Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Questions: Teacherless Discussions & Leaderless Movements

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“The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics,” he writes, “the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

Paulo Freire 

Today the face-to-face philosophy crowd discussed scientific philosophy and the question of whether science itself can be considered objective. It was the group’s second attempt at facilitating its own ‘teacherless discussion’ and constructing collective knowledge on a topic (I reflected on the first discussion in a post here), and wanted to take the opportunity this weekend to foster some dialogue around the nature of such ‘leaderless’ collaborations.

Whether you were a participant in today’s discussion or not, there are a number of factors which limit or inspire individuals’ capacity to contribute to such democratic processes. Possessing prior knowledge, being able to act within previously-decided roles and responsibilities (teacher-student-expert, etc), peer relationships and even the physical arrangement of the discussion environment play a part in whether a social process meets its goals or not. So I arrive here this afternoon with a few questions, chiefly for today’s classroom participants, but potentially those beyond, about how these processes unfold.

So with respect to today’s discussion, but potentially including other similar experiences with democratic group processes, I am curious to hear:

  • Are there aspects of discussion which benefit from a lack of predetermined structure? What are they?
    • Or, are there benefits to formalizing or organizing a group in certain traditional ways, for example, designating a leader, prescribing topics or areas of expertise, capturing or introducing different ideas in progress?
  • What is difficult about engaging with a ‘leaderless’ discussion or group process?
  • What causes the discussion or group task to wander, or lose sight of its purpose, or sees people disengage?
    • What causes you to take your phone out, or to chat (off-topic) with a neighbour, or daydream?
  • What is happening in a discussion or group task when you are particularly engaged?
    • When is a discussion at its most productive?
      • And, what constitutes a ‘productive’ discussion?
  • How do we ensure full (or the fullest possible) participation of group members?

Part of what I am after within my role as a teacher in philosophy is bringing about an educational experience that allows for the rehearsal of skills required to bring about a constructivist vision of knowledge. In other words, a classroom dynamic that doesn’t rely solely on input and momentum created by me. The sort of passive consumption which comes from a teacher-led educational processes can lead to a kind of helplessness we might see exemplified in our apathetic democratic states and lack of social accountability for a host of laments many of us have about broader ‘society.’

With careful reflection on the above questions, and by sharing your thoughts with as specific examples or points as possible, we might work toward a clearer focus in our discussions going forward as a group.

Thanks for your input!

 

 

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Discussion: Multiculturalism, Social Darwinism and the Project of Democracy

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Today’s final Ethics Discussion, introduced by Julie, Aman and Emily here:

 

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Ethics Discussion: Privacy, Piracy, State Power, Citizenship & the Ethics of Voting 12.09.13

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A grab-bag of discussion topics centering around the ethics of democracy. Background on each of the topics covered provided in original posts collected here:

 

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Ethics Discussion Schedule & Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online Piracy – by Dylan A. Cassidy P.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HALF A YEAR.

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

Capital Punishment – by Tyler L. and Leon C.

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

Safe Injection Sites – Ashley A. and Sophie T.

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

Economics, Inequality & Enlightenment – by Mr. J

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

 

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Democracy’s Pillar of Support – Greg and Stephanie

“Democracy means a system of government in which all the people of a country can vote to elect their representatives. Media came into existence in 1780 with the introduction of a newspaper namely The Bengal Gazette and since then it has matured leaps and bounds. It has been playing a very important role in shaping human minds.” 

Media plays a crucial role in shaping a healthy democracy. “Media is the backbone of every democracy.” Media makes us aware of various social, political and economical activities happening around the world. It’s like a mirror, which shows us the bare truth and harsh realities of life.  It has undoubtedly evolved and become more active over the years through magazines, television, and even some cartoons! It is the media only who reminds politicians about their crooked promises at the time of elections. News channels produce excessive coverage during elections to help people in electing the right person to the power. This reminder compels politicians to keep their promises so that they can remain in power.

The media also exposes loopholes in the democratic system, which ultimately helps government in filling the vacuums of those loopholes and making a system more accountable, responsive and citizen-friendly. A democracy without media is like a vehicle without wheels.

In the age of technology, we are bombarded with mass amounts of information. Every single information is accessible with just a click of a mouse away. The perfect blend of technology and human resources has not left a single stone un-turned in corruption within politics and society.

The impact of media is really noteworthy. Excessive coverage or hype of sensitive news has led to riots at times. The illiterates are more prone to provocations than the literates. Constant repetition of the news, especially sensational news, leads to a lack of interest. For instance, in the Dhananjoy Chatterjee case, the overloaded hype led to death of quite a few children who imitated the hanging procedure which was repeatedly shown in most of the T.V. news channels. There is an abundance of such negative impacts. Media should take utmost care in airing or publishing such sensational news.

Commercialization has created a stiff competition in media. In order to outdo each other print, media has often gone one step further in publishing articles and covering stories, for example relationships.  Media experts say this is one of the means of attracting readers who are glued to T.V. news channels, and has been deemed as “cheap journalism”.

No one is perfect in this world, and the media is no exception. Not trying to bash the media, but there is still a ton of room for improvement. Media is like a watchdog in a democracy that keeps the government active. From being just an informer it has become a critical part of our daily lives. With the passage of time media has become a more matured and a more responsible entity. The present media revolution has helped people in making an informed decisions and this has led to beginning of a new era in a democracy.

 

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Idealism and Pragmatism – Derek & Jonathan

In analyzing the balance between pragmatism and idealism, we concluded that the most important subject of discussion is the goals of democracy. While we have many different ways to run it, the aim of government is what affects its quality and style the most. As time has progressed, we have seen a dynamic change in the way that we as a society, seek specific goals. As we entered the modern era, we have allowed more room for idealists, and have been awarded then by the goals that we have sought.drawing idealist pragmatist w800

Our modern government today has approached their democracies in a varieties of ways, but these methods can all be encompassed by two major ideas: pragmatism and idealism. The challenge that our governmental system faces today is how to balance these major pillars of ideology.

The direction in which we progress, however, has still been logically and largely pragmatic. This is due to the nature of pragmatic approaches. If we consider pragmatism, which literally means a practical approach, we see that it is simply looking for the best available option. Many issues are solved daily with pragmatism and it has done relatively well so far. Pragmatism, unfortunately, is limited by it’s own definition. When issues are considered in a pragmatic way, whatever changes exacted will be within the current method of thinking. A parochial solution if you will. Not to say pragmatism does not solve problems, but the nature of pragmatism inhibits the growth of idealism and subsequent major developments in the social paradigm.

Idealism is, well, idealistic. To seek an idealistic society is to seek the best possible that the system may offer, regardless of its potentiality. Admittedly, there are many great components to this resolution. An idealist would say that why not seek the best possible options? We must aim for the best, in order to attain the best for the citizens of this planet.

Idealism would also argue that there must be a catalyst, an instigator for change, in order to make the monumental progress that is possible. How could we possibly know what’s possible, if we don’t try? It parallels the ideas of Kuhn in epistemology, as he suggests we challenge the basis of the paradigms we remain trapped in today.

You could say “shoot for the moon and you might just land in the stars”. But a pragmatic approach combats this with a different idea: if you shoot for the moon, you might just end up floating in the middle of space, with nothing accomplished. This is one of the undeniable flaws of idealism, and one of the major points of contention from both sides – what happens when one falls short of the goals presented by idealism? Have they achieved the distance they have covered? Or is it an all-or nothing challenge?

Pragmatists have also challenged the idealists in terms of limitations. Is there a potential limitation to the goals you can seek? One could ask: when do the possibilities of ideals end? Human nature can only conform to the ideals of this world to a certain limit. Mengzi once said that “the great man is the one who does not lose his child’s heart” – this goes on to say that all men are eventually corrupted. If so, this means that an idealistic world cannot exist (or only exists to a certain point). This asks the question: when should we stop searching for a greater society? Is there a point when we have reached the peak of our abilities?

Furthermore, it is important to note that, due to the differing areas in which pragmatism and idealism may be applied, the answer to which is better depends on the questions you ask and the area you wish to broach. Like Quantum Mechanics if you will. You may be considering these two ideas in terms of their social, political, religious or even moral aspects. The plausibility of these two may change significantly depending on what aspect you are looking from.

As seen above, there are many questions to consider when dealing with these two ideas. If they were to be simplified to a select few, these are the most important questions to ask:

1. Should democracy seek idealism or pragmatism?
2. Is there a limit to idealism?
3. Should we treat idealism and pragmatism differently when dealing with unique topics (eg political, social, moral, etc)
4. Is there a balance between idealism and pragmatism? If so, where is it?

 

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Is Democracy “Better” Than the Rest- Yasmeen and Leanne

Plato viewed democracy for its populism, which he believed was nothing more than majority ruling. In democracy, nothing can prevent the majority from punishing an indesirable minority. Regardless of whether modern democracies have protection in place to prevent them, they are still not always precise. Considering that representation is supposed to be about majority vote, it basically means that minority groups can easily get the shaft.

Democracy moves slowly due to debate. Time may pass between the time a population decides a given measure is necssary and when it formally becomes law. The larger democracies get, the more difficult the voting and tallying process becomes. In other words, the larger a system gets, the less realistic it is for each person to voteon a specific decision. Even in very small democracies, there can be a problem with keeping people informed and interested in the issues at hand. Of course, it’s great that the people get to decide and have the freedom to, except for the fact that few have the education or pay enough attention to make an informed decision while voting.

Looking at the government intself, however, due to the fact that parties contain large amounts of people serving when making a decision, federal regulation, law and infrastructure take forever to implement as opposed to dictatorship, where one leader is in charge. In most cases, most democratic representatives move to different ideologies or lobbyist groups, meaning that party policies keep politicians from actually making representative decisions for the public.

Despite all of its imperfections, however, democracy is favoured over other systems of government because it is seen as fair and allows the general population to have a say in what is made into law and who is in government. Changes in government occur without the need of violence,  because at the end of every election term, the ruling party must compete against the others for power, preventing one party from dominating. The electoral campaining system allows members of society to know who and what they are voting for, and representative democracy ensures that the voices of the constituents are heard (to a certain degree.) In democracy, as opposed to communism where the wealth is redistributed so that every person is given equal shares of the benefits, each person controlls their own chosen profession, and therefore salary. As well, democracies leave people free to choose their beliefs, whereas in communist societies such choices are not available.

Democracy is generally preferred over dictatorship or communism in the western world because, despite its faults, the public is essentially in charge, rather than succumbing to the will of one leader.

 

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Thinking Dutch | Interesting read on NYTimes Philosophy Blog

Reflections

I came across an interesting read on the recent philosophical climate in the Netherlands on the New York Times’ Philosopher’s Stone Blog:

Attention to the subject, Mulder points out, peaks each year on the Night of Philosophy. Held annually at the International School of Philosophy, it attracts a lay audience a thousand strong. As one organizer says, “The Dutch see an evening of philosophizing as a night out”: many cafes hold philosophical readings and discussions and books of philosophy regularly become best-sellers.

Mulder dates the growth of popular interest in the subject to the early 1990s, when neo-liberalism, commercialism and “hyper-individualism” began to disenchant the Dutch, whetting their appetites for fresh conceptions of society and the good life.

Regularly among the most desirable places in the world to live, Holland’s public discourse has had to encounter many uncomfortable conversations as the nation’s character has met with developments in a post-9/11 geopolitical climate:

But more recently, Mulder writes, Islam may have done the most to push philosophy into public life, by bringing certain fundamental (and discomfiting) questions to the fore: What is Enlightenment? What are Western values, and what grounds them? Is there a legitimate basis for the cross-cultural appraisal of values? Do all religions need to pass through a secularizing phase to have a place in the modern world and its political arrangements? Is democracy antithetical to religion? The various answers returned to these questions have sometimes been disturbing, but one cannot doubt that the questions have philosophical substance.

I think a few of the questions above – not to mention a few others that could be tied into this conversation – connect to something that Nick & Chris are getting at in the comments of Chris’ post (which is really a lengthy reply to Liam’s original question, Nature? What Nature?), but may also beg the question of how Canadian, or North American philosophical life measures up against our Scandanavian friends. What might our different degrees of commitment to personal and public philosophizing say about our different societies, or cultural experience?

 
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