Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Slaughterhouse District 43: The First Step

In the latter part of the 20th century, the layout and design of most U.S. slaughterhouses was influenced by the work of Dr. Temple Grandin. She suggested that reducing the stress of animals being led to slaughter may help slaughterhouse operators improve efficiency and profit. In particular she applied an understanding of animal psychology to design pens and corrals which funnel a herd of animals arriving at a slaughterhouse into a single file ready for slaughter. Her corrals employ long sweeping curves so that each animal is prevented from seeing what lies ahead and just concentrates on the hind quarters of the animal in front of it. This design – along with the design elements of solid sides, solid crowd gate, and reduced noise at the end point – work together to encourage animals forward in the chute and to not reverse direction.

“…so that each animal is prevented from seeing what lies ahead and just concentrates on the hind quarters of the animal in front of it.” -Wikipedia, Slaughterhouses.

In Canada’s school system, students are encouraged to chase ‘success,’ without defining with any reasonable certainty what success is representative of. In crowded hallways, students follow the backpack bouncing in front of them until they turn off to their classrooms. Once they have been fattened on knowledge, they are sent out into the world to be sacrificed to the greatest remnant of perennialistic society: the Bureaucratic Administration Machine

There is an excellent TED talk that explains this better than I can, go watch it below.

“The first computer in the world was called the bureaucratic administrative machine. To run that computer, they needed a lot of people. They made another machine, to produce those people – the schools. The schools would produce the people that would become parts of the BA machine. They must be identical. They must know three things: good handwriting, reading skills, and good arithmetic skills. They must be so identical you can pick one up from New Zealand, ship them to Canada and have them function immediately. The Victorians were great engineers. They engineered a system that was so robust, its still with us today. Continuously producing identical people, for a machine that no longer exists.”

If you don’t have time to watch the video – in short, the origins of our school system can be traced back to a time when the government wanted a populace that had a common skill set, so as to use them efficiently in the governance of a nation.
But is that what school should be about?

“Just as our classrooms have changed significantly since the 1800s, so have our ideas about the purpose of schools. Our views on education were defined by John Dewey’s theory, which states—and I’m simplifying—that the general purpose of school is to transfer knowledge and prepare young people to participate in Canada’s democratic society. ” -Gene Carter, Journalist at GOOD Magazine

If this quote is accurate, and school is meant to prepare young people for Canadian society, then I believe we have a lot of work to do, reshaping school into a modern, relevant institution. Nations around the world are leading the charge, positioning their societies for success by emphasizing the development of 21st-century skills. Countries like Finland and Singapore are creating “communicative, imaginative, tech-savvy, multilingual students who are prepared for jobs that do not yet exist.” (Carter).

How can Canada follow this path?

This idea, of how to do such a thing, is the first guiding question I am exploring in our philosophical inquiry at Gleneagle Secondary. The discussions we have been having in class concerning educational philosophies have been a peak of interest for me, and I am committed to diving into the the rabbit hole in search of answers.

Philosophy has been given many definitions by my classmates over the past week, centering around ‘the love of wisdom.’ A definition that I resonated with was “an unending desire to understand and comprehend knowledge, society, existence and the universe,” with the operative term being “unending desire.” To that end, I think beginning with a query into philosophical education, into how we should go about learning, is a strong, meta, jumping off point. It is a topic that delves deeply into process, as opposed to results, which is where I want to start.

To begin with, and as a breadcrumb for my next blog post, I’ll close with this quote from Nigel Warburton, in his essay “Lets Talk,” which discusses the importance of human interaction to ground us as we search for existential or cosmic meaning. This quote encapsulates what I hope my process will resemble, in determining a healthy direction to take Canada’s education system.

“Whenever philosophical education lapses into learning facts about history and texts, regurgitating an instructor’s views, or learning from a textbook, it moves away from its Socratic roots in conversation…. the point of philosophy is not to have a range of facts at your disposal, though that might be useful, nor to become a walking Wikipedia or ambulant data bank: rather, it is to develop the skills and sensitivity to be able to argue about some of the most significant questions we can ask ourselves, questions about reality and appearance, life and death, god and society.”

That’s it, thanks for reading. What a clickbait title, amiright?



Counts, G. S. (1978). Dare the schools build a new social order? Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Carter, Gene. “What’s the Purpose of School in the 21st Century?” GOOD Magazine. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Sept. 2016.
Warburton, Nigel. “Without Conversation, Philosophy Is Just Dogma – Nigel Warburton | Aeon Essays.” Aeon. N.p., 2013. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.


Why Our Education System is Flawed – Tali Berlin

1:50 – 3:35 tells the main point Ken Robinson is trying to make. He makes the argument that the current education system in place is full of flaws and needs to be changed as it is old, models industrialism like factories putting kids in batches to study separate subjects and learn to come up with only one answer to each question, therefore killing their ability to think divergently and making kids who think differently feel stupid and useless. Continue watching for the explanation.


  • Penalizing kids for getting distracted in the most stimulating and technologically advanced day in age
  • Amount of kids with ADHD has risen with the growth of standardize testing
  • To make kids with ADHD calm down, they are given pills to deaden their senses in order to be able to focus on “boring stuff” and not get distracted by the fun and enticing stuff around them (media, advertising, cell phones, etc.)
  • Instead of “deadening their senses… we should be waking them up”
  • Some kids are much better than different kids in the same age and different disciplines, or different times of the day… or in large groups or small groups or on their own

  • Education system about conformity and standardization, we should go “in the exact opposite direction”
  • In a study done to test divergent thinking (ability to come up with a lot of answers to one question, in ex: how many uses can you come up for a paper clip – can you come up with 10 or 200 answers?), 98% of a group of kids in kindergarten reached genius level;  they kept testing the same kids every few years, and as they became more and more “educated” in schools with age, less and less of them reached genius level.
  • Kids damage their ability to think divergently as school says their is only one answer to each question, and you either get it right or wrong.

Conclusion: Our current education system needs to change as it singles out kids who think differently, tells them that they are stupid, and kills their ability to think divergently.

Truth, Validity, and Soundness: All the premises seem factually correct and make sense to be true, however to know for sure, more research has to be done on the experiments and facts stated in this video. The argument is valid as the premises do lead to the conclusion. This makes this argument sound, unless further research into the factual correctness proves otherwise.




Introductory Readings for Week I


Marginalia by Flickr user Shelly.

Love, Wisdom and Wonder: Three Reasons to Celebrate Philosophy | Matthew Beard writing in the Conversation

Philosophy matters, simply, because the answers to philosophical questions matter. Not only is it a matter of life and death, but a matter of, to name a few examples, the nature of law, the role of language, where morality comes from, whether there is a God, whether there is a self and what constitutes our identity, and what beauty is. What makes these questions important is not only that they help societies to function (although they certainly do), but that they reflect something deeply fundamental about human beings: that we are physical creatures, but our consciousness is not restricted to physical matters. Indeed, philosophy is both reflective and perfective of human nature.

Philosophy in our schools is a necessity, not a luxury | Robert Grant writing in the Irish Times

Our standards for truth and knowledge influence our scientific and religious beliefs. Our ideas about justice, equality and freedom determine whether we are liberal or conservative, capitalist or socialist.

In examining these concepts, philosophers rarely come up with neat answers. None are immune to counter-argument.

Philosophy teaches that our understanding of these basic concepts rests on shaky foundations. In so doing, it reveals the limitations of human knowledge and understanding.

Such awareness helps students be wary of those who claim certainty and truth; it protects against dogmatic indoctrination and group-think. Philosophy celebrates the complex, nuanced nature of our understanding. It reminds us of what we do not know.

Why are there so few women philosophers? | David Papineau writing in the Times Literary Supplement

Women occupy 25 per cent of the posts in university philosophy departments across the United Kingdom. The figures are similar throughout the anglophone world. In the United States the proportion is 21 per cent, while Canada, Australia and New Zealand all have fewer than 30 per cent women philosophers. This makes philosophy an outlier among humanities subjects. Half a century ago, all university departments employed far fewer women than men. But this kind of imbalance has all but disappeared from areas such as English literature and history, and is nowadays largely restricted to the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Philosophy stands out in continuing to appoint about three times as many men as women to academic posts.

What is the explanation for this peculiarity, and should it be a matter of concern? These two questions are interlinked. How far philosophy’s gender imbalance is bad depends on its causes. If it were the result of simple discrimination against women, for instance, then it would not only be unjust, but it would also be preventing some of the best-suited people from working as philosophers. But it is not obvious that discrimination is the right explanation, and it should not be taken for granted that any other causes for the imbalance would be similarly unacceptable.

The key step is to point out that there are certain genuine puzzles regarding fundamentally important notions that only philosophers work on and about which scientists don’t seem able to solve or often disposed to even address. The reason these puzzles are fundamentally important lies in their subject matter (e.g., truth, justice, consciousness, knowledge); the reason they are genuine is that they can be put in the form of a small number of individually highly plausible yet apparently jointly inconsistent claims. Since they seem jointly inconsistent, I want to say that they can’t all be true; since each is highly plausible, I want to say that each is true; but of course I can’t say both things once I see the incompatibility between them. Any minimally adequate response to the puzzle must do either of two things:

  • Identify the claims in the puzzle that aren’t true, explain why they aren’t true, articulate the truths we have been confusing them with (if there are any), and explain how it is that we made those mistakes.
  • Explain how contrary to what anyone thought the claims are all true and do not conflict with one another. In this case the solution must greatly clarify the claims so we can see that they don’t really conflict.

Does Colour even Exist? | Malcolm Harris writing in the New Republic

One of the reasons I think philosophy isn’t very popular in the United States is that the secular among us assume not only that there exists a scientific explanation for everything, but that someone in a laboratory or a library somewhere already knows it. Primary science education plays up this assumption, preferring testable information to ongoing mysteries—I am reminded of an eleventh-grade physics exam on opponent processing. But here’s what they don’t tell you in school: The neurological and physical evidence that supports this model is extremely inconsistent.

Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates | American Philosophical Association

Philosophy is quite unlike any other field. It is unique both in its methods and in the nature and breadth of its subject matter. Philosophy pursues questions in every dimension of human life, and its techniques apply to problems in any field of study or endeavor. No brief definition expresses the richness and variety of philosophy. It may be described in many ways. It is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for understanding, a study of principles of conduct. It seeks to establish standards of evidence, to provide rational methods of resolving conflicts, and to create techniques for evaluating ideas and arguments. Philosophy develops the capacity to see the world from the perspective of other individuals and other cultures; it enhances one’s ability to perceive the relationships among the various fields of study; and it deepens one’s sense of the meaning and variety of human experience.



Epistemology Discussion: History of Knowledge 11.06.13

With pencast notes provided by Julie and the Livescribe pen.



Epistemology Discussion: Maximum Knowledge 11.05.13

With visual notes provided by Julie and the Livescribe Pen.



Educational Imperatives

Perhaps the defining characteristic of democracy is its supposed commitment the the provision of equality. By their very nature, human societies are rife with inequality and disadvantage, whether by result of personal inadequacy or a simple roll of the dice. Education, at its heart, is thought to be the remedy to this, the ‘grand equalizer’ that overcomes the misfortunes of birth and gives everyone an equal opportunity to succeed.

While that may summarize our current understanding of education, it was not always thus. The modern idea of ‘public’ education arose, not out of some egalitarian ideal, but out of the elitist ideals of the Enlightenment. Common people, so the argument went, were uncivilized, ignorant, unwashed savages, and needed to be instructed to become civilized and ‘proper’ members of society. It was not so much about a belief that education was the key to equality as it was that education was the key to civilization; more accurately, it was the belief that education was a way to bring the clearly much more enlightened and worthy views of the philosophes to the masses.

So we see that education was, in a way, a form of social control – plain and simple, it was an excuse for the elites to impose their worldviews on the common people and to achieve their own goals. As public education was just beginning, the masses weren’t necessarily taught the same things rich people might have learned in their own schools – governments, once they took control of education, saw value not in ‘enlightening’ common folk but in building good workers, and so early education focused around the value of hard work and honest labour rather than teaching the spirit of questioning and inquisition we take for granted today. We see this manipulation of education far too often, even today – who has not heard the threat educational brainwashing poses, or shook their head upon hearing the things the Taliban taught to children? Education, on its, own, is a way to teach people ideas – nothing more, nothing less.

So understanding that education simply serves as a means to further an agenda, we have to ask the question: what should that agenda be? This question lies at the heart of education, and, we can suppose, the heart of a democracy. A system that declares itself built on equality can scarcely be legitimate without it, so education must somehow serve to truly be that ‘grand equalizer’ we make it out be. So, then…how?

We must refine the aims of education. There are two competing views on this: that education should teach people life skills and the information necessary to be successful in the modern economy, and that education should teach the more amorphous ‘liberal arts’ – the arts of questioning, wondering, and thinking for oneself. If the goal of education is to achieve equality, we must educate in the way that leads to the most potential for equality – but in which direction that leads, there is no consensus.

Just like you, we’re still learning. We don’t have all the answers. If we wish to have a democracy, and all the trappings we associate with it(prosperity, freedom, equality), education is necessary for the preservation of civilization and for the relatively equal footing it provides. But more than that is a mystery. And so we turn the question over to you, dear reader. For the society we believe in, we need a strong foundation – but the question is, what do we want that foundation to look like?






Epistemological Ecology – Mr. J

Learning Never Stops

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

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

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

“All knowledge begins with experience.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Double Bind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet..?

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

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

Leaving me again with echos of Kant:

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