Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


“Pics or it didn’t happen”

Image via MemeCenter

The mantra of the Instagram era:

Think about the pictures of a horde of tourists assembled in front of the Mona Lisa, their cameras clicking away. It is the most photographed work of art in human history. You can see it in full light, low light, close-up, far away, x-rayed; you can find parodies of parodies of parodies; and yet, seeing it in person and walking away does not suffice. The experience must be captured, the painting itself possessed, a poor facsimile of it acquired so that you can call it your own – a photograph which, in the end, says, I was here. I went to Paris and saw the Mona Lisa. The photo shows that you could afford the trip, that you are cultured, and offers an entrée to your story about the other tourists you had to elbow your way through, the security guard who tried to flirt with you, the incredible pastry you had afterwards, the realisation that the painting really is not much to look at and that you have always preferred Rembrandt. The grainy, slightly askew photo signifies all these things. Most important, it is yours. You took it. It got 12 likes.

This is also the unspoken thought process behind every reblog or retweet, every time you pin something that has already been pinned hundreds of times. You need it for yourself. Placing it on your blog or in your Twitter stream acts as a form of identification – a signal of your aesthetics, a reflection of your background, an avatar of your desires. It must be held, however provisionally and insubstantially, in your hand, and so by reposting it, you claim some kind of possession of it.



Systemic Misogyny or Over-sensitivity?

Screenshot courtesy of the Halifax Journal

Noted copy-paste journalist Margaret Wente has an article this week delving into recent events at Dalhousie’s Dental School, allowing us to return to our discussion from last Friday. Wente takes aim at the notion of “rape culture,” and puts the onus for progress squarely on women’s perceived sense of threat:

How did that happen? How did we create an entire class of highly privileged, mostly affluent young women who feel unsafe on campus, microaggressed at every turn, utterly unable to cope with the garden-variety misdemeanours of boys and men, who have been behaving badly since time began despite our many efforts (most quite successful) to civilize them?

Well, you know the answer. The universities are hothouses for a grievance culture that sees racism, sexism and misogyny under every rug. Many of the faculty derive their livelihoods from it. These institutions have constructed increasingly elaborate codes of conduct and large administrative apparatuses to detect and uproot these evils, however subtle and invisible they may be to ordinary people.

In Macleans, Anne Kingston musters a brief but thorough critique of Wente’s dismissal:

Protecting those accused of abusive behaviour is a hallmark of rape culture. So is dismissal of those subject to abuse. We saw it in the hand-wringing after the 2013 conviction  of two teenagers for brutally raping a young girl in Steubenville, Ohio.CNN, for one, fretted how the young men “had such promising futures, star football players, very good students,” not for a moment considering how the assaults might affect the victim’s future. In a similar vein, Wente praised the dentistry students who joked about drugging and sexually assaulting women as “decent people.” If she had a daughter in the class, she writes, the first thing she’d ask her was: “What are these guys like in person? Are they disrespectful pigs or are they decent people? (The answer, evidently, is that they are decent people.)” What evidence she marshalled to conclude the group is anything but “disrespectful pigs” is unclear. The fact they’re enrolled in a professional school? The fact they knew their posts were offensive, and then scrambled to cover up when they were about to be exposed? Equally unclear is why their actions in private shouldn’t be a more significant marker of character than their public personae—a lesson learned in the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.  If these students were decent people, they would come forward with an abject apology. They haven’t. Which means that if anyone needs a retrograde lecture on how to “man up,” it’s them.

Whether you are swayed by either of the pieces, they can be seen to broadly sketch out two fundamental planks of the argument over systemic misogyny and the ‘rape culture’ we discussed last week.

Based on the above readings, a few questions:

  • What do you feel are the merits of these two arguments?
  • Similarly, where do you feel that either of the arguments is vulnerable or weakly articulated?
  • Have you seen others make either case better?
  • Are there further perspectives that these two essays may be leaving out?

As ever, I’d be curious to hear from you in the comments.



Art can show us what’s wrong with our Planet

Image courtesy of Nautilus Mag

With our unit on Aesthetics leading us into the winter break, our philosophers may enjoy this tour of curated art installations that call the human species to take note of the degradation taking place in the natural world:

Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction—the first in 66 million years, and it’s caused primarily by human activity. Scientists first detected this epochal event by calculating diversity in our forests and taking the temperature of our atmosphere, and they now outline steps we must take to deter the grim global prognosis. Engineers, following suit, havesuggested ways to change human industry to reduce our footprint and try to soften the damage done. Ideally, politicians react, too, transforming scientific insight into Earth-friendly leadership.

But what’s the part of the professional painter or sculptor? In the presence of environmental anxiety, what can the artist do?

In the 1960s, just as Rachel Carson was publishing her landmark book Silent Spring—often referred to as the catalyst of the environmental movement—a new kind of visual art sprung to life. Through art created in outdoor environments rather than the white walls of a studio, “ecological artists” sought to illuminate the most serious environmental issues of their time. They revealed often-ignored details of the world with unorthodox mediums like graffiti, planted fields, and even mountains. Here are some lessons that their ecological artworks have bared about our planet in flux.



“Every philosopher is a child of his time…”

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

While the balance of this article might come more clearly into focus as we approach social-political philosophy and ethics, the opening paragraph offers an interesting perspective for our epistemological consideration:

At the beginning of the nineteenth century Hegel wrote that every philosopher is a child of his time and none can jump over his own shadow: every philosophy, then, is “its time grasped in a concept.” In the twentieth century Adorno took up this idea again when he spoke of the irreducible “kernel of time” embedded in the center of any philosophical view, and of the “temporal index” of truth. Whatever these rather difficult doctrines mean, they clearly are not intended to imply that at any given time all opinions are equally true.

Here are Hegel’s own words translated to English, from the preface to Elements of the Philosophy of Right:

To apprehend what is is the task of philosophy, because what is is reason. As for the individual, every one is a son of his time; so philosophy also is its time apprehended in thoughts. It is just as foolish to fancy that any philosophy can transcend its present world, as that an individual could leap out of his time or jump over Rhodes. If a theory transgresses its time, and builds up a world as it ought to be, it has an existence merely in the unstable element of opinion, which gives room to every wandering fancy.

How do you interpret Hegel’s thinking above? Do you agree that “every one is a son of his time”? Of that “it is just as foolish to fancy that any philosophy can transcend its present world”?



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.



Belief without Basis

In researching support for my topic (the dimensions of consciousness) I came to two realizations quite quickly. First, there is a ton of dialogue and claims that support this theory, from philosopher Terence Mckenna to comedian Jim Carrey, BUT there is basically no scientific facts or evidence in this field. Damn. Second, the material speaks for itself; there isn’t a lot I can say but present what I’ve found and leave it up to interpretation.

Sidenote: Your interpretation will be biased by your culture and as an extension of that your conditioning, ideology, or (as Mckenna would have said) your boundaries. Just though I’d point that out.

Lets start with Jim Carrey…

“Niagras [rivers/pools] of beauty are flowing by untapped from ordinary consciousness.”

-Terence Mckenna

In class (and Kevin’s post) we’ve talked about what makes us US. The most popular idea presented was: a little nature for the basics and nurture for the rest (our culture, past experiences, and childhood upbringing). Mckenna would argue that these factors have limited our minds/awareness/consciousness. He encourages people to break out of this; he calls that boundary dissolution.

“Transcend and mistrust ideology. Go for direct experience. Everything else is un-confirmable rumor. Useless. Probably Lies. Liberate yourself from the illusion of culture. Take responsibility in what you think and what you do.”

-Terence Mckenna

He has a very empowering message, but it holds a lot of practical value. Take the world around you with a grain of salt. If you desire something, information lets say, then it’s up to you to seek and experience that. Ultimately, it will be up to you to interpret it. Never take word as scripture. Mckenna argues that language is extremely limiting as of now, but is actually the tool we must develop in order to progress.


“The only experience which counts is your own experience”

-Terence Mckenna

I’ve been researching this all day, and I intend to continue doing so tonight and into the future, but It’s not all going to fit into this blog post so lets stop here. I’ll leave you with this:

We have lost touch with our moral compass, because we have lost touch with our gayan mind. The gayan intent is an act of feeling. If we could feel what we are doing we would stop. We are trapped by society, materialism, culture. If we could feel we could be awakened to the mystery of each other.



Normal – a Fictitious Concept

“The normal does not exist. The average does not exist. We know only a very large but probably finite phalanx of discrete space-time events encountered and endured.”

Timothy F.X. Finnegan


What is it to be normal, does normality exist?

As a society we have rules and codes to follow. We have certain ways to view things; certain ideas of what is politically correct and ethically okay. We, as a society have a strong belief in normality. The word normal can be defined as the usual, average, or typical state or condition. What exactly is the usual, average or typical state of condition? How can we measure the usual? How often does something need to occur for it to become a typical state or condition?

Our society is run by its belief that everyone should behave and act a certain way. If they don’t conform to that behavior society may reject them, and they are labeled as “strange” and “abnormal”.

However, normal does not exist.

Humans are diverse, we are all different in some way or another so how can you classify us all into a spectrum of norm? This idea of normality is about unquestionable measures of reality and conformity. Humans can be unpredictable, but we try to remove the unpredictability by creating predictable behavior to create guidelines for acceptance and by doing so, we invent the norm.

Just as we create the norm, we prove that it cannot truly exist. There are many different cultures around the world that all have their own ways of living, their own beliefs and their own traditions. Cultures can contradict each other; they can be very different from one another. So how can we label any one of them as “normal” when they are all so different? Recall, the definition of normal is the usual, average, or typical state. If we were to calculate the averages of different beliefs of culture, we would end up with classifying cultures like those that exist in Asia as the norm purely because they have the highest population of people who follow that structure. Is then every other culture abnormal? Do we then have the right to say that no other culture is right except for the one with the highest average of followers?

Social norms are different around the world. For example, if I were to go to store in Canada not wearing shoes than I would be kicked out, because here the norm is “no shoes, no shirt no service.” However, if I went to a store in my home country, South Africa, without shoes people would not even notice; it would not a big deal in the slightest for people do it all the time.

An objective society is impossible to create.  Never will every mind agree with every other mind. What is real depends upon our values, and these values depend upon our personality and our experience. If there is a disagreement between society and an individual how do you determine who is right? If you ask one hundred people a simple question worded the exact same way every time no two individuals will respond exactly the same way.

How can normal exist when no two people are alike? Psychological diversity is a fact of life and so there cannot be a ‘normal’ person.

The craving to be normal is the craving to be average, it stems from the need that each individual has to be accepted and welcomed in their society. Be that as it may, the word in its literal meaning cannot exist. There can never be anything that is truly normal for there can never be any two things that are truly and exactly identical.




Diversity in Philosophy

We’ve spoken a little in #Philosophy12 this semester about the propensity of texts and teachers to rely on the roots of Western (and often male-centric) philosophers to form the basis of our understanding on the subject of knowledge, something we will likely address as we move toward epistemology this semester. However, the discussion has come about in our classroom in years past with respect to the search for female metaphysicians:

This tweet [to the left] started a ball rolling that saw me sending a late-at-night email to MIT Philosophy professor Sally Haslanger about why there weren’t any female Metaphysicians listed on Wikipedia’s List of Metaphysicists [Note: the page has since been updated to reflect our question.]. Sally was gracious enough to email me back the following morning, asking if she might “share your question with some of my female metaphysician friends?”

Which gave way to a conversation that began in room 111 – and on #ds106radio – showing up on this blog, moderated at least in part by Berit Brogaard:

Bryan Jackson recently wrote to Sally Haslanger to ask why there were no women on the list of metaphysicians on wikipedia. Sally shared this very good question with a few philosophers who have been interested in similar questions. After some discussion via email Sally started revising the entry. I have no idea how to revise wiki entries or what the rules are for making revisions, but I strongly encourage wiki-tech-y people to make further improvements to the list.

This week, GNA rekindled this conversation by passing along this essay by Concordia professor Justin E. H. Smith on “Philosophy’s Western Bias“:

The goal of reflecting the diversity of our own society by expanding the curriculum to include non-European traditions has so far been a tremendous failure. And it has failed for at least two reasons. One is that non-Western philosophy is typically represented in philosophy curricula in a merely token way. Western philosophy is always the unmarked category, the standard in relation to which non-Western philosophy provides a useful contrast. Non-Western philosophy is not approached on its own terms, and thus philosophy remains, implicitly and by default, Western. Second, non-Western philosophy, when it does appear in curricula, is treated in a methodologically and philosophically unsound way: it is crudely supposed to be wholly indigenous to the cultures that produce it and to be fundamentally different than Western philosophy in areas like its valuation of reason or its dependence on myth and religion.  In this way, non-Western philosophy remains fundamentally “other.”

It is my hope that in our current semester of philosophical inquiry, we move beyond this inclination toward ‘tokenism,’ and delve into different traditions of knowing beyond those dominant here on the western shores of North America.

I am curious though:

  • How have others confronted this problem of modern philosophy?
  • Are there in-born limitations in trying to comprehend cultural norms too far outside of our own?
  • What attitudes, approaches or processes might help challenge us to move beyond our own cultural perspectives?




Epistemology Discussion: History of Knowledge 11.06.13

With pencast notes provided by Julie and the Livescribe pen.



Saving Art from Itself

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 1.51.49 PM

Greetings and Happy New Year, Philosophers!

I wanted to share a few links and the Conan joke above as a follow-up to our conversation today about the value, purpose and nature of art and beauty.

I saw this article recently in Slate Magazine, “Why the Art World is So Loathsome,” and I think it might provide a jumping off point for those of you wishing to take your pursuits during this week’s study of Aesthetics toward the more modern. I thought this laundry list of complaints about modern art might offer an opportunity to recalibrate and state what we might deem as art’s redeeming purpose, or necessity.

Freud said the goals of the artist are fame, money, and beautiful lovers. Based on my artist acquaintances, I would say this holds true today. What have changed, however, are the goals of the art itself. Do any exist?

How did the art world become such a vapid hell-hole of investment-crazed pretentiousness? How did it become, as Camille Paglia has recently described it, a place where “too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber”?

The Slate piece links to another article that posits a solution to the dire situation that will no doubt entice at least one of our face to face participants:

For the arts to revive in the U.S., young artists must be rescued from their sanitized middle-class backgrounds. We need a revalorization of the trades that would allow students to enter those fields without social prejudice (which often emanates from parents eager for the false cachet of an Ivy League sticker on the car). Among my students at art schools, for example, have been virtuoso woodworkers who were already earning income as craft furniture-makers. Artists should learn to see themselves as entrepreneurs.