Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Colonialism and Reconciliation in Canada

Image courtesy of the CBC

In returning to a guiding question in our investigation into systemic oppression, we have spoken in class here and there about Canada’s relationship with its indigenous populations. If there are those who are negatively effected by discrimination and oppression, there are those who benefit from this oppression; and with respect to Canadian First Nations, the dominant culture represented by our affluent suburban public school ought consider the question:

Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for the perpetuation of that oppression? And if it is, how?

Before reflecting on the ways in which we might approach this most pressing of Canadian problems, Ottawa Citizen columnist Terry Glavin’s contrasting of indigenous Canadians’ plight against that of their African American neighbours deserves consideration, where he admits that “the conditions that torment Aboriginal Canadians to this day are no less a disgrace than the dead-end impoundments so many African-Americans find themselves within today.”

Aboriginal Canadians and African-Americans suffer from a nearly identical suite of maladies: high rates of cancer, of heart disease, mental illness, suicide, spousal abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome and tuberculosis.

The median income of African-American men is about $31,000. Among white American men it’s $42,000. In Canada, the median annual income for Aboriginal people living off-reserve is $22,500 (among those living on Indian reserves it’s $14,000); the average annual income for Canadian wage workers in general is about $48,000.

The unemployment rate among working-age Aboriginal people in Canada is 13 per cent – more than twice the general jobless rate among working-age Canadians. This is every bit as wide a gap as between African-American men and white American men.

Comparing welfare rates makes Canada look far worse. Slightly more than 10 per cent of African-Americans are on welfare, but in Canada, roughly a third of Aboriginal people are on welfare or some other form of income assistance.

Canada looks worse again when we look inside the prisons. African-Americans make up only about 12 per cent of the U.S. population, but 40 per cent of the U.S. prison population is African-American. A mere four per cent of Canadians are Aboriginal, but more than 23 per cent of the inmate population in federal institutions are Aboriginal people – an incarceration rate 10 times higher than among non-Aboriginal people.

Things are going downhill, too. Over the past decade, the Aboriginal population in federal prisons has grown by more than 50 per cent. In Western Canada, two-thirds of the inmates in federal and provincial institutions are Aboriginal people.

That this scenario exists at all is a tragedy of the first order, to be sure. Yet that it exists in a country which has enshrined in its laws the promotion of “the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and […] the elimination of any barrier to that participation” is tragically ironic. Though it is not without broad complicity that such a state of affairs is allowed to continue, as Amanda Gebhard highlights in an essay on how “The over-incarceration of Indigenous people is not an unassail­able reality.” Rather, she writes that

It is a violent, colonial project that requires the co-operation and complicity of countless people. Unmaking the situation will require the same sustained and concerted effort. Learning how we are all invited to participate in the colonial project of Aboriginal over-incarceration – and then refusing to do so – is the first step in demolishing the pipeline to prison for Aboriginal youth in Canada.

As Jess highlights in a comment here, with regards to gender discrimination, “the only percentage that matters is that 100% of women have experienced some form of ‘minor’ sexual harassment.” So too do 100% of aboriginal Canadians exist in a country which discriminates against them. In either case it is important to ask: who bears the responsibility to reduce the amount of discrimination and oppression experienced by these groups? Should it fall to the oppressed to liberate themselves from a pervasive society of oppression? Or are we all responsible?

Is it possible for non-indigenous Canadians to benefit from this historical (and continued) discrimination and not be responsible for its perpetuation? By what moral reasoning might they be absolved from acting to end this cycle?

Or must they act?

In a new book Canadian philosopher and author John Ralston Saul notes that “sympathy toward aboriginal people from outsiders is the new form of racism.”

It allows many of us to feel good about discounting their importance and the richness of their civilizations. Sympathy is a way to deny our shared reality. Our shared responsibility. Sympathy obscures the central importance of rights.

The other day the idea was raised that both oppressors and the oppressed are trapped within a society reliant on systemic oppression, and yet we still find ourselves seeking a means by which the beneficiaries of that discrimination might be absolved. Given the realities of our past and future as a nation which contains multitudes, and which prides itself on the “full and equitable participation” of those multitudes, isn’t it our shared responsibility to fight for a system and a society other than the one passed down to us?

These might seem rhetorical questions, but I pose them with the hope that they provoke critical thoughts about a scenario that envelopes us as Canadians whether we like it or not. As Michael Sandel observes, moral philosophy challenges us to make the familiar distant, and in so doing come to understand our reality in new and profound ways.

“Once the familiar turns strange, it’s never quite the same again. Self-knowledge is like lost innocence: however unsettling we find it, it can never be un-thought, or un-known.”

Now that it has become known, if we can agree that it has, how do we move forward, together?

 

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“Every philosopher is a child of his time…”

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?

Thanks to eternal #Philosophy12 participant and friend GNA Garcia for sharing this Harvard University course on Justice. Covering topics from murder, to cannibalism, and ethical conundrums well-beyond, the popular Harvard class (billed as “the most popular class in Harvard history”) is available freely on the Youtube. Embedded above is the first episode, which tackles the Moral Side of Murder:

If you had to choose between (1) killing one person to save the lives of five others and (2) doing nothing even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothing—what would you do? What would be the right thing to do? Thats the hypothetical scenario Professor Michael Sandel uses to launch his course on moral reasoning. After the majority of students votes for killing the one person in order to save the lives of five others, Sandel presents three similar moral conundrums—each one artfully designed to make the decision more difficult. As students stand up to defend their conflicting choices, it becomes clear that the assumptions behind our moral reasoning are often contradictory, and the question of what is right and what is wrong is not always black and white.

You can explore the world of justice on their interactive and multi-media website.

 

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Epistemology Discussion: History of Knowledge 11.06.13

With pencast notes provided by Julie and the Livescribe pen.

 

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An Epicurean Philosophy – Aidan

File:Epikur.jpg

I would do an epic pun, but that would be too easy.

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who saw the rise and division of the Macedonian Empire, would probably have better fit in today than he did in his time.  He lived in the Aegean archipelago in Samos, Greece from 341 – 270 BC, dying at the age of 72.  He studied and was influenced by other philosophers such as Plato and Democritus.  Some of his work is comparable to a peer philosopher, Zeno, in this comedic short:

His legacy includes many teachings such as that pleasure is the measure of good and pain/suffering is the measure of evil.  It’s worth noting that he never married or had children, suffered from kidney stones and dysentery, and was probably a vegetarian.

Epicurus believed in the existence of atoms.  Imagine in 300 BC the idea of atoms being considered.  The definition was that the universe was made of tiny indivisible particles bouncing around in empty space and therefore every occurrence is a result of these indivisibles interacting with one another.  In addition, Epicurus believed the atoms have an underlying element of chaos which make their paths unpredictable and therefore affirming the idea of free will and opposing determinism.  Compared with modern theories of quantum physics, Epicurus was more clairvoyant than Nostradamus could have ever predicted!

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (i.e. agreeing neither to harm nor be harmed), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.”  -Epicurus

Other legacies of Epicurus include but are not limited to:  pleasure and suffering being the embodiment of good and evil (including gluttonous pleasure as a form of suffering and experiencing some suffering as a means to greater pleasure), a formulation of the Ethic of Reciprocity (a.k.a. Golden Rule: see above), and The Epicurean Paradox (see below) since he believes that the gods are not concerned with humans.

 

The Epicurean Paradox:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?

Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?

Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing?

Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing?

Then why call him God?

 

Epicurus’ ideas can be seen in many aspects of society.  For example, his statement on the Ethic of Reciprocity inspired the ideas of John Locke which called for the right to “life, liberty and property” whereas property is also defined as one’s own person.  Those ideas were in turn borrowed by Thomas Jefferson, a self-described Epicurean, for the foundation of The United States of America which advocated “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I was surprised to see that a man who lived in 300 BC would be so involved in the ideas that the world consisted of atoms and that he would challenge the idea of gods so radically.  I was really inspired by his ideas of pleasure vs. pain and suffering and how he wrote in a letter to a friend as he was dying of the kidney stone pain that it was a happy day for him.  Epicurus did not believe in fearing death as being dead was of no concern to a person after having died.

Although there are other aspects of his life I have not touched upon due to the nature of this being a post on metaphysics, I highly recommend to anyone interested in a very Stoic-style of thinking to look up Epicurus and his teachings.  One of my favourite things I read while studying him was the inscription on the gate of his garden that he used to host philosophical teachings and discussions to which women were to be admitted as a rule rather than an exception.  The inscription reads as such:

“Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.”

*Tarry: v. Stay longer than intended; delay leaving a place.

 

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CBC Ideas | Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza

Thanks to Ms. Bogan for passing along the link to this week’s CBC Ideas episode on Baruch Spinoza:

Baruch Spinoza was a 17th century lens grinder known for his precision optical work. But it was his philosophy that made this Dutch-Jewish thinker famous, then and now. IDEAS host Paul Kennedy explores how Spinoza’s thoughts on God, the universe, ethics and politics helped ignite the flame that became the Enlightenment.

Baruch Spinoza was a 17th century Dutch Jewish philosopher (1632-1677). He was known for his radical views on religion and politics. As a young man, he was banned by his own religious community for his scandalous ideas.

He made his living by grinding precision lens for scientists. He died young, at the age of 44, presumably from inhaling glass dust.

Spinoza did not believe that God created the heavens and earth – the universe.  For Spinoza, God was equivalent to all of nature. He believed that “false religion” created superstition.  A “true religion,” on the other hand, was liberating because it allowed freedom of thought.

The Europe of 17th century was a place  of stifling religious orthodoxies, strife and war.  Spinoza believed in freedom of thought and the principle of religious tolerance.

Spinoza also had radical ideas about the nature of politics.  He believed in democracy.  He is credited with helping to shape the revolution in human thought known as The Enlightenment.

 

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Metaphysics Unit Assessments

Higgs Boson!

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Lala Lands

After covering an introduction to Metaphysics through text reading and digital summaries, the unit’s study will revolve around individual inquiry and research into the lives and minds of philosophers who have waded into the discussion of just what there is, and what it is likeIn blog posts and presentations, the intended learning outcome in the next week is to create a variety of biographical and critical information on various metaphical philosophers.

For Credit Learners

Blog Post – Demonstrate research and introduction to a philosopher of Metaphysics in a blog post submitted no later than Wednesday October 24th. Look to answer the following questions in your introduction:

  • How did the philosopher’s life or biography influence their personal philosophy?
  • What ideas or concepts are they credited with or notable for?
  • How have these ideas been built on or incorporated into our modern zeitgeist or mindset?
  • What personal response do you have to the topics your philosopher explored?

Presentation – Beginning next week (Monday October 29th), for credit participants will be hosting Pecha Kucha style presentations of their evaluation of one of their philosopher’s arguments, or contentions on a metaphysical topic. These presentations should adhere to (approximately) this structure:

  • Slides 1 – 5:  You and your Philosopher – How do you differ, what do you hold the same?
  • Slides 6 – 10: What they are saying – Outline a single argument / proposition from your selected philosopher.
  • Slides 11 – 15: Truth, Validity & Soundness – How would you evaluate your philosopher’s argument?
  • Slides 16 – 20: Metaphysics in the Modern World – Where do you see the influence, or evidence of the ideas expressed by your philosopher?

Open Online Participants

As always, you are invited and encouraged to take on either of the assignments, or propose and submit an alternate response to the topic that you feel compelled to share. We value your input wherever you have the time to offer it, and look forward to your engagement with the blog’s comments, and on our class wiki site for this unit.

 
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