Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


What is Philosophy? (Take 2)


As I was riding the bus home yesterday afternoon, an unusual thought popped into my head. I had read about the concept of sonder a few days ago, and for some reason the idea resurfaced in my mind. For those unfamiliar with the word, it means “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”. Throughout this post, I will be referencing back to the idea of sonder – as it ties in well with the concept of the phaneron. (see definition of phaneron below)

In my original What is Philosophy? post, I concluded that “philosophy is the strive for the expansion of fundamental human understanding.” While I still stand by parts of that definition, it is slightly verbose. In my second take at defining philosophy, I want to keep the main idea of exploration/expansion while simplifying my definition.

What I came up with is this:

Philosophy is the exploration beyond the limits of the phaneron.


What is a phaneron?

  1. The phaneron (Greek φανερός phaneros “visible, showable”) as coined by Charles Sanders Peirce is essentially the real world filtered by our sensory input (sight, hearing, touch, etc) [src]

Essentially, a person’s phaneron is all of the sensual data they obtain empirically. For example, your phaneron currently includes the words on this page, the noises (or lack of noises) around you, and the sensation that you need to blink and breathe manually (sorry).

What makes the phaneron such an interesting concept is that we depend on our phaneron to gather information about our surrounding. Anything we see, hear, smell, taste, or feel is filtered through our phaneron before being presented to our brain in an understandable way. The issue is, of course, that sensual illusions and hallucinations are also a part of the phaneron – calling into question what is real, and what isn’t. In an earlier blog post, I wrote about how knowledge is utterly dependent on communication. The phaneron takes this one step further; the communication (which knowledge is dependent on) is itself filtered through our phaneron, unseating all of the knowledge we currently possess as human beings.

While I wrote about the uncertainty of the existence of math homework earlier this semester, again the phaneron takes this one step further. As we are utterly dependent on our phanerons, we have no way to know if the real world is anything like what we perceive it to be.  This is often referenced as “living in the Matrix” –  how would we ever know if our world was a simulation?


How do we explore beyond the phaneron?

It’s easy to dismiss exploring beyond the phaneron out of hand – after all, since we gather all knowledge through the phaneron, how could we ever know any knowledge outside of it?

Rationalism is one, somewhat limited method for surpassing the limits of the phaneron. By using logic and dissecting arguments, we can gain more insight than by simply relying on our sense alone. Our course, there’s always going to be that person who claims that: A) there is no such thing as free will, or B) our sensory knowledge defines us. While those are valid points, they definitely spoil the fun of exploring and surpassing the limits of the phaneron.

Another way we can explore beyond the phaneron is simply by exploring beyond our own phanerons. This relates back to the idea of sonder, and the fact that everyone’s reality is subjective to them and them alone. As I covered in an aesthetics post, beauty is one of these subjective qualities. Everyone perceives beauty in a different way, and nobody is right or wrong to consider something “beautiful”.


Why does exploring beyond the phaneron matter?

From the rationalist model, surpassing the phaneron means surpassing the biological restrictions placed upon our by our short-lived, fragile meatsacks. By not solely relying on the phaneron for all information about the world, we can grow beyond the human condition and embrace true, objective rationality.

On a more personal level, being able to look beyond our own personal phanerons makes us that much more empathetic. By combining the idea of sonder with the surpassing of the phaneron, it becomes possible to gain a deeper understanding of those around us, and perhaps most importantly, whose who we dislike or simply disagree with. The world today would be a different place if instead of dismissing a person out of hand, we instead tried to visualize their own problems, concerns, and value systems.

Of course, that’s totally unrealistic – for the most part, we’re all too wrapped up in our own lives to be constantly visualizing the lives of others. Regardless of this, surpassing our own sensory limits can at least give us a glimpse of what others are feeling. At the very least, it will open you up to sonder, and the beautiful realization that you are not alone in this universe of ours.

So, What is Philosophy? (or So What, Philosophy?)

Philosophy is the exploration beyond the limits of the phaneron.

The essence of this definition is in taking a step back, and looking at the world in a different way. The issue of the phaneron is not meant to inspire paranoia; instead, it should simply offer a new perspective on life and the source of knowledge. Only by looking beyond ourselves can we learn more about ourselves (I know, so deep).

The cry of philosophy is not “Wake up, sheeple!”. Instead – whatever the nihilistic arguments against – we should say “Life is valuable, and through knowledge we can enjoy it to the greatest extent possible.”



I See You: The Right to Privacy in the Face of Threat

Image taken from www.pixabay.com and used  under Creative Commons License.

Surveillance camera. Image taken from www.pixabay.com and used under Creative Commons License.

In June 2013, Edward Snowden shocked the world when he revealed the staggering extent of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Not limited to collecting data about enemies abroad, the agency was shown to have been amassing huge quantities of information about foreign allies and even its own citizens. Many security holes in software and encryption are a direct result of the NSA, leaving sections of the internet vulnerable to cyber crime. The agency also aggregated vast amounts of personal data, ranging from movement patterns to call records. Even two years after the initial revelations, US citizens and foreign governments alike remain outraged at the audacity of the spy agency’s actions.

Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.

The New York Times

Proponents of the NSA claim that the agency’s actions were appropriate for reasons of national security. If the government does not have the ability to invade privacy in this manner, they say, then its ability to combat terrorism will be greatly reduced. Some worry about the chance of a additional terrorist incidents such as 9/11 if the government lacks this “essential” power. Another often-repeated point is the Nothing to Hide argument. This argument states that if an individual has not committed any crimes, they shouldn’t worry about being spied upon. If they have committed crimes, the argument continues, then they don’t deserve the right to privacy anyhow.


Edward Snowden. Image taken from http://upload.wikimedia.org/ and modified under Creative Commons License

Those who deem the NSA’s actions unacceptable refute the claims of proponents. Opponents see the NSA’s “pre-emptive strike” surveillance as a complete and utter invasion of personal privacy, prompting distrust in the United States government and its agencies. They dismiss the Nothing to Hide argument out of hand, arguing that it limits freedom, defies the basic human need for privacy, and even leads to an Orwellian society. Hyperbolically mocking the proponents, they ask: don’t walls also impede the government’s ability to catch terrorists?

The conflict at hand here revolves around one moral issue: is the government morally justified in violating an individual’s right to privacy to whatever extent it deems necessary for reasons of national security?

Understandably, different fields of ethics would have varied responses to this question. In particular, two large theories of ethics – utilitarianism and Kant’s Categorical Imperative – would have vastly contrasting views on the subject.

Utility . . . holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

-John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism

John Stuart Mill’s consequentialist utilitarianism would approach the issue by evaluating the results of the NSA’s actions. Thousands of potential deaths due to terrorist activities, it would evaluate, are far worse then the invasion of the privacy of millions. Viewed as a pain vs. pleasure issue, Mill would say that the potential pain experienced by the family and friends of those killed by terrorist activities would be greater than the mild discomfort of those millions whose privacy is being invaded. Furthermore, many of those victims of privacy invasion may not even be aware of the infractions, causing them no pain whatsoever. Due to this analysis, utilitarianism reasons that the morally correct choice is to invade the privacy of millions of innocent people worldwide (often at no discomfort to them) for the purpose of potentially saving the lives of thousands.

There is therefore only a single categorical imperative, and it is this: Act only on that maxim though which you can at the same time will that is should become a universal law . . .

. . . Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.

-Immanuel Kant, The Categorical Imperative

On the other side of the debate, Kant’s categoricalism would approach the issue in a different manner. It would look at the people who ordered the NSA’s surveillance program, and analyze their motives for committing these invasions of privacy. If an action is not born out of duty and goodwill, says Kant, it cannot possibly be moral. Furthermore, these programs use humans as a means rather than an end – another cardinal sin in Kant’s Categorical Imperative. By using and abusing these innocent’s people information, they fail to recognize these individuals as an endpoint rather than as an easy method of collecting data. To conclude, Kant’s Categorical Imperative would reject the morality of the NSA’s actions on the basis of the uncertain moral basis of the actions and the violation of humanity as an end.



The Subjectivity of Beauty


Is the turkey beautiful?



Aesthetic Experience: Criticism of Self-Styling

By: Avery and Vincent

Image taken from upload.wikimedia.org and used under Creative Common License.


Aesthetics paints the world in a vastly different way than the clinical worldview of the sciences. Drawing on the subjective nature of humanity, art and beauty often ignore more objective viewpoints and assign their own meanings to nature and the environment. These two outlooks on life have massive differences; most important, subjective aesthetics may often find meaning when objectivity assures us there is none.

A Short Introduction to Self Styling

Self-styling introduces the idea that art “[creates] a front between the ‘nausea and suicide’ we realize due to honesty” (Azfal, Niezsche’s Self Styling). In other words, art serves as a shell between humans and the truth of the meaninglessness of human life. Art allows optimism, kindling subjective beliefs of meaning and purpose.

Drawing from the objective meaninglessness of everything, self-styling guides “artists” (read: self-stylers) towards a path of artistic perspective, and ultimately a level of self-deception. Involving deception, perspective, and forgetting, an artist crafts themselves to allay existential nausea. It allows “acceptance and appreciation of the self” despite the brutal honesty of the nature of the world.

Criticism of Self-Styling

Criticism of self-styling revolves around how the practice promotes self-deception. It guides artists towards “reveling [sic] in the delusions self-styling promotes”, encouraging one to shield oneself from honest nature and instead live in the world of dreams. This seems a step back for development and understanding, artists choosing to retreats into their safe bubbles instead of forging forwards to create new boundaries and face the challenge head on. While self-affirmation suggests that the nature of life should “be embraced without flinching”, self-styling “[makes] one’s character pleasing by falsifying it.” This approach to life appears apathetic of the quest to obtain real answers, instead content to cocoon itself a safe area and ignore the bigger issues at play.

Discussion Questions

How do the positives of self-styling compare to the negatives?

How does self-styling affect everyday life and perception of the world?

How does the self-deception involved in self-styling influence self-perception?



Talking Back: Knowledge’s Dependency upon Communication

Image taken from flickr.com user “liz west” and used under Creative Commons License.

You touch a hot stove. The nerves in your fingers send frantic messages screaming up your nervous system, travelling first through your arm then up through your neck. Your brain registers and processes the signal, then sends a reflex hurtling back to the rest of the body. Muscles in your arm contract and release, yanking your hand out of danger. Total time elapsed: a fraction of a second.

Communication is the essence of knowledge. We as humans communicate in many different ways, from text and speech to more basic systems such as body language. The initial communication, the first, most vital step in the hierarchy of information transfer, is none of these. Before text, speech, or body language is the human brain’s communication with the environment surrounding it. The stove is hot, the counter is smooth, the knife is sharp; all of these properties are recorded by our sensory organs. Our eyes, ears, nose, hands, and mouth all pick up information that is transmitted to the brain for processing. This is the initial communication, better described as the first and most basic transmission of information for all humans. Without this, it is impossible for humans to posses sensory information.

Note the careful use of vocabulary in the previous paragraph. There is a very important distinction between information and knowledge, and it would be folly to use the two interchangeably. To better explain what knowledge is (or at least my interpretation of it), I have prepared a logical argument that I will be going over piece by piece.


if information is a collection of facts provided or learned about something or someone;

and communication is the imparting or exchanging of information;

and an entity is a thing with distinct and independent existence;

and a conscious being is an entity that maintains self-awareness, responds to stimuli, and acquires information;

then knowledge is the communication of information where at least one of the communicating entities is a conscious being.

This argument is a list of definitions, starting by defining important terms and ending with a declaration of the essence of knowledge. To enable understanding, I’ve broken the argument down into bite-sized pieces for each individual statement.

Image taken from flickr.com user “Heath Brandon” and used under Creative Commons License.

Definition #1: Information

information is a collection of facts provided or learned about something or someone;

The different uses of the word information cause issues when attempting to define it. An article by Luciano Floridi quotes philosopher Claude Shannon that “the word ‘information’ has been given different meanings by various writers in the general field of information theory.” Essentially, the word can be used to represent multiple distinct philosophical objects. For clarity and simplification, I have whittled down the definition of information to a manageable size.

Information is, quite simply, facts. A piece of information is a property or attribute of the object which it references. For example, sharp is a property of a knife whereas dull is a property of a spoon. Information exists independently of language. To return to logic, although the statement (words) may be different the proposition (essence) remains the same. I would extend this to argue that information can also exist without the need for consciousness. To put it simply, if a tree fell in the forest it would make a sound regardless of whether anybody was around to hear it. This may clash with the unprovability of anything outside our own minds, but that’s a different argument in itself.

Definition #2: Communication

communication is the imparting or exchanging of information;

Drawing upon our definition of information, defining communication brings us closer to our final definition of knowledge itself. Communication is the transmission of facts, except that the original information is copied instead of moved. For example, if I read from a textbook that the sky is blue, the textbook still has that information after I read it.

To further break down the definition of communication, it is necessary to regard the two verbs used in the above definition. The exchange of information is a two way path; I tell you something, you tell me something. A basic example of this would be a conversation. On the other hand, the imparting of information is a one-way transfer. An example of this would be reading a book, where you receive information but send none back.

Another important method of imparting information is somewhat less obvious. Unlike a book, the environment around us does not always have facts displayed in written format. Despite this, humans still manage to acquire information from the natural world. How this happens can be thought of in two different ways: either humans take information from concrete objects, or concrete objects give information to humans. Whichever one is true is irrelevant for this definition, because either way it is a one way transfer of information from the environment to humans.

Definition #3: Entity

an entity is a thing with distinct and independent existence;

Image taken from upload.wikimedia.org and used under Creative Commons License.

An entity, quite simply is something that exists. Whether physical, mental, concrete, or abstract, an entity is something. Almost synonymous to “thing”, the word entity is simply used to describe the independence of some type of object. This term was mostly included in the argument to provide clarity for the definition of a conscious being.

Definition #4: Conscious Being

a conscious being is an entity that maintains self-awareness, responds to stimuli, and acquires information;

Defining consciousness remains an enormous issues for philosophers, scientists, and psychologists alike. Simply put, no-one can agree what is is. Nonetheless, for brevity’s sake I have created a simplified definition of a conscious being that is satisfactory for the scope of my argument.

The first quality of a conscious being is that it maintains self-awareness. In other words, it knows that is exists and is distinctly separate from other entities. Human are organisms that exhibit this quality, though primates and other animals may also posses complete of incomplete versions of self-awareness. The importance of this quality is that it separates humans from computers and other entities that may have the other two required properties.

The second quality of a conscious being is that it responds to stimuli. Philosopher Rubert Van Gulick restates this as “[a creature] capable of sensing and responding to its world”. This means that a conscious being changes, and perhaps adapts to differing environments and situations. Many non-conscious beings also exhibit this trait, but it is still an important attribute for a conscious being to have.

The third quality of a conscious being is that it acquires information. This quality is almost included in the previous property, but is still an important distinction for a conscious being. Something that is conscious must be able to use some form of sensory system to acquire and possess knowledge, whether from their physical environment or from elsewhere.


knowledge is the communication of information where at least one of the communicating entities is a conscious being.

The key of this statement is that one of the communicating entities must be a conscious being. This is what separates information from knowledge. If two computers are exchanging data, they are transferring information. It can be though of like this:

information is the basic facts, whereas;

knowledge is information filtered through consciousness

Because of this, knowledge cannot exist independently of a conscious being. Just like how information depends on concrete objects, knowledge depends on consciousness. Information is always true or false, right or wrong, but because of its dependency on consciousness knowledge is slightly more nuanced. Issues such as belief and justified belief come into effect, demonstrating how knowledge is influenced by the mind that contains it.

What this tells us about knowledge is that it is the humanization of information. Information is objective, but knowledge is the opposite. Just like humans, information is more complex than simply being true or false. Knowledge’s subjectivity could be considered the root of all human conflict. For if there was no knowledge, just unbiased information, wouldn’t that make everything so much simpler?


Floridi, Luciano, “Semantic Conceptions of Information”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/information-semantic/>.

Van Gulick, Robert, “Consciousness”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/consciousness/>.



Mathematical Platonism: Have Some Delicious Pi

Platonism about mathematics (or mathematical platonism) is the metaphysical view that there are abstract mathematical objects whose existence is independent of us and our language, thought, and practices.

Øystein Linnebo, Platonism in the Philosophy of Mathematics

In my previous blog post, I wrote at length about what numbers are (and consequently, whether my math homework exists or not). Unsurprisingly, I was not the first philosopher to ponder the properties of mathematical objects. The inspiration for the theory of mathematical Platonism dates back to Plato and his Theory of Forms, as one can infer from the name of the theory.

However, mathematical Platonism is not directly derived from Plato’s Theory of Forms; instead, many of its principles are based upon the work of the 19th-20th century mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege. Frege’s works have been adapted and intertwined with similar ideas, and an modern expert in the field of mathematical Platonism is Øystein Linnebo, whose ideas I will be quoting at length in this post.

plato world

Image taken from abyss.uoregon.edu and used/modified under Creative Commons License.

Øystein Linnebo is the author of Platonism in the Philosophy of Mathematics, and he begins by describing three core attributes of the theory:

Mathematical platonism can be defined as the conjunction of the following three theses:

There are mathematical objects.

Mathematical objects are abstract.

Mathematical objects are independent of intelligent agents and their language, thought, and practices.


A decent grasp of these three ideas is essential for an understanding of mathematical Platonism, so I’ll go through them one by one in more detail.



Linnebo starts by referencing some of Frege’s ideas:

The Fregean argument is based on two premises, the first of which concerns the semantics of the language of mathematics:

Classical Semantics.
The singular terms of the language of mathematics purport to refer to mathematical objects, and its first-order quantifiers purport to range over such objects.

Most sentences accepted as mathematical theorems are true (regardless of their syntactic and semantic structure).

These premises are worded in complicated ways, but they boil down to simple logic:

1) Mathematical theorems are true.

2) Mathematical theorems refer to mathematical objects.

3) Therefore, mathematical objects exist.

The article goes into a little more detail (you can read more here), but this is the gist of it.

(Please note that the above logic is not intended to be sound. Instead, it is intended to facilitate the understanding of the idea of existence.)



Abstractness says that every mathematical object is abstract, where an object is said to be abstract just in case it is non-spatiotemporal and (therefore) causally inefficacious . . .

. . . For if these objects had spatiotemporal locations, then actual mathematical practice would be misguided and inadequate, since pure mathematicians ought then to take an interest in the locations of their objects, just as physicists take an interest in the locations of theirs.

The second of the three ideas, abstraction, is much less complicated than existence. If an object is abstract, it does not exist in space-time (also known as the material world). Other entities that are non-spatiotemporal may include ideas, thoughts, and concepts, depending on what philosophical outlook you have.

Abstract objects exist in an abstract world, sometimes thought of as a mirror to our own. This is one area of Platonism and mathematical Platonism differ. While Platonism states that the abstract world in the more fundamental/superior world to our own, mathematical Platonism does not assert this superiority.



Independence says that mathematical objects, if there are any, are independent of intelligent agents and their language, thought, and practices . . .

. . . had there not been any intelligent agents, or had their language, thought, or practices been different, there would still have been mathematical objects.

The last of the three ideas, independence, is perhaps the simplest idea of the three. Independence states that mathematical entities are more than a human construct, and that they exist independently of us. This means that they were discovered by humans instead of created by humans, which is an important distinction. What independence implies is that (if they exist), other conscious entities would also discover mathematics in a similar way to us, or at least the basic concepts would be the same.


Image taken from pixabay.com and used/modified under Creative Commons License.

To summarize, mathematical Platonism states that mathematical objects (such as 3 and π) exist, are non-spatiotemporal, and were discovered as opposed to created by humans. This theory for the explanation of the existence of mathematical objects makes the most sense to me – for as I discussed in my earlier blog post, numbers don’t really exist in the physical world (space-time). Five fingers are material objects and so are five sheep, but does five itself exist materially in the same manner? This theory offers what I see to be sound explanations for the properties of mathematical entities, helping to lay the foundations for the entire field of mathematics.



Does Math Homework Even Exist?


Image taken from upload.wikimedia.org and modified under Creative Commons License.

Almost every culture on Earth has developed some form of number systemArabic numerals are one of the most popular today, but there are countless alternatives; the Romans used Roman numerals, the Egyptians had a special set of characters, and the Babylonians counted in base 60!

The concept of having a certain amount of things has sprung up all around the world in hundreds of independent peoples, from the Inuit of Northern Canada to the natives of Australia. It’s easy to see the usefulness of being able to communicate exactly how much food you have or how many wolves are chasing you, but it still raises an important question:

What is a number?

Like most things in philosophy, the dictionary definition doesn’t help us much. According to Merriam-Webster, a number is a “word or symbol that represents a specific amount or quantity.” Well, we knew that much already.

Perhaps a better question would be: Is a number a physical object?

Referring back to the dictionary definition of a number, a number represents a certain amount of something. It can represent anything from the quantity of atoms in a glass of water (something inherently material) to the amount of thoughts you have in a day (perhaps something not-so-material). The similarity between these examples is that they are both cases of a number representing something else.

Maybe we should refine our question even further: Can a number materially exist without representing something else?

To help answer that, I pose a question to the reader: What is five? Perhaps you think of the Arabic numeral 5, or the Roman numeral V, or something more material such as holding up five fingers. The problem with all of these answers is that they are all represented in some way by five. The numerals are simply symbols that mean five (they aren’t five itself), and the fingers are directly represented by five. This leads us to conclude that a number cannot physically exist without representing something else.

So, let’s modify our question once more: Is a number a thing?

This is a little more tricky. We know that a number alone is not a material thing, but that does not necessarily mean it is not a thing at all. The property of being a thing is not limited to physical objects – aren’t thoughts things? Isn’t consciousness a thing? Isn’t nothing a thing? A thing can be an idea – so it that what a number is? An idea?


Pi is a mathematical constant and an irrational number. Is it really only an idea?

Now we can rewrite our question for a final time: Is a number an idea?

We’ve concluded that a number IS a thing, but is NOT a material thing. That only leaves us with one conclusion: if a number is a thing but is not a material thing, a number must be an immaterial thing. Concept or idea or whatever you want to call it, numbers exist inside our minds. We create them and use them to further our communication skills and our understanding of the world around us, and they are an vital part of our everyday lives. Every computer program is a collection of 0s and 1s, and mathematical formulae govern countless aspects of our daily routines. We take numbers and we apply them to the world around us, but numbers themselves are not material. Why would they be?




Encryption Conniption: Privacy and Security in a Digital World


Image taken from http://upload.wikimedia.org/ and used under Creative Commons License.

Recently, Apple and Google have come under fire from several police and law organizations over their use of encryption on smartphones. With the release of iOS 8, Apple wrote on their privacy page that

 “On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode. Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data.” (Source)

Understandably, organizations such as the FBI have denounced this data protection, protesting that services like this place users “beyond the law”. Ironically, going “beyond the law” has been exactly what the NSA’s data collection program has recently discovered to have been doing, which is part of the cause for recent privacy and security developments such as this.

Other government organizations have responded even more strongly that the FBI. The Chief of Detectives for Chicago’s police department, John J. Escalante, has even gone so far as to state that

“Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile.” (Source)

This is an unusual argument, and to help understand it better I have broken it down into its different pieces:

  • Premise 1: Pedophiles are in want of products that do not allow outside parties to see their data.
  • Premise 2:  Apple phones are products that do not allow outside parties to see their users data.
  • Conclusion: Apple phones are going to become the phone of choice for the pedophile.

Let’s go through each part in-depth to determine whether the argument is true, valid, and/or sound.

  • Premise 1: While this premise makes somewhat of a sweeping generalization about pedophiles, it still appears to hold true. It makes logical sense that those who commit crimes and do not want to be punished for their crimes would purchase products that conceal their potentially incriminating data from outside parties.
  • Premise 2: At this point in time the premise seems to be true, as shown by Apple’s privacy page. However, there is no knowing if this may change in the future.

At this point, we can infer that this argument is factually correct because all of its premises are true (note: just because an argument is factually correct does not mean that its conclusion is true, only its premises).

Well, what about the conclusion?

This is where the argument falls through. The conclusion does not follow from the premises, so the argument is invalid. Let me explain why.

The conclusion relies on a large assumption not present in the premises:

  • Note: This argument states that “Apple phones are going to become the phone of choice for the pedophile.” If something is the “anything of choice”, it is distinguished from other choices in some way. In this case, possible distinguishments could be availability of options or perhaps quality. This leads to the assumption below.
  • Assumption: Apple Phones are the distinguished (i.e. only or best) option for encrypted data and communications.
  • This is obviously wrong: there are countless products and services that offer encrypted data and communications. It is wrong to assume that Apple Phones are the only options in this area. In fact, they may not even be the best choice – there are many other choices such as open-source encrypted messenger surespot and encrypted data service spideroak (note: the author of this article does not assert the authenticity of these services – use at own risk).
  •  The conclusion of this argument relies on this assumption, and as this assumption is false, the conclusion is also false.

So, the argument is invalid – is that it then? Not quite.

Arguments such as this about criminals using encryption are outdated. Yes, criminals use encryption, but so do everyday citizens (and the government, for that matter). Encryption may conceal evidence from the government, but so do walls. Encryption and walls alike protect the privacy of individuals, and just because criminal use is a possibility does not mean they should be scrapped. We have a right to privacy, and it should not be thrown aside.




What is Philosophy? : Understanding Understanding


There’s my definition. Done. End of the line. Nothing else to see. You can stop reading right here, click off this page and go about the rest of your day.


. . .


Some would consider starting a blog post with the conclusion anticlimactic, while others would think it insane. Who would bother to read on when they already have the answer they came here for? Normally I would agree that perhaps starting with the conclusion is a not so splendid idea, but for this question I think I’ll make an exception. The question itself is paradoxical anyway; how can I answer “What is philosophy?” in a non-philosophical manner, and how can I address it in a philosophical manner without knowing what philosophy is? In this one scenario, mixing things up seems like a logical response to a paradoxical issue, if such a response exists.


So as you may have picked up, instead of starting with an idea and ending with a definition, in this post I’ll flip everything around. I’ll start with a definition, and over the course of the post I’ll break the definition down into pieces and explain how I got to each piece and what each piece means to me. Without any further ado…


Piece 1: Fundamental Understanding

With all that rambling you may have already forgotten what my definition was (I don’t blame you, that was quite a lot of rambling), so I would suggest popping back up to the top of the post for a quick refresher. The second part of my definition is of particular importance for this piece, especially the words “fundamental human understanding”. What could I possibly mean by that?

To me, fundamental understanding is different than understanding what type of food an apple is (a fruit!), or how a rocket works (science!). Those comprehensions would most likely fall into the scientific domain, not the philosophical one. No, fundamental understanding is the understanding of understanding (or meta-understanding if you prefer). For example, the understanding that an apple is a fruit is built upon the understanding that we know what an apple is, and that understanding is built upon knowing what knowledge is. To clear things up, here’s a personal example of meta-understanding.

1) I have a cat.

2) My cat sometimes scratches the upholstery.

3) I understand that my cat sometimes scratches the upholstery.

4) If I understand the understanding in 3), I might gain insight as to what kind of creature a cat is or why he would do these things. Those fundamental understandings are what the understanding in 3) is built upon.

So what do we do when we have gained this fundamental understanding? What use is it? Well, here’s a more relevant example than the previous one:

1) Society agrees that criminals should be punished.

2) In other words, society has a collective understanding that those who commit crimes should be brought to justice.

3) If we can understand this collective understanding, we could comprehend what our society believes to be criminal behaviour and what code of ethics our society follows. These fundamental understandings could change our current views on how criminals should be treated and potentially rehabilitated.

I feel that this is a vital piece to philosophy because our world is built upon countless scientific, social, moral, and philosophical understandings. By moving from understanding to meta-understanding, I believe that we can delve into important issues far more deeply than ever before.

Piece 2: Strive

“And that is precisely what [philosophers] were mocked for: always pursuing and never attaining.”

Robert Pasnau, “Why not just weigh the fish?”

As we have covered in recent class readings, philosophy is often mocked for its “lack of results”. To me, this seems to be folly. I see philosophy as an ongoing study, one that builds on top of previous work in order to reach new understandings that are relevant to today’s world.

Another reason I believe it to be laughable to mock philosophy for its “lack or results” is because conclusions and understandings may be subjective. To clarify that, here’s another example from my life.

1) I see myself as the “ruler” of my cat, due the the fact that I am physically and mentally superior to him.

2) My cat sees me as his slave, the big thing who feeds him when he is hungry and lavishes him with attention.

Neither of these understandings are wrong; since my cat and I have different viewpoints and backgrounds, it makes sense that our understandings would differ on some key issues. Another common example is how I would perceive a red apple differently from a person who is colourblind; again, neither of us are wrong, we simply have different understandings because of our unique circumstances.

Piece 3: Expansion

To conclude, philosophy serves as a useful tool for the understanding of human ideas new and old. It can benefit society by looking at our basic understandings in a new way, and it can also benefit the individual by helping them understand themselves and their own life.




Philosophers and Super Soakers: Science vs. Philosophy in the Modern Age

“In dismissing philosophy as an antiquated relic of our prescientific past, the scientist is making a very large and dubious assumption: that the abstract methods of philosophy . . . have nothing more to contribute to our developing understanding of the world.”

Robert Pasnau, “Why not just weigh the fish?

During our recent discussions in class, nothing struck me more than the clash between science and philosophy. The idea of an either/or relationship between the two was foreign to me, despite my upbringing as a scientifically minded individual. Previously I had viewed them as two sides of the same coin, one thinking and one doing, the philosopher pondering “Should we?” while the scientist wonders “Can we?”. Though this divide between the fields was new to me, the reason for it was immediately obvious: if philosophy cannot cure cancer or send a human to Mars, what good is it? This begged me to raise the question: Does philosophy have a place in the scientifically driven world of today?

A stereotypical philosopher, languishing in a pit of circular logic.

The hasty answer to this question would be no: if philosophy cannot achieve quantifiable results, then it should be discarded. If you were sick, would you want a doctor trained in medical science or a philosopher by your beside? However, this viewpoint is a short term solution, akin to slapping a bandaid on an injury time and time again instead of dealing with the cause of the problem (in this case, perhaps an awful sense of balance. But I digress.). This “solution” will work for a little while, until eventually the repairs are not cutting it and the whole system must be replaced. This is where philosophy steps in, addressing the human cause of the problem instead of dealing with the results. For example, science may roll out countless drugs for weight loss, but it is philosophy’s job to question whether we should be doing this at all.

Many pieces of post-apocalyptic fiction picture the world in a state of ruin after science has gone too far, unleashing a zombie plague, building hyper-advanced computer AI’s, or creating weapons that could wipe out a continent. In all of these (however unlikely) scenarios, these acclaimed scientists poured their lives into their work, never stepping back and looking upon the potential for wrongdoing and crisis. If every member of our supposed scientific organization had stepped back and thought “Hey, maybe this time travel device/weapon of mass destruction/sentient AI isn’t such a good idea.”, the post-apocalypticalization (totally a word) of the given fictional world would (likely) never have happened in the first place.

Scientific progress has been benefitting our world for hundreds of years, from building the first telescopes to developing vaccines that have saved millions of lives. Scientific progress is constant, reliable, and always moving forward – yet this is its failure. In its haste to cure cancer, plan a mission to Mars, or (again) build a sentient AI, science fails to consider the ramifications of its actions. This is where philosophy steps in, consider outcomes, potential hazards, and the wisdom of continuing down the current path. While philosophy may not make any quantifiable leaps and bounds, it serves as a leash on science for the betterment of humankind. Without philosophy, science would be forever driven by the question “Can we?” instead of “Should we?”