning that she would run off and never come back. No warning that it was the last time I would ever see her. That night, as I walked home, I reached for my wallet, but it was gone. She had stolen it, and it was then that I finally began to realize what she was doing to me.”
“Must have hurt. The day you realized you lost her.”
Craig looked back at me with cautious eyes. How did he know? How did he know that the day I finally understood she was gone forever, I knew she had stolen a part of my heart and was never going to give it back. I had loved her. And I did more than love her. I gave her everything she wanted. I made the terrible, lost woman feel like she was beautiful. She was beautiful. But she hurt me more than I could have ever thought possible. Could Craig see it in this old man’s eyes? Maybe. But would I tell him?
“No. The only thing I hurt was my family. You’re grandmother was the sweetest little lady in the world and I nearly left her. As long as a live I shall never again commit such a crime as letting her down. And one day when you meet the right girl, you go on and marry her. But don’t you go looking at the other pretty ladies. That’ll only bring us trouble. Got it, boy?”
“Got it.”
“Never trust anyone but us. Only family.”



To think, or Not to think -Iris

If you were offered a reset button to your life, would you take it? If such a thing existed, would you believe it to be real, or believe it to be a twisted experiment created by a creature manipulative and heartless in nature? Or perhaps you would wonder if this second chance, this escape route was an opportunity bestowed uniquely to you? And would you press it, if all you friends, all of society took this road?

Over the past week in our Philosophy class, we have questioned and answered and discussed and debated various ideas that revolve around the idea of human nature and human perspective. Up till now, we have all presented our own take on “What is Philosophy?” and now continue to shape our personal philosophies. I had written a story to briefly begin my idea of what philosophy was at the start. As the week progressed, we reached the question of “Why is learning hard?”, which soon led to much more. “Is it considered learning if it has no value?” “Why do we want to learn?” “What is it that we can learn?” “Do we have the answers to all our questions, or does it gravitate on a whole other unreachable level?”

Ignorance is bliss. The amount of truth that rests within that short phrase is enough to make me wonder whether all this questioning is worth it or not. It seems so endless; one statement is easily proved false by another, which is then just as quickly doubted. Why do we continue to search for an answer? Born from unease that grows into change, humans look for the unattainable, constantly placing ourselves in a state of dissatisfaction and discomfort. This constant search counters our undeniable desire for happiness. Our self-driven mission to be content is ever-present, and brings out the best and worst of humans. So it brings about this paradox – as humans, we continue to attempt to solve unanswerable questions, bringing about more pain and discontent unto ourselves, while desperately trying to be happy. And do we choose this? I think so.

But perhaps it has nothing to do with us. We are mere beings of the human species, created to carry on the genetic code, nothing more than highly developed nervous shocks that react to our surroundings. Perhaps we share a common essence that in itself may be good or evil, altruistic or egotistic. Our existence is easy to question; if there is no truth in the world then how can anything be real? Our eyes, ears, and physical bodies only tell us so much, and can be so easily fooled. It is even easier to question whether we truly have any power over our futures, or whether free will actually exists. And yet, if the reset button is slid once again before you, what do you think about? You can press the button for yourself, to give yourself a second chance. You can press others, to forfeit a future that may have been tragic. You can take is give it to someone else, out of love, or out of vengeance. The truth of human kind can be boiled down to this one moment.

So it is a choice. Whether we trust our reality as how we sense it, or believe it to be something else entirely, it is but an individual choice that drives our paths into the future. Philosophy is simply a choice: to think, or not to think.