Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Discussing the Discussion – Sydney

Previously, I posted a blog post about Saul A. Kripke’s Naming and Necessity. I explored my question, “How do we judge, assess, and label “things?”” and read about how words have different connotations and denotations, and what the actual definition of a “name” might be. Kripke’s work allowed me to rephrase my question and change it into, “How do names refer to things in the world? However, during the class discussions, I found interest in topics other than simply naming objects.

On the first day of discussion, I talked with Kiana about the afterlife. This was really interesting because she mentioned how something she read had stated that death is merely a concept. Kiana and I discussed how it might be possible that because we are raised knowing that we will eventually die, that is simply the reason that we allow, so to speak, ourselves to die. Of course, our bodies will eventually deteriorate, but if we were unaware of death, our soul could possibly continue living. This concept is sort of similar to the idea of people who look at lists of symptoms for certain diseases online, and become suddenly so aware of the possibility that they could have the disease and think that they do when they actually don’t. We also applied this concept to other situations, such as when Mr. Jackson mentioned in class one day that blue was one of the last colours to be named. We wondered if just because there was no name for the colour blue, did they not see it all, or would they have just classified it as another colour or shade? This example of the colour blue does relate to my initial question in the way that it involves naming objects, but it relates more to questioning an object’s existence if it does not have a name at all.

On the second day of discussion, I was in a group with Jessica, Helena, Laike, Kiana, David, and Shem. In this group, we discussed different points about God:

  • Is there God? Does he make our decisions, or do we?
    • If people believe there is God, He has a plan for us.
    • Religion can be abused – how do we know what is real?
    • Religion gives people purpose, may be an external motivator
      • Especially in hard times, can provide relatability and be hero-like
    • Religion will evolve and change through time
  • Is religion put in place for justice?
    • Morality vs. actual law
    • There are obviously rules in the Bible, but what effect do they have on the law?
    • Can scare or limit people, but it may not be as useful today.

As much as this discussion was useful and interesting, I don’t think that this particular topic relates as much to my previous discussion or questions. It could be related through the question as to whether God is a name or a description, or whether God exists because we are aware of the possibility of His existence.

However, through these discussions, and especially my discussion with Kiana, I think that my question may be evolving into: Does an object exist if it does not have a name? Does an object exist if we are unaware of it?



contemplations on the nature of existence

Where do we come from? Why are we here? How can we be here? What is here and where did here come from? Where did anything come from? did it come from anywhere? Could it come from somewhere? If it came from somewhere then where did there come from?

We base our lives and our interactions with and observations of the world on the basic principles of cause and effect. But the mere existence of existence refutes this seemingly impenetrable principle. For how can existence exist without a cause? how can any of this exist without a cause? What caused it? has it simply always been here? Its believed that the universe began with the big bang but existence permeates more than just the universe. What caused the big bang then? If you believe in God then what created God? the Existence of Existence outside of the realm of cause and effect implies a closed circuit running on an infinite loop, that has simply always been here but how can that circuit exist Without being caused?

An equally as important, if not more important question i believe would be, how could existence not exist? For what would there be if not existence? Nothingness? But what is nothing without something? what is nothing without existence? Would there simply be empty space? But what is space without existence?

The only thing i find more incomprehensible than the Existence of Existence, is non-ex-existence.





existence preceeds essence

From Flickr user andrew j. cosgriff

As we have been discussing Metaphysics, I have continually returned to Jean Paul Sartre’s invocation of the meeting of Existence and Essence:

“What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.”

 Now, Sartre was talking about people through an existential lens; but the concept may come to bear on what we’ve learned this week about learning and knowledge. Whether existence precedes essence, or the other way around, we have been engaged in activities and discussions this week that support either hypothesis.

Some of what we have learned has resolutely existed before we have put it into context for ourselves as essential. And some of what we are learning about existed in our minds as essences before it came into being on the board or the class blog.

Which makes me wonder:

  • What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic? And,
  • How and where does it exist?

In short, these are the two questions of Metaphysics: What is…? And what is it like?

I look forward to hearing your responses, and continuing this discussion into Epistemology.



Change Can be Normal right?

“Can normal exist?” is the question I asked in my last blog post. At the time I had come to the conclusion that nothing can ever be normal for nothing can ever be exactly the same. After discussing my topic with a few people and doing some research on Typs_of_nrml_sDeterminism I began to question my own post. What is philosophy without questions? Perhaps I was taking the definition too literally, perhaps I should have considered that normal exists on smaller scales. Sure, one normal culture cannot exist because there are so many and they are all commonly practiced but there are, however, things in a society that can be normal. If we look to the smaller scale gender roles in society can influence whats normal, societies morals can influence what is abnormal and the way people are isolated when they behave in unconventional ways can show what is normal. Why do we as a society prefer to have behavior that is classified as normal? Is it a conscious decision chosen by free will or does “normal” derive from the beliefs of hard determinism?

Different regions have different ideas of normal behavior. In North America, gender roles effect what we deem to be abnormal behavior. For example, tom boys are not the social norm but they do exist. A tom boy is, as Sarah Showfety describes, a

“female who engages in activities long considered primarily the domain of males. As young girls, tomboys shun Barbiedolls in favor of games that emphasize physicality and competition. They resist conventional feminine standards—avoiding pink clothes, lipstick, and nail polish—and often excel in sports. While “tomboy” is largely a term applied to prepubescent girls who prefer Tonka trucks to tea parties, some women retain tomboy characteristics into adulthood, gamely coaching the company softball team and downing brews with the guys.”

The standard of how boys and girls are expected to act lead to the creation of terms such as this. It brings to question weather we as a society have the right to put labels on people and judge them for their behavior.
This labeling, as it would seem, is normal. As a society we are constantly placing people into categories and are amazed when they behave differently from what we expected. It would be abnormal for a person to act out of the traits of their category for they would be going against what is expected of them. It’s in this way that normal can exist. Why do we create these labels, can we get past them? should we even try to? Perhaps the fear of the unknown is society’s number one motivator. We question everything and label everything because we have the innate desire to know everything. I guess that’s normal too.

These constraints that society makes can lead to rebellious behavior. People often wish to do as they please, they do not want to be held back by other peoples expectations. The desire to not be “mainstream” has become a mainstream concept. We often desire to be1316010803312_3639356 different, to stand out of the crowd and to not conform to societies norms, but that desire makes us quite similar to others. For example the hipster culture started as a life style to avoid being “mainstream” (this being the ideas, attitudes, or activities that are regarded as normal or conventional; the dominant trend in opinion, fashion, or the arts.) As time went on the hipster culture, ironically, became normal. This life style became popular and is now accepted (although not without humor) as a societal label.

We have people in society who wish to be different and we have those who wish to fit in better. We are constantly attempting to find our place in society be it through rebellion or through attempts to be “cooler”. At one point in every human’s life they have thought about where they ‘fit into’ the scheme of the world. Are they normal?  Do they want to be? Through media and the responses to it we can see that people behave in similar ways. A song about ‘fitting in’ received  millions of views on YouTube and became extremely popular because it is something that the majority of people have been able to relate to in some way or another.The definition of normal is the usual, average, or typical state or condition. Wanting to be normal is an average, or typical state or condition when we look at songs like the one linked below.



Hard Determinism

Is the act of being normal an act of free will? Do we have 100% control over how we choose to behave or is free will an illusion formed for you, not by you? The idea that forces and conditions that were active before one develops the ability to comprehend things, make choices or exercise ones will is the theory of hard determinism. Does free will exist in the sense that we control our own behavior and personalities or do outside forces form it for us? Which of these relates to why humans choose to be normal? Some could argue that normality stems from hard determinism, that we have no real choice in the way that we live and think, thus creating a standard of normal. The forces that determine this lack of conscious free will include your childhood, education, social conditioning, exposure to external events all  and more. If we truly do not have free will, perhaps this is where the concept of normal comes from.

However existentialists, like Sartre, argued that its up to human beings to define themselves because no blue prints, no moral absolutes and no divine commandments and given values exist to guide peoples decisions on how to live. This lack of guidance, he argues, can lead to moments of existential angst or anxiety. Could then conforming to a societal norm be the result of fear? Do the people who feel “condemned” to be free (as Sartre worded it) conform more easily to the labels of normal because they are more desperate for it? Would Sartre agree that people who do not feel condemned by their freedom are more likely be viewed as abnormal by society? Or would he simply say that people have the free will to choose to behave however they wish and thus normal does not exist?





Mathematical Platonism: Have Some Delicious Pi

Platonism about mathematics (or mathematical platonism) is the metaphysical view that there are abstract mathematical objects whose existence is independent of us and our language, thought, and practices.

Øystein Linnebo, Platonism in the Philosophy of Mathematics

In my previous blog post, I wrote at length about what numbers are (and consequently, whether my math homework exists or not). Unsurprisingly, I was not the first philosopher to ponder the properties of mathematical objects. The inspiration for the theory of mathematical Platonism dates back to Plato and his Theory of Forms, as one can infer from the name of the theory.

However, mathematical Platonism is not directly derived from Plato’s Theory of Forms; instead, many of its principles are based upon the work of the 19th-20th century mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege. Frege’s works have been adapted and intertwined with similar ideas, and an modern expert in the field of mathematical Platonism is Øystein Linnebo, whose ideas I will be quoting at length in this post.

plato world

Image taken from abyss.uoregon.edu and used/modified under Creative Commons License.

Øystein Linnebo is the author of Platonism in the Philosophy of Mathematics, and he begins by describing three core attributes of the theory:

Mathematical platonism can be defined as the conjunction of the following three theses:

There are mathematical objects.

Mathematical objects are abstract.

Mathematical objects are independent of intelligent agents and their language, thought, and practices.


A decent grasp of these three ideas is essential for an understanding of mathematical Platonism, so I’ll go through them one by one in more detail.



Linnebo starts by referencing some of Frege’s ideas:

The Fregean argument is based on two premises, the first of which concerns the semantics of the language of mathematics:

Classical Semantics.
The singular terms of the language of mathematics purport to refer to mathematical objects, and its first-order quantifiers purport to range over such objects.

Most sentences accepted as mathematical theorems are true (regardless of their syntactic and semantic structure).

These premises are worded in complicated ways, but they boil down to simple logic:

1) Mathematical theorems are true.

2) Mathematical theorems refer to mathematical objects.

3) Therefore, mathematical objects exist.

The article goes into a little more detail (you can read more here), but this is the gist of it.

(Please note that the above logic is not intended to be sound. Instead, it is intended to facilitate the understanding of the idea of existence.)



Abstractness says that every mathematical object is abstract, where an object is said to be abstract just in case it is non-spatiotemporal and (therefore) causally inefficacious . . .

. . . For if these objects had spatiotemporal locations, then actual mathematical practice would be misguided and inadequate, since pure mathematicians ought then to take an interest in the locations of their objects, just as physicists take an interest in the locations of theirs.

The second of the three ideas, abstraction, is much less complicated than existence. If an object is abstract, it does not exist in space-time (also known as the material world). Other entities that are non-spatiotemporal may include ideas, thoughts, and concepts, depending on what philosophical outlook you have.

Abstract objects exist in an abstract world, sometimes thought of as a mirror to our own. This is one area of Platonism and mathematical Platonism differ. While Platonism states that the abstract world in the more fundamental/superior world to our own, mathematical Platonism does not assert this superiority.



Independence says that mathematical objects, if there are any, are independent of intelligent agents and their language, thought, and practices . . .

. . . had there not been any intelligent agents, or had their language, thought, or practices been different, there would still have been mathematical objects.

The last of the three ideas, independence, is perhaps the simplest idea of the three. Independence states that mathematical entities are more than a human construct, and that they exist independently of us. This means that they were discovered by humans instead of created by humans, which is an important distinction. What independence implies is that (if they exist), other conscious entities would also discover mathematics in a similar way to us, or at least the basic concepts would be the same.


Image taken from pixabay.com and used/modified under Creative Commons License.

To summarize, mathematical Platonism states that mathematical objects (such as 3 and π) exist, are non-spatiotemporal, and were discovered as opposed to created by humans. This theory for the explanation of the existence of mathematical objects makes the most sense to me – for as I discussed in my earlier blog post, numbers don’t really exist in the physical world (space-time). Five fingers are material objects and so are five sheep, but does five itself exist materially in the same manner? This theory offers what I see to be sound explanations for the properties of mathematical entities, helping to lay the foundations for the entire field of mathematics.



Cake Stand of Existence

Many of us do not stop to ponder the existence of many of the things that constitute our world, and take for granted their existence. Upon deeper contemplation, we began to realize that many existences are defined by their “opposites”.

 “They say there is no light without dark, no good without evil, no male without female, no right without wrong. That nothing can exist if it’s direct opposite does not also exist.” ― Laurell K. Hamilton, Incubus Dreams



Photo courtesy of Yentl-Star on Deviantart

Closer examination of the quote above shows that many of the existences that we have traditionally thought to be polar opposites have to coexist with each other in order for them to be possible. With all of the tragic events that are happening around the world today, it seems easy to conclude that the world consists only of immense suffering. We never stop to think that happiness is only defined because we have suffering. If there is no sadness, how would we know what happiness really is?

When we start to expand our circle of thinking, we begin to realize that many existences in our world are all connected. This concept is similar to the Buddhist principle that nothing can exist on its own:

Shakyamuni used the image of two bundles of reeds leaning against each other to explain this deep interconnectedness. He described how the two bundles of reeds can remain standing as long as they lean against each other. In the same way, because this exists, that exists, and because that exists, this exists. If one of the two bundles is removed, then the other will fall. Similarly, without this existence, that cannot exist, and without that existence, this cannot exist.” – Soka Gakkai International

Photo courtesy of web-japan.org

Photo courtesy of web-japan.org

If we compare existence to a Japanese pagoda or a tiered wedding cake stand, the concept of interconnected existences becomes clearer.


Cake Stand

Cake Stand of Existence

At the bottom tier of the cake stand, we have God, the creator of everything that exists. Without a creator, nothing would exist: the very existence of nothingness depends on the existence of something or someone: the existence of God the creator is the premise for any other existences.

 The second tier of the wedding cake stand is the universe; the third tier consists of galaxies; the fourth tier is our Solar System, which contains Earth, the Sun, and all the planetary bodies we are familiar with. The fifth and final tier of the cake stand is everything and everyone that exists on Earth.

As we move from a macro to a micro view, we begin to realize how everything is so deeply interconnected, where we can see that each cake stand tier cannot exist without the existence of the tier below it. Therefore if the universe didn’t exist, then nothing else would exist, except for God, since his existence ensures that everything exists. We can thus conclude that nothing (except God) can exist independently of anything else, and that all existences are interconnected.



Cartesian Philosophy – Emily

“I think, therefore, I exist.”

René Descartes
The Father of Modern Philosophy

Born near the end of the 16th century in France, Rene Descartes has been considered the “Father of Modern Philosophy”. In his early life he studied much, but in his later youth he left behind his father’s dreams for him to be a lawyer and resolved “to seek no knowledge other than that of which could be found in [himself] or else in the great book of the world”. He traveled, “…visiting courts and armies, mixing with people of diverse temperaments and ranks…and at all times reflecting upon whatever came my way so as to derive some profit from it.” (Descartes, Wikipedia)

In his mid twenties, he was stationed in Neuberg an der Donau, Germany, he had a series of three very powerful dreams or visions which he claimed greatly influenced his life. Among other things, it is said that he saw that all truths were interconnected, and that a fundamental truth would help open the way to all science (which he had already concluded would be “a central part of his life’s work”). Descartes found his basic truth fairly soon: the famous “I think, therefore I am”.

This phrase has been described as “one of the catchiest ideas yet created by the human mind” (freerepublic.com) , and is certainly one of the most famous phrases in all of philosophy.

The essence of this idea is that, to think you exist, you must exist. You cannot think about anything without first existing, especially existence. By extension, it is also impossible to truly doubt your own existence, because one needs to first exist before they can doubt existing. However, it is quite simple to doubt objects, people and events. As we’ve discussed before, it ccould be considered ridiculous to base the amount of knowledge and theories that we do on simple sensory perception. Our senses are just too inaccurate for us to rely completely on them – but then again, they are all we have, so we can go with limited and flawed perceptions, or we can go with nothing.

To illustrate the limits our senses have, Descartes used the Wax Argument. In essence, it is:

You have a piece of wax.
Your senses tell you about it: smell, texture, weight, colour, etc.
Yo bring this wax near a heat source.
Your senses tell you that the characteristics of the piece of wax change, however, it is still the same piece of wax.
Therefore, in order to properly grasp the nature of the wax, you should put aside the senses. You must use your MIND.

One can find evidence of this Philosophy or Truth in modern society – there is the common belief that humans are, by nature superior to animals. That we have conscience, consciousness, and more rights. Descartes and others of his time even took this further, some saying that animals had reason or intelligence, or could even feel pain.

I find myself agreeing with Descartes’ “Truth” – “I think, therefore, I am”. I can’t know what exists, other than my consciousness. One’s natural response to this is usually along the lines of either “Well that chair doesn’t think, so it doesn’t exist” or “No, I know that my body exists, and I know that Descartes guy existed since he said that quote, etc…”. But the best thing is, once you start thinking about it, it gets better. No, you can’t really know if that chair exists – all you have to base that assumption on are your senses and perception. If we think back to logic, we know that if A (I think), therefore B (I exist), it does not necessarily mean that if B, therefore A.

Also, we don’t really know if Descartes ever truly existed. We only have our senses telling us that he did – people talking about him, Wikipedia articles written referencing him, etc. But what if all these stories about “that guy Descartes” are just false information from your senses? Maybe he never existed, and your ears and eyes are telling you he did. Maybe you even subconsciously came up with “I think, therefore, I am”, and your senses tell you Descartes really did.

This is what I understand of Rene Descartes.

(If any of this was confusing/convoluted/headache-inducing to anyone, one of the sites I was reading had their Descartes article tagged as “myheadhurts”)


Our Entire Existence Hinges on a Salamander

Humans drive a rare salamander, and themselves, toward extinction – latimes.com


The L.A. Times published an article only today about a rare salamander, the ajolote (or axolotl), and how they are being driven to extinction by human pollution and introduction of nonnative species in the canals of Xochimilco near Mexico City. The ajolote’s incredible ability to regenerate limbs, heart cells, and fragments of its brain was also heavily stressed, as well as the possible beneficial application in human biosciences.

And if you don’t think that could have some application in the human biosciences, your own brain could use a tuneup.

But the article makes the jump from “oh hey that might be cool, that would be nice and helpful to have when we have medical emergencies” to “OMG THE HUMAN RACE WILL BE ELIMINATED IF WE DON’T RESCUE THIS SALAMANDER”:

…we wind up killing off the one creature that can save us as a species.

This article continues to tell us that the ajolotes are imperative to our survival:

What do you care about some slimy, unprepossessing little critter in another country? Plenty. Or you should, if you care about yourself and your progeny on this planet.

…even if you think (idiotically) that human survival isn’t dependent on the survival of the chain of creatures great and small who share our ecosystem…

…there’s every chance that the very species we just laid waste and sent blithely into extinction may be the very one that holds the key to save us from ourselves…

Nice work, people of Earth.

I find several fallacies going on here, and correct me if I’m wrong. First of all, I see judgmental language – insinuating that something is wrong with your brain if you don’t agree with them. This also pops up again when the article calls you idiotic if you don’t believe that human survival depends on other creatures in the ecosystem, something important to their argument. Secondly, there is an appeal to emotion when the writers of the article imply that if you don`t care about the ajolote, you don’t care about “yourself and your progeny on this planet”. Finally, there is an example of what I think is an ad hominem attack:”Nice work, people of Earth.” They blame the people of Earth (you included) for the near-extinction of the ajolote which, in their argument, means the extinction of humanity.