Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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You Are What You Know

 

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In order to lay a bit of a foundation for this post, I first want to clarify my beliefs regarding the self and where knowledge resides in a person or Being. After conducting my Metaphysics inquiry, I strongly believe in dualism and the idea that self is made of two components: a physical component and a non-physical component. I also believe that the non-physical component of the self is the most important part and is responsible for identity and making us who we are. Finally, I agree with David Hume when it comes to the Bundle Theory of the self, the idea that the self is a work in progress and constructed by our collection of life experiences. In terms of where knowledge resides, I believe that knowledge is the non-physical component of the self and therefore manifests in the mind as opposed to any part of the physical body. Although the non-physical mind and physical body are separate, I believe that they are connected by the brain. The body allows us to experience reality via our senses and the mind allows us to rationalize these experiences and develop knowledge, the brain acts like an adapter between the two. The body interprets reality and sends information to the brain which translates this information so it can be used by the mind to develop knowledge. Conversely, the mind makes us who we are and holds our knowledge, based on our previous knowledge it sends information to the brain which is then translated to control the way our body interacts with reality.

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My first proposition is that, aside from the small amount of a priori knowledge that we are born with, knowledge is gained through experience.

Premise 1: Knowledge is gained through rationalizing experience

Premise 2: During life one collects experiences

Conclusion: Knowledge is a synthesized collection of one’s life experiences

When it comes to gaining knowledge and the empiricism vs rationalism debate, I have a dualist view. Similar to the idea that the self is both physical and non-physical and cannot be a true self without one of the components, I don’t believe that knowledge can be gained purely through empirical observation or entirely through rational thought. In order to gain knowledge, empirical experiences need to be rationalized by the mind. Through this process connections can be created between new and prior experiences and diverse experiences can build upon each other to create an intricate and ever increasing network of knowledge.

For example, there is often a correlation between a person’s amount of life experiences and level of knowledge, especially higher level knowledge. Older people are considered wise because they have experienced more of the world and have gained a diverse network of knowledge. Likewise, young children are considered blissfully ignorant or innocent because they have experienced less of the world and are not aware of or haven’t developed knowledge of some of the awful things happening. This also is closely related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, gaining knowledge can be likened to moving further and further out of the cave and striving for enlightenment. While humans may not be able to ever gain enough knowledge to fully achieve enlightenment, I believe it is entirely possible for a society to do so and has been done in the past. When the collective knowledge of a society is synthesized it is possible to overthrow old beliefs and leave the cave to start again in the light, examples of this include the renaissance period and scientific revolution.

My second proposition about knowledge is that knowledge builds one’s identity.

Premise 1: One’s identity is built by a collection of life experiences

Premise 2: Knowledge is a collection of one’s life experiences

Conclusion: Knowledge builds one’s identity

During my Metaphysics project, I came to the conclusion that the self is a collection of life experiences interpreted by a person’s senses or more simply memories. After exploring Epistemology, I now believe that these “memories” or “interpreted life experiences” can be more accurately classified as knowledge. Our experiences, when rationalized, synthesized, and connected to one another become knowledge and this knowledge makes us who we are. Our previous understanding of reality will affect the way that we interact with reality in the future and therefore shape our identity, the way other people perceive us, and even the way we perceive our self.

This also supports the idea of individuality. Even if people arrive at the same understanding or gain the same knowledge they must achieve it in different ways. No two beings can exist in the same space and time; therefore, no two people can experience reality from the same point of view. Additionally, no two people’s senses can be guaranteed to be exactly the same. On the other hand, two people may share the same experience but gain different knowledge from it. Depending on an individual’s senses, pre-existing knowledge, and place in space in time they will experience and rationalize reality differently.

Learning and gaining knowledge of new things can alter a person’s self or identity. I have experienced this in my own life as a result of learning the bagpipes. Prior to learning, I had no understanding of the language of music, now I have a whole new set of knowledge and I’m able to think in a completely different way. I have also had opportunities to travel and compete across Canada, the US, and Scotland as well as gain friends and mentors from around the world. I have expanded my understanding of reality and this has in turn significantly altered my identity, I can’t imagine the person I would be without my understanding of bagpipe music. Similar to a person who has left the cave, it can be frustrating when non-piping people in my life don’t understand me but I wouldn’t go back into the cave and give up my knowledge, it would feel like giving up a piece of myself.

My propositions are supported by the ideas of philosophers including David Hume who introduced the Bundle Theory, Plato and his Allegory of the Cave, as well as by Immanuel Kant. I feel as though I align strongly with Kant’s ideas, especially transcendental realism, which I used as the first premise in my first syllogism, and a priori knowledge.

In conclusion, we gain knowledge through living life and experiencing new things and this knowledge contributes to our identity. For this reason it is important to constantly work to expand your horizons and gain new knowledge through new experiences and sharing knowledge with people different than yourself. This is the only way to strive for understanding and enlightenment and, in my opinion, the way to truly live life.

 

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On Understanding

Philosophy is the love of wisdom. But what does it mean to have wisdom; what does it mean to be wise? To me philosophy is about coming to an understanding about the nature of something. That understanding is based upon one’s knowledge and experiences, and therefore, will most likely never stop changing as new knowledge and experiences are acquired. Speaking with people who have different knowledge and experiences can help reinforce or even make one question their own ideals, whether it be by agreement or disagreement.

 

By speaking with people who have many different experiences, knowledge, and viewpoints, wisdom, knowledge and understanding is gained. However, that may not be completely consistent with the strange enigma that is the “Irrational opponent.” This is a person who has no logical reason at all for their stances (which makes their arguments sometimes comically idiotic), and are frustratingly stubborn in those stances. I have much experience with this particular type of person, most of which have been denoted as negative and unproductive experiences. I particularly recall (on more than one occasion) my uncle spewing baseless statements over the dinner table as my brother, father, and I retaliate with reasonable ones. Most often he continues speaking over us, completely disregarding our statements. In fact, our attempts at compromise and understanding are furiously rejected, and serve as fuel for his anger as he continues the argument that ultimately goes nowhere. We have all learned to stay quiet when my uncle says something that might be a pathway to a lengthy and unproductive argument. He is not the only person I’ve met who exhibits these traits, but he is the one who has made the biggest impression.

 

One thing that must be mentioned is this: if someone makes arguments with logical reasoning, they are rational; even if you disagree with them greatly. Also, if a person makes an illogical argument, but is able to come to a logical understanding by the end of the conversation, they are also rational. It is the unwillingness to understand a well-founded argument that characterizes the irrational opponent.

 

In the article Philosophy as a Conversation, Cartina Novaes speaks about ‘virtuous adversariality,’ and about manners used to produce cooperative exchanges. This, I think, should be especially applied when speaking to opponents who have ideals that conflict particularly with one’s own. One must remain civil, as in a conversation, it is the goal to reach some kind of mutual understanding of the topic or to understand the other’s perspective, even if the participants still disagree on several things. Without civil manners of speaking, a lot gets said, but not much gets done. It’s more like two people yelling for brick walls to move, and expecting them to comply because of the sheer willpower in their voices. Nothing is going to happen, no matter how compelling the argument is. I personally value discussions filled with mutual compromise and understanding, because they end with everyone better understanding their own and others’ beliefs, instead of ending in the participants walking away without having achieved anything.

 

In the article Talk With Me by Nigel Warburton, the author quotes the first chapter of On Liberty (1859) by John Stuart Mill, which says “Dissenters are of great value even if they are largely or even totally mistaken In their beliefs.” This can be true, but it is something that must be elaborated on. As previously stated, an illogical opponent can still be a rational one, as they may be able to come to an understanding by the end of the conversation, but even, albeit occasionally, a mistaken dissenter who Is unwilling to understand their opponent, aka. an irrational opponent, is occasionally useful for asking questions no one else would. This is useful because it will force the one speaking to the irrational opponent to think up a response they would have never thought of before. This helps a person flesh out their ideas and opinions, and often sparks a person’s passion about the discussed topic.

 

Throughout this article I have written about the importance of understanding, and about what happens when one refuses to understand another, and becomes an irrational opponent. Understanding, to me, is the foundation of philosophical thought and discussion, and it is the drive to understand that created Philosophy in the first place. The more diverse people with a disparity of experiences a person speaks to, the more that person can understand the world from many perspectives, and the less biased their ideas will be to solely their own experiences. That kind of understanding is a wonderful thing, and speaking to people who will question the merit of your ideas is the kind of thing that a philosopher lives for, because it helps them understand themselves and others more. To be wise is to understand the world for what it is. Why wouldn’t you love wisdom?

 
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