Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Katie Crompton – Attempt at Communication (DOL #1)

These first couple weeks in Philosophy 12 have got me incredibly excited and thoroughly confused all at the same time. Coming into this class I had no idea what was coming my way. I was worried that my brain, which a lot of the time thinks of things as black or white, wouldn’t be cut out for this incredibly colourful course. After the first day, I realized one of the things I needed to do for me to be successful would be to stretch my mind and learn to be more open, which is much easier said than done.


Image from The Art Studio NY Blog

  Our first few discussions really got me thinking about the isolation vs. communication debate. Communication is a huge part of our daily life. In our current society it is easier than ever to spark conversations with anyone at anytime, anywhere, which can be both a blessing and a curse. On the bright side, you can Skype with your cousins who live on the other side of the world, or you can message your best friend who moved to a different province last year. But on the not-so-bright side, there is that anonymous person on a Youtube video you put up who comments, “i h8 u” or your extremely conservative relatives posting anti-everything statuses on Facebook. Communication is something that everyone has to deal with in their daily lives, or is it? Is it better to hear other’s ideas or keep to your own? Does your mind thrive in isolation or when being social?

  Personally, I feel it is extremely important to speak with others and give people the opportunity to question you on your beliefs. This is something I am working on as I sometimes have a hard time expressing myself in fear that my opinions will be thought of as unimportant. One of my goals for this course is to become more open and not let myself fear sounding unintelligent. After all, you don’t know how much you know until someone challenges you and you have to explain yourself.

“Telling someone something he will not understand is pointless, even if you add he will not understand it” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Image from The Rock School

Image from The Rock School

  This quote got me thinking a lot about the connection between communication and wisdom. I have discovered through our class discussions and the essay Talk With Me by Nigel Warburton that wisdom isn’t knowing a bunch of useless facts that you can blurt out whenever you want to sound ‘smart’. It is having a wealth of knowledge that you are eager to share and discuss with others. Wisdom is also having the ability to see and understand other people’s opinions, though you may not fully agree with them.

  These discussions on communication and wisdom have really helped me realize how I learn and how I can grow as a person in this course. I am looking forward to hopefully letting my guard down and adding a little bit of colour into my black and white brain. It will be a challenge for me but I am excited to see what the next few months have in store.



Logic Assignment Introduction

Logic Lane, Oxford

Photo of Logic Lane at Oxford by Andy Hough on Flickr.

As we move into our unit on logic, the face-to-face participants in Philosophy 12 have been reading about the Basic Concepts of Logic (pdf), which may be defined as “the science of reasoning.” Delving into statements, premises, propositions, as well as truth, validity and soundness, our hope is to greet the weekend with a host of blogged examples of logical arguments in their natural habitat. In past years, the tasks around logic have involved a similar feat of strength, and participants have generated multiple examples of logical arguments and tested them for form and content. Occasionally this has sparked interesting discussions of both the merits of this or that argument, the cultural implications (or origins) of such thinking, and by amending the unit assignment this week hopefully we will see more of this type of discourse emerging around our logical examples.

The Assignment 

  • Summarize and describe an example of a logical argument you have uncovered in a variety of settings: current events, popular media, personal anecdotes or hypothetical thought experiments. Be sure to include enough back-story for people unfamiliar with the milieu of your example to digest the logic at work, and provide links, video, or attached materials so that your audience can follow up or extend their inquiry into your example with ease.
  • Dissect the argument and its form by representing it as a syllogism.
  • Evaluate the argument for Truth, Validity and Soundness and explain your judgements.
  • Reflect upon the origins or implications of your selected argument. Where does it (or others like it) come from (in society, culture, etc)? What are the consequences of the conclusion drawn, or from the argument being framed in this way?

Post your example on the class site no later than Tuesday morning, and be sure to include the proper Category: Logic and Scientific Philosophy.

For your reference and preparation, here is an example of a response to this assignment:

Prime Ministerial Logic 

Image via Transitions, an Advocate for Sociological Inquiry

Following the discovery of Tina Fontaine’s murdered body in the Red River, in August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced reinvigorated calls to launch a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada. On the heels of reports from the special rapporteur to the United Nations, as well as the RCMP, which each discovered that aboriginal women in Canada face significantly higher rates of violence than non-aboriginals, Harper’s federal Conservative Government continued to reject pressure to better understand the root causes of this trend. The Prime Minister himself stated that “we should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as a crime.”

The Prime Minister’s statement might be seen as an argument broken down to the following premises and conclusion:

Premise 1: The murder or abduction of aboriginal women is a crime.

Premise 2: Crime is not a sociological phenomenon.

Premise 3: A federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women would rely on sociological practices of inquiry.

Conclusion: Therefore, a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women would not address crimes against aboriginal women.

By evaluating the various premises’ truth and/or accuracy, we might be able to reveal the soundness of the Prime Minister’s argument.

  • Premise 1 can easily be accepted as true.
  • Premise 2 can be more easily contested, as the study of criminology itself is a branch of sociological inquiry. While it is the government’s prerogative to define and combat crime in terms it was elected to uphold, practitioners in the fields of both sociology and criminology would likely contest the Prime Minister’s assertion that “crime is not a sociological phenomenon.”
  • Premise 3 can be seen to be true, as an inquiry into the trend of murdered and missing aboriginal women would “study social behaviour, its origins, development, organization, and institutions,” which Wikipedia defines as sociology.

As we can see, the flaw in the Prime Minister’s argument is contained in Premise number two, and damages the conclusion reached. While the argument’s form may be valid, an error in its content damages both the truth of its premises and the soundness of the conclusion.

The origins of the Prime Minister’s logic are difficult to trace, though they might be seen in the political ideology of Neoliberalism. Writing in the Toronto Star, Jakeet Singh noted that the Prime Minister’s remarks were

“clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems.”

The effects of this logic being brought to bear on crime and punishment in Canada can be similarly difficult to witness (somewhat ironically even, as the evidence to be found would reside within the sorts of sociological inquiries the Prime Minister is denying). However, Singh’s article describes the casualties of Mr. Harper’s ideology as our societal ability to perceive and confront injustice. “You see,” he writes, “Sociologists often differentiate between “personal injustices” and “systemic” or “structural injustices.” Personal injustices can be traced back to concrete actions of particular individuals (perpetrators). These actions are often willful, and have a relatively isolated victim.”

Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”

By refusing to view crime as a sociological phenomenon, those accepting the Prime Minister’s argument do so within a broader context which should trouble those who believe in our collective responsibility for one another’s well-being. “When we paint all social problems as individual problems with individual solutions,” Singh writes, “we also lose any sense of the social responsibility, rather than personal responsibility, that we need to address them.”



Is Democracy “Better” Than the Rest- Yasmeen and Leanne

Plato viewed democracy for its populism, which he believed was nothing more than majority ruling. In democracy, nothing can prevent the majority from punishing an indesirable minority. Regardless of whether modern democracies have protection in place to prevent them, they are still not always precise. Considering that representation is supposed to be about majority vote, it basically means that minority groups can easily get the shaft.

Democracy moves slowly due to debate. Time may pass between the time a population decides a given measure is necssary and when it formally becomes law. The larger democracies get, the more difficult the voting and tallying process becomes. In other words, the larger a system gets, the less realistic it is for each person to voteon a specific decision. Even in very small democracies, there can be a problem with keeping people informed and interested in the issues at hand. Of course, it’s great that the people get to decide and have the freedom to, except for the fact that few have the education or pay enough attention to make an informed decision while voting.

Looking at the government intself, however, due to the fact that parties contain large amounts of people serving when making a decision, federal regulation, law and infrastructure take forever to implement as opposed to dictatorship, where one leader is in charge. In most cases, most democratic representatives move to different ideologies or lobbyist groups, meaning that party policies keep politicians from actually making representative decisions for the public.

Despite all of its imperfections, however, democracy is favoured over other systems of government because it is seen as fair and allows the general population to have a say in what is made into law and who is in government. Changes in government occur without the need of violence,  because at the end of every election term, the ruling party must compete against the others for power, preventing one party from dominating. The electoral campaining system allows members of society to know who and what they are voting for, and representative democracy ensures that the voices of the constituents are heard (to a certain degree.) In democracy, as opposed to communism where the wealth is redistributed so that every person is given equal shares of the benefits, each person controlls their own chosen profession, and therefore salary. As well, democracies leave people free to choose their beliefs, whereas in communist societies such choices are not available.

Democracy is generally preferred over dictatorship or communism in the western world because, despite its faults, the public is essentially in charge, rather than succumbing to the will of one leader.



Educational Imperatives

Perhaps the defining characteristic of democracy is its supposed commitment the the provision of equality. By their very nature, human societies are rife with inequality and disadvantage, whether by result of personal inadequacy or a simple roll of the dice. Education, at its heart, is thought to be the remedy to this, the ‘grand equalizer’ that overcomes the misfortunes of birth and gives everyone an equal opportunity to succeed.

While that may summarize our current understanding of education, it was not always thus. The modern idea of ‘public’ education arose, not out of some egalitarian ideal, but out of the elitist ideals of the Enlightenment. Common people, so the argument went, were uncivilized, ignorant, unwashed savages, and needed to be instructed to become civilized and ‘proper’ members of society. It was not so much about a belief that education was the key to equality as it was that education was the key to civilization; more accurately, it was the belief that education was a way to bring the clearly much more enlightened and worthy views of the philosophes to the masses.

So we see that education was, in a way, a form of social control – plain and simple, it was an excuse for the elites to impose their worldviews on the common people and to achieve their own goals. As public education was just beginning, the masses weren’t necessarily taught the same things rich people might have learned in their own schools – governments, once they took control of education, saw value not in ‘enlightening’ common folk but in building good workers, and so early education focused around the value of hard work and honest labour rather than teaching the spirit of questioning and inquisition we take for granted today. We see this manipulation of education far too often, even today – who has not heard the threat educational brainwashing poses, or shook their head upon hearing the things the Taliban taught to children? Education, on its, own, is a way to teach people ideas – nothing more, nothing less.

So understanding that education simply serves as a means to further an agenda, we have to ask the question: what should that agenda be? This question lies at the heart of education, and, we can suppose, the heart of a democracy. A system that declares itself built on equality can scarcely be legitimate without it, so education must somehow serve to truly be that ‘grand equalizer’ we make it out be. So, then…how?

We must refine the aims of education. There are two competing views on this: that education should teach people life skills and the information necessary to be successful in the modern economy, and that education should teach the more amorphous ‘liberal arts’ – the arts of questioning, wondering, and thinking for oneself. If the goal of education is to achieve equality, we must educate in the way that leads to the most potential for equality – but in which direction that leads, there is no consensus.

Just like you, we’re still learning. We don’t have all the answers. If we wish to have a democracy, and all the trappings we associate with it(prosperity, freedom, equality), education is necessary for the preservation of civilization and for the relatively equal footing it provides. But more than that is a mystery. And so we turn the question over to you, dear reader. For the society we believe in, we need a strong foundation – but the question is, what do we want that foundation to look like?