Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Metaphysics Phil’s Day Off

My question for this unit is “what are words?” and I was struggling to figure out what to do for my Phil’s Day Off! This is a difficult topic to do out of class learning but I was planning on going downtown anyways, so I decided to go to the Vancouver Art Gallery with Erin. My objective was to try to see how or if the things people said about the artwork, changed my opinion of the art. I was very lucky because the theme of one of the displays happening that I went to was “Modern Art.” There were a ton of “simple” and very abstract pieces that people seemed to have a lot of their own opinions on.

Listening to some conversations, I could tell that they were like me, they didn’t know much about art because they either weren’t saying much, or nothing at all. I was dissatisfied how not many people were talking about any of the art so I walked onto the part of the exhibit that was more “abstract” so more people would have different opinions on the art and I could see if my theory was going to work. As I kept walking further into the exhibit, more people started speaking their opinions on the work. I was looking at a piece I really liked and it was a very unusual sculpture because it was very simple and plain-looking. One lady who to me, sounded like she knew quite a bit about art started pointing out some of the flaws she noticed like the color, how boring it was, how it didn’t really convey a message about anything and much more that I couldn’t even comprehend. She seemed almost discussed how this was even considered good enough art to be in a gallery. Afterwards I found that when I looked at the art again, I focused more on the many imperfections that if had. I couldn’t really look at this art that I once really liked, and see it the same way that I had before because I was more aware of the fact that someone who seemingly knew a lot about art, didn’t like this piece which of course, made me not enjoy its beauty anymore.

This showed me how greatly our use of words affect objects around us and how we perceive them. The way we string together our words and voice our opinion on something can completely alter my opinion and change the way I see it. It was a very important aspect of me research because It helped me see how much words really do affect us and items in our lives. I think that it really depends on how people are altering their use of words makes me assume they are more knowledgable on the subject and I will ultimately value their opinion much more!

I think my phil’s day off was very successful because I really learned how my opinion on things around me can be altered by the way people manipulate their words to seem more knowledgeable on a subject. If you are constantly using words that are completely unrelated to the topic, nobody will think you know what you are talking about and they wont really take your words into consideration.

Questions I had after I completed my phil’s day off were: How do our words convey how much we know on a topic?, What about grammar and its relationship to our knowledge? How do my words affect the people around me? Do you have to be knowledgeable to be considered smart on a topic?

 

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The Eternal Pursuit for Knowledge and Meaning (aka Nikki’s soul-searching journey)

Intellectual or not, the human mind is on a constant path of furthering it’s own knowledge. Whether it be street smarts gained by years of socialization or the physical push for a higher education, we grow and adapt and seek out new information to cope with our ever changing surroundings.

Since the dawn of time, man (and woman) have pushed and grown to new heights to advance as a civilization. What drives this innate sense of growth and prosperity? What pushes us to seek higher education and put ourselves through years of schooling?

In it’s truest form philosophy refers to the “love of wisdom,” but in a general sense it could also refer to “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group.” To myself that definitely seems like the pursuit of knowledge and growth in a person. As seen by this photo, even philosophy itself, moves and adapts and seeks more and more to fulfill their insatiable need to explain the universe.

We desire knowledge to figure out this crazy universe and if there is a true meaning to our lives or if we’re just pawns in someone’s game or just specks of dust floating in space.

Different views have different opinions so what are we really supposed to believe? We as individuals seek out philosophy as a way to differentiate ourselves from the general populace of “sheeple” and to find our own meaning to life. To learn and hear people’s opinions and learn tolerance and how to argue for ourselves and stand up and fight the face of injustice.

Philosophy gives us a platform to seek a higher knowledge and expand our views. I personally am here to develop my own opinion and find my voice in the endless void. It is so easy to be lost in the sea of opinions and just give up and join the masses, but it takes real chutzpah to be the voice above the rest and really be yourself.

And along the words of the eternal cliche Robert Frost “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by.”

TL;DR I’m very opinionated and I like big words. Different people have different views, it’s almost like we’re individuals. Philosophy gives me existential crises and I don’t know if I like that.

 

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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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Emily: Putting All Your Eggs in One Freezer

Meet Louise Joy Brown.

Louise with her parents.

She was born on July 25th, 1978. She was the first ever baby to be conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF). By 2006, over 3 million babies had been born worldwide thanks to assisted reproductive technologies (ART).  And some 60,000 babies are born every year thanks to IVF.

In IVF, eggs are removed from the woman and fertilized in a lab, then implanted in a uterus for gestation. Of the eggs fertilized, the doctors pick the “best” of the lot, then usually implant around two or three so as to have a higher chance of pregnancy without risking many multiple births.

If there were enough “good” eggs, then the non-implanted ones are often frozen and cryopreserved. This allows for the couple (or woman) to try again for another pregnancy if they want another child or if the first time around didn’t take.

But problems can ensue. What if the couple doesn’t want any more children? What if they separate or divorce? This is a major ethical issue currently being fought in many courtrooms. Should the eggs be saved if one of the parents still wants to have children? Should they be donated to another couple trying to have children? Or should they simply be discarded as medical waste?

Many, many court cases have been and are being fought over frozen embryos. In many cases, the couple has split and only one of the two wants to keep the frozen embryos. Perhaps one still wants to use them to have children, or to donate them, while the other doesn’t want to become a parent. How should the court rule? First of all, how can the court classify them? They are not legally persons yet, so it’s not the same as a custody battle over a couple of toddlers. But the embryos aren’t property either – they contain the genetic material of the parents and have the potential to be life. Many U.S. court cases have resulted in the parent demanding their right to privacy and to not have their genetic material used for procreation against their will winning the case, leaving the parent still wanting to have children or donate the embryos left behind. Most times, it is the ex-husband or ex-boyfriend who doesn’t want to have the responsibility of a child, while the woman wants to keep the embryos, often because she can no longer produce eggs likely to result in a healthy baby. Cases such as increasing age or certain types or cancer are common.

If the court rules with the parent in favour of not keeping the embryos, if the couple signs an agreement or if the frozen embryos themselves are abandoned, then the cryopreserved zygotes are destroyed by being placed in water. But is it even right to so simply destroy these pieces of pre-life?

First of all, many couples don’t have the money available for ART, so the donation of unwanted embryos or eggs would be put to good use. Or the embryos could be donated for research, particularly stem cell research. Also, while many compare the process of discarding the embryos to abortion, I feel like it is something more.

Imagine first a couple who froze several extra embryos after they had a successful pregnancy. However, later, one or both of them decide they don’t want the remaining embryos and have them destroyed.

Now, imagine a second couple. They are able to naturally get pregnant, and do so with the full intention of starting a family. However, during the pregnancy, the couple decides they no longer want kids and have an abortion. Or perhaps they separate and maybe the father demands that the mother has an abortion because he doesn’t want a biological child that he would have to provide care or money for.

I feel like abortion should be legal in some cases (but this is neither the time nor the place to discuss my exact views on abortion), but I hardly think it should be allowed if a woman or couple decide that they want to have children and start a family, then decide to abort the baby partway through the pregnancy because they changed their minds. And I think that the destruction of frozen embryos (while not a perfectly similar case) is also like this.

From my research, I know at least these things about IVF: it is generally uncomfortable to stimulate and extract the eggs, and it can cost up to $15,000 for the original treatment plus up to $600 per year for embryo storage. Then I really don’t think most people would go and freeze their embryos just for kicks and giggles. So, I will assume that they created and froze these embryos with the intent of using them to have children.

If you created these embryos with he purpose of using them to have children, then I view their destruction the same way I would view it if you got pregnant to start a family, but aborted the fetus at some point during the pregnancy.

While I know that the doctors usually take more eggs than are necessary when going through IVF, I still don’t think their destruction should be undertaken so lightly and nonchalantly. At the very least, why not donate them for research? If you’re discarding them, you surely have no use for them.

My suggestion for a solution to the problem is fairly simple. I would have the eggs and the sperm frozen separately, so that in case of divorce or some other circumstance, each partner could take their own donation and be on their merry way.

I read an article recently about a court battle over some embryos. A woman and her boyfriend had frozen some embryos, but ended up splitting up. Now, the woman has had ovarian cancer and the eggs in storage are the only she’ll ever be able to have. However, since her ex-boyfriend’s sperm was also frozen with her already-fertilized eggs, he also had a say in their fate, and he did not want to have a child from his own genetic matter without it really being his kid.

I see both people’s sides here. While I can imagine the woman’s desire to have kids that were actually her own, I can also see the man’s desire not have a child out there that was half him but really not his, not to mention probably having to pay child support or something of the like.

Again, abortion enters heavily into this discussion. For those who believe that life begins at fertilization, the destruction of frozen embryos would be no less than murder. For people like Plato, who believe that  “the human soul does not enter the body until birth”, then it is very much the same as doctors discarding any other medical waste. So, as Mariana said, “Ethics are very personal.”

So, basically, here are the problems that surround frozen embryos and their fate:

  • Do embryos count as people? Are they legally property?
  • Which is more valued: a parent’s right to have their own children (whom they paid for with a lot of money) or a parent’s right not to have their genetic material taken and used for a child that is not really theirs?
  • Is it ethical to give parents the resources to have a family without ensuring they plan ahead in case of divorce, separation or death?

I hope I have made this clearer, even though I am still not entirely sure what to think. Oh, ethics.

 

My slew of sites used for information may be found at Delicious.com

 

 

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I Know That I Don’t Know…I Think (Emily)

I confess, I am feeling slightly daunted by everyone’s posts. Everyone has these huge long posts about what they believe or know or drew in class.

As for me, I’m not usually very good at thinking on the spot. So, I’m normally not too involved in heated class discussions. I usually let stuff bounce around in my head for a while before I can argue about it or even know what I think about it.

Philosophy, however, seems determined to trump me. At the beginning of the year, we were told to think about what our personal philosophy on everything was. I had absolutely no clue then. Now, I’m probably even less sure. And with epistemology, I am still so confused as to what everything is that I have no idea what I think or know. Don’t even get me started on condensing it into a belief statement or personal philosophy.

Like so many people have said before, the more I think, the more confused I get. Two steps forwards, eighteen and a half steps back. Philosophy is clear as mud.

Still, I suppose there are things that I think I know, even if I don’t know what I think.

First of all, Descartes. After that project about him during Metaphysics, I looked a lot at “I think, therefore, I am.” To me, that is True. You can’t think things or experience things without first existing and, if you ask me, Hume can say whatever he wants but I don’t see a way to think or feel without existing. So, I can incorporate that I know I exist (because I know I am thinking about existence) into that chamber of my brain for what I Know and Believe about the world.

Secondly, Van Orman Quine. I also took part in a project about him, so I (sort of) know his ideas and I generally agree, at least with his thoughts on vague language. We don’t have words to accurately describe anything, so it can be hard to argue or even talk about anything, because words can never accurately describe anything, and everyone has their own (slightly different) definition for everything. So, I can also incorporate that I can’t really talk properly with anyone else about what I Know or Believe, because it will always be slightly distorted.

Third, everything. Everyone has these nice little triangles, but I envision a completely different diagram. (I really don’t know what kind of shape it could take, but I’ll work on that) I think that opinion and belief, while classified right at the bottom of the triangles, belong elsewhere. Maybe in a weird blob shape off to the side. Who knows. But I think that opinion and/or belief could be right up there with Knowledge or Truth – because they are True to you, otherwise they would not be your belief or opinion (They are falsifiable, but while you believe them, they are True to you). So if we could do some diagram involving them being in Truth for you but at the bottom for everyone else? Who knows.

So: I know that I exist. I can’t discuss anything clearly or properly with anyone, even possibly myself. And belief and opinion can be truth. Sometimes.

My diagram might end up looking like this.

 

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Believing in Knowledge

Throughout this week, we have been discussing epistemology, touching on various branches of this topic, focusing often on the progression of opinion, belief, and knowledge. A brief, but somewhat broad definition of the three terms according to our Philosophy textbook and what we used in our discussions: Opinion- Statement that cannot be proven true or false. Belief – Statement that can be proven true or false. Knowledge- Justified true belief. Where a belief becomes knowledge was an area very much debated and broken down further. An idea that caught my mind was the definition of knowledge as society’s beliefs, as a collective belief.

Use Ptolemy’s theory for an example. It was once believed that all celestial bodies within our cosmos orbited around the Earth. Similar to how we now believe that the earth and the planets of our solar system orbit the sun, the people of Ancient Greece accepted the Geocentric model as truth, and more specifically, as knowledge. This theory was not only widely accepted but justified. There were two common observations that supported the idea that the Earth was the center of the Universe. The first observation was that the stars, sun, and planets appear to revolve around the Earth each day. Stars closest to the equator appeared to rise and fall, and circled back to its rising point each day. The second observation was that the Earth did not seem to move from the perspective of the Earth bound observer, remaining solid, stable, and unmoving. In other words, it was completely at rest. If the celestial bodies around the Earth revolved, and the Earth remained still, then the conclusion could be drawn that everything orbited the centered Earth.

Nowadays, however, our newest mathematical and scientific discoveries and theories, such as aberration, parallax, and the Doppler effect, have proven that the Sun is actually the centre of our solar system. We are taught in school and by society that this theory is fact, and is indeed observable out beyond our atmosphere if only our naked eye were able. However, how can we be sure that are current theory is true?

If common knowledge can be defined as beliefs justified by the agreement of society, then knowledge is but the overlapping of personal beliefs (beliefs defined as statements that can be proved true or false). The line in which a belief becomes knowledge is crossed with justification, but it seems justification is a grey shade that is solidified through agreement of the masses. This interlacing of personal perspectives questions whether what we know is true, but nonetheless affirms the world in which we live in today.

 

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Jennifer: Santa is Not Real

I know that Santa is not real. The rose-coloured glasses of childhood have lifted, and the days of eagerly awaiting a bearded man bringing bring bright, shiny packages from the North Pole are gone. I still love the beauty of Christmas, the joy and goodwill that mixes with the scents of pine and gingerbread in the air. However, the purpose of my conclusion is not related to my enjoyment of the season, but rather to my ongoing debate with the definition of knowledge.

When asked to define what knowledge is, I took my automatic first step for almost any assignment: I read the information package, the workbook, the instruction guide. For this class, I poured through the first chapter of Unit 3, Epistemology, highlighting and making notes in the margins. By the end of my reading, I found myself fixated on the topic of opinion vs. belief…vs. knowledge. If I did not know what the first two classifications of statements entailed, then how could I place anything in the category of “knowledge?”

Thankfully, I have an entire class to make the subject much more clear and totally confusing. We’ve spent the last couple days discussing the merits of knowledge, ranging from how it is formed to its place in the world of paradigms. Of course, I kept sneaking in the opinion vs. belief debate, trying to find out the right spot for my Santa statement. Many people were surprised to discover that that belief statements, according to the booklet, are distinct from opinions because beliefs “can be classified as true or false.” Now, in a world where ‘I think’ and ‘I believe’ are used interchangeably, that precise definition of belief seemed absurd and hard to apply. The Standard Encyclopedic Dictionary definition I found seemed much more appropriate, stating that belief is “the acceptance of truth or actuality of anything without certain proof.” On the other hand, the dictionary definition of opinion, or “a conclusion or judgement held with confidence, but falling short of positive knowledge,” was frustratingly similar to that of a belief.

Almost as a focus group, certain members of our class, *cough Jonathan,* synthesized these definitions into a diagram based off of the one in our booklet. I like to call it the Triangle of Statement Classification.

Triangle of Statement Classification

In this system, statements are either an opinion, an undecided belief, a false belief, or a true belief/knowledge. One cannot attempt to prove an opinion, as it is independent of reason or experience. A statement can only make its way to knowledge if it has the ability to be backed by evidence, whether that support be physical or intellectual. Purely subjective remarks based on personal preference therefore can’t move beyond the opinion stage.

Wondering where the Santa question went? Here it comes again in just a moment. See, at the belief stage, a statement can remain in the undecided realm, where the thought has neither been proven true or false, or it can be falsified, while still remaining a belief. True beliefs (and this is where the justification argument is not going to be brought in), can be lifted to the status of  knowledge.

The argument against Santa is quite well supported. More precisely, the argument against the modern, western adaptation of the Christmas Eve process involving Santa is well supported. In this sense, I’m not working to disprove the existence of a person, but rather dissect the faulty event that is said to be performed by him. So many facets of the Santa story present obvious flaws, so I’ll just point out a few discrepancies that I’ve noticed:

  • How can a toy be made in the North Pole and in China at the same time?
  • What biological adaptation could Santa possess allowing him to exist for such a long period of time?
  • How could Santa make it to every applicable child’s home in one night, especially when he must land, fill stockings, place presents, drink milk, eat cookies, and fly off?
  • Why do the rich children receive a greater amount of presents with a higher monetary value than poorer children?

The reasoning involved to collapse the Santa theory is reliable, using information that is generally supported to be true (the concept of time and space etc). However, as Jonathan pointed out, severe tweaks in the Christmas tale could shift it back to the undecided position on the triangle. Or maybe, some of the truths the anti-Santa argument are based on will later be proven false by new scientific advancements.

For now though, I will remain an enlightened teen, past the years of believing in Santa but still very much invested in the Christmas spirit.

 

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Curiosity – Emily

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a famous philosophical tale told to illustrate the philosophical way of thinking and how it can change us. What struck me most when we discussed the allegory was the why. I tried to imagine why and how such a thing could take place.

Curiosity. Isn’t that why experiments like the Stanford Prison and Milford Experiments happened? I always guessed these scientists and psychologists had some information or hypotheses about what people would do in such situations, but they went and conducted these experiments to learn more. Because they were curious.

So  I wondered: could something similar happen with Plato’s Cave? Could this possibly ever happen? With the Nuremburg Code, however, this is unlikely, but there have been experiments and more experiments before and supposedly since the Code was put in place. The David Reimer Experiment, MKULTRA, The Well of Despair and The Monster Experiment are all examples of experimentation that did not follow the Nuremburg Code and cause amounts of disgust and revulsion in many. In the Monster Experiment, groups of orphans were given specific feedback that affected them throughout the rest of their life.

The psychologists did this experiment to see the effects of positive and negative feedback. Those who had received the negative feedback on their fluency and speech imperfections had psychological issues and speech problems throughout the rest of their lives. Pardon me, but who are these scientists to do such a thing to a child, something that rests with them all their life?

The Allegory of the Cave is quite similar – from a young age, the participants or subjects would be forced to see only the shadows on the cave wall. When released, such an experience would surely affect them the rest of their lives, as did the negative speech therapy in the Monster Experiment. Some may argue, “But at least the kids in Monster actually got to experience life, even if they had speech impediments! The ones stuck watching shadows never got to do any of the things we do!”

This brings me around to Mariana’s and Kristina’s points: is ignorance bliss? If all you had ever known was the cave wall with the shadows, would you ever dream of there being more to life? Maybe you live watching shadows, or you’re the best or the fastest at identifying them. You might be the biggest fish in your little pond. Living in the cave with the shadows would be a completely different life, not one as we know. Perhaps living with the shadows in the cave is a far better existence and a more pleasurable and fulfilling life than we’ve ever known. We can’t know. Maybe you would have more time for introspection and thought. Or, what if you were freed and guided into living in modern society? I doubt you would take as many things for granted as we do today.

How would we find this out, other than putting some kids through this kind of existence? We’re curious. Maybe, there’s a small egoistic part of us that wants this experiment to happen – as long as it’s not to us – so we can find out a little about what it’s like.  It’s our curiosity that led us to learn so much thus far. And to me, that’s philosophy. Wondering. Thinking. Curiosity.

 

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Jennifer: In My Opinion Spoken Word Poem

 
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