Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

By

Story Time

Five months ago, I made the claim that philosophy is like The Dress. My reasoning was that everyone has different viewpoints on philosophical topics, philosophy requires a lot of conversation, and that there is a definite truth whether or not it can be determined. I do not disagree with my original statement, but I have learned that philosophy is a lot more complex than that. I was too focused on how people go about philosophizing that I didn’t look into how philosophy impacts the philosopher. The best way for me to explore this is through a fun story!

Disclaimer: This story and its characters are based off of the podcast Welcome To Night Vale, all credit to the rightful creators.

The Traveler

“There is a traveler. The traveler comes across a desert town in the middle of nowhere. Upon initial viewing, the town appears to be normal. There is a radio station, a McDonald’s, and a dog park. The traveler checks into a hotel, and tunes in to the local radio station. The traveler does not understand what the speaker is saying. Well, they understand it, it just doesn’t make sense. The speaker claims that “mountains don’t exist”. The speaker says that there is a world of perfect “forms” on which our whole world copies. There is apparently a faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home and the mayor is a five-headed dragon. The speaker must be crazy, the traveler thinks. Perhaps it is a comedy show, the traveler reasons. The words of the speaker, however, haunt the traveler’s mind all day.

The traveler wanders around town, intrigued by this place they have found themselves in. They look to the north, where a mountain stands tall. The speaker’s words ring through the traveler’s mind, and as they stare at the mountain, they become less sure of its existence. “How do I know it’s real? How do I know… anything is real?” the traveler thinks. “Surely I am real.” The traveler keeps walking. With no escape from these questions, they sit down and think. They admire the beauty that is this strange town, and accept they are content with questions.

The end.”

At the beginning, the traveler (who if you have not figure out by now, represents me) thinks they know what reality is. They think they have the answers. But they are exposed to new ideas that contradict everything they “knew”. The story is supposed to show how absurd some philosophical topics have seemed to me, but yet how necessary they are to talk about. Philosophy seemed a bit illogical at first, like this town, but there is a strange beauty in it. My answer to ‘What is Philosophy’ didn’t change so much in the ideas as it did in the experience. My comparison at the beginning of the semester still works, but it was lacking in personal experience. Philosophy is journey that you never really finish. I don’t (and can’t) fully understand all that we discussed in this class. That doesn’t really matter. The important part to me is that I now know how to go about finding some answers for myself. Since being a traveler in this town we call Philosophy 12, I have opened my mind and questioned the norm.  It’s confusing, it’s weird, and it’s pretty great. Thank you.

 

By

Experience An Essence

For centuries, philosophers have been arguing over what constitutes knowledge. I have an answer.

Proposition:  Knowledge is experiencing the essence of a truth.

How did I come to this conclusion?

If knowledge must be a personal experience
and if experience is a true event or stimulus that is perceived, understood, and remembered
and if truth is definite regardless of human thought
and if truths have an essence
then knowledge is experiencing the essence of a truth.

Experience

Experience is defined as a true event or stimulus that is perceived, understood, and remembered. What this means is that something external (outside of the mind which is experiencing) has stimulated the mind. The recognition that something is happening is the act of perceiving it. To understand it is done through the act of reasoning. We take in what we have sensed and make conclusions based on our senses. Note that our conclusions must be true for it to constitute knowledge. Finally the experience must be remembered, meaning that somewhere in the mind we must be able to think back to the experience or at least have affected the mind in some way.

The philosophical tool of using the senses to gain knowledge is known as empiricism. Extreme empiricists, such as Locke, rely only on their senses and do not believe that pure reason can lead to true knowledge. The opposite of this tool is known as rationalism which relies purely on reason to gain knowledge. Descartes was a famous rationalist. With my theory, knowledge must start empirically and have some element of reason in order to experience something.

Knowledge must be a personal experience. Now that experience has been defined, we can look into this next statement. For a person to have knowledge, that person must be the one with the knowledge. Sounds obvious, right? If Person A knows something, that does not necessarily mean that Person B knows the same thing. Knowledge is not a shared item, it must be known personally.

Truth

What can be defined as true? If you were to look it up in the dictionary, you would come across something along the lines of “in accordance to fact or reality”. Essentially what that is saying is that for a statement to be true, it must line up with what reality shows us. The tricky part about truth is that humans make mistakes. Humanity once thought it was true that the earth was flat. Just because they all believed it, doesn’t make it true. A truth is a truth even if no one in the world believes it or knows about it. If someone states, “there is no God,” then that statement will either be true or false. We may never be able to prove or disprove the statement, but that doesn’t mean that there is no certainty in an answer. Whether that person is right or wrong is the real question of truth.

Essence

Essence can be known as a property or group of properties of something without which it would not exist or be what it is. This definition makes essence almost sound like something that can be seen or observed, so allow me to explain a bit farther. An essence is the very core of something, the very being of what that thing is. When you hear the word sunshine, the feeling that comes over you when you think of sunshine is how you’ve experienced its essence. Its essence does not lie in the word itself, rather it lies in all the indescribable ways that thing exists. The very attempt of describing an essence takes away its essence and turns it into the human invention of language.

Therefore, to experience the essence of a truth means to personally perceive, understand, and remember how you experienced the very essence of something that is true.

The idea of essence ties into what is known as propositional knowledge. We can distinguish the difference between a statement and a proposition. Think of a proposition as being an idea or a concept. A statement is the way that is used to express the idea. The statement consists of words, grammar, and syllables, while the proposition is what is being represented by those words.

Essence = Proposition ≠ Statement

Synthesis

Knowledge is experiencing the essence of a truth. Knowledge cannot be passed on from person to person in a way that is impersonal or untrue. You can gain knowledge from another person if you are actively trying to perceive, understand, and remember what it is they are explaining, if what they are explaining is true, and if you experience the essence of what they are explaining. The fact that you have read this post does not mean you have knowledge of my theory of knowledge. To have the knowledge of my theory, you must experience the essence of what I am trying to explain. The language I am using to describe this theory cannot capture its essence, but if you come to the realization of what the essence of this theory is, then you will have gained knowledge.

If you would ever like to test this theory in a situation, I find it is helpful to lay out premises and find which are a matter of truth and which are a matter of propositional knowledge (essence). Here is an example:

Statement: The sun is bright

Premise 1: The sun exists (matter of truth)
Premise 2: The sun is bright (matter of truth)
Premise 3: You have internalized the essence of brightness and the essence of the sun (propositional knowledge)

With all premises being true, you can successfully say you have knowledge. Congratulations!

 

Images from 1, 2, 3, 4

 

By

Old Souls Talk About Souls

If you remember from my last blog post, I am looking into the concept of spirits and souls. I was exploring the difference in the two terms, whether or not they exist, and theories of how they affect life (and afterlife). I found this lovely reference website that has allowed me to look into different theories. The soul is a very old concept, so in order to gain a deeper understanding of it I have to research ancient philosophers like Plato and Socrates.

One theory is known as the Phaedo’s Theory of the Soul. In around fifth century Greek culture, it was not a popular belief to view the soul as an immortal thing. People viewed it as more of a substance that could be dispersed or disintegrated like smoke once a person died. Plato had a different view, which he inscribed in the Phaedo. The Phaedo is a dialogue written by Plato. It is important to note that Plato was influenced by Socrates, his teacher, so his dialogues detail Socrates. Also, Cebes was a disciple of Socrates. This website details three argument presented about the immortality of the soul.

The Cyclical Argument: Essentially Socrates states that opposites (ex. small and large) balance each other. He states that being dead and being alive are opposites. In order to balance out these opposites, coming to life must balance out dying. Therefore, the soul must come back to life after death. There are difficulties with this theory, mainly about the how small and large are comparative words while dead and alive are contraries. People question whether his argument can be applied to these two different terms.

The Argument From Recollection: Cebes states that the soul’s immortality is supported by Socrates theory of Recollection. It says that our soul must exist before we are born because it is possible to answer questions that we did not appear to know the answer to, if you use the proper methods.

The Affinity Argument: In this argument, it is stated that there are two types of existences: the visible world that we perceive, and the invisible world of Forms that we can only access with our minds. The body belongs to the visible world, whereas the soul belongs to the invisible world.

There are other theories of the soul, most of which adapted or inspired from these original theories that I have talked about. For the purpose of this post I will not go into detail about the other theories, but you can read about them in the links provided.

I feel that I have a pretty good understanding of different views of the soul after research and discussion. I think I have answered most of my original questions, but this may be leading me towards different topics altogether, like consciousness, the paranormal, or religions (as some of my classmates have been studying). With so many different theories on the soul, I still wonder how these beliefs affect our daily lives. How does it affect my life? I will hopefully explore this during my “Phil’s Day Off” adventure, where I will search out an opportunity to grow a deeper understanding of this topic.

 

By

The Self, Spirits, and Souls

The portion of metaphysics that has interested me the most is the idea of the self. What are we? As we studied Descartes, we explored the idea that our self is the only thing that we can prove to exist. The fact that I am a “thinking thing” that can perceive or analyze what I experience proves the existence of myself. This does not prove the existence of the physical world, nor does it prove that any other minds exist.

This led me to think about the idea of spirits and souls. What’s the difference between a spirit and a soul? Are they a permanent part of us? Do they even exist? If they do exist, how does it relate to our “self”? My goal for these questions is to see different viewpoints on the topic and see if, like Descartes believes about the self, it could be proven.

From my research, it appears that most references to spirits and souls are in religious contexts. It is a very specific area of metaphysics known as spiritual metaphysics, and this website gives the following definition of it.

Spiritual metaphysics is the study of the nature of human experiences that are still considered “non-physical” or “spiritual” only because our physical senses, research and technology cannot as yet measure or detect them.

The idea of our physical body and who we are being separate from each other is not new. For example, animism is a belief system that was believed by many tribes, stating that everything (whether it be a person, plant, or inanimate object) has a spirit. This belief created a feeling of oneness with the universe for those who believed it.

So how does a spirit differ from a soul? Can we use the two words as synonyms? A soul is generally agreed to be a distinct entity that is separate from a person’s body. In some definitions it will state that the soul is immortal, however proof of this is unattainable. In many definitions, it is stated that spirit is a synonym for soul. With the above points on what a soul is, it is easy to see why we often use the words interchangeably. A spirit is also regarded as being separate from the body. With dictionary definitions, these two terms seem to be the same.

However, in some belief systems the two are used in very different contexts. A person can be described as being spiritually “dead” or “alive”, and yet still be considered to have a soul. In this situation it appears that the soul is being described as more of a permanent thing (similar to the self), while a spirit must be an active thing. Perhaps this ties into the idea of human enlightenment.

Unlike Descartes view of the self, the concepts of spirits and souls cannot be proven. Perhaps this will tie into the idea of afterlives and other worlds later on in my studies. My classmate Ashley knows a lot about the paranormal, so I might discuss with her on different viewpoints of the topic of spirits and souls.

The concepts mentioned in this post are a big part of how each individual person views the world. Whether someone has an animistic view of the world or believes that the non-physical part of them exists only while their physical body exists (or any other worldview in between), their view will affect their actions and emotions.

As I move forward with metaphysical studies, I hope to look deeper into the separation (or lack thereof) of the physical world and the non-physical.

 

By

A Dress, Perceptions, and Ideas

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we were asked to answer the question, what is philosophy? With such a broad concept, it is easier to compare it to something than it is to try and explain it. My conclusion was that philosophy is a lot like #thedress, which I’m sure you’ve heard of if you’ve been on the internet sometime in the past 8 months. If you haven’t, essentially it is a photo of a dress where some people view the dress colours to be white and gold, and some people view it as blue and black. I suggest looking it up, as it is very interesting. Below I will paste the link to a slideshow I used along with an edited script of my main points.

If you would like to view the slideshow, click here.

Main Points For Slideshow (edited to fit blog context)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Slide 1: “On February 25th, 2015 …. the internet was shaken by a photo of a dress. It caused many debates, and most people are quite over it now. Let’s take a look at how this internet phenomenon is like philosophy.”

Slide 2: I had a class take a vote of who sees the dress as what colours. We had a bit of disagreement on this issue, but isn’t that a lot like any issue? There will always be different viewpoints. Upon an initial viewing of this photo, with no additional knowledge, we did not know which answer was right and which was wrong. So both viewpoints had to be taken as equally valid. In philosophy, we look at ideas and concepts that we do not know a definite answer to. To be successful at expanding your idea of the world, you have to look at other people’s perspectives. Even if you still disagree at the end of the day, considering other viewpoints could lead you to new knowledge, and new questions.

Slide 3: So what happened when this picture showed up? Conversation. As my class had read about in the article Talk With Me by Nigel Warburton, philosophy is all about conversation. Now, in the case of the dress it was a mix between civil conversations and intense arguments. This can still line up with philosophy though. When we talk about philosophical issues that we personally care about, for example, what happens after we die, people will get passionate and try to explain why they think what they think. I saw many people arguing over the dress picture when it first came out, just like people will argue over complex topics such as morality.

Slide 4: So what colour was the dress? In real life, the owner has said it was blue and black. Still, people will defend that it isn’t. Why, after a truth has come out, do we still defend our old ideas? In our journey through philosophy, many times we are trying to find the ANSWER. Most of the time, we don’t. Some topics might not have an answer, but others do. People will all have opinions on topics, and since we don’t know the answer to those topics they are all equally valid points. But even if we know the answer, it can still be challenged. People will still say their opinion is truth.

Slide 5: So what is philosophy? Philosophy is topics that get people interested. Confused. Intrigued. Philosophy is taking in different viewpoints to expand your knowledge of life and the universe. Philosophy is trying to find an answer, and either accepting that there is no answer, or choosing what you will believe for yourself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Though this perhaps only gives a basic idea of what philosophy is, the more time I spend studying philosophy, the more formed my ideas will become. Comment your ideas, opinions, or questions below!

 

By

Consider This

From my experience, philosophy requires a relatively open mind. To grow deeper in our understanding of topics, and to produce new questions about each topic, you must be willing to explore different perspectives. It is not a matter of this is right and this is wrong, it’s a matter of consider this. Consider ideas that seem so obvious at first glance but are deeper the more you look at it. Does colour exist? Is there such thing as good and evil? Is reality a computer generation? Maybe some of these questions sound ridiculous to you, but I encourage you to consider it.

I’m excited about the readings and discussions that have taken place in our classroom so far. If you’d like to view some of the readings we looked at this past week, here is an earlier post linking all the articles. However, one reading that I found particularly interesting is not included in that post, and it is called Talk With Me by Nigel Warburton. It discusses how philosophy is often seen as a solitary activity, but it is necessary that conversation be a part of this process.

“Philosophy is an inherently social activity that thrives on the collision of viewpoints and rarely emerges from unchallenged interior monologue.”

I really like this viewpoint as it encourages me to think of philosophical ideas as something I can debate, rather

Conversation is an important part of philosophy

than just ponder by myself. These conversations lead to bouncing ideas off of each other, and creating new questions.

This viewpoint is very prominent in our class as well, since many of our classes are simply the class discussing something we read the night before. The conversations will start off about what the article said, but will often go into other questions that the article had sparked in someone’s mind. It is much more interesting and something that each person must contribute to.

So with this all in mind, where do I want to go from here? At the beginning of this course we were asked, what do we want to get out philosophy? Why are we here? Personally, I am here because I don’t think everything is always as it seems and I want to find out what ideas exist other than the regularly accepted ideas. I am working on sorting out my ideas of what philosophy even is, and until I do that I do not know if I can fully answer the question of why I’m here. Even if I

And where will I go from here?

don’t know exactly what I want out of this course, there has not been a single discussion or reading that I have not enjoyed, and I think that speaks for itself on my feelings toward the subject. I look forward to future discussions with my class. I am especially excited for the units on metaphysics and epistemology.

As the course progresses, I hope you will continue to read our class blog and share your opinions with us through the comments section!

 
css.php