Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Metaphysics – Reading, Colin Evans


Initially my metaphysical question revolved around the concept of free will vs determinism. The topic was so popular with so many opinions that I didn’t really find it too interesting to go in-depth in; so I tried to stay a bit away from the mainstream side of the question and branched off into something more specific. I was on TEDTalks on my TV and I came across an interesting presentation by Dan Ariely to do with Illusions and whether we control our own decisions or not.

For example he did an experiment with speed dating, proving that in a very short amount of time you’re able to establish whether you find someone physically attractive or not. What I got from this is that the media has shaped our view of so many different things, in a way controlling how we perceive things. This made my topic a lot more confusing, although needed, because I feel as if I was missing a big chunk of the topic.

Dan Ariely poses a very thought provoking question. Are we in control of our decisions? Dan goes though different tests, illusions , and studies to understand how people make decisions. He finds that many decisions are based on how a situation is presented or is viewed and less to do with the person. He questions whether people even have control over their decisions or if the outside circumstances determine what a person will do.  The examples seem to present a convincing argument, So do we really control our decisions? or are we in some way influenced to make certain decisions?

– Leadership Society of Arizona

From my reading I came to the conclusion that we have little control over our decisions in the grand scheme of things. There will always be someone, something or situation that will influence us in some way shape or from.



Is great philosophy, by its nature, difficult and obscure?

A good question posed on the always-provocative site Aeon:

To some degree, all texts need interpretation. Working out what people mean isn’t simply a matter of decoding their words, but speculating about their mental states. The same words could express quite different thoughts, and the reader has to decide between the interpretations. But it doesn’t follow that all texts are equally hard to interpret. Some interpretations might be more psychologically plausible than others, and a writer can narrow the range of possible interpretations. Why should philosophy need more interpretation than other texts?

As we look ahead at some of our more challenging units – thinking specifically of Metaphysics and Epistemology – the article may help frame the difficulty of engaging these more opaque topics, not in as much as it makes the unclear clear, but hopefully for offering the rationale and some inspiration to dig deeper when the going gets tough:

…some great philosophy is creative in a way that is incompatible with clarity. It doesn’t seek to construct precise theories; rather, it reaches out to unmapped areas of thought, where we do not yet know what techniques to employ, what concepts to use, or even what questions to ask. It is more like artthan science, and it makes its own rules. It is not that such work is defective by being ambiguous; it is trying to do something that cannot be done clearly, and its aim is precisely to stimulate diverse interpretations.



Logic and Neutrality Reading & Discussion


Image via New York Times.

Today our discussion will centre around Timothy Williamson’s post on the New York Times’ philosophy forum, The Stone: Logic and Neutrality.  His closing paragraph gives an idea of where he takes his thinking about logic as a rational science:

Of course, we’d be in trouble if we could never agree on anything in logic. Fortunately, we can secure enough agreement in logic for most purposes, but nothing in the nature of logic guarantees those agreements. Perhaps the methodological privilege of logic is not that its principles are so weak, but that they are so strong. They are formulated at such a high level of generality that, typically, if they crash, they crash so badly that we easily notice, because the counterexamples to them are simple. If we want to identify what is genuinely distinctive of logic, we should stop overlooking its close similarities to the rest of science.

Williamson makes several points worthy of our discussion, especially following our study of various philosophies of science last week. Please respond to / address a combination of at least three of the following questions in a reply to this post (naturally, look to extend the discussion by commenting, prodding, and pushing the thinking of your peers by commenting on their replies before class time Thursday):

  1. How does the author describe logic? How does his reading align or inform you view of philosophy (from the beginning of the year)?
  2. How would you paraphrase what the author describes as the “power of logic”?
  3. What do you think the authors means when he writes, “logic is not a neutral umpire”?
  4. Summarize one of the author’s “challenges” to logic.
  5. What similarities does the author highlight between logic and science?
  6. Which view of science do you see reflected in the author’s perspective on logic?


A Solely Human Aspect of Existence: The Experience of Beauty

Image from Wikipedia.org

Another reading on Aesthetics for those looking into Kant, and the nature of beauty:

In the history of thought there is probably no philosophy that has posited the question about man with the intensity, extensiveness and centrality equal to those present in Kant’s philosophy. It is well-known that in his last work, Logik, which appeared as edited by his student Jaesche, but reviewed by Kant himself, he sums up the three fundamental questions which guided him throughout the elaboration of his own thought (‘What can I know?’, ‘What ought I do?’, ‘What can I hope for?’), in the one, fundamental question, into which every other question flows: ‘What is man?’. In each of his works there come to light aspects of the humanity in man which circumscribe to man, in an ever more precise and essential way, a proper and irreducible character. In this way of approximation to the being of man, the experience of beauty comes to have a singular place.



Epistemology Intro Reading

For Monday, please read the two posts linked below, both from Jonathan Toews’ work last year:

Individual Development of Knowledge

The development of one’s own epistemological statement requires a basis of knowledge in the subject (ironically enough). In reading a booklet provided to us, everything seemed to overlap. Each subject, each idea seemed to reach into another’s pocket for help, without containing any formal connection.

One idea that repeated itself more times than others was priori knowledge – the knowledge gained without any sensory medium, but rather, with reason and mind. In response to this, I do believe that knowledge can be found independent of empiricism, but it seems illogical that any knowledge can exist ‘completely’ independent of sense. This is because in order for reason to be a creator of knowledge, it must first have a basis of knowledge to work off of. For reason is the ability to use existing information to find new information – essentially, deduction or induction. In thinking about this, I questioned where the basis of knowledge really is? Can all knowledge be based in reason, or empiricism? Or is there an order that must follow? Trying to go deeper, I created a system, which I believe is how individuals accumulate knowledge.

The Need for Ignorance 

The theory is that all of knowledge is a building. This building has many layers, many levels of knowledge, which we have accumulated within a paradigm. Each time we find new information we add it to the top of the building, building higher and higher. If we find that one piece of information or knowledge was inaccurate, we remove it. Now, if this piece of the building happened to be near the top, it causes little destruction, as only the top must be reconstructed. What happens if the base is removed? The entire building comes crashing down. But wait. Each of these pieces are still extremely useful, as an independent piece. The only problem we faced was the lack of as strong base.

For this reason, we must create a new base. This new base is stronger, and the rest of the pieces of the old building are reorganized, in a new, different way, on top of the new base. In this way, I believe that each time we resolve to create a new base, we are entering a new paradigm. We are not simply discarding all previous knowledge, but building it on an entirely different foundation, one that is (sometimes) stronger.



What is Metaphysics?

Image courtesy of Kahfi Wisdom

Read the following post, and the attached comments posted on the blog Talking Philosophy for class Tuesday:

“What is metaphysics? In the Western tradition, metaphysics concerns the nature and description of an Ultimate Reality that stands behind the world of appearances. One dominant strand holds that we can somehow come to know a world that exists undetected by our sense perceptions and unexplained by the natural operation of causes and effects. Unfortunately, our powers of sensation and perception reveal to us only a partial survey of the contingent universe unfolding around us and within us. We are part of that unfolding process, no doubt, but we have profound limitations in what we can do and what we can know. We are radically limited in our contact with the universe, and it is hard to see how, in our embodied state, we can overcome these limitations. Despite all that our sciences have done to inform us of realities unknown to sense perception or naïve common sense, we are unable, using the normal touchstones of truth, to argue convincingly for the character of Ultimate Reality or for Beings that exist in a supersensible or supernatural world.”



The Ethics of Care

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GNA Garcia recommended the inclusion of “Care Ethics” to our readings and other supplements for the Ethics unit. Following from the link she shared on Twitter, the Ethics of Care refers to:

The moral theory known as “ the ethics of care” implies that there is moral significance in the fundamental elements of relationships and dependencies in human life. Normatively, care ethics seeks to maintain relationships by contextualizing and promoting the well-being of care-givers and care-receivers in a network of social relations. Most often defined as a practice or virtue rather than a theory as such, “care” involves maintaining the world of, and meeting the needs of, ourself and others. It builds on the motivation to care for those who are dependent and vulnerable, and it is inspired by both memories of being cared for and the idealizations of self. Following in the sentimentalist tradition of moral theory, care ethics affirms the importance of caring motivation, emotion and the body in moral deliberation, as well as reasoning from particulars.

Aside from the many Global Issues or Me-to-We club members taking up the study of Philosophy at our school this semester, I think there is something to this notion of ‘care’ within social constructivism, where each of us bears a responsibility to ‘maintain the world of, and meet the needs of, ourself and others.’ Isn’t this at the heart of learning through dialogue, through sharing our thoughts and vulnerabilities toward the betterment of ourselves and our societies?

The resource linked above introduces not only a great deal of thinking about care ethics, but a host of other peer-reviewed philosophical thinking, and I hope you find it useful during our upcoming study and dialogue about ethics. My own interest is piqued by the end line of the introduction, which states that the ethics of care was “originally conceived as most appropriate to the private and intimate spheres of life, care ethics has branched out as a political theory and social movement aimed at broader understanding of, and public support for, care-giving activities in their breadth and variety.”

Personally, the study of philosophy and ethics has always led me toward a reckoning with their manifestations in building a just society, and maintaining a functioning political structure. Rhetorically, the first strides of my own syllogism works out something like this:

        • What is all of this thinking for if it is not to help us light the way toward a better world?  
        • And how do we go about creating this better world without the structures of our existing democracies? 

An article that I wanted to share at some point during this unit, but which seems to find its place here, looks at Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a form of Applied Ethics:

I suggest the Supreme Court is using the Charter to implement ethics at an individual case level, while keeping the law intact at the general level […] much as the old courts of equity did. When the King’s courts’ strict application of the common law caused unconscionable outcomes for unsuccessful litigants, equity, as the “court of conscience,” acted in personam to prohibit victorious parties from enforcing their judgments. It put a “gloss on the common law.” Although operating in a very different way legally, the Charter can be viewed as allowing 21st-century judges to realize similar goals.

Long the bane of conservative thinkers who see the Charter as an untenable step toward liberal social engineering, the Charter seems uniquely poised to confront the future of globalized democracy. Writing in the Harvard Law Review, Israel’s former president of its Supreme Court argued that “Canadian law serves as a source of inspiration for many countries around the world.”

Indeed. A 2011 study of influential constitutional documents found that alongside the waning potency of the American founding documents,

the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982, may now be more influential than its American counterpart.

The Canadian Charter is both more expansive and less absolute. It guarantees equal rights for women and disabled people, allows affirmative action and requires that those arrested be informed of their rights. On the other hand, it balances those rights against “such reasonable limits” as “can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Those of you chomping at the bit to begin to bridge our work toward the culminating Social & Political Philosophy are humbly invited to beging playing with these ideas, as well as other notable current events that may find their application in politics, but whose origin comes from ethics.



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.”