Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Jennifer: The Unescapable Beauty of Pointe

Marie Taglioni via Wikipedia

Marie Taglioni via Wikipedia

Wearing a pair of reinforced satin slippers, with a bit of padding stuffed into the toes, Marie Taglioni walks onto the stage of the Paris Opera. Then, to the amazement of her audience, she rises – and continues to make history by dancing on the tips of toes throughout the show.

Nowadays, professional ballet dancers don’t have to face that immense challenge to achieve the beautiful lines created by pointe. Instead, their extended toes are supported by a dense box in the tip of shoes which gives them a couple inches of level surface to work with. So much easier.

Once upon a time, there lived the world of ballet without the notion of pointe. Dating back to the reign of Louise XIV, ballet was a dance adapted from the ballroom styles of the court, and dancers wore heeled shoes.  It wasn’t until 1726 and the choice of Marie Camargo that the shoes transformed into the soft slippers worn by today’s young dancers, letting performers achieve better turns, higher jumps, and overall, more nimble movements.

Unlike many other art forms, the point of ballet is to be beautiful. The art of ballet can be measured, using the criteria of how graceful, ethereal, and precise a dancer is with her movements. The goal is to appear weightless, and be a unified body composed of thoughtful lines and angles. A ballet class just wouldn’t be  right without the teacher exclaiming “Turn-out!” or “Extend!”

Deconstructed pointe shoe via Canada’s National Ballet School.

With these qualities in mind, Charles Didelot created the “flying machine” in 1795, using wires to suspend dancers so that they were literally flying! Still, there was a drive for the dancer to extend the full line of their legs without the aid of a machine or extreme pain. Throughout the 1800’s and into the present, pointe shoes have evolved to provide more support and control to the dancer, keeping up with the increasing technical difficulty of the art. Typically, modern pointe shoes are characterized by a toe box consisting of layers of fabric, paper, and glue, as well as a still internal sole called a shank. The sturdy construction of the shoes does limit movement, but the outcomes are quite work of the price.

Though a ballerina who bounds across the stage may seem to do so with little effort, that is all just part of the art. In reality, pointe shoes are quite uncomfortable and can easily produce a range of maladies, ranging from blisters and bunions to muscle strains and broken legs. Only after years of training can a ballerina gain access to pointe work, provided that she has a strong core and and stable ankles able to bear the weight of her entire body.

Pointe shoes are ridiculous things that require tender care, cause pain and discomfort, and take hours of work to wear with minimal proficiency. But it’s all worth it. Just watch a ballerina float across the stage atop mile-long legs tipped with satin shoes and you’ll understand. With pointe shoes elevating her dance to fantastical levels, you don’t care about the pain, and neither does she.

Swan Lake Ballerina via Simon Parris’ Blog



Jennifer: When Can I Grab My Purse?

We live in a world of abundance. From ipods to Purdy’s chocolate to ornamental shrubs, objects that far exceed the basic requirements for life (and for happiness) are commonplace. Meanwhile, fellow citizens in our own backyard and around the world are suffering from preventable diseases, malnutrition, and exposure.

This solemn reflection should pull on our heart strings and cause us to reevaluate, then significantly alter,  our lifestyles. But somehow, we remain largely unaffected. Most people, myself included, have the ability to quickly avert their eyes and ears, turning away from the plight of other human beings and back towards the tech toys, the chocolate, and the fake plants. This disturbing attitude caused me to wonder: How can we compartmentalize, blocking out the needs of others in order to satisfy our own desires? When is it okay to do this, if it is at all?

In the middle of the flight you are on there is a change in cabin pressure, triggering oxygen masks to drop down from a panel above you. As per the instructions given at the beginning of the trip, you put on your mask before assisting the child beside you. Many people would argue that this action is not selfish because you must take sufficient care of yourself before beginning to help another person. In a larger context, we are fully righteous in assuring that we are feed, housed, and healthy in advance of giving aid. But wait a second? I never even suggested that fulfilling our own needs could be in any way wrong. It is our desires that are in question.

After putting on your own mask, you reach up to help the child who is travelling alone by grabbing their oxygen bag and helping secure it to their face. You’ve done good. The action you just performed was thoughtful, caring, and morally right, just like the volunteer hours and charitable donations shared by millions each year. Despite the dire situations billions of humans are subjected to, many still have been assisted by the kind hearts and giving souls of those who find themselves in more fortunate circumstances. Sensing a need, tons of people are willing to pitch in, do their part, or help the best that they can.

Now, you’ve helped one child, but you see that another a row back can’t reach their mask either. Suddenly,  the pilot’s voice is in the cabin, warning of more stormy weather ahead. The kid will probably be helped by someone else, you think. I’d rather grab my purse and make sure I have everything I need, just in case.

In the words of moral philosopher Peter Singer, “Should [you be praised] for giving so much or [criticized] for not giving still more?” Where do we draw the line? How much does a person have to give to have given enough? Does “fair share” matter?

First, let’s discuss the idea of “doing our part.” Personally, I think that that statement is ridiculous, just a high-and-mightly approach to humanitarianism. Compared to what we have and what we have the ability to do, most of us in the position of helping aren’t doing crap. And since this is the reality of most, someone doing their “fair share” will still see a massive hole not being fixed. Would there really be more children than capable adults on the plane? No. But just because you’ve done your part does not mean that the other child is not still aimlessly reaching for air.

In the airplane analogy, nothing in your purse was probably of enough consequence to justify ignoring the needy youngster; similarly, nail polish or a gold wristwatch are unlikely to be as important as the purchases a Red Cross of World Food Programme could make with the same sum. Yet, we make those trivial purchases all the time. They make us feel good as buyers or make others smile as receivers. They make our lives easier or add beauty to a space, just as the designer of the item intended. But how can we compare any of those outcomes with the life we could have saved?

Adding another layer to an already complex debate, there comes the idea of saving for a purpose. What if the money someone is neglecting to donate is going towards their retirement, or their child’s university, or even an emergency fund? There is no assurance that giving it all away means that we’ll be cared for in the event that we need aid ourselves. However, some people are willing to take that risk. A few years ago, a man named Zell Kravinsky decided to donate his kidney to a random stranger after he learned of the horrible wait list times. But what about the risk? Well, “he says that the chances of dying as a result of donating a kidney are about 1 in 4,000. For him this implies that to withhold a kidney from someone who would otherwise die means valuing one’s own life at 4,000 times that of a stranger, a ratio Kravinsky considers “obscene.” ” Shall we consider Kravinsky to be the new Mother Theresa?

I agree with Peter Singer that, as paraphrased by Wikipedia, “people living in abundance while others starve is morally indefensible.” Building on this statement, it only seems logical to conclude that luxuries are wrong and “we should keep on donating money until the cost to ourselves is more than the benefit we would give.” Singer knows that many people feel that such restrictions are too demanding, or are too great of a change to their current lifestyle. I think I fall in the second boat, practically. However, I also feel strongly about aligning my actions with my thoughts. Right now, the “shameless idealist” in me is trying to figure out where to go. Is it ever okay to grab my purse?



Jennifer: Santa is Not Real

I know that Santa is not real. The rose-coloured glasses of childhood have lifted, and the days of eagerly awaiting a bearded man bringing bring bright, shiny packages from the North Pole are gone. I still love the beauty of Christmas, the joy and goodwill that mixes with the scents of pine and gingerbread in the air. However, the purpose of my conclusion is not related to my enjoyment of the season, but rather to my ongoing debate with the definition of knowledge.

When asked to define what knowledge is, I took my automatic first step for almost any assignment: I read the information package, the workbook, the instruction guide. For this class, I poured through the first chapter of Unit 3, Epistemology, highlighting and making notes in the margins. By the end of my reading, I found myself fixated on the topic of opinion vs. belief…vs. knowledge. If I did not know what the first two classifications of statements entailed, then how could I place anything in the category of “knowledge?”

Thankfully, I have an entire class to make the subject much more clear and totally confusing. We’ve spent the last couple days discussing the merits of knowledge, ranging from how it is formed to its place in the world of paradigms. Of course, I kept sneaking in the opinion vs. belief debate, trying to find out the right spot for my Santa statement. Many people were surprised to discover that that belief statements, according to the booklet, are distinct from opinions because beliefs “can be classified as true or false.” Now, in a world where ‘I think’ and ‘I believe’ are used interchangeably, that precise definition of belief seemed absurd and hard to apply. The Standard Encyclopedic Dictionary definition I found seemed much more appropriate, stating that belief is “the acceptance of truth or actuality of anything without certain proof.” On the other hand, the dictionary definition of opinion, or “a conclusion or judgement held with confidence, but falling short of positive knowledge,” was frustratingly similar to that of a belief.

Almost as a focus group, certain members of our class, *cough Jonathan,* synthesized these definitions into a diagram based off of the one in our booklet. I like to call it the Triangle of Statement Classification.

Triangle of Statement Classification

In this system, statements are either an opinion, an undecided belief, a false belief, or a true belief/knowledge. One cannot attempt to prove an opinion, as it is independent of reason or experience. A statement can only make its way to knowledge if it has the ability to be backed by evidence, whether that support be physical or intellectual. Purely subjective remarks based on personal preference therefore can’t move beyond the opinion stage.

Wondering where the Santa question went? Here it comes again in just a moment. See, at the belief stage, a statement can remain in the undecided realm, where the thought has neither been proven true or false, or it can be falsified, while still remaining a belief. True beliefs (and this is where the justification argument is not going to be brought in), can be lifted to the status of  knowledge.

The argument against Santa is quite well supported. More precisely, the argument against the modern, western adaptation of the Christmas Eve process involving Santa is well supported. In this sense, I’m not working to disprove the existence of a person, but rather dissect the faulty event that is said to be performed by him. So many facets of the Santa story present obvious flaws, so I’ll just point out a few discrepancies that I’ve noticed:

  • How can a toy be made in the North Pole and in China at the same time?
  • What biological adaptation could Santa possess allowing him to exist for such a long period of time?
  • How could Santa make it to every applicable child’s home in one night, especially when he must land, fill stockings, place presents, drink milk, eat cookies, and fly off?
  • Why do the rich children receive a greater amount of presents with a higher monetary value than poorer children?

The reasoning involved to collapse the Santa theory is reliable, using information that is generally supported to be true (the concept of time and space etc). However, as Jonathan pointed out, severe tweaks in the Christmas tale could shift it back to the undecided position on the triangle. Or maybe, some of the truths the anti-Santa argument are based on will later be proven false by new scientific advancements.

For now though, I will remain an enlightened teen, past the years of believing in Santa but still very much invested in the Christmas spirit.



Jennifer: Tell Your Own Story

Life enters our eyes and then reality blurs. The world around us, even the emotions that flood our brains,  are subject to our interpretation, to our imagination. They distort as we evaluate them, as we work through our experiences.

The metaphysicist Paul Ricoeur focused on this theory, among connected others, revealing his expertise in the area of hermeneutic phenomenology. Hermeneutic, meaning ‘pertaining to the science of interpretation,’  is a way of looking at the essential properties of experience and consciousness that are studied through systematic reflection, or phenomenology. Ricoeur (1913-2005) was interested in identifying what defines “the self,” or as he liked to put it, “selfhood.” His conclusion, built upon the works of Aristotle and Kant, is that the self is composed of the stories we write to explain what we feel and see. In other words, “you are who you think you are.” Therefore, Ricoeur’s main question, “Who am I?,” can’t ever truly be answered, as the seeker is also the sought (Paul Ricoer, IEP).

This theory can be disheartening, the idea that a person never really understand themselves and that history can never be objective, or it can be satisfying. When I first read about the narrative description of self, something clicked. I’m one to quite obviously, at least to myself, dissect experiences and my reactions to them, trying to make sense of the world and answer Ricoeur’s second main question: “How should I live?” In my view, the narrative theory means that I don’t need to pour energy into discovering my “true” self, as such a thing can never be obtained. Instead, I  should work on unifying my narrative, bringing together my thoughts and actions.

Ricoeur was famed “For his capacity in bringing together all the most important themes and indications of 20th century philosophy, and re-elaborating them into an original synthesis” (Paul Ricoeur, Wikipedia).  An expert in weaving together different thoughts and fields of study, he was very interested in the paradoxical element of humans; that is, we have a place in the cause and effect world of nature while possessing the amazing quality of freedom of will. Ricoeur recognized the tensions, or fault lines, that pervade the complex human existence, and strived to map them out and identify different sources of instability. He realized that our lives are unstable, ready to shift under us when our story takes a turn, spurred on by external or internal factors.

Poetics, he believed, is the best way for humans to fulfil their need to understand their life.

Or at least that’s what I’ve garnered.

Wikipedia: Paul Ricoeur



Jennifer: Pretty People

Imagine a future world in which everyone undergoes an operation at 16 to become “pretty” and thereby be granted the “good life.” This disturbing society is detailed in the well-known series Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, which delves into the possible repercussions of an appearance-based outlook. To truly understand how the characters in the novel decided to place everyone under the knife, we can break down their thought process in the perspective of inductive reasoning.

Approximately three centuries before the story takes place, “Rusties” exploited the Earth and fought with one another on a global scale, ultimately leading to the destruction of their civilization when an “oil bug” broke loose. Still, some people survived the catastrophe, and struggled for life with the conviction of “never again.” In the regular pattern, these humans branched out of their secluded groups and formed an alliance dedicated to finding the best preventative measures. What they found was a previous study documenting the “halo effect.” Simply stated, “beautiful people were treated better than their peers, got into less trouble, and were more happy and successful” (Bogus to Bubbly, p. 34).

With this specific evidence came the general conclusion that all should be pretty. It would even the playing field, giving everyone an equal opportunity in life. The power of pretty, it was thought, was enough to stop hatred in its tracks. Work on a surgical procedure to put this conclusion into action was started immediately. Eventually, all people were “opened up, [their] bones ground down to the right shape, some of them stretched or padded, [their] nose cartilage and cheekbones stripped out and replaced with programmable plastic, skin sanded off and reseeded” (Uglies, p. 97)

But it still wasn’t enough. The reasoning of the “Pretty Committee” was unreliable because the evidence was so. On the surface, pretty people can more easily enter superficial high-paying jobs and even tip the balance in the general job market, presumably leading to happiness as a result of wealth and the possession of the upper-hand. Though I do not know the statistics on just how much appearance influences employment and median income, I do know that just because you project the described image does not mean you are free from abuse and satisfied with your life. How many stars have ended up in jail?

The Pretty Committee realized this too when “human beings still competed, still rebelled, and still sometimes hated one another” (Bogus to Bubbly, p. 35). The real secret to peace: bubblehead surgery. Frightening, but no less true, the Committee observed waring pretty people to discover that clueless individuals who must confront no challenges are the least likely to get into trouble, and the happiest, because they don’t know what else to think. This time, their conclusion is more probable, because it builds on previous experience and moves from the superficial to the neurological. When people’s brains are engineered to allow “no more controversies, no disagreements, no…demanding [of] change” (Uglies, p. 267), the result is vapid peace.

The Pretty Committee didn’t succeeded on its first try at induction, with an unreliable statement and consequently unreliable conclusion.

Pretty people are well-treated, less-troublesome, happy and successful.

If everyone was pretty, we would all be well-treated, less-troublesome, happy and successful.

On their second try, however, they hit the ball.

People have different thoughts, which leads to fighting.

If we all have the same thoughts, there will be no fights.



Jennifer: Ahmadinejad and his Multifaceted Fallacy

According to BBC News, the Iranian rial has dropped 80% in the past year, devastating the country’s economy. Surprise! This downturn is occurring synonymously with unrelenting sanctions from much of the global community, aiming to halt Iran’s suspicious nuclear program. The USA has been the frontrunner in the fight, with efforts under the Obama administration amped up in 2010, placing “an almost total economic embargo on Iran” (Wikipedia: Sanctions Against Iran). And that’s only one country. Imposed sanctions vary from those on exports deemed able to contribute to the nuclear program (India) to limitations on Iran-affiliated banking (Japan). With each escalating measure, the export of Iran’s keystone product, oil, plummets, taking with it the rest of the economy.

Ahmadinejad has stated, however, that the dramatic fall in the rial is not to do with economic issues or government policy, but “due to psychological pressures” (CBC).

Let’s get this straight.

The value of the rial has fallen, and there is psychological pressure on Iran. Therefore, the value of the rial has fallen because of psychological pressure.

Before I could even find the specific fallacy that was committed and point out the “cause and effect” gone wrong, I realized that the “presence of ‘psychological pressures’ ” could be a Fallacy of Presumption, Begging the Question. In this type of fallacy, a premise or premises need to be proven as much as the conclusion, leading to an argument that is only disputably truthful. Sanctions are used in order to squeeze the economy of another nation, in the hope that they will crack with the *economic* pressure and open themselves to negotiation. Yes, harsh limitations increase the difficulty of living for everyday citizens, but I don’t think that the goal of the incident countries is to break the government because it realizes it’s people are suffering.

You see how shaky that ground this? Moving past Begging the Question, another Fallacy of Presumption presents itself: False Cause. Just because two events occur in the same place or at the same time, does not mean that they are related, especially directly. Even if it is accepted that there is notable psychological pressure on Iran, that is not the most suitable cause for the decline in the value of the rial. Global sanctions would probably be a better choice. Plus, on top of that, Ahmadinejad denies any affect the actual economic fallout may have on the currency.

“Are these (currency) fluctuations because of economic problems? The answer is no” (CBC), says the Iranian president.

I beg to differ.



CBC News: Ahmadinejad Blames West for Rial’s Drop

Wikipedia: Sanctions Against Iran



Jennifer: Disjunctive Syllogism: Touchception

Either the Green Bay Packers or the Seattle Seahawks won the Monday night game.

The Green Bay Packers did not win the Monday night game.

Therefore, the Seattle Seahawks won the Monday night game.

This example of a disjunctive syllogism, which expresses a choice, presents a technically true statement and follows the proper form, making the argument sound. In the eyes of the Green Bay Packers and many fans however, the minor premise is not telling the whole truth…

Seattle’s Golden Tate hawks wrestles with cornerback M.D. Jennings of the Green Bay Packers after making a catch in the end zone to defeat the Green Bay Packers 14-12 on the controversial call.

Otto Greule Jr , Getty Images



Jennifer: Part 1 of 4

“Mr. Black, excuse me?”

I snap out of my trance for a moment to watch the lawyer slide the final documents across the table towards me with hesitant, wary eyes. Maybe it’s due to the fact that my knuckles are white from how hard I’m gripping the table, and that my eyes are burning a hole in the wall.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be finished in just a minute. Just sign here and the deal is closed.”

I grab the sheets from his hand, only halfway across the wide mahogany table and snatch up my Staedtler to sign away the stocks. With a huff, pen meets paper and I race to form that familiar “C”. 

             I don’t even know why I put so much of myself into the company, into keeping Damien happy. I feel so stupid, so played! For the last 7 years I’ve worked for this man as the head legal advisor, going to endless corporate meetings and spending too many late nights at the office to count.

            Whenever I asked for time off, he came up with some way to deny it to me. “Come on buddy, we’ve almost finished the contract that will increase this quarter by 10%” or “Everyone else is coming to retreat this weekend and you’re in upper management – how would it look if you didn’t make it?” All that time he sucked away I can never get back.

            My wife and I can’t get it back. My kids and I can’t get it back. I’ve missed so many open houses and recitals and games. Never once have I volunteered for a field trip. Often I’m lucky if I see Susie and Jacob before they go to bed on weeknights. 

            Speeding through my first name, I feel the paper rip a little beneath my hands.

            He just used me, disguising my hours and hours of overtime by constantly reminding me of my “important” position, or even that it was just “us hanging out.” I think I must just be getting too important for him, and now my threat outweighs my value.

            Why else would he want to replace me after all that I’d done, have some “Patrick Greyson” take over? 

            I knew something was off when I saw an unfamiliar face sitting intently in Damien’s office during our meeting time. Waiting outside the door for the visitor to leave, I watched the young man enthusiastically give Damien a handshake before heading to the door.

            On his way out, I asked him who he was.

            “Hi, I’m Patrick, the new legal advisor.”

            I handed the papers, signed, back to the lawyer. It was done.



















Jennifer A: I Cry When I Do Math (and English, and Physics…)

I often cry when I do math. No, seriously. One second the problems seem straightforward and clear and I know exactly which formulas to use. The next, I’m faced with a jumble of numbers which present to me no way out of their trap. I feel inadequate. Slow. Dumb. And I can’t control my tears.

I found a boy just like me (minus the waterworks and a little more 2D) in a YouTube video showing Tim Wilson’s analysis of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” He had fallen apart when he could not find the answer, but then he got back up again. He listened, he learned, and he succeeded.

When we encounter subjects that we feel we should already understand or be able to grasp faster, it is frustrating and disheartening, some may even say painful, to go on the long trek towards understanding that begins with the embarrassing acknowledgement that we have failed in our initial attempt. Still, we set off on the journey, because we are aware of the payoff. The harder something is to learn, the more satisfied and accomplished we feel when we have “mastered” it. Now, the next time we’re faced with the same sort of problem, we will have the ability to solve it and therefore increase our overall confidence.

It’s give and take. We must endure the frustration and unsatisfactory feeling that comes from entering a new realm of study in return for the happiness and pride that couples success. A perfect example of this?

I conquered my math provincial.



Jennifer: In My Opinion Spoken Word Poem