Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Utilitarianism vs Categorical Imperative: Of JC Penney, Blowing Up Cities, & Plane Safety


I want to incorporate the mentality of doing things because you want that intention to become a universal law. Sometimes I find when helping others or in doing tasks people ask me to, I’m hesitant and annoyed but end up doing it anyway. I’m still unsure as to whether or not this would be morally creditable by categorical standards, because though I’m doing it out of some sense of duty I’m not very happy about doing it. But I find the concept of it and people following that kind of moral code admirable. I feel like wanting to help people and having good intentions is part of being a good person, but the categorical imperative doesn’t really stress results. Like a certain proverb once said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That’s pretty much the big thing that bothers me about categorical imperative, the only other one being it wouldn’t really work unless everyone decided to all adopt this way of thinking at once. What comes to mind is what happened to JC Penney, where they decided to be honest with customers and do away with sales (because a lot of the time when clothing is put on sale it’s what was considered the standard retail value. When you buy something not on sale, it’s a markup). Though in a humanitarian sense this is great, it didn’t work out because though it worked better for the customer it didn’t feel better. In a year’s time they lost an estimated 700 million dollars. I think that a good intention to be required to some extent though, because people doing charitable things to make themselves feel better or improve their status sounds pretty questionable.

As for utilitarianism, I think it’d be great to consider the happiness as everyone as your own happiness. Before starting this unit, that’s pretty much what I considered a really good person to be like. It was kind of a combination of the two, where from utilitarianism I had the concept of putting before anything the happiness of everyone and good intentions from the categorical imperative. I’d like to be able to incorporate that into my own morality, but I don’t care about everyone and can only find it admirable when someone does. When approached with the problem of destroying a city or saving a best friend, I’d pick to save my friend. Though I find a lot of concepts admirable, I’d say I’m pretty average in that most of the time I just follow what feels like the right thing to do. I don’t exactly do anything extraordinary, but react to situations presented to me. It’s something I feel as if I should improve by seeking out justice, but I don’t really have the determination for it. Given a moral problem, I’m pretty objective until you throw something or someone important to me in it. Thankfully, I’ve never had the choice of destroying a city or saving a friend. If I were presented with figuring out whether or not gender neutral bathrooms should be made available for example, I’d probably check what benefits/harm they present, weigh it out, and see which option is better. That’s still an issue I’m not very informed on and fail to see the big problem with just having them. If they make people more comfortable, isn’t that enough? In that sense I’m probably more on the utilitarianism side since I’m not passionate about the issue. But on something like airplane companies not spending money to make flights safer because it’d be less expensive to have an airplane crash once in a while, that’s a little more concerning to me. Maybe it’s the threat of a lot of death, or because I don’t know the perspective of the person who has to decide on putting extra resources in safety, but somehow this seems more pressing. I think it’s something people should be notified of at least. Maybe it’s just different perspectives, but I wonder if it weighs on the people that have to make that kind of decision, and if it’d be solved if they considered themselves in a crashing plane that they could’ve survived. Categorical imperative assuming that as thinking beings we’d all come to the same conclusion isn’t really great in that aspect, considering the number of views people can have. Maybe some people are alright with the risk of a plane crashing as it is, considering it’s pretty low right now anyway.

People being ruled by pleasure and pain is something I considered natural and true, but I always figured going against that to help others good. From the biological standpoint, your DNA basically programs you to survive and to preserve yourself and pass on your DNA at whatever means possible. But if you can put that aside and rub it in your DNA’s face by -for instance- sacrificing yourself so 5 strangers can live, I consider that to be pretty admirable.

More on JC Penney






Aesthetic experience: Nice conversations and Music

Define personal aesthetic perspective:

What comes to mind when trying to put criteria on an aesthetic perspective for me is really just something that’s emotionally charged and requires concentration.

Describe your holiday experience(s) as examples of this aesthetic:

1. Listening to music while bussing home and looking at the snow outside. It felt like a particularly good song at the time and it some combination of it and the scenery seemed to make me happier and motivated to do something for a few minutes. In that way it was emotionally charged. There wasn’t much thinking about the past as it happened, wasn’t a lot of coherent thought in general, and thoughts went more toward just following along with the song. Part of my questions were if you had awareness of past and future during the experience, and in this particular experience I didn’t really have it. I was still aware of myself though, because I remember trying not to smile randomly since I wasn’t alone.

(The idea of not being aware of past and future/loss of self-consciousness comes from Csikszentmihalyi’s criteria for the flow experience.)

2. Second experience was a fun conversation I had with friends that I hadn’t spoken to for a while. It’s rare that we all get together in a skype call and talk. This met my criteria by being emotionally charged and requiring concentration. I knew I was aware of the past though, because during the conversation we mentioned things that happened in the past. I was also aware of myself as a separate being, because I couldn’t have participated in the conversation otherwise.

When talking about aesthetic experiences what comes to mind first is usually my memories of viewing art. Mostly animated music videos, where something about the music and the gesture work makes me happy and excited to see more. I often seek them out, and one of the ones I came across that had me watching on repeat was this one:



Epistemology Midterm

  1. What is something you know about knowledge? (proposition)

Knowledge is acquired through experience of the world. Though some conclusions can be reached rationally, even our rationale is taught to us.

2. How do you know it? (syllogism, premise premise conclusion)

P1: Knowledge is knowing facts, truths, or principles.

People can’t know the objective truth of things, so this would only be the truths we perceive. Eg: Conclusions reached through experimentation.

P2: Facts, truths, and principles are acquired through experience.

You gain understanding of something if you’ve experienced it in some way. Eg: Knowing a how bowl of soup will burn you if you drink it because you tried to drink it and it hurt. In the future you’ll be more cautious of hot food, and through following the instructions of someone telling you that you should wait for it to cool you’ll find out it doesn’t burn you after that.

When doing math, you use reason to solve problems. But how you got that reason was being taught it in a classroom, or with natural numbers and objects on your own. It’s a set of rules that you are taught then apply. Same with our common sense. Eg: You wouldn’t run across the street when the light is red, because you’ve been told and see that cars go through the crossing when your light is red and theirs is green. Because cars are less likely to stop for you, and through experience you probably know that getting hit by big, fast moving things hurts, you won’t endanger yourself.

So knowledge can be found using rational thinking (Knowing that getting hit by a car would probably hurt, even if it’s never happened to you), but experience comes first (you have to experience that getting hit by something causes discomfort).

Conclusion: Knowledge is acquired through experience of the world.


3. Who (which theories) help you explain this? (references)

Aristotle: Thinks all knowledge comes from experience (evidence acquired through the senses). Reason comes into play after people experience things.

Locke: Knowledge is gained through sensory experience, though some of the information we receive through our senses is subjective and cannot be trusted. Primary qualities (qualities that physical objects themselves have, eg: solidity, weight, height… etc) vs secondary qualities (colours, taste, smell, texture…)

Video on Empiricism, talks about what Locke and Berkely thought. Berkeley came up with a different way of looking at things since you can’t really take secondary qualities from something (only perceptions exist).

4. Can a personal example help illustrate this proposition? (anecdote)

There’s a part of this I’m not entirely sure on still, which is priori knowledge and how it fits in. Locke believed people are all born knowing nothing. I feel as if people should’ve evolved at some point to know some things by instinct. Like in “Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You” Dan Riskin talks about when he was a kid he wondered how people ever figured out how to reproduce because it’s pretty weird if you think about it. Or like is being able to eating stuff considered priori  knowledge? Do babies just know how to drink and swallow fluid, or do they have to take a second to figure it out?

I’ve been told that when I was little my mom once changed into this polka dotted dress and I didn’t recognize her and would start crying if she tried to hold me. As opposed to the other times, where she was one of the few people who could hold me without me appearing generally unimpressed. So that makes me question if we’re born understanding substance. It could’ve been that in that instant I was just particularly uncomfortable and the polka dot dress was a coincidence.



Free Will? Cont’d, Phil’s Day Off: Analyzing my Sunday Morning

Questions going into Phils day off:

Didn’t really have any idea what I’d discover, wasn’t really expecting to find anything new. Wasn’t sure if it’d be difficult to examine everything I’d done. I didn’t have a lot of views on free will going into this, I figured people are somewhat controlled by how we’ve evolved to act but I didn’t know where I thought the limit on it was.


Record the entire day in small time frames when I start to do something new. Then examine what I’d done and try to determine whether I had a choice in it.

What Happened:

I ended up only doing the morning, because I ended up with more content than I thought I would. I analyzed the events and elaborated on them in the afternoon, then wrote a conclusion.

Findings, artifact, & questions:

Developed a more solid view on free will by thinking through my experiences. Artifact is shown below, was the examination of events and attempt to discern whether or not I had free will to make the choices. Questions include: Should I have excluded the possibility of a higher being/fate? If I didn’t would I be able to objectively think about them somehow?



7:20: Wake up, eat breakfast, message friend.

It was my choice to get up, even though I could’ve slept for longer because it was the weekend. I woke up and realized there were things I wanted to do. I could’ve not eaten breakfast, but I knew I’d be hungry later if I didn’t. And if I had objected to eating my parents would probably have some questions that I wouldn’t be able to answer. I didn’t have to message my friend, but I wanted to and they said something nice and I felt it warranted a reply.


8:00: Finish English and peer tutoring homework.

It’s pretty much expected that you graduate high school in the society I reside in and to do that you need to pass English 12.  Doing homework is a component of passing so I did it. The choice of when in the day I do it though was up to me, and I chose the morning to get it out of the way. Technically I could not do it, or fail English 12 if I wanted and not graduate but to act in my best interest I’m going to do my homework.


8:50: Cross stitch gifts for friends while watching youtube videos.

Cross stitching is a hobby I have, and I can’t really think of anything that makes me subconsciously want to do it. I don’t have to make gifts for the friends in question, but one is for a birthday. It’s traditional you give someone a gift on a birthday, so that’s sort of a social obligation. You don’t really have to, but it’s a nice gesture and I like to make people things. But I chose the part on what I’m giving them. I watched youtube videos while cross stitching as not to get bored, the ones I picked were ones I’d seen before because nothing new that came out piqued my interest.


11:00: Do laundry.

I don’t have to help with laundry, but its in my best interest because if I’d refused to help my mom would probably protest. And if the laundry never got done, I’d be out of clean clothes in a few weeks. I could choose to go around wearing dirty clothes all the time, but I don’t want to do that. We’ve


11:15: Play mobile game, message friend.

I could choose from a number of things to do but I did these two. Second one was because they messaged back and it called for a response. I could’ve left it until later, but I didn’t want to. Playing the game and talking to my friend isn’t enforced, though talking could potentially feel like an obligation it didn’t feel like it this time.


11:40: Eat lunch, watch anime.

Didn’t have to eat, but again I know that if I don’t I’ll be hungry later. Had an early lunch because brother was hungry so mom decided to make it earlier. Time wasn’t really decided by me. I could’ve waited, but I saw no reason to and if I’d waited lunch probably would’ve gotten cold and microwaved food doesn’t taste as good. Didn’t have to watch anything, or could’ve chosen to watch other things. But I chose to watch Madoka Magica because a friend had recommended it a while ago and nothing new had showed up in my youtube feed.

12:30: Practice ukulele.

I don’t have to practice ukulele, there’s pretty much zero consequence if I don’t. I don’t take lessons, so there wouldn’t be a teacher scolding me for it. But I wanted to because I hadn’t for a few weeks and wanted to re-learn this song I’d previously been working on.


Through thinking through the steps of my life while writing this, I think I’ve come to more of a definite answer on what I believe. Some of the things I did I can chalk back to how human nature has evolved (eg how keeping friendships feels good because it’s advantageous), but other things I don’t really have an explanation to. Like choosing to cross stitch instead of buying or drawing something to use as a gift for a friend, or watching anime I’d been recommended instead of re-watching old videos. The only reason I can think of why I did that is that I didn’t want to. I might be wrong, there could be something that makes my choice in that matter more logical and predetermined. But from what I can understand, I think we have free will to some extent. I could’ve chosen to do some things that weren’t in my best interest, but didn’t because I didn’t want to.

I’m excluding the possibility for a higher power for now, because there’s just really no way to know if that exists. I went through this with the assumption that there was no being or fate that somehow controlled my actions. I only looked at how other people, social constraints, and evolved impulses could effect my decision making.



Free Will?

Topic: Can people have free will?

Question 1: Who are people?

Question 2: What is free will?

Question 3: If people had free will, would they be able to tell?


Question 1: Who are people?

For all intents and purposes, I’m defining a person as a human.

Definition: a human being, whether an adult or child

-via dictionary.com


Question 2: What is free will?

Definition:  the doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces.

-via dictionary.com

So it means that there’s nothing controlling your actions and decisions without you knowing. Eg: fate, god… etc


Question 3: If people had free will, would they be able to tell?

No. It’s possible that if everything was predetermined, we could be predetermined to find out that we did or didn’t have free will eventually. If that event eventually comes  we can’t be sure if it’s true or if we’ve been manipulated into that conclusion. Even if the answer was that we didn’t have free will and we found out why, we still can’t be sure if the answer was manipulated to be untrue.


Personal Interest:

I actually started thinking about this because Kyle C. brought it to my attention. He’d heard from others about some discussions going on in class and was talking to me about his thoughts. The topic of free will was one of them. It interested me to think that it wasn’t actually possible to know if people had it, and thinking about it could be fruitless.

There’s also a book I read a few years back called “Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You” by Dan Riskin. It touches a little bit on free will, describing people as ‘meat robots’ and how some of our impulses and emotions are basically controlled by DNA. His reason for writing the book was to explore his love for his son and if it was significant, because love for a child from a parent was also programmed so that genes could be passed on.

Outside Source:

Dan Riskin’s “Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You”

If you scroll up to pg 29 to pg 33, he discusses people’s will to survive and his love for his son boiling down to how his DNA programs him to act.


Where to Next?:

Whether or not people have free will isn’t of great concern to the average Joe. It appears as if we do on the surface, and that’s enough to sustain normal life. People probably don’t think about it much because it wouldn’t affect average life very much.



Feminism?: A Logic Assignment

Argument: Feminists impact society negatively.

Feminism is generally defined as the movement towards establishing equal rights/opportunities between men and women. Though sounding sensible, there’s some controversy surrounding some of the actions done in it’s name. Many ideologies have developed and some forms of feminism have been criticized for taking into account only, white, educated, and middle class perspectives.

Anti feminists oppose feminism in some or all it’s forms. Some reasons for this is because they believe in traditional gender roles, believe it lessens male authority, or believe that it promotes misandry.

Premise 1: Some feminists are extremists

Premise 2: Extremists impact society negatively

Conclusion: Feminists impact society negatively

Heard from: Here and there on the internet, some friends.


Premise 1: Some feminists are extremists

This is factual. There are extremists for pretty much any movement, feminism is no different. In fact extreme feminists are so well known they’ve earned the nickname “femi-nazi’s.” There exist times where some feminists cross from attacks on sexism to attacks on men. This is the point where they stop promoting equality and instead promote misandry.


Premise 2: Extremists impact society negatively

This is factual. It’s generally agreed upon that extremism in anything is harmful.

Definition via google: a person who holds extreme or fanatical political or religious views, especially one who resorts to or advocates extreme action.


Conclusion: Feminists impact society negatively.

Not valid because it doesn’t result from the premises. Because only some feminists are extremists, not all of them can impact society negatively. Therefore the blanket statement of “feminists impact us negatively” isn’t valid or sound.

Feministcircle by EchoTseng

However this doesn’t address if there are other ways feminists could impact society negatively, outside having extremists. This argument comes from people only coming in contact with the louder radical feminists and assuming they’re the majority.



Philosophy as Toy Cogs

To me philosophy is the gathering of ideas, and assembling them in different ways to create interesting truths. So when coming up with my analogy I recalled a toy I used to have as a kid. It was a set of fridge magnets, a bunch of brightly coloured cogs. My brother and I would try and get them to turn after assembling them in different patterns. We realized in certain configurations however, they would get stuck and the entire thing would twitch as it struggled to turn.

So I saw ideas as each individual cog. In philosophy, you put them together in different ways and play with it to form something interesting. If you have a lot of ideas, what comes out of it can be complex and satisfying, much like making a complex web of cogs. But what I liked most about the idea of this analogy was that you couldn’t just throw cogs around all willy nilly, if you didn’t connect them properly or made a faulty circuit it wouldn’t work. Rather like ideas in real life.

But fridge cogs don’t really do anything on their own, no matter how complex. Maybe you get a sense of satisfaction from getting the entire thing moving in an interesting pattern, but that’s about it. With ideas its the same thing, since they’re really just thought. But what if you sized up the cogs and got them to power a grandfather clock? A wind up toy? Or a giant death machine? Anyway, I figured philosophy is the same thing. A set of ideas can’t do anything as long as they only exist as themselves. But if you put them into action, you have the potential to make a giant death machine.



Plato’s Cave & Second Grade Rigged Mazes

It’s difficult to tell if you’re in Plato’s cave when you’re inside it. Really, only when you escape the theoretical chains and look behind you can you come to the realization you were staring at illusions all your life. As for me I’ve never had epiphanies that mind blowing. It’s hard to recognize something of that magnitude without anyone else catching on, honestly. But there’s something I recall from around grade 2 that was pretty amusing. It wasn’t anything brain melting, just an instruction-following exercise our teacher had us follow. I felt then as if our entire class had been in the cave, if only for 30 seconds.

The teacher (her name was Mrs. Kirby) handed out a sheet of paper with a top down maze on it. Something like this:

At this point we’re somewhat used to these exercises, having done a few in the past weeks. The rules were that you couldn’t erase any marks you’d made, and she’d deceived us a few times already. An example would be how we started off automatically putting our names on the name line as soon as we got the sheet. She would tell us a while into the exercise to print our name instead on the date line, or somewhere else that just wasn’t the name line. We’d learned it was best to just not write anything until she instructed it.

But this time it was different. In each of the openings of the maze were 2 stars. We had exactly 30 seconds to draw a line from one star to the other. It didn’t take everyone long to realize that it was impossible to solve the maze. You couldn’t make a continuous line through it without touching the walls.

After time was up she asked if anyone had managed to do it, and only a single person raised his hand. It was actually Aiden, but after looking over his sheet again he admitted that he’d accidentally crossed a line in his hurry to solve it. But Mrs. Kirby said it didn’t matter, he’d drawn a line connecting the two stars like he was instructed.

That was when we realized we’d been duped. By sticking to our preexisting assumption that we had to solve the maze, we failed to realize that the maze was in fact irrelevant. It was a cool moment, and actually amazing to my second grade mind. So I think maybe that’s what it’s like to be released from Plato’s cave on a smaller scale.




Aspirations, Tomato-y Wisdom, and Sudbury Schools (Rita)

  1. Personal Aspirations in Philosophy 12: I came into this course expecting to learn about old philosophers. Kind of figuring it was going to be structured like my past socials classes, with the information given to me and focused on what philosophy is and famous philosophers. I knew next to nothing on the subject, besides passing mentions of old philosophers in socials classes. Finding that the assignments were going to be more self-directed was a little destabilizing because of its unfamiliarity, but it was also a little exciting because it made things less mundane. Instead of being told what to do, I had the chance to try and be more self-motivated and make something I cared about. I’ve always been more or less indifferent to a lot of the subjects being taught to me, but with things being more open ended I don’t have an excuse to not be interested. So I aspire to try harder in my assignments and participate more in class.
  2. Thoughts about wisdom and knowledge: I’ve spent a few of my weekends watching my friends play DnD, huddled around a table having adventures through only words and some dice rolls. I remember someone asking once the difference between wisdom and intelligence, probably because they were deciding which was more important to put points in. It was explained that intelligence was knowing a tomato is a fruit, and wisdom is knowing not to put any in a fruit salad. I found this pretty interesting. What if a character had really high intelligence but no wisdom? Vice versa? Hilarity would probably ensue, considering wisdom is pretty much common sense and street smarts. I figure falling in love with wisdom can most easily be incentivized by watching someone else complete noteworthy acts using wisdom. Kind of like reading Sherlock Holmes, though I find that funny since I don’t imagine Sherlock having much interest for anything without solid proof.
  3. Unanswered questions: Is the current school system effective in preparing us for sustaining ourselves in the future? Hard for me to say really, since I haven’t left yet and given it a shot. But looking at traditional and alternative ways of schooling we have is interesting. Homeschooling, Montessori programs, private schools, charter schools, Sudbury schools… Sudbury schools follow a progressivism model, and are pretty different to what we’re used to. Students are in charge of their own learning, and it runs on a direct democracy where students and teachers are equal. There is no set curriculum or standardized instruction. It sounds neat, though a skeptic part of me wonders if that amount of freedom would just lead to kids choosing to do nothing all day. David Brown (youtuber name boyinaband) did a video on alternative types of learning and interviewed someone who graduated from a Sudbury school.