Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Epistemology Group Inquiries

Epistemology Inquiries

Areas of Inquiry

In the comments below, I’d like to hear from your group, or even multiple members of your group, about how you are approaching these initial questions in your epistemological inquiry:

  • What is your group’s main question?
  • What questions follow from your initial question?
  • How will you go about answering these questions?
    • Where will you look?
    • Who will you talk to?
    • What resources will you consult?
  • How will you know you have answered them?

Naturally, there will be overlapping areas of inquiry that these comments should seek out in trying to find common ground before we head into our activities and discussions next week. If you have helpful resources or referrals to add to anything your classmates are exploring, please feel free to post these links and leads below as well.

Next week, these various threads will come together to form our learning activities in the epistemology unit, culminating in a personal theory of knowledge mid-term assignment. This cumulative assignment doesn’t need to address the topic your group is investigating; however, this would likely be helpful.



The Meaningfulness of Lives

While running

In what I have called an age of economics, it is even more urgent to ask the question of a meaningful life:  what it consists in, how we might live one.  Philosophy cannot prescribe the particular character of meaning that each of us should embrace.  It cannot tell each of us individually how we might trace the trajectory that is allotted to us.  But it can, and ought to, reflect upon the framework within which we consider these questions, and in doing so perhaps offer a lucidity we might otherwise lack.  This is as it should be.  Philosophy can assist us in understanding how we might think about our lives, while remaining modest enough to leave the living of them to us.

Todd May writing in the New York Times 

I left a link to the story quoted above on Liam’s post about the nature of life’s meaning if not provided from an external ‘god’ force or intelligent design. But many of the conversations we have had – and will have – are the logical extensions of many of our metaphysical concerns.

It is no random act that organizes our philosophy course in the order that it does, as questions about What is, and What is it like naturally lead us to consider what we can know objectively (or personally/subjectively) in such a world, and then onto – based upon that knowledge – what it is that constitutes a good life.

This assumes of course that a ‘good life’ is in some way connected to life’s purpose. Though perhaps that is a debate worth having as well.



Logic Assignment Introduction

Logic Lane, Oxford

Photo of Logic Lane at Oxford by Andy Hough on Flickr.

As we move into our unit on logic, the face-to-face participants in Philosophy 12 have been reading about the Basic Concepts of Logic (pdf), which may be defined as “the science of reasoning.” Delving into statements, premises, propositions, as well as truth, validity and soundness, our hope is to greet the weekend with a host of blogged examples of logical arguments in their natural habitat. In past years, the tasks around logic have involved a similar feat of strength, and participants have generated multiple examples of logical arguments and tested them for form and content. Occasionally this has sparked interesting discussions of both the merits of this or that argument, the cultural implications (or origins) of such thinking, and by amending the unit assignment this week hopefully we will see more of this type of discourse emerging around our logical examples.

The Assignment 

  • Summarize and describe an example of a logical argument you have uncovered in a variety of settings: current events, popular media, personal anecdotes or hypothetical thought experiments. Be sure to include enough back-story for people unfamiliar with the milieu of your example to digest the logic at work, and provide links, video, or attached materials so that your audience can follow up or extend their inquiry into your example with ease.
  • Dissect the argument and its form by representing it as a syllogism.
  • Evaluate the argument for Truth, Validity and Soundness and explain your judgements.
  • Reflect upon the origins or implications of your selected argument. Where does it (or others like it) come from (in society, culture, etc)? What are the consequences of the conclusion drawn, or from the argument being framed in this way?

Post your example on the class site no later than Tuesday morning, and be sure to include the proper Category: Logic and Scientific Philosophy.

For your reference and preparation, here is an example of a response to this assignment:

Prime Ministerial Logic 

Image via Transitions, an Advocate for Sociological Inquiry

Following the discovery of Tina Fontaine’s murdered body in the Red River, in August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced reinvigorated calls to launch a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada. On the heels of reports from the special rapporteur to the United Nations, as well as the RCMP, which each discovered that aboriginal women in Canada face significantly higher rates of violence than non-aboriginals, Harper’s federal Conservative Government continued to reject pressure to better understand the root causes of this trend. The Prime Minister himself stated that “we should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as a crime.”

The Prime Minister’s statement might be seen as an argument broken down to the following premises and conclusion:

Premise 1: The murder or abduction of aboriginal women is a crime.

Premise 2: Crime is not a sociological phenomenon.

Premise 3: A federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women would rely on sociological practices of inquiry.

Conclusion: Therefore, a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women would not address crimes against aboriginal women.

By evaluating the various premises’ truth and/or accuracy, we might be able to reveal the soundness of the Prime Minister’s argument.

  • Premise 1 can easily be accepted as true.
  • Premise 2 can be more easily contested, as the study of criminology itself is a branch of sociological inquiry. While it is the government’s prerogative to define and combat crime in terms it was elected to uphold, practitioners in the fields of both sociology and criminology would likely contest the Prime Minister’s assertion that “crime is not a sociological phenomenon.”
  • Premise 3 can be seen to be true, as an inquiry into the trend of murdered and missing aboriginal women would “study social behaviour, its origins, development, organization, and institutions,” which Wikipedia defines as sociology.

As we can see, the flaw in the Prime Minister’s argument is contained in Premise number two, and damages the conclusion reached. While the argument’s form may be valid, an error in its content damages both the truth of its premises and the soundness of the conclusion.

The origins of the Prime Minister’s logic are difficult to trace, though they might be seen in the political ideology of Neoliberalism. Writing in the Toronto Star, Jakeet Singh noted that the Prime Minister’s remarks were

“clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems.”

The effects of this logic being brought to bear on crime and punishment in Canada can be similarly difficult to witness (somewhat ironically even, as the evidence to be found would reside within the sorts of sociological inquiries the Prime Minister is denying). However, Singh’s article describes the casualties of Mr. Harper’s ideology as our societal ability to perceive and confront injustice. “You see,” he writes, “Sociologists often differentiate between “personal injustices” and “systemic” or “structural injustices.” Personal injustices can be traced back to concrete actions of particular individuals (perpetrators). These actions are often willful, and have a relatively isolated victim.”

Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”

By refusing to view crime as a sociological phenomenon, those accepting the Prime Minister’s argument do so within a broader context which should trouble those who believe in our collective responsibility for one another’s well-being. “When we paint all social problems as individual problems with individual solutions,” Singh writes, “we also lose any sense of the social responsibility, rather than personal responsibility, that we need to address them.”



Introductory Readings: What is Philosophy?

Susan Sontag’s copy of Finnegan’s Wake

Introductory readings this week in #Philosophy12:

Talk with Me by Nigel Warburton 

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. As Plato’s Socrates tells us, ‘These are not trivial questions we are discussing here, we are discussing how to live.’

Philosophy and its History by Graham Priest 

So why are we still reading the great dead philosophers? Part of the answer is that the history of philosophy is interesting in its own right. It is fascinating, for example, to see how the early Christian philosophers molded the ideas of Plato and Aristotle to the service of their new religion. But that is equally true of the history of mathematics, physics, and economics. There has to be more to it than that—and of course there is. 

Why not just weigh the fish? by Robert Pasnau 

If even philosophy is dismissed as a waste of time for being insufficiently scientific, where does that leave those other modes of humanistic inquiry? Reading Plato or Chekhov may not stop the planet from warming or cure a disease – or help build more accurate missiles – and it may not point the way toward a new science of ethics or will. Yet what of it? Does such inquiry not have a value of its own? That is of course itself a philosophical question.



Epistemology Inquiry – Jade

Knowledge is defined as facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. Although knowledge is stated as a positive input, increasing knowledge must be taken in at moderate speed and mass for the human mind to healthily compute it. As paradoxical as it may seem, I believe that ignorance is a key element in how we learn things, when we learn them, and why. In recently reading the novel “1984”, written by George Orwell, my attention was instantly caught when the fictional dystopia showcased slogans saying “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”.

ImageCoinciding with my belief of ignorance playing a great part in our maintainable amount of knowledge, the fascist leader found power in limiting the knowledge of the people, and holding overall management over them. Knowledge is power, and as history has proven to repeat itself, I am confident in saying that power corrupts; therefore, knowledge corrupts. The very truth our human nature craves is what could be bringing us to our insanity. Although ignorance has been granted a negative stigma, people who value knowledge enough to accept and carry on the negative thoughts on ignorance should be those who examine what it truly is. Looking into Satanism, I found that it follows the beliefs of knowledge opposed to the enlightenment and total devotion to a God. More or less, you are meant to become your own God, and

Imageshow the gratitude of your empowerment to the beloved Satan. Encouraging the power of free-will and individuality, Satanism is true to the ideology that “truth will set men free”, and that “prayers are to men that dolls are to children”. The raw and authentic religion takes away the comfort in after-life, and gifts the power in today. Ironically, ignorance and Satanism are both associated with various negative ideologies, yet contradict one another. A question I ask myself is if the knowledge we are meant to achieve is specific to certain information, giving the knowledge Satanism provokes its negative aura. If so, why has ignorance become a symbol of an unintelligent and inhumane mindset? Studying Buddhism, I realized that it shares many similarities with Satanism. Even with Buddha’s joyful image versus Satan’s supposedly “evil” visual, these two religions were quite easy to compare. Both encouraging self-enlightenment, Buddhism promotes an idea of happiness with balance. Yin Yang, symbolizing complete balance, relates to my idea of ignorance being a part of how we ingest knowledge. Of course, I’m not advising willful ignorance; I’m simply clarifying our unknowing ignorance is a contributor to the Imageevolution people and their nature. When discussing with various peers about the topic of ignorance, they described ignorance as a lack of integrity, and a detrimental borderline separating civilized versus uncivilized. We cannot be so arrogant to believe that we are perfect people living in an intellectual utopia. It’s in human nature to aspire to greatness, inevitably contributing to a denial of ignorance. But may I say, we are more ignorant than we think. The acceptance of ignorance gives us better opportunity to have advancement in our knowledge. I conclude with saying that without ignorance, there would be no existing counterpart that is intelligence. As William Shakespeare was quoted to say, “There is nothing good, nor bad, but thinking makes it so”. Although ignorance is defined as a lack of knowledge, there is always a beginning before an end. In the lifecycle of knowledge, ignorance is key.



#DS106 Daily Create: What is Philosophy?

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With much thanks to Alan Levine and Tim Owens for building the marvelous creativity machine that is Digital Storytelling 106 (#ds106)’s Daily Create, and to Alan for orchestrating my suggested Create to coincide with our class presentations on the same topic, it is a great thing to see the ripple of the question we are asking in Coquitlam find its way out onto the open web! Thanks to all who submitted their own responses to the question; you can find many of the class’ entries under the Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry category.



Radiolab & other Ethical Supplements


Some Supplemental Reading & Viewing for our Ethics Unit

Radiolab | The Good Show
“The standard view of evolution is that living things are shaped by cold-hearted competition. And there is no doubt that today’s plants and animals carry the genetic legacy of ancestors who fought fiercely to survive and reproduce. But in this hour, we wonder whether there might also be a logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness … or even, self-sacrifice. Is altruism an aberration, or just an elaborate guise for sneaky self-interest? Do we really live in a selfish, dog-eat-dog world? Or has evolution carved out a hidden code that rewards genuine cooperation?”

Radiolab | The Bad Show
“We begin with a chilling statistic: 91% of men, and 84% of women, have fantasized about killing someone. We take a look at one particular fantasy lurking behind these numbers, and wonder what this shadow world might tell us about ourselves and our neighbors. Then, we reconsider what Stanley Milgrim’s famous experiment really revealed about human nature (it’s both better and worse than we thought). Next, we meet a man who scrambles our notions of good and evil: chemist Fritz Haber, who won a Nobel Prize in 1918…around the same time officials in the US were calling him a war criminal. And we end with the story of a man who chased one of the most prolific serial killers in US history, then got a chance to ask him the question that had haunted him for years: why?”

Justice: What’s the Right thing to Do?
Justice is one of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history, having taught more than 14,000 students over the course of two decades. In this course, Sandel challenges us with difficult moral dilemmas and asks our opinion about the right thing to do. He then asks us to examine our answers in the light of new scenarios. The results are often surprising, revealing that important moral questions are never black and white. This course also addresses the hot topics of our day—affirmative action, same-sex marriage, patriotism and rights—and Sandel shows us that we can revisit familiar controversies with a fresh perspective. Each lecture in this course has two parts as well as related readings and discussion guides.

Thinking Ethically: A Framework for Moral Decision Making (from Santa Clara University)
Dealing with these moral issues is often perplexing. How, exactly, should we think through an ethical issue? What questions should we ask? What factors should we consider?

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
“The IEET’s mission is to be a center for voices arguing for a responsible, constructive, ethical approach to the most powerful emerging technologies. We believe that technological progress can be a catalyst for positive human development so long as we ensure that technologies are safe and equitably distributed. We call this a “technoprogressive” orientation.”