Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Epistemology: A Summary – Sydney

When we started the epistemology unit in philosophy, I had three statements that I wanted to explore:

  1. Knowledge is what can be observe or what we can think about.

I think that knowledge begins with input from the 5 senses, but it can also be ideas we come up with independently of sensory information. Knowledge can also be what we interpret this sensory information as. Essentially, knowledge can be anything, but I think that knowledge can fall into one of the two categories (either sensory information or independent ideas). Knowledge can fall in the middle of the two, but I think it still leads back to one category where the knowledge was initiated.

  1. Knowledge is limited by ourselves.

I think there is only so much that our minds can do or think about. We can mentally extend ourselves, as in being able to learn/think about new things, but once again that’s limited by our mental ability.

  1. Knowledge is mainly individualized.

I don’t think that knowledge can really be collective – we can know the same things, but not in the exact same way as another person, because we don’t have their experiences and cannot truly see the world the way they do.

Out of these three statements, I decided to pursue the third one: knowledge is mainly individualized. To help me in my search, out of the two readings I found, I thought that “The Independence Thesis: When Individual and Social Epistemology Diverge” was the most useful and relevant to my topic. While the content of this article was mainly mathematical, I was able to decipher the idea that this article relates to my topic.The authors discuss group knowledge and how it begins with individual knowledge: although there can be groups of scientists sharing knowledge, the information really begins individually. Looking back at it now, this idea seems sort of like a variation of the “Which came first – the chicken or the egg?” discussion because the points made about group knowledge or individual knowledge coming first could definitely be argued. This reading led to me next question: is it possible to have collective or group knowledge without individual knowledge?

Unfortunately, during our discussions in class I was unable to talk about this question with my peers. Instead, we talked about knowledge as true belief, and our perception of reality vs. what reality is actually like. I talked to Kiana about knowledge being true belief. We thought that one person may believe something, and therefore to them it would be true knowledge. This relates to my topic because Kiana also mentioned how one person’s belief may be justified to one person and it would be knowledge to them, but this might not be the case with everyone else around them. As a result, this also suggests the idea that knowledge is individualized. When I talked to Dom, Liam, Adam, and Sam, we spoke about the difference between our perception of reality and what reality is actually like. We discussed the idea that our perception of reality is reality until that perception changes. I think this also relates to my topic because it implies that everyone has different perceptions. Our perception is coloured by our previous experiences and knowledge, and is also ever-changing. As a result, no one can have the exact same perception of reality as another person, and therefore cannot have the exact same knowledge as another person – it all leads back to knowledge being individualized! In my opinion, of course. Regardless, I thought that the discussions I had in class were useful and I hoped to carry these ideas with me as I pursued my active learning,

For my Phil’s Day Off this time around, I decided I wanted to make a video. I wanted to demonstrate the difference between my sister and I’s experiences, even though we were essentially experiencing the same activities. This would provide an example that shows how knowledge is still individual, even though it may be based upon similar experiences. I was successful – through filming this video, it cemented my idea that knowledge really is based on perception. I couldn’t film exactly what my sister experienced, because I would still be viewing what she saw through the lenses of my own experiences, and the tangible objectivity of a camera and filming something represented how I could never get in another person’s head and know what they know in the same way that they do.

From my reading, discussion, and active learning for this epistemology unit, I have come away with three findings: first, I found that going out with more intention is more useful. This is specifically in regards to my active learning piece. It helps to have a plan, and I was able to think more actively about everything I did and how it related back to my topic, rather than blindly navigating through my day and then reflecting at the very end and stretching for any point that could possibly be related to philosophy.

My second finding is that technically, there is no answer to any question we may have. I think that this has not only been my biggest finding in the epistemology unit, but also the biggest thing that philosophy has taught me. I think that we can say that we may think that we know something, but there will always be something or someone who can contradict it.

This leads to my third finding from the epistemology unit: everything leads back to perception. When I mean perception, by the way, I’m essentially talking about point of view. Everything we may think or know is based upon our point of view, which will never be the exact same as another person’s. However, like I stated before, there could definitely be a person who disagrees with me on this point (or any other point I’ve made, for that matter), and we will never ever know for sure who could be the closest to being “right.”



Discussing the Discussion Pt. II: Epistemology – Sydney

My initial proposition that I walked into class with before our discussions yesterday was knowledge is individualized. No one knows the same things in the exact same way. I think that it is possible for a group of people to know the same the thing, but the way in which they know it and how they consider what they know can never be the same as another person.

During our discussions in class, I talked to Kiana, and Dom, Liam, Adam, and Sam. When I talked to Kiana, we were talking about her topic, which was along the lines of knowledge being true belief. We talked about how one person may believe something, and therefore to them it is knowledge. Kiana also said that this belief may be justified true belief, but it would be justified to that person and not necessarily to everyone else. As a result, one person’s knowledge may be false in another person’s eyes, but to that original person it is still defined as their knowledge. Kiana’s point supports the idea of knowledge being individualized, and added another layer to the idea.

When I talked to Dom, Liam, Adam, and Sam, we initially spoke of the difference between our perception of reality and what reality itself is actually like. Essentially, we discussed the idea that our perception of reality is reality until that perception changes. This can also relate to my topic because it deals with “our perception.” I think that this idea and statement also implies that everyone has different perceptions. Our perception is clouded by our previous experiences and previous knowledge, and is also ever-changing, and as a result no two people can have the exact same perceptions of reality – nor can they have the exact same knowledge.

To conclude, the discussions I had during our class were fruitful and provided evidence that I could use for my topic, and to hopefully consider while I pursue my active learning.




On Experience, Perception and Biased Expressions

Proposition: Knowledge is fueled by experience, influenced by perception and expressed in a strictly subjective manner

When creating a theory of what knowledge is I came to understand that it is fueled through experience. Whether that experience is physical (one is creating an understanding that fire is hot by touching it) or mental (one is creating an understanding that fire is hot by reading about it). There are so many different ways in which people can begin to understand and gain knowledge of different topics, just as there are many ways in which they encode that knowledge.

Klob’s theory of the experiential learning cycle outlines that there are four steps in the cycle of learning through experience:  Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation,  Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation.

Concrete Experience involves encountering a new situation or the reinterpretation of an existing experience.

Reflective Observation involves reflecting on the experience being sure there are no inconsistencies on the experience and the understanding of it.

Abstract Conceptualization involves the discovery of new ideas or the abstract understanding that come to mind through reflections.

Active Experimentation involves the learner applying new knowledge to real life in order to see what may result.



In Klob’s theory, all parts of the cycle are necessary for a person to fully gain knowledge. No one category can be effective on its own.

Knowledge can be perceived differently person to person. Many people have different learning styles which affect how they learn and what they gain from their experiences. Klob’s theory also involves the different styles of learning that people may have. Different variables affect a person’s learning style, and how they perceive their experiences.  For example, social environment, educational experiences, or the basic cognitive structure of the individual all play a role in how that person learns.

Klob’s theory involves four different learning styles: Diverging, Assimilating, Converging, and Accommodating.

Diverging (feeling and watching – CE/RO): People who use the learning style of diverging knowledge are often able to look at things from different perspectives. These people are sensitive to their surroundings, themselves and others. These learners prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and using their imagination to solve problems. Diverging learners are best at viewing concrete situations at several different viewpoints and perform better in situations that require idea generation e.g. brainstorming. Diverging learners are generally more social as they prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind and to receive personal feedback.

Assimilating (watching and thinking – AC/RO):People who use the learning style of Assimilating knowledge use a logical approach when solving problems or interpreting information. These people value ideas and concepts over information from other people. They require a good clear explanation of a concept rather than a practical opportunity to physically use their knowledge.Assimilating learners excel at understanding a wide range information and organizing that information in clear logical formats. These people are more attracted to logically sound theories than approaches based on practical value. They prefer readings, lectures, exploring analytical models, and having time to think things through when attempting to gain new knowledge and understanding.

Converging (doing and thinking – AC/AE): People who use the learning style of converging knowledge can solve problems and will use their knowledge to find solutions to practical issues.They prefer technical tasks, and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects of thinking.These learners are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories. They can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems which enables them to specialize in technological tasks.

Accommodating (doing and feeling – CE/AE): People who use the learning style of accommodating knowledge tend to be ‘hands-on’ learners, and rely on their intuition rather than logic. They use other people’s analysis, and prefer to take a practical, experiential approach when solving problems. These learners are often attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans. They act on ‘gut’ instinct rather than logical analysis and are the most prevalent learners in the general population.

A typical representation of Klob’s learning styles looks something like this:


The east-west axis of the cycle is called the Processing Continuum. This is how we choose to approach a task. The north-south axis is called the Perception Continuum which is our emotional response to our experience.
Many people agree that knowledge is obtained when a person is able to express that knowledge. While I believe that one does not have to express their knowledge to have it I do agree that the best way to prove that one has obtained an understanding of something is to express that understanding. When attempting to express knowledge, it becomes clear that knowledge obtained through experience is often subjective. In an article titled Subjective Knowledge by Rich Stutton he writes of the subjective view point. Explaining that:

“In it, all knowledge and understanding arises out of an individual’s experience, and in that sense is inherently in terms that are private, personal, and subjective. An individual might know, for example, that a certain action tends to be followed by a certain sensation, or that one sensation invariably follows another. But these are its sensations and its actions There is no necessary relationship between them and the sensations and actions of another individual. To hypothesize such a link might be useful, but always secondary to the subjective experience itself.”

He touches on what would conventionally be argued as objective knowledge. Information such as science and math involving definite particles and equations with definite solutions and concrete explainings. He talks about the objective, realist view explaining the belief that knowledge is objective in that

“In this view there is a reality independent of our experience. This would be easy to deny if there were only one agent in the world. In that case it is clear that that agent is merely inventing things to explain its experience. The objective view gains much of its force because it can be shared by different people. In science, this is almost the definition of the subjective/objective distinction: that which is private to one person is subjective whereas that which can be observed by many, and replicated by others, is objective.”

He points out both the flaws and the appeal of these views pointing out that:

“The appeal of the objective view is that it is common across people. Something is objectively true if it predicts the outcome of experiments that you and I both can do and get the same answer. But how is this sensible? How can we get the same answer when you see with your eyes and I with mine? For that matter, how can we do the “same” experiment?”

Stutton concludes that knowledge is subjective; a point that I whole heartily agree with. Knowledge is biased as no one person will experience, perceive and express their knowledge exactly the same way as another. Thus my theory of knowledge is that knowledge is fueled by experience, influenced by perception and expressed in a subjective manner.





Defining Aesthetics

Photo courtesy of nitrok-d747vvj on Deviantart

By Angela and Kimberly

Aesthetics revolves around stimuli that provoke emotional responses from organisms. Its source is the biological mechanism in an organism that responds to stimuli, while the object is something that provokes the stimulation. An example of an object could be anything that someone finds beautiful; a piece of art, a piece of music, scenery, emotions, etcetera. Humans perceive certain stimuli as pleasing because every behavior has a biological basis. This perception is highly subjective, and varies from person to person. This can be proven using an example; for example one person may find a painting very beautiful, while another may find it extremely hideous. This sense of aesthetics depends highly on culture and nurture.

“Aesthetics … is the study of all activity from the perspective that we are orienting ourselves to have certain perceptions (experiences)”. -Colin Leath, The Aesthetic Experience



What it is to be Conscious – Ted Honderich on Philosophy Bites

You are a living consciousness.

Today we’ve been listening to and deconstructing Nigel Warburton’s interview of Ted Honderich on the subject of consciousness, which you can listen to here: What is it to be Conscious? (mp3)

In looking around for materials to supplement this listen, I stumbled onto this article about a feud Mr. Honderich has found himself in regarding a review written of his book, Actual Consciousness. While it may not help you digest the content of the podcast any, it is an illuminating tour of the personalities that can drive intellectual discourse and disagreement:

…the feud is escalating into philosophy’s equivalent of a prize fight between two former colleagues who are both among the showiest brawlers in the philosophy dojo. In one corner is McGinn, 57, West Hartlepool-born professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, and the self-styled hard man of philosophy book reviewing. In the other corner is Honderich, 74, Ontario-born Grote Professor Emeritus of the philosophy of mind and logic at University College London, and a man once described by fellow philosopher Roger Scruton as the “thinking man’s unthinking man”. They are using all the modern weapons at their disposal – blogs, emails, demands for compensation from the academic journal that published the original review, an online counter-review, and an online counter-counter-review.

The heart of their dispute, though, may not be over intellectual matters at all, but about something one of them said more than a quarter of a century ago about the other’s ex-girlfriend (of which more later).

Something you might find of more use in trying to decode Honderich’s consciousness is this review summarizing the author’s premises:

What of Honderich’s proposal? “Being conscious”, he says, “is for something to be actual.” If this does not strike you as particularly informative (if what is actual is what exists in fact, this seems to apply to many things that have nothing to do with consciousness), things become clearer when Honderich explains what it is that is actual in different types of consciousness. In sensory perception, what is actual is a subjective physical world: something that is physical (like the table out there) but that also depends on facts about the subject (those facts being physical through and through, such as its neural states and its location). What is actual in thought, desire and the like are representations. For Honderich, representations inhabit the subjective physical realm too and, as such, are both physical and subjective.






Comment from the Internetz


A comment left on the archive of our Epistemology discussion of Reality, Perception & What can be Known:

I think it looks like the quiet students are the ones deep in thought. I was a quiet one back in school and still am. Very well spoken students! Thoughts were so well said and expressed by. I would have been one of the ones in school who sat and listened for fear of speaking out, sadly. In my mind I thought all sorts of things but how would anyone know if it is not expressed to everyone? I guess I did not have a bold personality.  Little did I realize how trivial my fears were and still are.

This environment and community of open discussion is so very valuable and provoking. Especially that these are young people who are just starting to delve deeper, yet are already so knowledgeable. And discussions like this in a large group do not happen very often with young people.  I love how they bounce ideas off each other so well and how you guide them through the discussion.

It is inspiring to see your enthusiasm and commitment to the students and also your own zeal and enthusiasm throughout. As well as being able to maintain and let the students speak with out interrupting or become too immersed. very cool. This school keeps getting better. The students energy is amazing.

It is amazing you are able to capture this. Really makes one think about … well everything!



Epistemology Discussion: Perception, Reality and What Can Be Known 11.01.13


With visual notes embedded with the audio from the Livescribe Pen here, as well.

Thanks to Tom Fullerton for joining us today!



Perception vs. Reality -Katherine B.

Aquinas supported the idea that faith and philosophy could both be applied harmoniously into one’s life. Faith, or religion, often shapes one’s perception. How one views the world and reasons for which it exists often is dependent on one’s faith. One could believe that life on earth is simply a determining test for if one receives or is denied eternal salvation, thus, this perception shapes their reality. Others could believe that life on earth is all there is and therefore they should live a fulfilling, indulgent life. This perception creates their reality. These examples can illustrate our group’s theme that perception creates one’s reality. However, it is necessary to evaluate a theme which contradicts our group’s idea; that there is only reality, perception does not create it. Reality just “is”. From this point of view, reality is not dependent on what people perceive it to be; it is an independent, constant variable which never changes, and adheres completely with its dictionary definition as “something that exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive”*.

Thomas Aquinas

So how does Aquinas try to resolve these two clashing ideals? He states that frankly, it doesn’t matter. What each individual perceives reality to be should not influence how a state is run or the amount of respect we treat others with. Individual theologies are subject to a secular state’s laws, and those laws should be liberal enough for people to practice their individual beliefs.




Which way out of the cave? “What cave?” – Derek W.

Over the past few days in our classroom, there have been things going on that I feel don’t happen very often at our school. We’ve just gotten into Philosophy and the basics of it and the tip of the iceberg has already astonished me. I feel as though I have never thought before.

However, through the many things that we got a taste of, a select few really had me thinking late at night. I found myself thinking more and more about the ideas that I had never thought about before. Things that, if true, would tear and ruin the foundations of human knowledge and all we’ve ever known.

The most vivid thing I remember of my first few days in Philosophy was the word TRUTH. The capital T. I remember watching a video of Dr. West talking about Plato’s “Examined Life”. He touched on truth while presenting his reasoning and opinions and I started really liking the idea of a “Truth”.

Does she know the weight of those words?

Later in the last week, we began talking about the nature and foundations of human progress. First of all, we talked about scientific theories and the fact that they cannot be “proved” absolutely, but can be definitely disproved. The nature of our science is based on trial and error, and observations. We began to see that process itself cannot occur without previous work. Our class then started tracing the line of knowledge: blocks of information built on each other. Eventually we found that, however logical our theories and conclusions, they are all based upon the assumptions of truth. How can we base our knowledge on things that we cannot prove? How do I know that I am sitting in a chair typing on a laptop? There is always the possibility that what is happening to me right this instance is false. The possibility that my senses are faulty and that what I perceive this instant is artificial. To begin our quest for knowledge, we took must have assumed a constructed truth to work upon. We’ve become masters and experts of a contrived truth.

We may have built a grand palace on assumed foundations, but does this mean that what we have built is not a truth? Is there a better truth to be searching for? Yes: possible, but not plausible. The capital T truth that Dr. West talks about is something that could be at the end of any of the infinite lines of knowledge we could have assumed at our very conception. The beginnings of human knowledge must have made assumptions to ensure its survival. There was no other choice, our progress may be in vain but for us it is our truth.

Is our palace of knowledge simply just assumption?

As though in answer to the thoughts swirling around in my head, our class covered and discussed Plato’s Allegory of The Cave. If you aren’t familiar with this electrifying tale, take a look here. Within this story, the prisoners chained to face the wall have done what human knowledge has done. The prisoners have taken the shadows that dance upon the wall as reality and have assumed such. Within their assumed reality they cannot even imagine the working of the relative truth of the outside world. They in fact have become quite adept at discerning shadows and projections on the wall. So much so that, when a prisoner was freed and enlightened to the relative truth outside, the captive prisoners denounced him and his reality as ludicrous to them masters of discerning shadows. Plato’s cave, for me, really brought out and made tangible my scattered thoughts. For me, it brought acted as a keystone and solidified my previous nebulous ideas.

It was the scale of what philosophy impacted that really had me captivated. Sitting in philosophy trying to imagine what truth would be but ending up with more and more layers to be peeled back was like trying to imagine infinity. The moment you think what you’ve thought of might be close to it, you realize that it is literally infinitely larger than that. I can only wonder how many strains of subjective truth there are. Starting at square one, wherever that may have been, we must have assumed something and started in one direction. Was our primordial direction the one that leads to capital T truth? Maybe. Maybe not. I admit that we don’t know if what we see and think are just shadows on a wall or not. Is it still worth trying to work with shadows? Or should we abandon them and search for light? If so, how do we know our light is just a different way of looking at shadows? Should we even try?

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