Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Political Animals

Following from some of the work Kelsey and Jeff have been doing, this New York Times Opinionator post may lead us into interesting discussions of social and political philosophy:

Homo sapiens has long sought to set itself apart from animals — that is, apart from every other living species. One of the most enduring attempts to define humanity in a way that distances us from the rest of animal life was Aristotle’s description of the human being as a “political animal.” By this he meant that human beings are the only species that live in the “polis” or city-state, though the term has often been understood to include villages, communes, and other organized social units. Implicit in this definition is the idea that all other animals are not political, that they live altogether outside of internally governed social units.

This supposed freedom from political strictures has motivated some, such as the 19th-century anarchist aristocrat Piotr Kropotkin, to take nonhuman animals as a model for human society. But for the most part the ostensibly nonpolitical character of animal life has functioned simply to exclude animals from human consideration as beings with interests of their own.

What might we be missing when we cut animals off in this way from political consideration? For one thing, we are neglecting a great number of solid scientific facts.This supposed freedom from political strictures has motivated some, such as the 19th-century anarchist aristocrat Piotr Kropotkin, to take nonhuman animals as a model for human society. But for the most part the ostensibly nonpolitical character of animal life has functioned simply to exclude animals from human consideration as beings with interests of their own.

 

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Questions: Teacherless Discussions & Leaderless Movements

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“The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics,” he writes, “the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

Paulo Freire 

Today the face-to-face philosophy crowd discussed scientific philosophy and the question of whether science itself can be considered objective. It was the group’s second attempt at facilitating its own ‘teacherless discussion’ and constructing collective knowledge on a topic (I reflected on the first discussion in a post here), and wanted to take the opportunity this weekend to foster some dialogue around the nature of such ‘leaderless’ collaborations.

Whether you were a participant in today’s discussion or not, there are a number of factors which limit or inspire individuals’ capacity to contribute to such democratic processes. Possessing prior knowledge, being able to act within previously-decided roles and responsibilities (teacher-student-expert, etc), peer relationships and even the physical arrangement of the discussion environment play a part in whether a social process meets its goals or not. So I arrive here this afternoon with a few questions, chiefly for today’s classroom participants, but potentially those beyond, about how these processes unfold.

So with respect to today’s discussion, but potentially including other similar experiences with democratic group processes, I am curious to hear:

  • Are there aspects of discussion which benefit from a lack of predetermined structure? What are they?
    • Or, are there benefits to formalizing or organizing a group in certain traditional ways, for example, designating a leader, prescribing topics or areas of expertise, capturing or introducing different ideas in progress?
  • What is difficult about engaging with a ‘leaderless’ discussion or group process?
  • What causes the discussion or group task to wander, or lose sight of its purpose, or sees people disengage?
    • What causes you to take your phone out, or to chat (off-topic) with a neighbour, or daydream?
  • What is happening in a discussion or group task when you are particularly engaged?
    • When is a discussion at its most productive?
      • And, what constitutes a ‘productive’ discussion?
  • How do we ensure full (or the fullest possible) participation of group members?

Part of what I am after within my role as a teacher in philosophy is bringing about an educational experience that allows for the rehearsal of skills required to bring about a constructivist vision of knowledge. In other words, a classroom dynamic that doesn’t rely solely on input and momentum created by me. The sort of passive consumption which comes from a teacher-led educational processes can lead to a kind of helplessness we might see exemplified in our apathetic democratic states and lack of social accountability for a host of laments many of us have about broader ‘society.’

With careful reflection on the above questions, and by sharing your thoughts with as specific examples or points as possible, we might work toward a clearer focus in our discussions going forward as a group.

Thanks for your input!

 

 
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