Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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What is Philosophy Final

Coming into this course, I didn’t really know what to expect. When we were asked the question, “what is philosophy?”, I thought of a bunch of people (traditionally old white guys with white beards, preferably stroking those white beards) sitting around asking, ‘what is the meaning of life?’ and ‘who am I?’ and ‘why are we here?’, etc. A bunch of questions that we’ve been asking for thousands of years at least, and yet… there is no answer.

Philosophy seemed pointless, non-applicable, and quite frankly a waste of time. But I still liked the idea of it.

 

Throughout the year, we have learned about different topics of study in philosophy:

Logic – here we learned to form a logical argument. This is quite applicable as it can be used to prove your point, disprove someone else’s point, and it can be used in any argument you may have.

Metaphysics – This is the more stereotypical philosophy like the questions I was talking about earlier. Despite this, I think that this is important because I have noticed that in almost every unit of study and issue we looked at, it all depends on what your answer is to the question, “what is the meaning of life?”. To answer tough questions or take a stand on an issue, you need to establish your purpose in life, which is why I wrote my post about the meaning of life.

Epistemology – Here we learned about knowledge and knowing and learning. This unit is also very applicable and helpful, because the more we know about what and how we know, the better we can know how to know and learn more. (just read it again if you didn’t get that)

Aesthetics – In aesthetics, we learned about beauty and how and why something is perceived as beautiful. This section, I’ll admit is not quite as applicable or ‘important’ as the others, but still interesting and maybe helpful.

Ethics & Social and Political Philosophy – Here we studied different theories about right and wrong and justice. This sections is extremely applicable because it helps us to be better people, and better as a society. It is also about deciding how to run our society in a way that is fair and just.

 

I understand know that philosophy encompasses so much more than I originally thought. I was looking through this little lens and I was not seeing the whole picture, only this very small (somewhat incorrect) part of it. I now know that philosophers actually do come up with solutions, that are often very useful in society.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone thought about how they would like people to be treated from behind the veil of ignorance, and then treated other people accordingly. Or try to imagine if everyone thought about whether they would be okay with the action they are about to take becoming a universal law (so it could be done to them often) before they did the action or said the words. The world would be a much better place to live if these things happened. So that is a main part of the importance of philosophy, it makes us better and it makes the world better. Plus, it expands our understanding and helps us grow as humans.

Philosophy also deals directly with issues that arise in the world and aim to to answer with logic and reason.

I just feel like my knowledge and understanding of philosophy has expanded tremendously, and with it my knowledge and understanding of myself, people, and the world.

 

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Foreign Aid – OK?

In the last little while, we’ve been talking in class and learning about Ethics in Philosophy. I’ve decided to write this about Foreign Aid because it is interesting to me, and I don’t think that it is talked about all that much, at least not as much as something like abortion or euthanasia (although maybe rightly so, considering that they are dealing with human life and death directly), and because it affects me and and all of us, with taxes and the fact that we have a say about our Foreign Aid.

In Foreign Aid, the main issues are:

  • “Why should I be taxed my hard-earned dollars in order to help some people on the other side of the world who don’t have anything to do with me?”
  • There are a significant amount of people here in Canada and the United States who are living below the poverty line, so why not help our own country before spending it on foreign ones?
  • Foreign Aid money is often not accounted for after being given, poor community majority continue to suffer while the corrupt dictators/leaders and aristocracy pocket the money and improve their already-extravagant lifestyles.
  • “Is our money even doing anything?”

John Rawls’ Theory of Justice

Using John RawsTheory of Justice, behind the ‘Vail of Ignorance’, where we know nothing of the situation we will be born into, including race, gender, location, family, etc., it is reasonable to assume that we would decide to create a society where all was fair.  If you didn’t know whether you would be born into rural Africa or Middle East, or to the British Royal family, or to a rich or poor family in the United States, then we would almost always say, “the wealthy people and nations of the world should do their best to elevate the living standards of those who are less fortunate”. We would all hope that if we happened to be born into a situation which traps us in poverty and oppression, others would try to help make our situation better.

Utilitarianism

In the utilitarianism view, considering the ‘greatest good/happiness for the greatest amount of people’, we would still be ethically obligated to give aid to those who are in poverty and with poor living standards because that would result in their elevated happiness and ultimately wouldn’t really hurt the wealthy all that much.

 

To adress the second point, we could say the same thing about poverty in the more wealthy and higher standard of living countries of the world. Most people born into poverty do not escape it, so again we would want help for those in poverty, to help them escape it. But then should we focus more on the poor in our own country just because they were born here? Behind the vail of ignorance, we would say no! Where we are born is nothing of our own doing.

So then, how should we decide who we should aid and with how much? The third and fourth point brings up a good question of how aid should be given. The effectiveness of foreign aid is widely debated and is pretty much unknown so I think I’ll leave that up to leader of our country to decide, although it is becoming clear that the lack of follow up and significant thought to what would help the less fortunate best by donor countries is part of the problem, which leads to another question of the moral value of foreign aid.

Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative

According to Immanuel Kant and his categorical imperative, an act is not really moral unless it is done out of duty (for the sake of the act), not for selfish purposes. Foreign aid (by countries) is primarily, if not completely, used for selfish purposes. Foreign aid is used to develop good relations with other countries, create or secure alliances, impose the culture of the donating country, control political leadership, enforce political ideology (as in the Cold War and the battle between communism and capitalism), etc. Although, it is not surprising that countries do not want to give without getting back in return, since it is their job to keep the best interests of their own countries in mind.

 

So to wrap up, the giving of foreign aid is almost certainly the right thing to do (and not more to poverty in your own country) ethically; however, if it is being done for personal (or national) gain, Kant would say the act is no longer ‘right’. The way in which aid is given should be given is still a very big and important question, but that’s another debate for another day.

 

 

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Positive or Negative Aesthetic Experience?

aesthetic experience

So I made this picture, and if you can’t tell, they’re both looking into the box, with very different reactions to what they see.

 

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I Know that the World is Flat

Knowledge does not require truth.

It has often been argued that knowledge is justified true belief. As in the Tripartite theory of knowledge, one must believe something to be true, then it must actually be true, and it also must be justified. In other words, you must have good reason for believing something to be true, and it also must be true. To me, knowledge is more personal, and changing from person to person, time to time, and place to place.

A long time ago, it was believed that the world was flat, not round. That was their knowledge; however, now we can say quite surely that it is objectively true that the world is round, because we can observe that the world is round (even though our senses are flawed). At that time the statement “the world is flat”, had the property ‘true’. That is not the kind of truth that I am talking about. I am talking about objective (or as objective as possible), proven, factual, truth. To be clear, I am saying that when the world was believed to be flat, that was knowledge, even though it was incorrect knowledge.

Yes, I am proposing that there is correct, and incorrect knowledge. I am saying that knowledge need only be true in the mind of the thinker.

What is it to be human? Have you ever thought about that question? Intellectually, humans stand out from other animals. Humans have an increased ability to think, and the ability to know. Knowledge, then, is the very essence of being human. With the possible exception of very young babies, I believe that all humans have knowledge. Consider those with mental illnesses or disabilities, or even further, those who would be considered legally insane. Their reality would be much different than ours, and it is likely that they would come to different conclusions about the world. The point is that they have knowledge, it just might not be the same as what is considered by the population to be ‘correct’.

Suppose that one day I wake up, look in the mirror, see, and know that my hair is brown. Perhaps the next day someone will tell me that I have red hair. Which is it? Maybe I come to realize that I am color-blind and I actually have red hair. My knowledge of my hair color has changed, but that doesn’t mean that my previous knowledge was not knowledge! I had that knowledge, it was true to me, I could observe that it was true, but I was wrong. Still, it was my knowledge.

 

So the syllogism for this argument would go like this:

 

If truth is objective fact,

and incorrect belief was knowledge,

and correct belief is knowledge,

then knowledge does not require truth.

 

 

The part of this argument that I can see being questioned is premise #1 which states that truth is objective fact. People will have their differing opinions on what truth is, because it is one of those concepts that is difficult to define perfectly.

I did not get a lot of ideas from other philosophers for this, in fact, I didn’t look specifically at any one philosopher at all! This idea came from the world is flat example talked about in the beginning of the post. I have not heard of really any philosopher who supports or talks about this kind of thing, so if you know of someone or a school of thought similar to this, please let me know!

Sources:

http://s10.postimg.org/y085xwsbt/flat_earth.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human

 

 

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The Greatest Question of All Time: The Meaning of Life (plus religion!)

Metaphysics deals with some of the great questions of philosophy, and of life. The questions that science cannot answer. Why? Because science answers questions and comes to conclusions based on observations and human senses. But how are these senses reliable? Chris notes in this post that, especially if the world/universe/humanity is a ‘cosmic accident’ or random chance as believed by many with the Big Bang theory and theory of evolution, then how can humans – who are simply a collection of particles (according to science), and were not intended – be trusted to analyze anything and come to any sort of conclusion or ‘proof’.

And perhaps all of ‘reality’ is simply our minds composing things for us to see, smell, taste, hear, and touch, even though they don’t exist. Perhaps nothing exists, but how could that be? We are here, I am typing this, aren’t I? If I am not, and I do not exist, and nothing exists, then what is allowing me to experience things? To me, it doesn’t add up. If nothing exists, then what is happening? Or maybe it is just my mind that has created everything that I am and think and see. But then what? Is it just like my brain floating around in nothing. That doesn’t make sense. Plus, as Jess pointed out in her post on nothingness, nothing is actually something; therefor nothing cannot exist (or, not exist). So if we say that we are actually here, then what? Our senses are still somewhat unreliable. So then what is real? And what is reality? How do we know? And since we are here, why are we here? Really, what is the point? Is there a point? Does there need to be a supreme being for there to be a point? I guess that is the question. We all wonder about what is the meaning of life, and why are we here. To answer that, we must first answer if there can be a meaning or point, if there is no ‘intelligent design’, I guess you can call it.

 

– To be clear, this post is not intended to force anyone into anything. Believe what you believe, but put some thought into it. –

Now, after a bit of thought, you might say, “well of course there can still be a meaning of life without God!”, for it is true that many, non-religious people and philosophers have come to conclusions. Many forms of philosophy and other people often see the meaning of life as to find happiness, in fact this may very well be the most popular answer to the question. Others, like Plato, believe that the purpose in life is to reach the highest form of knowledge. Philosophers and thinkers of Utilitarianism, such as Jeremy BenthamJames Mill, and John Stuart Mill say that the purpose in life is to create the greatest happiness for the most people. There are two branches of philosophy; however, that I find have a quite interesting view on the question: Nihilism, and Absurdism.

Nihilism essentially says that life does not have objective meaning, and more generally, basically says that nothing exists, therefore everything is meaningless.

Absurdism says that humans have a great tendency to look for meaning in life (and we do, hence this post), but we will always fail at any attempt to find meaning. Because it appears that life is completely meaningless, absurdism says that there are essentially three ways to respond to this. The first is Suicide, which I guess makes sense, because really if there is not point then why live out the rest of your life in meaninglessness? The second is to turn to belief in religion, because religion offers meaning in life, a purpose, and since really nothing can “prove” nor “disprove” the existence of God (or really ‘prove’ anything) then this also seems to be a reasonable conclusion (but this actually comes to the heart of the main question of “Does meaning in life rely on a supreme being?”, so we’ll come back to this). The final option is to accept the fact that life is meaningless and just move on with your life basically.

And this brings us back to the question. When you think about all of the different meanings people have come up with (remember?: happiness, greater good, gaining knowledge, etc.), the question is then WHY? Why do we want happiness? If life is complete chance, and you and I were just blown up from nothingness, then really is there a point to all this? If there is no heaven, no ‘afterlife’, then we all just die. That’s it WE JUST DIE. And we all know that death is inevitable. So we are born onto this planet, we grow up, we go to school, learn, hopefully have fun, meet people, grow up, maybe go to school some more, learn more, meet more people, have more fun, get a job, maybe get married, start a family, and introduce a new person into the world to do the whole thing again. Then you keep working for a while, raise kids, retire, maybe travel if you’re lucky, have grandkids, and then, we die.

 

So we can say all we want that the meaning of life is to find happiness, but why. If we’re all just gonna die anyway and completely cease to exist, and then, that’s it, then there is no point. I don’t know if I’m being clear enough here, but personally, I cannot see anyway that there can be a real, ultimate, purpose that makes sense without a supreme being or afterlife. And I don’t think that religion was created out of this very fear, either. To me, it doesn’t really make sense that people devote their lives to something they don’t believe to be true. And don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that if you don’t believe in any supreme being or religion then your life is worthless, because honestly I really don’t believe that any life is worthless, in fact I value life much more than many people in the world, but I do think that without religion, people will search and search to give their lives meaning, but many people never find that meaning, or find a meaning that I have just concluded to be not an ultimate purpose, and it is sad, but they just die.

The way I see it, there are three options of what happens when we die. Either we just die, and that’s it, or we die and go to a ‘heaven-like paradise’, or we go to a ‘hell-like place of suffering’. The funny thing is, nobody ever believed in the third option and knew that that’s where they were going, and no one (in any religion I know of) only believes in the first option, and ends up in the second (if it exists). And to be clear, the conclusion is that there is only meaning in life in going to the second option.

 
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