Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Political Animals

Following from some of the work Kelsey and Jeff have been doing, this New York Times Opinionator post may lead us into interesting discussions of social and political philosophy:

Homo sapiens has long sought to set itself apart from animals — that is, apart from every other living species. One of the most enduring attempts to define humanity in a way that distances us from the rest of animal life was Aristotle’s description of the human being as a “political animal.” By this he meant that human beings are the only species that live in the “polis” or city-state, though the term has often been understood to include villages, communes, and other organized social units. Implicit in this definition is the idea that all other animals are not political, that they live altogether outside of internally governed social units.

This supposed freedom from political strictures has motivated some, such as the 19th-century anarchist aristocrat Piotr Kropotkin, to take nonhuman animals as a model for human society. But for the most part the ostensibly nonpolitical character of animal life has functioned simply to exclude animals from human consideration as beings with interests of their own.

What might we be missing when we cut animals off in this way from political consideration? For one thing, we are neglecting a great number of solid scientific facts.This supposed freedom from political strictures has motivated some, such as the 19th-century anarchist aristocrat Piotr Kropotkin, to take nonhuman animals as a model for human society. But for the most part the ostensibly nonpolitical character of animal life has functioned simply to exclude animals from human consideration as beings with interests of their own.



What’s up[,]dog? Not much, what about you?

In my first post, “Aliens, Koko the Gorilla, and Interspecies Communication,” I talked about how animals should be defined as people due to their sense of self. In my research on animal consciousness, specifically on animals being aware of self, I found multiple philosophers that argue both for animal consciousness and against, with some notable philosophers like Descartes and Thomas Nagel taking the opposition, and Douglas Hofstadter and Donald Griffin as the proposition. In this blogpost, I will be analyzing the thoughts of Bernard E. Rollin, an American philosopher and professor of philosophy at Colorado State University who argues that animals are both conscious and able to feel pain.



In Animal Rights and Human Morality, Rollin splits the book into four parts — Moral Theory and Animals, Animals Rights and Legal Rights, The Use and Abuse of Animals in Research, and Morality and Pet Animals.

Part one of the book describes the moral theory and its application to animals. Part two Rollin tries to convince the reader that because of the implications of part one, we should also grant legal rights to animals. Part three firmly analyzes the theme of ethics in animal experimentation while also describing the role of humanists in both scientific and philosophical issues. Part four describes pets and morality, arguing that pet animals, if treated humanely, is still morally right.

In general, Rollin’s views can be described as a healthy medium between die-hard, vegan, animal-activists and Descartes’, whose mistreatment of animals due to his view that animals are not conscious, earned him the reputation of a man with blatant mistreatment of animals. For that reason, I have come to agree with his more moderate views of animal rights, stating that humans should be treated with legal rights but also still be classified as something other than ‘persons’ under the law.

In conclusion, I’ve come to find Rollin’s views on animal rights and consciousness as refreshing, considering the two extremist views we always see. His realization that animals are conscious, but not to the extent of humans, therefore putting them as ‘humanoid’ but not completely human in the level of consciousness.






Are We Really Smarter?


Tilikum trapped in Seaworld

What does it mean to be human? Are we really the most intelligent beings on this planet? As humans, we seem to think so. Throughout human history, and up until very recently, we as humans believed we were the only living beings on Earth with a conscience. We thought we were the most intelligent, highest living organisms on the planet. However, we may be wrong. After watching Nova’s “Inside Animal Minds: Smartest“, I realized even more that I previously believed that being “intelligent” (as we define it) and having a conscience is no longer something unique just to humans. Animals such as dolphins and elephants recognize themselves as an individual when they look in a mirror. They have an awareness of self, something humans do not even achieve until they are about two years old! How do we know that animals such as dolphins and whales don’t think the same way we do? Dolphins live in social groups, raise their young until they are old enough to survive on their own, and have lifelong friends. These characteristics could be used interchangeably with humans.

Human vs Dolphin Brain

Human vs Dolphin Brain

Scientists even believe that animals such as killer whales may feel emotions in more depth than we do. Even when comparing the brain of a dolphin and a human, there are amazing similarities. Like a human brain, the cortex of a dolphin’s is folded to increase surface area. They also have considerably large brains in comparison to their body, as do humans. There is even more evidence to back up questions about other animals having great intelligence.

I think that in 50 years, we’ll look back and go ‘My God, what a barbaric time.’

-From “Blackfish”, the 2013 documentary

A lot of research is being done on this topic (and in the past an unethical experiment when a dolphin named Peter was “taught English” in the 1960’s) and there has been a media boom as well with the release of “Blackfish“, a documentary about Tilikum and other animals involved with Seaworld. (I definitely recommend anyone to watch it, especially to open their eyes to how Seaworld is really just a prison where intelligent mammals are mistreated and denied the life they deserve.) Considering all this, why do we mistreat these animals, if they may be of equal or even greater intelligence of us?

To conclude, we have now discovered that having a conscience and being intelligent is no longer uniquely human. Other animals, such as dolphins and whales, share these traits with us. So what really makes us humans? Is the only difference between us and them is that dolphins don’t keep “lower life forms” in living spaces the equivalent to a bathtub  like we do to them? Are dolphins and whales maybe even better than us because they do not display the cruelty and disgusting mistreatment of helpless animals like we are? Food for thought.



Ethics Discussion: Eating Pork & Animal Testing 12.05.13


Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 12.47.04 PM

Board notes from the discussion.

Here is our first ethical discussion, led by Katherine, Jessica, Heather and Kristina on the ethics of eating pork and animal testing. You can find their original posts here on the blog:



Ethics Discussion Schedule & Posts

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 12.46.29 PMAbove you’ll find our rough schedule for discussions on various ethical topics we plan to address in the coming days. In addition to being able to join our class proceedings via #ds106radio, or Google Hangout (stay tuned to the #Philosophy12 hashtag on Twitter or @bryanjack’s account to find links to these talks) beginning at approximately 10:20am (PST) on the days listed, Philosophy 12 invites you to engage in dialogue around these topics on posts coming across the course site as of today.

Here are links and brief excerpts of the ethical issues we are investigating:

I have the Right to Die – Andrea R. and Ramona K.

Immanuel Kant believed that the moral rules can, in principle, be known as a result of reason alone and are not based on observation. He believed that reason can be revealed in the basic principles of morality. These principles are goodwill, duty and categorical imperative. His categorical imperative states that we should act in such a way that we can all will the maxim of our actions to become a universal law. An objective principle, in so far as it is obligatory, is called a command (of reason), and the formula of the command is called an imperative. All imperatives are expressed by the word ought, and indicate the relation of an objective law of reason to a will which is not necessarily determined by it. They say that something would be good to do, but they say it to a will which does not always do a thing because it is conceived to be good. “What makes a moral act right?” And this happens to be what we are looking for, in the sense of what makes euthanasia right?

The Ethics of Voting: Not Efficient, Not Ethical, What’s the Point? – by Aidan C. and Lazar A.

The problem is, that we, as members of a democratic system cannot view voting as an ethical task. It must be an act which is performed at the out-most interest of oneself, so that the leaders of our country can take action as our representatives. We ask, that shouldn’t the very foundation of a democratic system be ethically correct towards its people, since the system itself is made upon ethical views? No, it does not, because the second you begin voting for the wants and needs of those around you, a) you cannot know what they want, and b) which person’s wants and needs do you vote for? For instance, what everyone votes for the wants and needs of one person…that does not bring a greater good to the most people either, therefore, once again at an ethical stale mate. Concluding, although unethical, voting is the key to a system which strives to be ethical.

Wikileaks vs. the Government – by Julian P. and Imtiaz P.

“Big brother is always watching you” is a widely used phrase that was written by George Orwell, to emphasize an omnipresent, seemingly benevolent figure that represents oppressive control of individual lives, who is absent in the believe of morals and or ethics…

Online Piracy – by Dylan A. Cassidy P.

Is piracy actually theft? Technically speaking, theft happens when person A takes something from person B. Person B now does not have that thing which they originally had and person A now has that thing which person B had. Because this object is not being physically stolen from anyone, is it truly considered stolen? This isn’t the case for Internet piracy. When you download something online, you aren’t taking that thing, you’re making a copy of it. The original author hasn’t lost their work, there’s just more of it around now. Now that’s not to say that if the author didn’t originally put their work up for free online that they aren’t getting the money that they asked for, so in that way people would argue that it is stealing. So that’s when online piracy becomes very messy, and we’re stuck in between two sets of views that are both agreeable yet can’t exist together within the current ways that copyright infringement is dealt with.

The Ethics of Animal Experimentation – by Katherine B. and Jessica P.

Mill’s utilitarian ethics would agree to medical animal experimentation, as we see an exponentially greater amount of “good” brought into the world from the harms we committed in order to bring about that good. Animal testing for medical research and drug development also satisfies a higher level of utilitarianism. The “good” (of progression in medical research), brought about by the “harm” (of testing on animals) is being created for an altruistic reason; to benefit and improve the health of all human lives. In contrast to cosmetic animal testing whose purpose is to satisfy debateably superficial wants, scientific animal testing is being used to grant people a higher quality of life.

Ethnics: Get Out! – by Julie, Aman & Emily

…citizens are wondering if multiculturalism is a failed experiment but Habermas disagrees and states that they should continue to embrace multiculturalism and not resort to tactics such as relying on the support of right-wing populists like the Netherlands or having a ban on building minarets like Switzerland. Although xenophobia seems to be spreading in some areas of the world Habermas believes that if we get to know people from other countries and we get to experience their culture, then we will realize that this is the best way to live.

Power: State vs. People – by Jade, Ayden & Deion

Questioning the government seems to be somewhat of a common thing amongst the population. We criticize the amount of power that our state has, yet we do nothing to make a change. The idea of having no control in our own society enrages many of us. If this is a fear that we all have, why don’t we step up and take the power?

Democracy gives us of legal age and registration the ability to vocalize our preference in political leaders. But with the ability to control the majority in government, what do we do with it? Sheep give their trust to their herder in where they choose to guide them. Similarly, people invest their trust in an elected leader. Ironically, people can be lead to ignorant knowledge.

Stay away from the Bacon! – by Heather M. and Kristina S.

Pigs are the 4th smartest animal (excluding humans.) They are only outranked by elephants, dolphins and chimps (and humans.) They learn as quickly as chimps. They can recognize their own name within only a week of being born. Guess how long it takes a human baby.


And their names are probably called a lot more than these piglets, so consider those implications. They continue exceed the capability of any 3 year old child, and most toddlers speak by then. They are far more intelligent than your cat or dog, too.They can recognize and remember up to 30 other pigs.

Capital Punishment – by Tyler L. and Leon C.

“As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated” said Amnesty International. In 1973, over 140 people had been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence.  Hugo Bedau, a philosopher, who’s most ambitious work was “The Death Penalty in America” and took up the issue in “The Case Against the Death Penalty” which was a pamphlet distributed widely by the American Civil Liberties Union. He was the first to make general empirical argument against the capital punishment as said by Michael Radelet.

Safe Injection Sites – Ashley A. and Sophie T.

Many argue that providing a place for drug addicts to continue using is logically and ethically wrong, as it is encouraging illegal activity with no legal intervention or consequences. People who oppose these safe injection sites also believe that it isn’t right to enable these people to continue using, rather than helping them decrease the amount of drugs they are taking or getting off of the drugs all together. To some people, giving addicts a place to consume illegal, dangerous intravenous drugs is equal to giving people with chronic depression a place where they can “safely” kill themselves. The only safe place that these people believe that drug addicts belong is in jail and/or a rehabilitation program.

Economics, Inequality & Enlightenment – by Mr. J

…should the goal revolve around creating *enough* social cohesion to bring about greater justice than presently experienced? I was watching another talk hosted by Sandel the other night (about the moral justification for wealth-redistribution) where someone in the audience said that those in favour of redistribution don’t put their best foot forward when they present the “selfish” argument for paying higher taxes: “You will have a better healthcare system if we all pay.” The more powerful argument, this person posited, was that members of a community (family, province, nation… planet?) have an inherent obligation to one another. We are all members of the same family, in other words, and thus taxation for the benefit of all not so much a case of taking from one to give to another, but something we all do for the good of all (which includes each of us).