Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Play-Doh and other philosophical things-Benedict Mendes

The concept of Plato’s cave just absolutely messes with my head. When I first looked at it, I thought “Wow those guys are dumb don’t they even know that those are just shadows??”, but really, in the same situation none of us would have thought differently to them. The concept that everything we’re seeing is not really in it’s true form and there is more there than meets the eye is kind of terrifying, because we believe all that we observe to be true, after all, “seeing is believing” -An Old Proverb from somewhere probably. Really, how are we to know that what is before us is real or not? We could be in some kind of simulation, just a creation of some higher singular/plural Thing made for amusement. I mean, personally I don’t blame them though because humans are petty and hilarious, but I digress. But in terms of my interaction with the concept of Plato’s cave, the concept of discovering a world you never knew, there’s one time in my life that comes along.

 

Picture me, at eight years old. My hair was blond, and I was smol and innocent and pure, and also had not yet moved to Canada. Now it’s a little weak to compare the natural ignorance of a small child to the huge concept that is Plato’s cave, but bear with me here. I was a well traveled child, I’d been to Europe and USA and all over South America, but for all those travels I had never actually seen snow. Okay, now imagine telling me, an eight year old living in South America who had never seen snow, that I was MOVING TO CANADA. I was HYPED. I immediately started vividly imagining how I would live. I would get along with the wild life and ride a moose and/or a polar bear to and from school everyday. My family and I would live in a cozy little igloo, our meals consisting purely of maple syrup and poutine. I would ski, or ice skate, everywhere as OBVIOUSLY there would be snow all year round. This was what I thought was actually going to happen, and for some reason no one really contested this misguided knowledge so I just continued happily believing whatever. Now, it was kind of an opposite thing to Plato’s cave, where instead of being amazed and confounded by what I found, it was more of a huge disappointment. When I landed in Toronto, the snow part of my fantasies was instantly fulfilled as it was the middle of March and extremely cold. Oh also I didn’t think it would be freezing for some reason. Now, the disappointment started when I did not see a SINGLE MOOSE OR POLAR BEAR for the entirety of the time when I was in Ontario. It was very anticlimactic really, I went out into the snow and just thought to myself “Wow it’s cold here this sucks” and continued to be disappointed from then on. But, poutine and maple syrup were certainly real things so I was excited to, for the first time ever, try these foreign foods for the very first time. To make a potentially long story short, I don’t like poutine and prefer Aunt Jemima to any kind of maple syrup, so needless to say I was yet again disappointed with this grand new world I was being introduced to. Of course, since then I have come to terms with my early on misjudgement and disappointment with Canada, and have come to realize it’s pretty great all around. But for eight year old me, it was like being led from the glorious outside into Plato’s Cave.

 

Since then I have of course discovered much more about this half-decent place called Canada, and I really love it here. My life here is more than it ever could have been back home, so really even though I was led into Plato’s Cave, I’ve made my own way out and learned to appreciate and be in awe of all that I have before me. And of course, as for my friends back in South America I do not hesitate to tell them of the glory of Canada.

 

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Logic Assignment Introduction

Logic Lane, Oxford

Photo of Logic Lane at Oxford by Andy Hough on Flickr.

As we move into our unit on logic, the face-to-face participants in Philosophy 12 have been reading about the Basic Concepts of Logic (pdf), which may be defined as “the science of reasoning.” Delving into statements, premises, propositions, as well as truth, validity and soundness, our hope is to greet the weekend with a host of blogged examples of logical arguments in their natural habitat. In past years, the tasks around logic have involved a similar feat of strength, and participants have generated multiple examples of logical arguments and tested them for form and content. Occasionally this has sparked interesting discussions of both the merits of this or that argument, the cultural implications (or origins) of such thinking, and by amending the unit assignment this week hopefully we will see more of this type of discourse emerging around our logical examples.

The Assignment 

  • Summarize and describe an example of a logical argument you have uncovered in a variety of settings: current events, popular media, personal anecdotes or hypothetical thought experiments. Be sure to include enough back-story for people unfamiliar with the milieu of your example to digest the logic at work, and provide links, video, or attached materials so that your audience can follow up or extend their inquiry into your example with ease.
  • Dissect the argument and its form by representing it as a syllogism.
  • Evaluate the argument for Truth, Validity and Soundness and explain your judgements.
  • Reflect upon the origins or implications of your selected argument. Where does it (or others like it) come from (in society, culture, etc)? What are the consequences of the conclusion drawn, or from the argument being framed in this way?

Post your example on the class site no later than Tuesday morning, and be sure to include the proper Category: Logic and Scientific Philosophy.

For your reference and preparation, here is an example of a response to this assignment:

Prime Ministerial Logic 

Image via Transitions, an Advocate for Sociological Inquiry

Following the discovery of Tina Fontaine’s murdered body in the Red River, in August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced reinvigorated calls to launch a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada. On the heels of reports from the special rapporteur to the United Nations, as well as the RCMP, which each discovered that aboriginal women in Canada face significantly higher rates of violence than non-aboriginals, Harper’s federal Conservative Government continued to reject pressure to better understand the root causes of this trend. The Prime Minister himself stated that “we should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as a crime.”

The Prime Minister’s statement might be seen as an argument broken down to the following premises and conclusion:

Premise 1: The murder or abduction of aboriginal women is a crime.

Premise 2: Crime is not a sociological phenomenon.

Premise 3: A federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women would rely on sociological practices of inquiry.

Conclusion: Therefore, a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women would not address crimes against aboriginal women.

By evaluating the various premises’ truth and/or accuracy, we might be able to reveal the soundness of the Prime Minister’s argument.

  • Premise 1 can easily be accepted as true.
  • Premise 2 can be more easily contested, as the study of criminology itself is a branch of sociological inquiry. While it is the government’s prerogative to define and combat crime in terms it was elected to uphold, practitioners in the fields of both sociology and criminology would likely contest the Prime Minister’s assertion that “crime is not a sociological phenomenon.”
  • Premise 3 can be seen to be true, as an inquiry into the trend of murdered and missing aboriginal women would “study social behaviour, its origins, development, organization, and institutions,” which Wikipedia defines as sociology.

As we can see, the flaw in the Prime Minister’s argument is contained in Premise number two, and damages the conclusion reached. While the argument’s form may be valid, an error in its content damages both the truth of its premises and the soundness of the conclusion.

The origins of the Prime Minister’s logic are difficult to trace, though they might be seen in the political ideology of Neoliberalism. Writing in the Toronto Star, Jakeet Singh noted that the Prime Minister’s remarks were

“clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems.”

The effects of this logic being brought to bear on crime and punishment in Canada can be similarly difficult to witness (somewhat ironically even, as the evidence to be found would reside within the sorts of sociological inquiries the Prime Minister is denying). However, Singh’s article describes the casualties of Mr. Harper’s ideology as our societal ability to perceive and confront injustice. “You see,” he writes, “Sociologists often differentiate between “personal injustices” and “systemic” or “structural injustices.” Personal injustices can be traced back to concrete actions of particular individuals (perpetrators). These actions are often willful, and have a relatively isolated victim.”

Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”

By refusing to view crime as a sociological phenomenon, those accepting the Prime Minister’s argument do so within a broader context which should trouble those who believe in our collective responsibility for one another’s well-being. “When we paint all social problems as individual problems with individual solutions,” Singh writes, “we also lose any sense of the social responsibility, rather than personal responsibility, that we need to address them.”

 

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A Man of Our Time

Ted Honderich is not one of those larger-than-life philosophers we can only read about in books. He is a man of the modern era, born in 1933 in a small Ontario village. Raised by devoutly religious Mennonite and Calvinist parents, the questions of existence – why are we here and what does it mean to be here? – plagued him, setting him on philosophy as his life’s path.

Still, not being of Ancient Greece or Imperial Germany doesn’t mean he isn’t a real philosopher. Honderich has attempted to provide answers to some of the most deeply rooted questions of all Western philosophy, theorizing on determinism and free will, the nature of consciousness, and the morality of terrorism. It is this last idea that has gotten Honderich in so much trouble. In face of Neo-Zionist Israeli expansionism and ethnic cleansing since 1968 war, Honderich claims, Palestinians had a moral right to resist with international terrorism. That assertion by Honderich – who married a Jewish woman, has Jewish children, and publicly supports  Israel’s right to exist – has earned him plentiful accusations of anti-semitism, leading to some of his lectures being well-attended by riot police to head off any potential violence. And who says philosophy can’t be interesting?

Honderich in the flesh

Still, his ideas on politics notwithstanding, what interests me most are his ideas on metaphysics; specifically, determinism. While I will go into more depth during our presentation, what it essentially boils down to is this: traditionally, deterministic philosophers divide into two camps, those who believe determinism is reconcilable with free will, and those who do not.  Honderich favoured a third way – while, I’ll admit, I don’t really understand what it is in the slightest. It focuses less on the explicit meaning of determinism than on its consequences; that is, it seeks to avoid the state of dismay we feel if we truly accept determinism, by combining the idea that everything is predetermined by past events with the idea that we can shape our own future when we have an idea of what we want that future to look like. Or something.

As you might have realized, I’m not quite sure what Honderich is trying to say, but I hope I eventually do – I’ve long been fascinated by determinism(though without realizing that was what it was), and the idea that events are in fact totally caused by those that have come before – and that, by extension, a being with complete omniscience could entirely reasonably be able to predict everything about tomorrow simply by virtue of knowing everything about today. It plays into our common cultural notion of fate – the idea that something, be it love, a chance meeting, or some tragedy is simply ‘the way it was meant to be’. Whether or not this is true, and the implications of that answer, play into the very meaning of what it is to live.

Even if I can’t quite make out what Honderich’s philosophy is trying to say – yet – he is a modern philosopher well worth studying – if not for the philosophy, then for the controversy, for the riot police, and for his scandal plagued past(think university professor and undergraduates). Stay tuned!

Follow me on Twitter: @LiamTheSaint

 

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Political Proofs

The Conservative Party stands for fiscal responsibility and accountability.

The Liberal Party opposes the Conservative Party.

Therefore, the Liberal Party opposes fiscal responsibility and accountability.

First of all, is this syllogism true? Some would argue that the first premise is incorrect; that is, the Conservative Party does not stand for fiscal responsibility and accountability. While I would agree that it is most certainly not those things(responsibly and accountable), others would say the opposite; but at any rate, it is what they claim to be, and we can conclude that it is, indeed, what they stand for – at least on paper.

Is the second premise true? Yes – while the argument can be made that the Liberal Party does not oppose the Conservatives on everything, they are still opposition, and as such, oppose.

But is it valid? This question rests upon the definition of the word ‘opposes’. When you oppose something, do you oppose everything to do with it, everything it says and does? Or can you support something sometimes while still generally opposing it? Take this equation:

Oppose * (A whole)

Oppose * (Individual parts of that whole, which add up to it)

Then we convert the ideas into numbers, taking opposition as a negative number and assigning individual terms different magnitudes of importance.

-1(1 – 2 – 3 + 4 + 5) = -1 + 2 + 3 – 4 – 5 = -5

The result, being negative, indicates that on the whole the feelings toward something remain opposition. But is each individual part opposed? No – because some terms remain positive, indicating no opposition. What does this mean for our syllogism? That opposition to a whole does not necessitate opposition to all its component parts – and thus, this syllogism is invalid and unsound.

Follow me on Twitter: @LiamtheSaint

 

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Your Argument Is Valid, But Lacks Truth

All Canadians live in igloos. I am Canadian, therefore I live in an igloo.

The premises would be that I am Canadian and that Canadians live in igloos. The conclusion would be that I live in an igloo, because I’m Canadian. In this case, Canadians would be the middle term, the fact that Canadians live in igloos would be the predicate term and I would be the subject term.

This statement is valid, however the statement is not sound because the premise that all Canadians live in igloos is untrue.

 
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