Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Contemplations on the indefinite, non-specific, and subjective semantic meaning of “Philosophy”

What is philosophy?

It would be easy to simply post the dictionary definition of the word philosophy and work from there, but language is not as simple as the strictly defined semantic allocations that we designate to the words that we use. specific definitions for words is certainly necessary for precise communication, especially in formal matters such as in laws and the more objective academics, but in many interpersonal interactions, especially colloquial verbal communication, many words are used with more of an emotional and connotational semantic meaning rather than a singular, objective definition. Language is limited in its abilities to convey ones thoughts and often times cognitive thoughts are rather incorporeal and formless in a sense, difficult to define within the restrictions of linguistic communication. More feeling than substance, these thoughts are still important to share, and thus as linguistic communication is our only true means of conveying our thoughts, (as we unfortunately seem to be incapable of telepathy) we must attempt to convey these difficult to define thoughts and feelings by assigning subjective connotations to the words we use and hope that the person we are attempting to communicate with picks up on and comprehends these connotations without us needing to elaborate with a hasty and inefficient explanation of what we mean.

So then “philosophy” is more than simply it’s dictionary definition, but without adherence to a widely accepted and agreed upon definition, the semantic meaning then becomes subjective. What one may consider to be the meaning of Philosophy may be contested by another’s. My point essentially being that communicating thoughts through language is difficult and oftentimes a very inefficient and ineffectual art.

So without further ado; My subjective semantic definition of what philosophy is, is merely contemplation.

Contemplation of all that is ephemeral, ethereal, and incorporeal. All that is without form or substance, that is not of this physical realm that we inhabit. It is the contemplation of the incomprehensible, of all that cannot be strictly defined. Contemplation of all that is subjective and of whether certain things are subjective or not, whether anything at all is truly objective.

Philosophy is contemplation of the nature of the universe,
of the nature of reality.

Philosophy is the contemplation of everything that exists and does not exist.

Philosophy is the contemplation of all that we can see and cannot see, everything we can experience and everything that we can not, all that we know and do not know.

Philosophy is the contemplation of what is and what isn’t, of what is within and of what is beyond. Beyond what we can see and know.

It is the contemplation of truth, and of justice, and of what constitutes each respectively.

It is the contemplation of morality and ethics, of what the right way to love one’s life is, and of what “rightness” is itself.

It is the contemplation life and of death, of what happens after we pass from this life and of what happened before we entered it.

It is the contemplation of beauty and art and emotion.

It is the contemplation of humanity and what makes us human.

It is the contemplation of meaning and of reason.

It is the contemplation of everything in a sense, as everything could in one way or another be considered incorporeal and indefinite.

It is the contemplation of nothing, in the sense that is the contemplation of the nature of “nothingness”.

Whereas science could be considered the contemplation of “how”, philosophy is more the contemplation of “what” and “why”. The contemplation of what things truly are, of what truly exists and of what is beyond our senses and understandings. The contemplation of why we exist and what our meaning is, of why we are conscious and aware, of why we are able to experience the world around us, of why existence itself exists.

It is the contemplation of what things are, of what their meaning is, and of the nature of their essence is.

Philosophy is by extension, the contemplation of what philosophy is.

What philosophy is, cannot be fully defined, and thus in my attempt to define it, i shall define it as an attempt to define that which cannot fully be defined.



What is Philosophy?

Dictionary Series - Philosophy: philosophyAt the beginning of the course I felt that philosophy was composed of two main ideas- questioning and challenging. However, I’ve come to the decision that in order to fully form my opinions and develop my ideas about philosophical topics I must question, challenge, and gain a different perspective from others.


Philosophy allows us to question reality, existence, truths about ourselves, and the world around us.


Challenging our own ideas about reality, existence, truths about ourselves, and the world around us allows us to expand these ideas within ourselves.

Gaining perspective:

This is where my new understanding and opinions on philosophy come into play. I’ve expanded my learning to include gaining perspective and understanding. 

I’ve come to learn that although our opinions may seem to be solidified, gaining a new perspective from others who may be able to challenge or prove our ideas wrong, is beneficial in that without the contribution from others our ideas cannot be expanded in the same way.

philosophy (1)

Gaining perspective is, in a sense, just like being freed from Plato’s cave in that you are forced to see something you couldn’t before.


It is simple to form ideas about philosophical topics, however, understanding and being able to share these ideas with others is what makes the search for answers worthwhile. Being able to inform others and receive feedback on your ideas is what makes fully understanding and being able to transfer your ideas to others so difficult.

Philosophy 12 has helped me develop my skills in being able to translate my ideas into words. I felt that most of my learning and growth came in the form of blog posts. I work best when I am able to organize my thoughts, so the blog was the perfect place for me to do that. I am most proud of my solipsism post where I talked about the idea that the only thing that is sure to exist is one’s mind as I have been able to further develop my knowledge on this topic in other classes. Moving forward, I am going to continue to work on my skills in translating my ideas to words by considering many perspectives when coming to a conclusion.



Hapa Haole


Oh well, here’s my prezi (it wasn’t embedding) and script!

I think that philosophy is the study of humanity. From what I know so far, it centers around humans quite a bit. Humans think about it, humans debate topics on it, and there’s even a section on what, ethically, humans can do. So … philosophy is us. Or, rather, all about us. This, frankly, seems a bit egotistical, but, to be fair, it is a human invention, and we don’t exactly have a method for bringing dolphins and mice into our discussions on why we’re all here, so maybe it isn’t so much ego as it is… a language barrier.


So happy together....

So happy together….

Which brings me to 2. Since philosophy really is all about us, it can almost be molded so that it’s exactly what we need at any given time. Take Wittgenstein. He went about philosophizing for a year, all solitarily, and then he finally decides to branch out and talk at someone about these fantastic ideas that he’s come up with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they are fantastic ideas, but he went from living alone in a hut to talking to one guy to an entire classroom of students who were all watching him stare at his hand. His method of philosophizing changed drastically, and it fit perfectly with how he wanted to live his life.

Because of that, I think that philosophy is a broad enough subject that you could pick and choose what you wanted to focus on depending on how you felt on any given day. If I were to wake up and look out the window and see bright sunshine filtering over the leaves (and if I were to think philosophically about this), I’d probably wonder what or why something so beautiful would happen and how I was able to comprehend its beauty and what exactly beauty is, anyway.

On the other hand, if I were to wake up, look outside, and see thunder and lightning mixed with snow, mixed with hail, I’d probably be thinking something along the lines of: How far would I go to get rid of this awful weather? What comes after death? Are any of us really here? Sad and complicated things like that. There is no precise starting point where philosophy begins, and there’s certainly no place where it ends, so who’s to say whether the happy philosophizing is right and the sad one is wrong? They’re both considered philosophy, so where does that leave us?

Because philosophy is inherently about humans and it can be whatever we want it to be at any given time, in the end, it’s really just a big study about ourselves. I’ve recently been thinking more about this question, what (or, I guess, who) am I, because I went to this art exhibit called Hapa, which is a Hawaiian word meaning half. Hapa is also a term for someone who is of mixed ethnic heritage, and I am half Chinese and half Scottish. So, this art exhibit was done by a man named Kip Fulbeck, who is also Hapa, and wanted to take portraits of other Hapa people. Fulbeck is a photographer, a filmmaker, a writer, and an artist, and going to this exhibit was, I won’t lie, kind of a big deal for me. Each portrait that he took was accompanied by a little half-page that each person had to fill out with their answer to the question: What are you?

The "other" box is basically my Mt. Everest

The “other” box is basically my Mt. Everest

Reading each of these answers was fascinating for me, because they ranged from this [1], to this [2], to this [3], which is probably the most creative and philosophical answer that I saw out of all of them.

So, in conclusion, philosophy is the study of ourselves because we, as a species, and me, as a person, are still figuring ourselves out. The sciences—and I mean Chemistry, Biology, those things—will give you equations and percentages, but I think that only philosophy will give us a true concept of ourselves, because it’s a subject that was created by humans about humans, meant for humans to discuss.



What is Philosophy? : Understanding Understanding


There’s my definition. Done. End of the line. Nothing else to see. You can stop reading right here, click off this page and go about the rest of your day.


. . .


Some would consider starting a blog post with the conclusion anticlimactic, while others would think it insane. Who would bother to read on when they already have the answer they came here for? Normally I would agree that perhaps starting with the conclusion is a not so splendid idea, but for this question I think I’ll make an exception. The question itself is paradoxical anyway; how can I answer “What is philosophy?” in a non-philosophical manner, and how can I address it in a philosophical manner without knowing what philosophy is? In this one scenario, mixing things up seems like a logical response to a paradoxical issue, if such a response exists.


So as you may have picked up, instead of starting with an idea and ending with a definition, in this post I’ll flip everything around. I’ll start with a definition, and over the course of the post I’ll break the definition down into pieces and explain how I got to each piece and what each piece means to me. Without any further ado…


Piece 1: Fundamental Understanding

With all that rambling you may have already forgotten what my definition was (I don’t blame you, that was quite a lot of rambling), so I would suggest popping back up to the top of the post for a quick refresher. The second part of my definition is of particular importance for this piece, especially the words “fundamental human understanding”. What could I possibly mean by that?

To me, fundamental understanding is different than understanding what type of food an apple is (a fruit!), or how a rocket works (science!). Those comprehensions would most likely fall into the scientific domain, not the philosophical one. No, fundamental understanding is the understanding of understanding (or meta-understanding if you prefer). For example, the understanding that an apple is a fruit is built upon the understanding that we know what an apple is, and that understanding is built upon knowing what knowledge is. To clear things up, here’s a personal example of meta-understanding.

1) I have a cat.

2) My cat sometimes scratches the upholstery.

3) I understand that my cat sometimes scratches the upholstery.

4) If I understand the understanding in 3), I might gain insight as to what kind of creature a cat is or why he would do these things. Those fundamental understandings are what the understanding in 3) is built upon.

So what do we do when we have gained this fundamental understanding? What use is it? Well, here’s a more relevant example than the previous one:

1) Society agrees that criminals should be punished.

2) In other words, society has a collective understanding that those who commit crimes should be brought to justice.

3) If we can understand this collective understanding, we could comprehend what our society believes to be criminal behaviour and what code of ethics our society follows. These fundamental understandings could change our current views on how criminals should be treated and potentially rehabilitated.

I feel that this is a vital piece to philosophy because our world is built upon countless scientific, social, moral, and philosophical understandings. By moving from understanding to meta-understanding, I believe that we can delve into important issues far more deeply than ever before.

Piece 2: Strive

“And that is precisely what [philosophers] were mocked for: always pursuing and never attaining.”

Robert Pasnau, “Why not just weigh the fish?”

As we have covered in recent class readings, philosophy is often mocked for its “lack of results”. To me, this seems to be folly. I see philosophy as an ongoing study, one that builds on top of previous work in order to reach new understandings that are relevant to today’s world.

Another reason I believe it to be laughable to mock philosophy for its “lack or results” is because conclusions and understandings may be subjective. To clarify that, here’s another example from my life.

1) I see myself as the “ruler” of my cat, due the the fact that I am physically and mentally superior to him.

2) My cat sees me as his slave, the big thing who feeds him when he is hungry and lavishes him with attention.

Neither of these understandings are wrong; since my cat and I have different viewpoints and backgrounds, it makes sense that our understandings would differ on some key issues. Another common example is how I would perceive a red apple differently from a person who is colourblind; again, neither of us are wrong, we simply have different understandings because of our unique circumstances.

Piece 3: Expansion

To conclude, philosophy serves as a useful tool for the understanding of human ideas new and old. It can benefit society by looking at our basic understandings in a new way, and it can also benefit the individual by helping them understand themselves and their own life.




Q: What is Philosophy? jade

When questioned on what something means, a person could easily turn to a formal Webster’s definition. But I believe that everything in life has more than a surface-scraped meaning; philosophy especially. I think of philosophy as the core of all existence, because when you take a closer look at something, you can dissect it with philosophical thinking.

I see philosophy as to be an infinite sequence of deep thought. It’s a constant progression as studies and theories continue to alter and develop with the world. Philosophy is a variable existing alongside the very existence of ourselves. As humans, we’ve managed to take philosophy and with it, create the very base of our society that is humanity. I thought about the universe, religion, and the people around me. Over time, we’ve seemed to create guidelines for terms of proper living. We’ve been trained with ethics, and the understanding of what should be right or wrong. Like the animals that humans are, we’ve used the course of our history to educate ourselves in the values and morals we choose to obtain. The more we’ve taken and grown with the theories of philosophy, the more we have adapted as civilized people.

It’s a canvas both blankly untouched, and covered in a beautiful display. Philosophy is the very root of my world, along with everyone else’s. An art, a science, and a mystery. The infinite thinking of philosophy is what’s changing us along with everything in and around the world we live in. William Shakespeare once said, “there is nothing good nor bad, but thinking makes it so”; expressing that everything is in the state you choose to interpret it in. The same goes with philosophy. You can intake as much information as you want but it’s meaning is what you define it to be.

A great topic of debate within philosophy is about the realism of religion, alongside how the ideas of existence and meaning either compare or contrast. Those involved identify themselves as either believers of God, or non-believers. A sub-division within the believers are those who believe in a single God, or multiple Gods staying faithful to monotheism or polytheism practices. Something I found interesting while looking into the different religions were the apparent difference in objectives of each faith. Each seemed to have some sort of guideline for your life. Stay true to your God(s), and you will be given the gift of a peaceful haven after death. Buddhism spoke a looser idealism of how to strive for a happy life and after-life. Nirvana was an apparent goal in Buddhism that I strongly admire; and would like to personally strive for myself after discovering the teaching of the Awakened One. Philosophy and religion in a sense have a love-hate relationship. They both compliment and contradict each other. There is no proof that God(s) and their legends are true, or false. This leads to the continuous back and forth questioning on the existence of existence.

Philosophy to me, is nirvana. It’s a peace of mind after the fires of delusion, questioning, and aversion have been extinguished from your body; yet a continuous hunger for more. Sure, it’s the fundamental nature of knowledge; but it’s more than that. It’s a forever unsolved puzzle. The pieces will only come to us with time and the ability to have a want for an open understanding.



#DS106 Daily Create: What is Philosophy?

With much thanks to Alan Levine and Tim Owens for building the marvelous creativity machine that is Digital Storytelling 106 (#ds106)’s Daily Create, and to Alan for orchestrating my suggested Create to coincide with our class presentations on the same topic, it is a great thing to see the ripple of the question we are asking in Coquitlam find its way out onto the open web! Thanks to all who submitted their own responses to the question; you can find many of the class’ entries under the Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry category.



What Is Philosophy? ~Lazar



First Assignment: What is Philosophy?

Image courtesy of the University of Philidelphia

In the interest of inviting our Open Online participants to join us right from the outset, I wanted to share the introductory activity the face-to-face class will be working on over the weekend so that we might get to know some of you out there as we come into next week.

The assignment – one of a few that won’t be completely wide open in choice – is this: to answer the (potentially) unanswerable question, What is Philosophyin an engaging and personable fashion that accomplished two goals:

  • We will begin to construct a collective definition of the beast we are setting out to tame: Philosophy.
  • We will get to know the members of our learning community and encounter their initial impressions of the subject at hand.

Your assignment may be completed as an essay (spoken or text on the blog), video, soundscape or song, visual representation or something that you feel represents you, and your answer to the question What is Philosophy? (If your work is visual or otherwise interpretive, your presentation should address the process and choices you made to communicate your thesis.)

Your presentation should be approximately 5′ – 15′ long, and can be shared as a new post on this blog. Please be sure to file it under the Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry category, tagged with “What is Philosophy,” and any other tags you feel might help organize our work over the course of the semester (including your name).

Direct any questions to Bryan Jackson, either on Twitter, @bryanjack, or email: brjackson at sd43.bc.ca

Looking forward to working with you!

For those looking to last year’s efforts as examples, here are some links to the first cycle’s responses to the question What is Philosophy? 



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.



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.