Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Midterm Assignment: Personal Theory of Knowledge

εntropyıng ın-bεtwεεn Camεra▲Obscura . .

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jef Safi

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.

Immanuel Kant

For credit as well as open-online participants are invited to respond to the following prompts in developing a personal theory of knowledge to be share on the blog by the end of next week (Friday December 5th). 


  • To state and support a proposition of personal knowledge;
  • To synthesize and reflect on course topics explore thus far:
    • Philosophical Inquiry
    • Logic
    • Scientific Philosophy
    • Metaphysics
  • To integrate existing epistemological ideas into a unique personal theory.


  • It’s a Blog Post: Each personal theory of epistemology will be posted in the form of a blog entry on the class site.
  • Tell us what you know: Identify a specific aspect or perspective of your view of knowledge ( how, where, and under what conditions it exists, is acquired, communicated).
  • Be Logical: Represent the statements formulating your proposition of knowledge as a syllogism or logical argument.
  • Cite your Sources: Whether the website that originally posted the image at the top of your post or the thinker(s) who informed your own ideas, use links and identify how others’ have influenced your published work.

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Contemporary Moral Problems Discussion 11.25.13


The beginning of our learning about Ethics with discussion of John Stewart Mill‘s UtilitarianismKant‘s Categorical Imperativeand points in between. It is the first of two discussions on readings which also includes John Rawls‘ Theory of Justice



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.”



Logic Week Blogging Assignments (For-Credit & Open-Online Participants)

Logic Week Blogging

Your mission, should you choose to accept it.

Above please find the criteria for this week’s assignments to be blogged here on the #Philosophy12 site.

Face-to-Face / For-Credit Participants (that’s you, block two!): Please fulfill the criteria to the best of your ability in the time allotted. If you would like to amend the assignments or riff in an as-yet-undescribed manner, see me during class Wednesday to discuss before setting out in your own personal direction.

Open-Online Participants (that’s you, anyone else who’s reading this blog!): Fulfill any piece or part of the above criteria, comment on For-Credit posts, ask questions, supply articles, videos, or links to interesting material that might serve others in the quest to explore and understand logic as it works in our day-to-day world. Post links, questions, or other input to the #Philosophy12 hashtag on Twitter, or jump in with both feet and drop three fully-formed posts on us as if you were taking the class for credit (I’ll see what I can do about getting some accreditation your way).

As you blog, please be sure to Categorize Your Post under Logic and Scientific PhilosophyIf you are looking to read, check under that category for the accumulated unit posts. 

To whet your logician’s whistle (maybe someone would like to dream up that schematic), here are some posts from last year’s trip through introductory logic and reason (Note: last year’s assignment was slightly different that this years and will not serve as a valuable template for For Credit participants):

Hufflepuffs are particularly good finders.

I am a Hufflepuff.

Therefore, I am a particularly good finder.

If you can’t see [Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Trall], it can’t see you.

If you wrap a towel around your head, you can’t see [Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Trall].

Therefore, the beast can’t see you, rendering itself useless in it’s efforts to try to eat you.

The Conservative Party stands for fiscal responsibility and accountability.

The Liberal Party opposes the Conservative Party.

Therefore, the Liberal Party opposes fiscal responsibility and accountability.

And as we have already begun to make his acquaintance this semester, I would like to extend a personal invitation and thanks to Mr. Stephen Downes, who brought such a comprehensive and illuminating perspective to our logical studies last year, and is (aside from being one of the pioneers in open learning from whom this course draws great inspiration) an outstanding example of an intellectual living in a global, digital community.

We are fortunate and grateful for his participation!





Epistemological Ecology – Mr. J

Learning Never Stops

There is a certain pleasure in being allowed to start things off in a class like #Philosophy12; while others may garner the satisfaction that comes from rising to the challenge of the various assignments and syntheses of ideas, as classroom facilitator my critical tasks have thus far revolved around the outset of the unit. Having hopefully created the conditions for individual and collective learning, I focus my energy around supporting the group’s thinking, whether in daily activities, viewing or reading materials, or engaging in class discussions about the direction and intentions of the unit or task at hand.

I get to learn a lot, just in seeing how the various branches of inquiry manage to reveal the topics at hand, and the perspectives that bring them to our classroom.

But I haven’t yet taken the opportunity to engage directly with the tasks myself, and I was taken with an idea for Epistemology: to state and support a personal proposition about the nature of knowledge, learning, and the justifications we use to frame these ideas. Within the context of the opening class structure, the unit presented a natural opportunity to turn the teaching of the course into a personal engagement with the material. If I could demonstrate an example of the type of learning I would like to see, would the allowance of the space and opportunity for participants to engage with their own individual creation of knowledge bring about an authentic expression of social constructivism?

“All knowledge begins with experience.”

The starting point for my own epistemological proposition centers around a view of our reason as an evolving structure of knowing that shifts with the acquisition of new knowledge (gained through experience). I have more or less directly swiped this from Immanuel Kant, but I have seen these ideas reflected in the foundations of the post-modern era, constructivism, as well as a frequent touchstone in the class’ conversations about knowledge and knowing. A certain amount of our work in the unit was bound to retread at least some of the contribution he has brought to the field, I figure.

But I am nevertheless grounded in the idea that the structure against which our experience of the world is interpreted – our ability to reason – evolves with our experiencing of the world; as it does our sense of what can be known changes in kind, eliciting further questions, and creating new un-knowing. Jonathan said it well in his first of two Epistemology posts: “As we accumulate knowledge over time, I also believe that we develop abilities to gain these different types of knowledge too.

The sage former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld summarized part of this arc memorably in February, 2002:

“[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

“…the limitation of all possible speculative cognition to the mere objects of experience, follows as a necessary result.”

There is something of the snake-eating-its-own-tail that then arises in the compulsion to expand our notions of knowing against an ever-expanding experiential plain. “Essentially, we have proven that no piece of knowledge, whether of reason or of reality, is reliable,” Liam writes in his exploration of Descartes’ Evil Genius theory:”

Really, a more unhelpful and useless conclusion has never been reached. True knowledge, it seems, is nowhere to be found – and because of that, we must accept the flawed, unreliable knowledge that we have and make do with it.

The Double Bind

As I began to explore in my initial post and reflections, the contradiction of pursuing a knowledge that evades alongside our mastery over it reminded me of the concept of the Double Bind, introduced to me a few weeks ago by Gardner Campbell at the Open Education conference in Vancouver. According to wikipedia, 

double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will be automatically wrong regardless of response.

While the acquisition of knowledge may not be an eitheror scenario as described in the double bind, what I found valuable about Gardner’s characterization of the dilemma was the idea that the double bind can serve as a kind or prison, but also create the conditions for an expansion of awareness (or, cognition) that is the process of meaningful learning I hope some of #philosophy12 is providing for its participants. Again from Wikipedia:

One solution to a double bind is to place the problem in a larger context […] the double bind is contextualized and understood as an impossible no-win scenario so that ways around it can be found.

For my own part, the attempt to characterize and justify my own beliefs about knowledge has been vexing in the manner Bateson predicted as one of the responses to the double bind, wherein objective truth “cannot be reliably known, so all [truth] is treated as trivial or ridiculous.” It is admittedly difficult to engage faithfully in a process that seems fruitless from the outset, and for this I am glad to have waded into this experiment alongside the #Philosophy12 class.

Because it is a confrontation with the double bind that a new paradigm, either for each of us personally or together as a society, and isn’t this what I should be doing as a teacher?

Bateson outlines a Hierarchy of Learning in which Learning III (third in a series of IV) represents an ability to develop a “meta contextual perspective, imagining and shifting contexts of understanding.” Learning III puts the individual into a moment of learning with risk, where “questions become explosive,” Gardner says, as the potential to begin again at the base of the pyramid Jonathan outlines here is something that we are not often keen to explore, but central to the learning process.

And I think that perhaps this is both the source and the solution to the double bind offered in our own rational and experiential development. Learning IV – which would be the change enacted to progress beyond Learning III – Bateson notes, “probably does not occur in any adult living organism on this earth.”

Naturally: once we have solved the initial double bind and reached beyond our present understanding, we are greeted with new incongruities to decipher.

And yet..?

And yet we continue to engage in this process. We continue to yearn for a greater understanding, even while that understanding becomes obscured in the new questions it raises.

“It may be,” Gardner says, “that the evolution of the species represents the emergence of the possibility of Learning IV, as we think together.”

Leaving me again with echos of Kant:

it is plain that the hope of a future life arises from the feeling, which exists in the breast of every man, that the temporal is inadequate to meet and satisfy the demands of his nature.



Individual Development of Knowledge

Philosophy class is like an amusement park. This park is full of different kinds of games, different kinds of puzzles, different kinds of rides. We have now reached one of the most exciting roller coasters of all – epistemology.

As a stimulus in this unit, Mr. Jackson asked us, each individual, to create our own epistemological statement. Daunting as this was, the only difficulty was starting. In the first week of study, Mr. Jackson has already begun on his own epistemological journey – and had put out an example of what, in a general sense, we were aiming for. Now, on to my opinions.

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.

This system of knowledge is simple, but has several layers/components to it. The basic idea is that there are 4 stages of knowledge development, ability and accumulation.

A quick run through of the different stages of knowledge

Instinctive Knowledge (Built In You)

This is self-explanatory. Any knowledge (or knowledge as an ability) that is natural to you, requiring nothing else to exist, is instinctive. This can commonly include bodily functions, ‘fight or flee’ instincts, and natural instincts that may be contained in your culture, race or demographic (for example, an asian child may have a basic aptitude for math, prior to teaching or sensory based information taken in).

Posteriori Knowledge (Built by Senses)

Literally means “derived from observed facts”. This knowledge is gained through sensory-based experiences, observations, etc. For example, any of your five senses may be included here. Empirical knowledge  an also be categorized here. In addition, ‘knowledge by acquaintance’ fits well too – abilities and/or skills gained by experience (competence knowledge).

Knowledge by Description (Built by Others)

This is all knowledge taught by another. Word of mouth, school, books all are examples of this knowledge. This knowledge can be passed on without the help of sensory based experience or reason.

Propositional Knowledge (Built by You)

Propositional knowledge, priori knowledge, knowledge by reason are all the same thing. It is knowledge that is created using primarily reason, the mind, thought. This can be making connections between other existing knowledge, or using induction or deduction or create entirely new knowledge (without the assistance of other forms of gaining knowledge).

Now, I believe that all of the above, all of these different forms of knowledge, are built upon the previous form of knowledge (in a general sense). Truly, I believe this is the path of knowledge today that we support. For the majority of reason based knowledge we create is based upon previous knowledge, given to us by others, or unconsciously discovered by our senses. My belief is that this is how we accumulate our knowledge over time.

In the diagram to the left, I also tried to make the amount of knowledge accumulated proportional to the knowledge we gain – after all, instinctive knowledge only makes us a very small percentage of the knowledge we yield. Depending on your demographic, the era you live in, and the environment that surrounds you, I believe that this triangle could look very different in terms of distribution. For example, if you lived in 1500 AD, you likely had a larger portion of knowledge by experience (posteriori knowledge), and had a much smaller category of propositional knowledge. In a later post, I will (hopefully) be covering the differences in reason over different time eras.

Though accumulation of knowledge is important, I found that it is minimal in the knowledge spectrum. As we accumulate knowledge over time, I also believe that we develop abilities to gain these different types of knowledge too. For example, as a child, you likely had little to do with propositional knowledge, and depended heavily on posteriori knowledge, or even knowledge by description, which your teachers at school provided you with. Over time, (in today’s era) our ability to reason grows over our life time, and our reliance on sensory knowledge decreases significantly. Hence, in a later age, our ‘greater ability to reason’ would cause our accumulation of knowledge to grow exponentially, because the rate at which we are able to determine knowledge by ourselves is much greater than the rate at which we can be educated. For this reason, we develop our abilities to take in these different types of knowledge over time,  as well. This would occur in the order shown – as a child, you develop your ability to see, feel, hear. As an adolescence, you develop your ability to learn, listen, and take information. As an adult, you are expected to come up with your own conclusions, based on your existing information.

All of the above stated is little in my mind. For in each stage, there are inaccuracies in the knowledge we gain. For this reason, I feel the system shown above is useful as a tool to determine one’s accumulation of knowledge, but in unimportant in the question: why do we allow accuracies in knowledge to exist? For there are inaccuracies, lies, and false teachings in each of the stages of knowledge shown above. This question is addressed here, in the next blog post.

As an alternative, if you would like to look into the truth and accuracy of knowledge when comparing beliefs, statements, and opinions, Jen’s post on Santa does an excellent job of this.



Thoughts on beginning Epistemology

Old and Bold

Image and Edit courtesy of Flickr user @talonsblog

No small part of the #Philosophy12 course design has been based in the framework of social constructivism:

according to which all “knowledge is a compilation of human-made constructions”,[16] “not the neutral discovery of an objective truth”.[17] Whereas objectivism is concerned with the “object of our knowledge”, constructivism emphasises “how we construct knowledge”.[18] Constructivism proposes new definitions for knowledge and truth that form a new paradigm, based on inter-subjectivity instead of the classical objectivity, and on viability instead of truth. Piagetian constructivism, however, believes in objectivity—constructs can be validated through experimentation.

Many of the different ideas contained in the above definition (from Wikipedia) arose during last week’s Metaphysics Pecha Kucha presentations, and I have been thinking about how to extend our class’ pursuit of individual and collected knowledge with the beginning of our Epistemology unit, some of which I hope to introduce here, even if these ideas aren’t quite yet fully formed.

I have been reflecting on the purpose of the philosophical lecture, as well; the series of Pecha Kucha presentations delivered last week, each outlining and contextualizing a proposition of a notable metaphysician, were a literally awesome exploration and synthesis of a broad scope of human thinking about the nature of reality.  In my own preparations for the Epistemology unit, I’ve continued to indulge in materials from iTunesU, and Oxford University‘s Philosophy for Beginners, as well as Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (nicely accompanied by Project Gutenburg‘s access to the free volume of the text), and have been immensely grateful to these wildly knowledgable and articulate professors (and their institutions) for being willing to share their wisdom of the different contexts surrounding the development of human knowledge with us and others free of charge. (While some others may disagree, I think that this free and open sharing of ideas is necessary for our continued learning and progress as a society and civilization, and has been since time immemorial.)

Without these keepers of such knowledge, and contexts, being ‘brought up to speed‘ on the progress of philosophical thought would no doubt be a much more painful and arduous process, and I hope for-credit and open online participants familiarize themselves with some of the outstanding materials available to them online and locally (please feel free to use the comments of this post, the #philosophy12 hashtag, or a new posting on the blog to share something you come across that we could benefit from).

True to our constructivist’s roots, the class will be engaging with the idea of human knowledge by developing a statement and articulation of each learner’s own emerging individual philosophy, and then working collaboratively to synthesize and present a class lecture (one lecture undertaken by the class as a whole) outlining our collective reasoning, that will be recorded and streamed live online, and shared in the pantheon of voices between our own humble classroom and the halls of Oxford, the University of Glasgow, or even the new year’s Coursera offering.

The face-to-face class will be meeting Monday, November 5th, to discuss the criteria and layout of the unit of study, and streaming the conversation on #ds106radio so that open online participants can listen and take part in the conversation.

More Free Online Courses:

  • General Philosophy
    A series of lectures delivered by Peter Millican to first-year philosophy students at the University of Oxford. The lectures comprise the 8-week General Philosophy course and were delivered in late 2009.

  • Nietzsche on Mind and Nature
    Keynote speeches and special session given at the international conference ‘Nietzsche on Mind and Nature’, held at St. Peter’s College, Oxford, 11-13 September 2009, organized by the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford.

  • Kant’s Epistemology (audio only)
    Dr. Susan Stuart taught this course at the University of Glasgow in 2008, covering Kant’s three critiques published between 1781 and 1790.

  • Coursera’s Introduction to Philosophy
    This course will introduce you to some of the most important areas of research in contemporary philosophy. Each week a different philosopher will talk you through some of the most important questions and issues in their area of expertise.

I can also heartily recommend the Open Culture blog‘s collection of 55 Free Philosophy Courses