Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Katie Crompton – The Value of Acceptance

Earlier this year, I had to deal with something that would change my life quite significantly. (I am purposefully going to be very vague for confidentiality purposes because I don’t want there to be any sort of a negative feelings towards the other party. But if I have talked to you about my life recently, you probably know what this is all about.) The short story is that I had been a part of something for six years and was excited for my seventh, when some news broke that made me question all of my plans for the coming year. I was forced to rethink entirely how my whole year would look. This was an incredibly emotional decision for me but I realized it was best for me to remove myself from the establishment for many reasons. Not because I felt betrayed and angry (which I did for a little bit) but because it was the logical thing for me to do. Now, when we were asked to relate something in our lives’ to Plato’s Cave, this was the first thing that came to mind. On the surface, it may not seem like there is any logical connection but once you dig deeper it has more meaning.

I believe that when I was a part of this thing, I was like the people who stare at the shadow figures on the wall. I had been a part of it for so long that it consumed my life. I dedicated so much time and effort into it that I couldn’t pursue many opportunities outside of this organization. It was sort of like I was trapped. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy with what I was doing and I loved taking part, but I didn’t have the ability to see much else, just like the people in the cave.

This is a little bit out of order from the story but after I heard this news and I was in the process of making my decision, I was a lot like the people in the cave if they heard about a different reality. I was confused and afraid of what might come next. I didn’t know what to do or how to even feel. At times, I couldn’t even admit the fact that my life was about to change no matter what I did. I feel like this is how the people in the cave would have felt. Even if they decided not to try and leave the cave, they have already been told that there is a reality different than what they know. This would stick with them forever and they would always wonder what the real truth is.

Once I had made my decision, I feel like I was the prisoner who was set free. At first I was confused and afraid just like before, but I slowly came to accept my fate and embrace it. I am now very happy and I am excited for all of the opportunities that are coming my way. It was quite the adjustment, but I know the choice I made was the right one. I feel free, just like the person seeing real life for the first time.

My journey has given me many things. I have come to accept what happened and I have learned that sometimes things that seem really hard at first will eventually help you in the future. Plato’s Cave is something that everyone can relate to in their lives in some way. Maybe not this very minute, but someday. I feel like this experience taught me a very important lesson that is perfectly represented in this quote:

“Don’t try to understand everything, because sometimes it is not meant to be understood, but accepted” ~ Unknown

This is extremely important in life because it is impossible to understand everything. The person who got to leave the cave definitely wouldn’t have understood why they had to go through what they went through, or why they were the one that was let out, but they would have to accept it. If they couldn’t accept their new reality, they would surely go crazy. In conclusion, I have learned from Plato’s Cave and my own experiences that life throws curve balls at you for a reason, it’s up to you what you are going to do with it.

 

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The Golden Ball

Philosophy can be seen as questioning the mere existence of reality, and this questioning goes beyond our material world. In the material world, reality is confined to “facts”, information and experiments that give us a false sense of reality and logic. Further more, this fascination the human brain has with the materialistic world may have its essence in the way we think, the way we think on the surface.Things we can understand that fit in with our experiments and laws that have been declared by sets of theories that have been only developing for only couple hundred years seems to give us comfort, a sense of security about this mysterious phenomenon we call life. On the contrary the human brain is so complex it also finds comfort in “abstract ideas”, such as theism and variety of dogmatic, ritualistic practices that give the illusion of an higher being, a deity that keeps you safe or destroys you with his wrathful will. A loving god that will take your soul to heaven, after you die. Death, A concept that has fascinated the human brain as far as the time our story began. Science argues that after death there’s no more existence as we know it. Our biological body decays as cellular death occurs. Does this mean our consciousness cease to exist as well? Or is there more to this phenomenon more than we can imagine. Philosophy, aims to ponder deeper into these thoughts. Is there a certain, ultimate answer? Probably not, as most of these abstract ideas such as the nature of self or how human consciousness really works ; create more questions that seem to have no answer. So? What’s the point of spending time and energy on philosophical ideas? If you would like to be believe the human race is even more fascinating than the way science perceive to be, then perfection of wisdom, pursue of enlightenment would be the path that you wouldn’t be able to wonder of another way. Philosophy is transcendental, it doesn’t favor different perspectives but the wise and the enlightened. Philosophy does not have facts to be discovered it doesn’t have information to live upon. Philosophy is a gateway to higher state of thinking and consciousness, where you can discover more about the very nature of human existence and more about you. Philosophy satisfies our fascination with mystery while having you guessing and questioning the idea of mystery it self. If knowledge is an ever expanding ocean of ideas that has existed and will exist in the future, than philosophy is a golden, glowing ball of fascination thrown into to the ocean of knowledge. It sinks and sinks to the very essence of the ocean. It doesn’t stay in the surface, for the surface of this ocean is visible. It is visible to the by standers whom have no idea how deep the ocean is. They are too stunned by the beauty of the ocean they see yet they refuse to acknowledge the dept of ocean. Praising the beauty of the ocean from the shallow end seem to be safer, it gives them comfort But the enlightened,he follows this golden ball of fascination deep into the ocean. As the ball goes deeper it sheds light upon the very darkness of the ocean of knowledge. The enlightened dives further, following the ever sinking ball. it gets darker and colder as he leaves familiar waters. As it gets darker, the ball still sheds light into the darkness, clearing a path for the man. Then he realizes, he finds comfort discovering the unknown. He realizes that the darkness will continue as the golden ball seem to shed more and more light as it sinks. This satisfies his curiosity, his craving for wisdom. Now that he’s deep in the ocean, he doesn’t see the purpose of admiring the beauty of the waves that hit the shallow shore, where people stand and watch. Does he keep following the golden glowing ball or does he go back to share what he has seen?

 

 

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Learning and Metaphysics

Metaphysical Constructivism

#philosodoodles

Now making my third pass at the philosophy 12 course, I have approached this year’s unit on Metaphysics as an opportunity to crystalize the course methods as an expression of the values underpinning it. I’ve learned in the past two years that to embrace a constructivist view of epistemology presents the idea of course design as a confrontation with the paradox at the heart of institutional learning: that schools ought provide learning experiences which students ‘own’ and direct with increasing autonomy and agency as they move through school.

But I’ve also learned that this is no straightforward thing.

Emergence presents a rigorous test:

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

Osberg and Biesta

On one hand, we must consider the traditional obligations of school: to evaluate and assess its own performance in properly equipping young people with the skills, proficiencies and base knowledges deemed of value to society. But we must also reckon with the contradiction to emergence that is involved in then deciding beforehand what those skills, proficiencies and base knowledges are to be in the first place.

Notably, this contradiction is addressed in part by the critical praxis presented by Paulo Freire, who says that

“…the program content of the problem-posing method – dialogical par excellence – is constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world, where their own generative themes are found. The content thus constantly expands and renews itself. The task of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she or he received it – and “re-present” is not as a lecture, but as a problem.”

The necessity to pursue an emergent view of knowledge becomes especially important in our present times in multicultural Canada (and in the broader sense, in the course’s online sphere). Osberg and Biesta write that

“In contemporary multicultural societies, the difficulty with education as planned enculturation lies in the question of who decides what or whose culture should be promoted through education. The problem of ‘educational enculturation’ is therefore of considerable concern to theorists grappling with the issues raised by multiculturalism.

“If we hold that meaning is emergent, and we insist on a strict interpretation of emergence (i.e. what emerges is more than the sum of its parts and therefore not predictable from the ‘ground’ it emerges from) then the idea that educators can (or should) control the meanings that emerge in the classroom becomes problematic. In other words the notion of emergent meaning is incompatible with the aims of education, traditionally conceived.”

And so we must conceive of education differently, perhaps no place moreso than in a class like Philosophy 12 during a unit on Metaphysics, which in a certain sense must be approached as a cultivation and aggregation of diverse subjectivities. While it is apparent in the breadth of the course material, such a focus lends itself admirably to the pursuit of metaphysics.

So in one arc of the class’ discourse, Angela begs the question of endless subjectivity in her post, Whoa, Slow Down

“One fixed answer that is true to everything and everyone is way too easy, but some people can’t seem to accept that there is no answer. At the same time, we also tend to deny that every answer is different for everyone. Why is it that we just can’t accept that?”

While Liam retraces Descartes footsteps:

“…perhaps all of ‘reality’ is simply our minds composing things for us to see, smell, taste, hear, and touch, even though they don’t exist. Perhaps nothing exists, but how could that be? We are here, I am typing this, aren’t I? If I am not, and I do not exist, and nothing exists, then what is allowing me to experience things?”

This search for meaning is arising across a few other posts this week as well, with ventures into solipsism, animal consciousness, and the almighty void of nothingness itself. These questions, as with those posed by Avery with respect to the existence of numbers “Five fingers are material objects and so are five sheep, but does five itself exist materially in the same manner?” – are those surrounding the various subjectivities at the heart of metaphysics: “What is…” and “What is it like…”  And so we find ourselves this week asking ourselves whether what we have gained in knowledge and experience during our study thus far “exists materially in the same manner.”

And if it does, how might we understand its existence? What is it, in other words? And what is it like?

Last year, our encounter with metaphysics was guided by Osberg and Biesta’s suggestion of the “learning object,” who contend that:

“for the process of knowledge production to occur it is necessary to assume that the meaning of a particular ‘knowledge object’ exists in a stable form such that the ‘knowledge object’ can be used like a ‘building block’ in the production of new abstract knowledge objects. This idea, however, is precisely what an emergentist epistemology denies. Because the meaning of any new knowledge ‘emerges’ would be highly specific to the complex system from which is emerged, it follows that no ‘knowledge object’ can retain its meaning in a different situation.”

The creation of such ‘objects of learning’ provides a worthwhile otherwise in the pursuit of an education which lives up to our multicultural ideals, as their construction demands that learners confront the dual questions which drive societal reinvention and human progress, where we ask ourselves, Who am I? and Who are we? Building on the ideas of Michel Foucault, who defined Enlightenment as “a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them,” school should aspire to such a notion of learning.

 

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Rawls’ Theory of Justice, Economics 12 and Enlightenment

In discussing RawlsTheory of Justice this week, you might find the above lectures and discussions on “What makes a fair start?” inspired by the former Harvard philosophy prof:

Part 1 – WHAT’S A FAIR START?
Rawls argues that even meritocracy—a distributive system that rewards effort—doesn’t go far enough in leveling the playing field because those who are naturally gifted will always get ahead. Furthermore, says Rawls, the naturally gifted can’t claim much credit because their success often depends on factors as arbitrary as birth order. Sandel makes Rawls’s point when he asks the students who were first born in their family to raise their hands.

Part 2 – WHAT DO WE DESERVE?
Sandel discusses the fairness of pay differentials in modern society. He compares the salary of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ($200,000) with the salary of television’s Judge Judy ($25 million). Sandel asks, is this fair? According to John Rawls, it is not.

Touching on topics such as affirmative action policies, taxation, and just what should be done about inequality, Rawls provides an excellent point of crossing-over between our Economics and Philosophy classes this week.

If you are interested in pursuing the ethical, social and political import of inequality, Mr. Lloyd’s class has been reading and discussing the Globe and Mail‘s recent series, The Wealth Paradoxwhich tells the story of:

Canada […] at a crossroads. A gap has grown between the middle class and the wealthy. Now, that divide is threatening to erode a cherished Canadian value: equality of opportunity for all.

For those of us immersed in Rawls this weekend, what would he say about Canada’s “Wealth Paradox”? What about the Utilitarians? Immanuel Kant?

And for the economists in our midst, what is the epistemological basis for our understanding of inequality:

    • What do we know?
    • How do we know it?

If we look to gain such knowledge as a means to making our world more ethical, and more oriented toward justice, what is there to be known on the matter of inequality?

What questions must be asked?

And do these questions have answers sufficient that we can then act, and create systems of government and society that reflect our individual and collective notions of “justice”?

I look forward to engaging in this topic this week with the Philosophy 12 bunch, as well as our friends in AP Economics, and anyone else who finds themselves here, reading this post.

In the interest of enabling and creating a public sphere that might be equal to the tasks and questions raised by the ongoing Project of Enlightenment, where Kant (along with we here at Philosophy 12) invites you:

“Have the courage to use your own reason – That is the motto of enlightenment.”

 

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The Evolving Social Contract

Bonnie Stewart has written eloquently this week about the idea of the social contract in online spheres:

The idea of the social contract originates with political philosophy. Philosophy’s finer points aren’t exactly experiencing what you’d call a cultural heyday, at the moment, but suffice to say the idea’s a relic of the Enlightenment, with earlier origins in the Biblical covenant and in Greece and Rome. It connotes the relationship we all have to the structures of power and order in our societies.

The social contract, at its simplest, is about what we expect from others and ourselves: the deal we believe we’re in regarding the give and take of rights, freedoms, and responsibilities. Most forms of the social contract, historically, argue for the giving over of certain freedoms – though what these are and how they are expressed can vary – in exchange for protections of the state or the civilizing influence of society.

We used to, in short, make those deals with some kind of monolithic power – a God or a state or what have you. That was the old school social contract. At some level, most of us are still kind of inclined or trained in this direction, and the divide between God and state – or least interpretations of what ‘state’ means and what rights and freedoms are involved – may serve to explain the increasing partisanship and vitriol in contemporary postmodern politics. Red states and blue states aren’t necessarily in the same social contract.

But it’s even more complex than that. We now live in some crazy kind of incarnation of McLuhan’s global village: the world’s biggest small town. Most of us are wired into some kind of relationship with our capitalist, consumerist, media society, by our bank cards and our status as citizens of postmodern globalized nation states. Our society operates – as do an increasing number of us at the individual level – more on network logic than on the one-to-many logic of hierarchical monoliths like religion and the state.

So we are, in our day to day interactions as humans in the 21st century, constantly trying to establish and operate within the terms of unspoken and often hugely divergent social contracts. We are no longer just entering into an implicit deal with the powers-that-be. We are each others’ powers-that-be.

And we need to learn to navigate those negotiations openly and explicitly; to own the power we have and not wait for the big and mighty to make it all better for us.

What struck me about Bonnie’s post is not only the future-application of the discussion to our philosophy class’ Social & Political Philosophy unit, but also what it lends us in attempting to address the recent tragic death of Coquitlam resident Amanda Todd. As local, national and international media has focused largely on the cyber-bullying aspect of the story, I have been reluctant to ascribe to this lens that seems to view our online and physical environments as distinct separate spaces. Bonnie says it better:

Make no mistake, Amanda Todd was cyber-bullied. Her network of peers appear to have contributed to her shaming via Facebook. But if a kid were stalked by a pimp on a school playground and the pimp then manipulated the playground gang into participating in the abuse, we wouldn’t frame the story as a bullying story, first and foremost.

This is a story about abuse of the power of the internet, first and foremost. It’s about the ways in which anonymity enables people to prey on the vulnerable, and about the ways in which our social contract has not yet worked out the lines between the right to free speech and the ways in which anonymous speech *can* bring out the absolute worst in those who want to exercise more power than their embodied lives necessarily afford them.

Not only do the online and physical interact, they are facets of the same reality. “We are all bodies somewhere,” Bonnie says. Indeed, and wherever it occurs, a hurt is a hurt is a hurt.

As I mentioned, we will be addressing the idea of the social contract as we move through our ethics, social and political philosophy units, but I wanted to share Bonnie’s post with you lest more time pass between what is in the transitional phase – for us especially here in Coquitlam – between a raw and open personal wound in our community and a more global political, journalistic and cultural spectacle (another hallmark of the Internet era). Because for those of you taking this course – face to face, especially, but those of you in our wider circle as well – we are exploring this online terrain and applying our philosophical lens to the nature of knowledge and the communities we can create together, and I am curious to hear your thoughts as inhabitants of this/these worlds who likely don’t feel that they are altogether separate.

I’m chiefly interested (though this list isn’t exhaustive) in:

  • How does the anonymity of the Internet create a challenge for our existing idea(s) of the Social Contract?
  • How might we address the problems created by an anonymous web that maintains our sense of freedom that not only created the Internet, but which it was created to enable?
  • Will events like these create the necessity that begets the articulation of an evolved Social Contract that is able more explicitly to make “this giant small town where we all live” more livable?

While we might not get ‘there’ in the curriculum for another few weeks, consider these questions and Bonnie’s post, as open for discussion in the meantime. I don’t expect us to reach much in the way of a concrete understanding. But I do heartily believe that this discussion is one of the first steps toward creating that place where we all might belong.

 
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