Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Epistemological Ecology – Mr. J

Learning Never Stops

There is a certain pleasure in being allowed to start things off in a class like #Philosophy12; while others may garner the satisfaction that comes from rising to the challenge of the various assignments and syntheses of ideas, as classroom facilitator my critical tasks have thus far revolved around the outset of the unit. Having hopefully created the conditions for individual and collective learning, I focus my energy around supporting the group’s thinking, whether in daily activities, viewing or reading materials, or engaging in class discussions about the direction and intentions of the unit or task at hand.

I get to learn a lot, just in seeing how the various branches of inquiry manage to reveal the topics at hand, and the perspectives that bring them to our classroom.

But I haven’t yet taken the opportunity to engage directly with the tasks myself, and I was taken with an idea for Epistemology: to state and support a personal proposition about the nature of knowledge, learning, and the justifications we use to frame these ideas. Within the context of the opening class structure, the unit presented a natural opportunity to turn the teaching of the course into a personal engagement with the material. If I could demonstrate an example of the type of learning I would like to see, would the allowance of the space and opportunity for participants to engage with their own individual creation of knowledge bring about an authentic expression of social constructivism?

“All knowledge begins with experience.”

The starting point for my own epistemological proposition centers around a view of our reason as an evolving structure of knowing that shifts with the acquisition of new knowledge (gained through experience). I have more or less directly swiped this from Immanuel Kant, but I have seen these ideas reflected in the foundations of the post-modern era, constructivism, as well as a frequent touchstone in the class’ conversations about knowledge and knowing. A certain amount of our work in the unit was bound to retread at least some of the contribution he has brought to the field, I figure.

But I am nevertheless grounded in the idea that the structure against which our experience of the world is interpreted – our ability to reason – evolves with our experiencing of the world; as it does our sense of what can be known changes in kind, eliciting further questions, and creating new un-knowing. Jonathan said it well in his first of two Epistemology posts: “As we accumulate knowledge over time, I also believe that we develop abilities to gain these different types of knowledge too.

The sage former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld summarized part of this arc memorably in February, 2002:

“[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

“…the limitation of all possible speculative cognition to the mere objects of experience, follows as a necessary result.”

There is something of the snake-eating-its-own-tail that then arises in the compulsion to expand our notions of knowing against an ever-expanding experiential plain. “Essentially, we have proven that no piece of knowledge, whether of reason or of reality, is reliable,” Liam writes in his exploration of Descartes’ Evil Genius theory:”

Really, a more unhelpful and useless conclusion has never been reached. True knowledge, it seems, is nowhere to be found – and because of that, we must accept the flawed, unreliable knowledge that we have and make do with it.

The Double Bind

As I began to explore in my initial post and reflections, the contradiction of pursuing a knowledge that evades alongside our mastery over it reminded me of the concept of the Double Bind, introduced to me a few weeks ago by Gardner Campbell at the Open Education conference in Vancouver. According to wikipedia, 

double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will be automatically wrong regardless of response.

While the acquisition of knowledge may not be an eitheror scenario as described in the double bind, what I found valuable about Gardner’s characterization of the dilemma was the idea that the double bind can serve as a kind or prison, but also create the conditions for an expansion of awareness (or, cognition) that is the process of meaningful learning I hope some of #philosophy12 is providing for its participants. Again from Wikipedia:

One solution to a double bind is to place the problem in a larger context […] the double bind is contextualized and understood as an impossible no-win scenario so that ways around it can be found.

For my own part, the attempt to characterize and justify my own beliefs about knowledge has been vexing in the manner Bateson predicted as one of the responses to the double bind, wherein objective truth “cannot be reliably known, so all [truth] is treated as trivial or ridiculous.” It is admittedly difficult to engage faithfully in a process that seems fruitless from the outset, and for this I am glad to have waded into this experiment alongside the #Philosophy12 class.

Because it is a confrontation with the double bind that a new paradigm, either for each of us personally or together as a society, and isn’t this what I should be doing as a teacher?

Bateson outlines a Hierarchy of Learning in which Learning III (third in a series of IV) represents an ability to develop a “meta contextual perspective, imagining and shifting contexts of understanding.” Learning III puts the individual into a moment of learning with risk, where “questions become explosive,” Gardner says, as the potential to begin again at the base of the pyramid Jonathan outlines here is something that we are not often keen to explore, but central to the learning process.

And I think that perhaps this is both the source and the solution to the double bind offered in our own rational and experiential development. Learning IV – which would be the change enacted to progress beyond Learning III – Bateson notes, “probably does not occur in any adult living organism on this earth.”

Naturally: once we have solved the initial double bind and reached beyond our present understanding, we are greeted with new incongruities to decipher.

And yet..?

And yet we continue to engage in this process. We continue to yearn for a greater understanding, even while that understanding becomes obscured in the new questions it raises.

“It may be,” Gardner says, “that the evolution of the species represents the emergence of the possibility of Learning IV, as we think together.”

Leaving me again with echos of Kant:

it is plain that the hope of a future life arises from the feeling, which exists in the breast of every man, that the temporal is inadequate to meet and satisfy the demands of his nature.



My Epistemology – Mr. J Edition

About halfway through my attempted introduction of Philosophy 12’s Epistemology unit assignments – clumsily introduced here Jonathan asked a salient question: 

Could you do one of these assignments first, so we can see what it is you’re looking for?

To refresh myself ourselves, the individual piece of the Epistemology study will be to create a personal epistemological proposition: to state and explain something about what we know, and how we know it.  

Can I do this first so I the class can see what it is I’m looking for?

Um… yeah, sure. Of course. 

First Steps

What I Know… How I Know It

This started out as a messy, painful process for me that I trust will emanate throughout the class this week. But this sort of psychic discomfort is integral to the learning process, I’ve come to think; and it is something that I was curious to lean into with the hope of seeing where my thinking took me.

I started with the attempt to create simple statements that I hoped would lead me somewhere meaningful.

Statement A

I doubt what I know; it fluctuates. My relationship and understanding of my self and the world is subjective. 

Statement B

I read (some of) Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” to be about the need to live as though the things that cannot be known *can* be (even while admitting that they can’t). 

Therefore (Statement C)

Learning is central to trusting in the fleeting knowledge gained while I interrogate and reform my “knowledgable paradigm.”

I have always been fond of the Hemingway quote

There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.

OK, so…?

Having come to some understanding of what I wanted to say, what I could stand behind as my beliefsabout knowledge at this stage, I then sought to ground these statements in the contexts of philosophy and epistemology. I had a few different ideas here, mostly due to recent thinking about Immanuel Kant, Thomas Kuhn, and Gregory Bateson.

Ecological Mind

Where to next?

As it stands now, I’m returning to the syllogistic A & B –> C format of attempting to lay out my proposition about knowledge and learning, trying to hone the statements offered above and support them with some of the thinking of other philosopher’s.

My “A” Statement at the moment begins with the preface of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason

Human reason,” he says, “in one sphere of its cognition, is called upon to consider questions, which it cannot decline, as they are presented by its own nature, as they transcend every faculty of the mind.”

I’m hoping to contrast some of my thinking about the above with what he says later, that: “…a dogmatist promises to extend human knowledge beyond the limits of possible experience; while I humbly confess that this is completely beyond my power.”

Taken together (A & B), this rationale – to seek, even when the knowledge may be beyond us – creates a dizzying cumulative effect that Gardner Campbell spoke about a few weeks ago in Vancouver: the double bind. I think this scenario is where I find my thinking aligning with Gregory Bateson‘s Hierarchies of Learning, and even the ‘scientific crisis’ written about by Thomas Kuhn, wherein the old paradigm is the prison, but also the route to salvation (for a time).

Mr. Jackson, it seems like you’re more confused than when you started…

Of course not! 

Well, maybe a little.

But I’ll let you know how the next few steps go.



Thoughts on beginning Epistemology

Old and Bold

Image and Edit courtesy of Flickr user @talonsblog

No small part of the #Philosophy12 course design has been based in the framework of social constructivism:

according to which all “knowledge is a compilation of human-made constructions”,[16] “not the neutral discovery of an objective truth”.[17] Whereas objectivism is concerned with the “object of our knowledge”, constructivism emphasises “how we construct knowledge”.[18] Constructivism proposes new definitions for knowledge and truth that form a new paradigm, based on inter-subjectivity instead of the classical objectivity, and on viability instead of truth. Piagetian constructivism, however, believes in objectivity—constructs can be validated through experimentation.

Many of the different ideas contained in the above definition (from Wikipedia) arose during last week’s Metaphysics Pecha Kucha presentations, and I have been thinking about how to extend our class’ pursuit of individual and collected knowledge with the beginning of our Epistemology unit, some of which I hope to introduce here, even if these ideas aren’t quite yet fully formed.

I have been reflecting on the purpose of the philosophical lecture, as well; the series of Pecha Kucha presentations delivered last week, each outlining and contextualizing a proposition of a notable metaphysician, were a literally awesome exploration and synthesis of a broad scope of human thinking about the nature of reality.  In my own preparations for the Epistemology unit, I’ve continued to indulge in materials from iTunesU, and Oxford University‘s Philosophy for Beginners, as well as Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (nicely accompanied by Project Gutenburg‘s access to the free volume of the text), and have been immensely grateful to these wildly knowledgable and articulate professors (and their institutions) for being willing to share their wisdom of the different contexts surrounding the development of human knowledge with us and others free of charge. (While some others may disagree, I think that this free and open sharing of ideas is necessary for our continued learning and progress as a society and civilization, and has been since time immemorial.)

Without these keepers of such knowledge, and contexts, being ‘brought up to speed‘ on the progress of philosophical thought would no doubt be a much more painful and arduous process, and I hope for-credit and open online participants familiarize themselves with some of the outstanding materials available to them online and locally (please feel free to use the comments of this post, the #philosophy12 hashtag, or a new posting on the blog to share something you come across that we could benefit from).

True to our constructivist’s roots, the class will be engaging with the idea of human knowledge by developing a statement and articulation of each learner’s own emerging individual philosophy, and then working collaboratively to synthesize and present a class lecture (one lecture undertaken by the class as a whole) outlining our collective reasoning, that will be recorded and streamed live online, and shared in the pantheon of voices between our own humble classroom and the halls of Oxford, the University of Glasgow, or even the new year’s Coursera offering.

The face-to-face class will be meeting Monday, November 5th, to discuss the criteria and layout of the unit of study, and streaming the conversation on #ds106radio so that open online participants can listen and take part in the conversation.

More Free Online Courses:

  • General Philosophy
    A series of lectures delivered by Peter Millican to first-year philosophy students at the University of Oxford. The lectures comprise the 8-week General Philosophy course and were delivered in late 2009.

  • Nietzsche on Mind and Nature
    Keynote speeches and special session given at the international conference ‘Nietzsche on Mind and Nature’, held at St. Peter’s College, Oxford, 11-13 September 2009, organized by the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford.

  • Kant’s Epistemology (audio only)
    Dr. Susan Stuart taught this course at the University of Glasgow in 2008, covering Kant’s three critiques published between 1781 and 1790.

  • Coursera’s Introduction to Philosophy
    This course will introduce you to some of the most important areas of research in contemporary philosophy. Each week a different philosopher will talk you through some of the most important questions and issues in their area of expertise.

I can also heartily recommend the Open Culture blog‘s collection of 55 Free Philosophy Courses




Metaphysics Unit Assessments

Higgs Boson!

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Lala Lands

After covering an introduction to Metaphysics through text reading and digital summaries, the unit’s study will revolve around individual inquiry and research into the lives and minds of philosophers who have waded into the discussion of just what there is, and what it is likeIn blog posts and presentations, the intended learning outcome in the next week is to create a variety of biographical and critical information on various metaphical philosophers.

For Credit Learners

Blog Post – Demonstrate research and introduction to a philosopher of Metaphysics in a blog post submitted no later than Wednesday October 24th. Look to answer the following questions in your introduction:

  • How did the philosopher’s life or biography influence their personal philosophy?
  • What ideas or concepts are they credited with or notable for?
  • How have these ideas been built on or incorporated into our modern zeitgeist or mindset?
  • What personal response do you have to the topics your philosopher explored?

Presentation – Beginning next week (Monday October 29th), for credit participants will be hosting Pecha Kucha style presentations of their evaluation of one of their philosopher’s arguments, or contentions on a metaphysical topic. These presentations should adhere to (approximately) this structure:

  • Slides 1 – 5:  You and your Philosopher – How do you differ, what do you hold the same?
  • Slides 6 – 10: What they are saying – Outline a single argument / proposition from your selected philosopher.
  • Slides 11 – 15: Truth, Validity & Soundness – How would you evaluate your philosopher’s argument?
  • Slides 16 – 20: Metaphysics in the Modern World – Where do you see the influence, or evidence of the ideas expressed by your philosopher?

Open Online Participants

As always, you are invited and encouraged to take on either of the assignments, or propose and submit an alternate response to the topic that you feel compelled to share. We value your input wherever you have the time to offer it, and look forward to your engagement with the blog’s comments, and on our class wiki site for this unit.



Discussion Point: Is Science Objective?

look downstairs into stairwell whirl

Picture courtesy of Flickr user: quapan

As a culminating activity to our introduction to Scientific Philosophy, the class will be discussing the nature of objectivity in science from a number of perspectives outlined in the course text. In groups of 2-3, for-credit learners will prepare the following to be delivered next Tuesday (October 16th):

  • A one-minute introduction to their philosophical perspective (listed below);
  • A two-minute response to the question, Is Science Objective? 
  • A question for one of the other selected perspectives;

In addition, each group will post a synthesis of their thinking after the discussion to readdress their response to the original question, and incorporate influential points made by their peers during Tuesday’s class.

The different lenses / perspectives we will be addressing in class will be:

  • Post-Modernist
  • Feminist
  • Scientific Realist
  • Karl Popper
  • van Orman Quine
  • David Deutsche
  • Anarchistic Epistemologist
  • Instrumentalist
  • Logical Positivist

Invitation to Open-Online ParticipantsAs ever, we welcome your input, feedback, and engagement with the classroom learning wherever you are able to supply it. For this particular aspect of the course, if you would like to submit a response to the question from one (or more) of the listed perspectives (or one of your own choosing), feel free to submit a post or comment on the blog (If you are not a registered author on the blog, fill out the form on the Open Online Participants page to remedy this.) and join our discussion on Tuesday live on #ds106radio, or Google Hangout.



Introduction to Logic Blogging Assignments

Click the image above to access a Prezi Introduction to Logic corresponding to our reading this week.

Blogging Assignment for Logic Chapters

For credit participants: Submit three different responses to the posts outlined below on the class blog.

Open-online participants: Evaluate examples provided for Truth, Soundness, Validity and Reliability, comment, post examples of your own. Or lurk. That’s cool, too.

Create an original syllogism and identify its middle term, predicate term, and subject term. Examine your syllogism for Truth, Validity and Soundness.

Example of Logic
Present and deconstruct a logical argument in philosophy, literature, journalism, comedy, musical or other example, describing the effect created by the author’s use of logic (including Validity, Truth and Soundness).

Inductive / Abductive Reasoning
Summarize and analyze a piece of journalism, scholarship, political rhetoric or criticism which employs inductive or abductive reasoning. Evaluate the reliability of the evidence involved.

Logical Fallacies
Provide and summarize an example of an argument guilty of committing a logical fallacy: characterize the type of fallacy at work and (if possible) refute the argument with a contrary logical proposition.

Be sure to categorize these posts as Logic and Scientific Philosophy, and tag them corresponding to which of the above prompts they are responding to. For credit participants are expected to have their posts on the blog by this Friday, October 5th



Curiosity – Emily

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a famous philosophical tale told to illustrate the philosophical way of thinking and how it can change us. What struck me most when we discussed the allegory was the why. I tried to imagine why and how such a thing could take place.

Curiosity. Isn’t that why experiments like the Stanford Prison and Milford Experiments happened? I always guessed these scientists and psychologists had some information or hypotheses about what people would do in such situations, but they went and conducted these experiments to learn more. Because they were curious.

So  I wondered: could something similar happen with Plato’s Cave? Could this possibly ever happen? With the Nuremburg Code, however, this is unlikely, but there have been experiments and more experiments before and supposedly since the Code was put in place. The David Reimer Experiment, MKULTRA, The Well of Despair and The Monster Experiment are all examples of experimentation that did not follow the Nuremburg Code and cause amounts of disgust and revulsion in many. In the Monster Experiment, groups of orphans were given specific feedback that affected them throughout the rest of their life.

The psychologists did this experiment to see the effects of positive and negative feedback. Those who had received the negative feedback on their fluency and speech imperfections had psychological issues and speech problems throughout the rest of their lives. Pardon me, but who are these scientists to do such a thing to a child, something that rests with them all their life?

The Allegory of the Cave is quite similar – from a young age, the participants or subjects would be forced to see only the shadows on the cave wall. When released, such an experience would surely affect them the rest of their lives, as did the negative speech therapy in the Monster Experiment. Some may argue, “But at least the kids in Monster actually got to experience life, even if they had speech impediments! The ones stuck watching shadows never got to do any of the things we do!”

This brings me around to Mariana’s and Kristina’s points: is ignorance bliss? If all you had ever known was the cave wall with the shadows, would you ever dream of there being more to life? Maybe you live watching shadows, or you’re the best or the fastest at identifying them. You might be the biggest fish in your little pond. Living in the cave with the shadows would be a completely different life, not one as we know. Perhaps living with the shadows in the cave is a far better existence and a more pleasurable and fulfilling life than we’ve ever known. We can’t know. Maybe you would have more time for introspection and thought. Or, what if you were freed and guided into living in modern society? I doubt you would take as many things for granted as we do today.

How would we find this out, other than putting some kids through this kind of existence? We’re curious. Maybe, there’s a small egoistic part of us that wants this experiment to happen – as long as it’s not to us – so we can find out a little about what it’s like.  It’s our curiosity that led us to learn so much thus far. And to me, that’s philosophy. Wondering. Thinking. Curiosity.



First Assignment: What is Philosophy?

Image courtesy of the University of Philidelphia

In the interest of inviting our Open Online participants to join us right from the outset, I wanted to share the introductory activity the face-to-face class will be working on over the weekend so that we might get to know some of you out there as we come into next week.

The assignment – one of a few that won’t be completely wide open in choice – is this: to answer the (potentially) unanswerable question, What is Philosophy? in an engaging and personable fashion that accomplished two goals:

  • We will begin to construct a collective definition of the beast we are setting out to tame: Philosophy.
  • We will get to know the members of our learning community and encounter their initial impressions of the subject at hand.

Your assignment may be completed as an essay (spoken or text on the blog), video, soundscape or song, visual representation or something that you feel represents you, and your answer to the question What is Philosophy? (If your work is visual or otherwise interpretive, your presentation should address the process and choices you made to communicate your thesis.)

Your presentation should be no more than 4′ long, and can be shared as a new post on this blog. Please be sure to file it under the Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry category, and any tags you feel might help organize our work over the course of the semester.

Direct any questions to Bryan Jackson, either on Twitter, @bryanjack, or email: brjackson at sd43.bc.ca

Looking forward to working with you!