Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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#Philosophy12 in 2016: Introductory Readings, Documents of Learning, What is Philosophy?

Shuttleworth Bight

Just over a week into our course, Philosophy 12 moves into the digital today, with almost sixty new authors joining the site authorship and two new assignments beginning to take shape over the next few days. By the end of the week, our philosophers will be publishing their first Documents of Learning; as we look ahead at next week, the first signposts in our journeys toward developing personal definitions of “philosophy” itself in presentations to be delivered in class as well as posted to the blog.

In the meantime, I encourage new students to get to know this space: explore the subject categories, tags, and what past philosophy 12’ers have shared here. The site’s content runs from reflections, presentations, and critical analysis, to interesting videos people have made or found, archives of class discussions, and commentary offered by inquisitive minds beyond our school community.

To the first readings we have encountered this semester, I will add these past articles and essays with the hope that they help you further your thinking toward our first two assignments:

“Philosophy matters, simply, because the answers to philosophical questions matter. Not only is it a matter of life and death, but a matter of, to name a few examples, the nature of law, the role of language, where morality comes from, whether there is a God, whether there is a self and what constitutes our identity, and what beauty is. What makes these questions important is not only that they help societies to function (although they certainly do), but that they reflect something deeply fundamental about human beings: that we are physical creatures, but our consciousness is not restricted to physical matters. Indeed, philosophy is both reflective and perfective of human nature.”

“In most cases, obscurity is a defect, not a virtue, and undue concern with interpretation puts the focus on people rather than problems. It is not easy to write clearly, especially on philosophical topics, and it is risky. Clear writers stand naked before their critics, with all their argumentative blemishes visible; but they are braver, more honest and more respectful of the true aims of intellectual enquiry than ones who shroud themselves in obscurity.”

“The examined life does not need to be the life of the sage, removed from society in order to evaluate it impartially. In fact, in order for it to serve in guiding the lived experience of individuals, it is actually a deeply practical enterprise. Another Greek philosopher, Epicurus, believed that a philosophy that did not assist a person in living a flourishing life was akin to medicine that did not heal the body: it was pointless. This is a little extreme: in some fields such as metaphysics the practical implications may not be immediately evident and it would be foolish to expect them to be, but even in these cases, the knowledge obtained by such reflections can be, and should be, shared because knowledge itself can be a constitutive element of the good life.”

 

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Introductory Readings for Week I

Marginalia

Marginalia by Flickr user Shelly.

Love, Wisdom and Wonder: Three Reasons to Celebrate Philosophy | Matthew Beard writing in the Conversation

Philosophy matters, simply, because the answers to philosophical questions matter. Not only is it a matter of life and death, but a matter of, to name a few examples, the nature of law, the role of language, where morality comes from, whether there is a God, whether there is a self and what constitutes our identity, and what beauty is. What makes these questions important is not only that they help societies to function (although they certainly do), but that they reflect something deeply fundamental about human beings: that we are physical creatures, but our consciousness is not restricted to physical matters. Indeed, philosophy is both reflective and perfective of human nature.

Philosophy in our schools is a necessity, not a luxury | Robert Grant writing in the Irish Times

Our standards for truth and knowledge influence our scientific and religious beliefs. Our ideas about justice, equality and freedom determine whether we are liberal or conservative, capitalist or socialist.

In examining these concepts, philosophers rarely come up with neat answers. None are immune to counter-argument.

Philosophy teaches that our understanding of these basic concepts rests on shaky foundations. In so doing, it reveals the limitations of human knowledge and understanding.

Such awareness helps students be wary of those who claim certainty and truth; it protects against dogmatic indoctrination and group-think. Philosophy celebrates the complex, nuanced nature of our understanding. It reminds us of what we do not know.

Why are there so few women philosophers? | David Papineau writing in the Times Literary Supplement

Women occupy 25 per cent of the posts in university philosophy departments across the United Kingdom. The figures are similar throughout the anglophone world. In the United States the proportion is 21 per cent, while Canada, Australia and New Zealand all have fewer than 30 per cent women philosophers. This makes philosophy an outlier among humanities subjects. Half a century ago, all university departments employed far fewer women than men. But this kind of imbalance has all but disappeared from areas such as English literature and history, and is nowadays largely restricted to the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Philosophy stands out in continuing to appoint about three times as many men as women to academic posts.

What is the explanation for this peculiarity, and should it be a matter of concern? These two questions are interlinked. How far philosophy’s gender imbalance is bad depends on its causes. If it were the result of simple discrimination against women, for instance, then it would not only be unjust, but it would also be preventing some of the best-suited people from working as philosophers. But it is not obvious that discrimination is the right explanation, and it should not be taken for granted that any other causes for the imbalance would be similarly unacceptable.

The key step is to point out that there are certain genuine puzzles regarding fundamentally important notions that only philosophers work on and about which scientists don’t seem able to solve or often disposed to even address. The reason these puzzles are fundamentally important lies in their subject matter (e.g., truth, justice, consciousness, knowledge); the reason they are genuine is that they can be put in the form of a small number of individually highly plausible yet apparently jointly inconsistent claims. Since they seem jointly inconsistent, I want to say that they can’t all be true; since each is highly plausible, I want to say that each is true; but of course I can’t say both things once I see the incompatibility between them. Any minimally adequate response to the puzzle must do either of two things:

  • Identify the claims in the puzzle that aren’t true, explain why they aren’t true, articulate the truths we have been confusing them with (if there are any), and explain how it is that we made those mistakes.
  • Explain how contrary to what anyone thought the claims are all true and do not conflict with one another. In this case the solution must greatly clarify the claims so we can see that they don’t really conflict.

Does Colour even Exist? | Malcolm Harris writing in the New Republic

One of the reasons I think philosophy isn’t very popular in the United States is that the secular among us assume not only that there exists a scientific explanation for everything, but that someone in a laboratory or a library somewhere already knows it. Primary science education plays up this assumption, preferring testable information to ongoing mysteries—I am reminded of an eleventh-grade physics exam on opponent processing. But here’s what they don’t tell you in school: The neurological and physical evidence that supports this model is extremely inconsistent.

Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates | American Philosophical Association

Philosophy is quite unlike any other field. It is unique both in its methods and in the nature and breadth of its subject matter. Philosophy pursues questions in every dimension of human life, and its techniques apply to problems in any field of study or endeavor. No brief definition expresses the richness and variety of philosophy. It may be described in many ways. It is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for understanding, a study of principles of conduct. It seeks to establish standards of evidence, to provide rational methods of resolving conflicts, and to create techniques for evaluating ideas and arguments. Philosophy develops the capacity to see the world from the perspective of other individuals and other cultures; it enhances one’s ability to perceive the relationships among the various fields of study; and it deepens one’s sense of the meaning and variety of human experience.

 

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Introductory Readings: What is Philosophy?

Susan Sontag’s copy of Finnegan’s Wake

Introductory readings this week in #Philosophy12:

Talk with Me by Nigel Warburton 

The point of philosophy is not to have a range of facts at your disposal, though that might be useful, nor to become a walking Wikipedia or ambulant data bank: rather, it is to develop the skills and sensitivity to be able to argue about some of the most significant questions we can ask ourselves, questions about reality and appearance, life and death, god and society. As Plato’s Socrates tells us, ‘These are not trivial questions we are discussing here, we are discussing how to live.’

Philosophy and its History by Graham Priest 

So why are we still reading the great dead philosophers? Part of the answer is that the history of philosophy is interesting in its own right. It is fascinating, for example, to see how the early Christian philosophers molded the ideas of Plato and Aristotle to the service of their new religion. But that is equally true of the history of mathematics, physics, and economics. There has to be more to it than that—and of course there is. 

Why not just weigh the fish? by Robert Pasnau 

If even philosophy is dismissed as a waste of time for being insufficiently scientific, where does that leave those other modes of humanistic inquiry? Reading Plato or Chekhov may not stop the planet from warming or cure a disease – or help build more accurate missiles – and it may not point the way toward a new science of ethics or will. Yet what of it? Does such inquiry not have a value of its own? That is of course itself a philosophical question.

 

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Scientific Philosophy Group Headings

Image from the FreeCollective.org

This week we will be attempting to respond to the question, Is Science Objective? through a variety of lenses. Read up on the links below to help us in choosing our groups for this course of study.

The Objectivity of Science
Chris Price

Postmodernism
Kristina, Daniel & Leanne

Philosophy of Deutsch
Richard and Greg

Thomas Kuhn
Daniel
Guide to Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Feminism
Iris, Yazmeen & Stephanie

Logical Positivism
Jennifer, Mariana & Misha

Karl Popper
Jonathan & Nick

Anarchistic Epistemology
Liam Keagan & Clayton

Instrumentalism
Toren, Megan & Derek

Van Ormine Quine
Kelly, Emily & Zoe

 

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Bertrand Russell’s “Value of Philosophy”

A Philosopher.

Courtesy of Jeff Longland via Twitter, a supplemental read for our first week:

This view of philosophy appears to result, partly from a wrong conception of the ends of life, partly from a wrong conception of the kind of goods which philosophy strives to achieve. Physical science, through the medium of inventions, is useful to innumerable people who are wholly ignorant of it; thus the study of physical science is to be recommended, not only, or primarily, because of the effect on the student, but rather because of the effect on mankind in general. This utility does not belong to philosophy. If the study of philosophy has any value at all for others than students of philosophy, it must be only indirectly, through its effects upon the lives of those who study it. It is in these effects, therefore, if anywhere, that the value of philosophy must be primarily sought.

 

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Radiolab & other Ethical Supplements

http://jephmaystruck.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/radiolab-logo.jpg

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.”

 

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Ethics Blogging Assignment and Readings

Image from the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Image from the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Having crested the mid-point of the semester’s study of Philosophy 12, the face to face participants in the course have taken a brief respite from the class blog and focused on classroom-based activities and assignments.

As a synthesis of collaborative learning and knowledge-construction, two weeks ago the group delivered an hourlong, four-part lecture on Epistemology. This last week saw the class split into groups to prepare creative lessons / resources on Ethics to be shared with middle school students sometime next week. As these projects move forward with filming, songwriting, and illustration, this week will include a few different discussions of ethical questions and issues, both in class and on the blog.

Each of the for-credit participants will be asked to submit a post introducing and summarizing a moden ethical issue. These posts should roughly respond to the following criteria:

      • Describe the context, stakeholders, and ramifications of different outcomes of the debate. 
      • Summarize the key questions involved in processing the issue. 
      • Explore ways in which the debate could be framed in a larger context or conversation (eg. what is the essential question at stake?)
      • Outline past philosophers’ attempts to answer questions involved with this issue, and whether their wisdom can be applied to contemporary times. 

In addition to the standing invitation for our open online participants to join in the various discussions that these posts will likely illicit, and to ask questions, push back, or explore these issues and debates alongside our for-credit students, we would also welcome posts you might like to share with us outlining events or questions we might be overlooking.

If you haven’t yet, you can still drop your details in the course signup form and be added as an author on the blog. Also be sure to join us on Twitter by following the class hashtag at #philosophy12.

Some suggested areas of inquiry in the coming week:

Lying, Cheating and Stealing

Survey finds less cheating in high schools
““Changes in children’s behavior of this magnitude suggest a major shift in parenting and school involvement in issues of honesty and character,” Josephson said in a statement.

“Brian Jacob, a professor of education policy at the University of Michigan, said providing students with more information is one way to help curb cheating in schools. For instance, Jacob, who has looked at plagiarism in college, said research shows that you can help students understand, through tools such as an online tutorial, what constitutes plagiarism and strategies to avoid it.”

Freedom of Expression & Censorship

Bradley Manning: a tale of liberty lost in America
“Whatever one thinks of Manning’s alleged acts, he appears the classic whistleblower. This information could have been sold for substantial sums to a foreign government or a terror group. Instead he apparently knowingly risked his liberty to show them to the world because – he said when he believed he was speaking in private – he wanted to trigger “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms”.

War

Rethinking the Just War
“Can war be justified? Is there such a thing as morally proper conduct in war?

“With Veterans’ Day upon us and, with the Obama administration preparing to face another four years of geopolitical choices in unstable regions, The Stone is featuring recent work by Jeff McMahan, a philosopher and professor at Rutgers University, on “just war theory” — a set of ethical principles pertaining to violent conflict, whose origins can be traced back to Augustine, that still influence the politics and morality of war today. The work will be published in two parts on consecutive days — the first dealing with the background and history of the traditional just war theory, and second consisting of the author’s critique of that theory.”

Euthanasia

Appeal Court upholds exemption from doctor-assisted suicide ban
“Gloria Taylor’s right to avoid a “frightening and repugnant” death in the clutches of Lou Gehrig’s disease shouldn’t be sacrificed because the courts have yet to decide the fate of Canada’s doctor-assisted suicide ban, a judge ruled Friday as she upheld the British Columbia woman’s personal exemption from the law.

“The woman from West Kelowna, B.C., who was diagnosed with ALS three years ago and whose health continues to deteriorate, was among the plaintiffs in a landmark case that saw the B.C. Supreme Court strike down Canada’s ban on doctor-assisted suicide as unconstitutional.

“While the court suspended its decision, Taylor was granted an immediate exemption, making her the only person in Canada who can legally die with the help of a doctor.”

Genetics

Human Evolution Enters an Exciting New Phase
“Most of the mutations that we found arose in the last 200 generations or so. There hasn’t been much time for random change or deterministic change through natural selection,” said geneticist Joshua Akey of the University of Washington, co-author of the Nov. 28 Nature study. “We have a repository of all this new variation for humanity to use as a substrate. In a way, we’re more evolvable now than at any time in our history.”

Conservation & Preservation of the Environment

What is Education for? by David Orr
We are accustomed to thinking of learning as good in and of itself. But as environmental educator David Orr reminds us, our education up till now has in some ways created a monster. This essay is adapted from his commencement address to the graduating class of 1990 at Arkansas College. It prompted many in our office to wonder why such speeches are made at the end, rather than the beginning, of the collegiate experience.”

Treatment of Non-Human Animals

Animals Can Tell Right from Wrong
“Until recently, humans were thought to be the only species to experience complex emotions and have a sense of morality.

“But Prof Marc Bekoff, an ecologist at University of Colorado, Boulder, believes that morals are “hard-wired” into the brains of all mammals and provide the “social glue” that allow often aggressive and competitive animals to live together in groups.”

New Science Emboldens Long Shot Bid for Dolphin, Whale Rights
“Just a few decades ago, cetacean rights would have been considered a purely sentimental rather than scientifically supportable idea. But scientifically if not yet legally, evidence is overwhelming that cetaceans are special.

“At a purely neuroanatomical level, their brains are as complex as our own. Their brains are also big — and not simply because cetaceans are large. Dolphins and whales have brains that are exceptional for their size, second only to modern humans in being larger than one would expect. They also possess neurological structures that, in humans, are linked to high-level social and intellectual function.”

Intellectual Property

Remix, Aggregation, Plagiarism, Oh My
“Remixing is the 4th most nefarious form of plagarism, and mashups are #7…at least according to these 900 teachers and instructors. This saddens me because I happen to consider these two activities some of the most creative and original cultural actshappening today. And to think there are 900 some instructors and teachers out there who do not recognize the creative value  and sheer amount of work it takes to create something new and original out of what existed before.”

Ethics in Business

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Business Ethics
“This entry focuses generally on academic business ethics, more particularly on the philosophically-informed part of business ethics, and most particularly on the constellation of philosophically-relevant questions that inform the main conversation and ongoing disagreement among academic business ethicists. It covers: (1) the history of business ethics as an academic endeavor; (2) the focus on the corporation in academic business ethics; (3) the treatment of the employment relation in academic business ethics; (4) the treatment of transnational issues in academic business ethics; and (5) criticism of the focus and implicit methodology of academic business ethics.”

Advertising

Rogers Misleading Advertising Case: Truth-In-Advertising Laws Violate Our Rights, Telecom Giant Says
“Telecom giant Rogers is arguing before an Ontario court that truth-in-advertising rules are a violation of its right to freedom of expression, according to a news report.

“Postmedia’s Sarah Schmidt reports that Rogers is challenging a $10-million fine levied on it for misleading advertising by the federal Competition Bureau by arguing that being forced to test its products before making claims about them is a violation of freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

 

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Links & Assorted Philosophical Collegiality from @DrGarcia


The last few days has seen the activity in #Philosophy12 expand across the Internet with the use of DS106 Radio, a user-maintained web-radio station I’ve been working and playing with for the last year and half, that has allowed our class readings and discussion to be shared with a wider audience and learning community.

No stranger to the #ds106radio airwaves and many a broadcast from the halls and auditoriums of our highschool, GNA Garcia has been an active listener and participant in the last two days’ discussions of Plato’s Allegory of the Caveand in the true spirit of open-online learning has become a teacher-learner-facilitator node in what I hope is beginning to form as a working blended learning network: a classroom supported by co-learners participating at a distance.

To this end, GNA has shared a host of links, videos (the one embedded above is from her) and readings to supplement our learning in the last few days, which I’ll share here so that those not yet immersed in the burgeoning twitterstream for the course can keep up.

A big thanks to GNA for her contributions this week and for (always!) listening along: we’re fortunate to have you as a part of our learning community!

 
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