INDEX

Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

New Philosophy Grads Favored by Employers


Philosophy graduates are suddenly all the rage with employers. What can they possibly have to offer?


Philosophy student Joe Cunningham: considering a future in medical ethics. Photograph: Graham Turner Graham Turner/Guardian


"A degree in philosophy? What are you going to do with that then?"

Philosophy students will tell you they've been asked this question more times than they care to remember.

"The response people seem to want is a cheery shrug and a jokey 'don't know'," says Joe Cunningham, 20, a final-year philosophy undergraduate at Heythrop College, University of London.

A more accurate comeback, according to the latest statistics, is "just about anything I want".

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show philosophy graduates, once derided as unemployable layabouts, are in growing demand from employers. The number of all graduates in full-time and part-time work six months after graduation has risen by 9% between 2002-03 and 2005-06; for philosophy graduates it has gone up by 13%.

Read it all here.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Christians Believe




Alice C. Linsley

Modernism has had a significant impact on Christianity in the 20th century. Modernism draws off the empirical skepticism of people like David Hume, John Locke, and Jeremy Bentham and the theories of Charles Darwin. It expressed itself in criticism of the Bible, some constructive and some not so constructive. Modernism influenced bishops to set aside core beliefs of the Christian faith such as the miracles of Jesus, the miraculous conception of Jesus by his Virgin mother, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Former Episcopal Church bishop James Pike is an example. He rejected the doctrines of the Virgin birth and the Trinity.

As the influence of Modernism grew, so did the opposing movement of fundamentalism. This movement defended a literal interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis, and developed a new idea about the Bible, namely, that it is without error. Fundamentalism also held the Bible as the only authority for Christians (sola scriptura), setting aside the Church's historic view of the Bible as the first and last authority along with the consensus of the Church Fathers and Church Tradition.

Both Modernism and Fundamentalism find common ground in the emergence of Protestantism. Protestantism broke with the past in significant ways. It applied a rationalist approach to the Faith which led to doubts about the Trinity since this divine mystery cannot be grasped by the human mind.



Coupled with Renaissance humanism, Protestant rationalism prepared the way for ethics based on human reason and a liberal view of human rights. Some who called themselves Protestants became Deists. The Christian concept of moral obligation to God's law shifted to moral obligation to the natural law of individual liberty and property (Locke, Jefferson). Deism, combined with the Calvinist work ethic, launched a view of natural rights that justified private property as a divine right.

Protestants stressed living according to individual conscience and individual interpretation of the Bible, apart from the Tradition of the Church. Protestants are more comfortable with innovations such as Dispensationalism and the Rapture, new ways of services, contemporary praise bands, women clergy, and Pentecostal practices such as speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit.

Though there are many denominational differences among Christians, especially since the 16th century, Christians around the world tend to agree on certain core beliefs. Many of these beliefs have been clarified by councils of wise bishop, priests and deacons. This is why it is possible to speak of Christianity as conciliar.

The core beliefs of the Christian Faith are expressed in the words of the Nicene Creed, a formulation of the core doctrines originally adopted in the city of Nicaea (present day Iznik, Turkey) by the First Council of Nicaea in 325.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker (of heaven and earth, and) of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

by whom all things were made (in heaven and on earth);

who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;


from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;

whose kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father (Rome adds "and from the Son"), who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

In the history of the Church 7 councils have been especially important. These councils were called to resolve questions and controversies surrounding Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and holy images such as icons.

The Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Councils address the veneration (honor) due to the Virgin Mary. The veneration of Mary was a common practice before the time of the Puritans, and the oldest cathedrals in England have side chapels dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Many of the original statutes of Mary and other saints were destroyed by the Puritans. The destruction of images is called “iconoclasm.”

The veneration of Mary was common practice before the emergence of Protestantism. Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, had much to say about the veneration of Mary. 

He wrote, "The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart." (Sermon, Sept. 1st 1522) He also said, "People have crowded all her glory into a single phrase: The Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her, though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on the tress." (From the Commentary of the Magnificat)

1. First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) with 318 bishops present, including St. Nicholas of Myra, St. James of Nisibis, and St. Athanasius of Antioch, who was a deacon at that time.

This Council was called to resolve controversy raised by the Alexandrian priest Arius, who rejected the Jesus Christ’s divine nature and eternal pre-existence as the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God the Father. Arius taught that the Son of God is the highest creation. Therefore, in the Nicene Creed we affirm that Jesus Christ is “begotten of the Father, not made…”

2. First Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381) with 150 bishops present, including Gregory the Theologian, who presided over the Council, Gregory of Nyssa, and Cyril of Jerusalem.

This Council was convoked against the false teaching of the Arian bishop of Constantinople, Macedonius, who rejected the deity of the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. He taught that the Holy Spirit is not God, and called Him a created power like an angel, and therefore subservient to God the Father and God the Son. The Council affirmed as a dogma (unchanging truth) the equality and the single essence of God the Holy Spirit with God the Father and God the Son. The Council also supplemented the Nicene Creed, or "Symbol of Faith," with five Articles in which is set forth its teaching about the Holy Spirit, about the Church, about the Mysteries, about the resurrection of the dead, and the life in the world to come. This is called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and it serves as a guide to the Church for all time.

3. Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) with 200 bishops present

This Council repudiated the false doctrine of Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, who profanely taught that the Most-holy Virgin Mary simply gave birth to the man Christ, with whom then God united morally and dwelled in Him, as in a temple, as previously He had dwelled in Moses and other prophets. Nestorius denied that Jesus is God incarnate and therefore the Virgin Mary was not the God-bearer (Theotokos). The Council upheld the divine nature of Jesus Christ and that at the time of the incarnation he was of two natures, divine and human, and that being so, the Mary did indeed bear God.  The Council also affirmed the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and strictly prohibited making any changes or additions to it (as happened when the Roman Catholic Church added the words “and from the Son” to the Creed, referring to the procession of the Holy Spirit. This is called the “Filioque clause” and it is now optional for Anglican to say when reciting the Nicene Creed.

4. Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) with 650 bishops present

This Council met to challenge the false doctrine of an archimandrite of a Constantinople monastery, Eutychius, who rejected the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. In attempting to defend the divinity of Jesus Christ, he himself fell into the extreme. Eutychius taught that the human nature was completely absorbed into Jesus Christ’s divine nature (Monophysitism). Therefore, it followed that one need only recognize Jesus Christ’s divine nature. The Council determined that Jesus Christ is perfect God, born by God, and perfect Man, taking his flesh from his mother Mary and in every way He is like us, except without sin.  Some Eastern churches do not accept this judgment. These include the “miaphysite” Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Church of India. These are considered “Non-Chalcedonian” churches. Miaphysitism holds that in Jesus Christ, Divinity and Humanity are united in one nature (monism), the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration.

5.  Second Council of Constantinople (A.D. 553) with 165 bishops present

This Council reaffirmed that Jesus Christ has two natures, human and divine, and that these are neither separable nor mixed. This council convened to address the heretical proposition that the Christ and Jesus were two separate persons loosely conjoined, and that the Virgin Mary could not be called the Mother of God (Gk. Theotokos), but only the mother of Christ (Gk. Christotokos). This idea about Mary has already been condemned at the earlier ecumenical council of Ephesus in 431.

6. Third Council of Constantinople (A.D. 680) with 170 bishops present, including St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and St. Maximus the Confessor, who the Romans had tortured by cutting out his tongue cut and chopping off his hand.

The Council condemned the heresies of monoenergism and monothelitism, and defined Jesus Christ as having two energies and two wills (divine and human). Monoenergism teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one energy, whereas orthodoxy teaches that Jesus Christ acts through two energies, divine and human, generally called Dyoenergism. Monothelitism teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will. This is contrary to orthodox Christology, which teaches that Jesus Christ has two wills (human and divine) corresponding to his two natures.

The Sixth Ecumenical Council also rejected several innovations of the Roman Church, namely, the requirement that priests and deacons be celibate, strict fasting on Saturdays during Lent, and representations of Jesus as a lamb, or in any way other than He appeared on the earth. This was intended to curb what was regarded as Roman idolatry.

7. Second Council of Nicaea (A.D. 787) with 367 bishops, priests and “spiritual fathers” present

This Council was convened against the iconoclastic heresy, which had been raging for sixty years before the Council, under the Greek Emperor Leo III, who hoped to convert Muslims to Christianity. To do so, he thought it necessary to do away with icons. Emperor Leo’s son, Constantine V (741–775), held the Council of Hieria to make the suppression of holy images official. Veneration of the holy icons was finally restored and affirmed by the local synod of Constantinople in 843 A.D., under the Empress Theodora. At this last ecumenical council is was determined that, “As the sacred and life-giving cross is everywhere set up as a symbol, so also should the images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the holy angels, as well as those of the saints and other pious and holy men be embodied in the manufacture of sacred vessels, tapestries, vestments, etc., and exhibited on the walls of churches, in the homes, and in all conspicuous places, by the roadside and everywhere, to be revered by all who might see them. For the more they are contemplated, the more they move to fervent memory of their prototypes. Therefore, it is proper to accord to them a fervent and reverent adoration, not, however, the veritable worship which, according to our faith, belongs to the Divine Being alone — for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented."


In keeping with the spirit of the early Middle Ages, there was an emphasis on every church having a relic enshrined in the altar. A relic consists of the physical remains or personal effects of a saint or venerated person preserved as a tangible memorial. All Eastern Orthodox churches and many Roman Catholic churches have altars containing relics. Many of the oldest churches in England have relics. Relics of St. Thomas Becket are housed in Trinity Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral. Recently, archaeologists have found the remains of four of the Puritan founders of the Jamestown Settlement and were surprised to find a relic among the items buried with Capt. Gabriel Archer.  (See 2015, Washington Post, “Jamestownexcavation unearths four bodies and a mystery in a box”)



Tuesday, November 10, 2015

T.S. Eliot on growing older


“As we grow older 
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated of dead and living. 
Not the intense moment isolated, with no before and after, 
But a lifetime burning in every moment... 
Here and there does not matter 
We must be still and still moving into another intensity 
For a further union a deeper communion.”


Friday, November 6, 2015

RIP René Girard

(Photo: Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service)

René Girard, a great intellectual light, died on November 4, 2015 at the age of 91. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!  Girard lived a sequestered life in the academic burrows of Stanford, but his influence abroad is seismic. Even French President Nicolas Sarkozy cites his writings.


BY CYNTHIA HAVEN
Stanford University


French theorist René Girard was one of the leading thinkers of our era, a faculty member at Stanford since 1981 and one of the immortels of the Académie Française.

René Girard was one of the leading thinkers of our era – a provocative sage who bypassed prevailing orthodoxies and "isms" to offer a bold, sweeping vision of human nature, human history and human destiny.

The renowned Stanford French professor, one of the 40 immortels of the prestigious Académie Française, died at his Stanford home on Nov. 4 at the age of 91, after long illness.

Fellow immortel and Stanford Professor Michel Serres once dubbed him "the new Darwin of the human sciences." The author who began as a literary theorist was fascinated by everything. History, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion, psychology and theology all figured in his oeuvre.

International leaders read him, the French media quoted him. Girard influenced such writers as Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and Czech writer Milan Kundera – yet he never had the fashionable (and often fleeting) cachet enjoyed by his peers among the structuralists, poststructuralists, deconstructionists and other camps. His concerns were not trendy, but they were always timeless.

In particular, Girard was interested in the causes of conflict and violence and the role of imitation in human behavior. Our desires, he wrote, are not our own; we want what others want. These duplicated desires lead to rivalry and violence. He argued that human conflict was not caused by our differences, but rather by our sameness. Individuals and societies offload blame and culpability onto an outsider, a scapegoat, whose elimination reconciles antagonists and restores unity.

According to author Robert Pogue Harrison, the Rosina Pierotti Professor in Italian Literature at Stanford, Girard's legacy was "not just to his own autonomous field – but to a continuing human truth."

"I've said this for years: The best analogy for what René represents in anthropology and sociology is Heinrich Schliemann, who took Homer under his arm and discovered Troy," said Harrison, recalling that Girard formed many of his controversial conclusions by a close reading of literary, historical and other texts. "René had the same blind faith that the literary text held the literal truth. Like Schliemann, his major discovery was excoriated for using the wrong methods. Academic disciplines are more committed to methodology than truth."

Girard was always a striking and immediately recognizable presence on the Stanford campus, with his deep-set eyes, leonine head and shock of silver hair. His effect on others could be galvanizing. William Johnsen, editor of a series of books by and about Girard from Michigan State University Press, once described his first encounter with Girard as "a 110-volt appliance being plugged into a 220-volt outlet."

Girard's first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961 in French; 1965 in English), used Cervantes, Stendhal, Proust and Dostoevsky as case studies to develop his theory of mimesis. The Guardian recently compared the book to "putting on a pair of glasses and seeing the world come into focus. At its heart is an idea so simple, and yet so fundamental, that it seems incredible that no one had articulated it before."

The work had an even bigger impact on Girard himself: He underwent a conversion, akin to the protagonists in the books he had cited. "People are against my theory, because it is at the same time an avant-garde and a Christian theory," he said in 2009. "The avant-garde people are anti-Christian, and many of the Christians are anti-avant-garde. Even the Christians have been very distrustful of me."

Girard took the criticism in stride: "Theories are expendable," he said in 1981. "They should be criticized. When people tell me my work is too systematic, I say, 'I make it as systematic as possible for you to be able to prove it wrong.'"

In 1972, he spurred international controversy with Violence and the Sacred (1977 in English), which explored the role of archaic religions in suppressing social violence through scapegoating and sacrifice.

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978 in French; 1987 in English), according to its publisher, Stanford University Press, was "the single fullest summation of Girard's ideas to date, the book by which they will stand or fall." He offered Christianity as a solution to mimetic rivalry, and challenged Freud's Totem and Taboo.

He was the author of nearly 30 books, which have been widely translated, including The Scapegoat, I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning, To Double Business Bound, Oedipus Unbound and A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare.

His last major work was 2007's Achever Clausewitz (published in English as Battling to the End: Politics, War, and Apocalypse), which created the kind of firestorm only a public intellectual in France can ignite. French President Nicolas Sarkozy cited his words, and reporters trekked to Girard's Paris doorstep daily. The book, which takes as its point of departure the Prussian military historian and theorist Carl von Clausewitz, had implications that placed Girard firmly in the 21st century.
A French public intellectual in America

René Noël Théophile Girard was born in Avignon on Christmas Day, 1923.

His father was curator of Avignon's Musée Calvet and later the city's Palais des Papes, France's biggest medieval fortress and the pontifical residence during the Avignon papacy. Girard followed in his footsteps at l'École des Chartes, a training ground for archivists and librarians, with a dissertation on marriage and private life in 15th-century Avignon. He graduated as an archiviste-paléographe in 1947.

In the summer of 1947, he and a friend organized an exhibition of paintings at the Palais des Papes, under the guidance of Paris art impresario Christian Zervos. Girard rubbed elbows with Picasso, Matisse, Braque and other luminaries. French actor and director Jean Vilar founded the theater component of the festival, which became the celebrated annual Avignon Festival.

Girard left a few weeks later for Indiana University in Bloomington, perhaps the single most important decision of his life, to launch his academic career. He received his PhD in 1950 with a dissertation on "American Opinion on France, 1940-43."

"René would never have experienced such a career in France," said Benoît Chantre, president of Paris' Association Recherches Mimétiques, one of the organizations that have formed around Girard's work. "Such a free work could indeed only appear in America. That is why René is, like Tocqueville, a great French thinker and a great French moralist who could yet nowhere exist but in the United States. René 'discovered America' in every sense of the word: He made the United States his second country, he made there fundamental discoveries, he is a pure 'product' of the Franco-American relationship, he finally revealed the face of an universal – and not an imperial – America."

At Johns Hopkins University, Girard was one of the organizers for the 1966 conference that introduced French theory and structuralism to America. Lucien Goldmann, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida also participated in the standing-room-only event. Girard quipped that he was "bringing la peste to the United States."

Girard had also been on the faculties at Bryn Mawr, Duke and the State University of New York at Buffalo before he came to Stanford as the inaugural Andrew B. Hammond Professor in French Language, Literature and Civilization in 1981.

Girard was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and twice a Guggenheim Fellow. He was elected to the Académie Française in 2005, an honor previously given to Voltaire, Jean Racine and Victor Hugo. He also received a lifetime achievement award from the Modern Language Association in 2009. In 2013,King Juan Carlos of Spain awarded him the Order of Isabella the Catholic, a Spanish civil order bestowed for his "profound attachment" to "Spanish culture as a whole." He was also a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur andCommandeur des Arts et des Lettres.

Others were impressed, but Girard was never greatly impressed with himself, though his biting wit sometimes rankled critics. Stanford's Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, the Albert Guérard Professor in Literature, called him "a great, towering figure – no ostentatiousness." He added, "It's not that he's living his theory – yet there is something of his personality, intellectual behavior and style that goes with his work. I find that very beautiful.

"Despite the intellectual structures built around him, he's a solitaire. His work has a steel-like quality – strong, contoured, clear. It's like a rock. It will be there and it will last."

Girard is survived by his wife of 64 years, Martha, of Stanford; two sons, Daniel, of Hillsborough, California, and Martin, of Seattle; a daughter, Mary Girard Brown, of Newark, California; and nine grandchildren.

Memorial plans have not been announced.

From here.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Chesterton on Corruption of Truth




"And it is some satisfaction to realise that we are not living in a nightmare in which No is the same as Yes; that even the modern world has not actually gone mad, with all its ingenious attempts to do so; that two and two do in fact make four; and that the man who has four apples really has more than the man who has three. For some modern metaphysicians and moral philosophers seem disposed to leave us in doubt on these points. It is not the fundamental reason in things that is at fault; it is a particular hitch or falsification, arising from a very recent trick of regarding everything only in relation to trade. Trade is all very well in its way, but Trade has been put in the place of Truth."-- G. K Chesterton



Friday, October 23, 2015

Random mutations and quantitative analysis


This is a great video for helping students to understand the problems facing evolutionary theory.



Related reading: Does the Binary Feature Signal Greater Diversity?


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When a Fundamentalist Finds Philosophy


Paul Pardi

I was rummaging through some stacks of stuff in the garage today sorting through items that needed to be recycled, discarded, and saved. I found an old, dust-covered briefcase that I used as a student, locked tight with long-forgotten combinations on the clasps. After trying various three-digit combinations that might have meant something to me back then, I gave up and grabbed the biggest screwdriver I could find and pried the locks loose. Among some dried up pens, an old notebook, and some tissues, I found a purple Pee-Chee with two dozen or so papers—obviously important since they were set aside from the reams of notes I have in an old metal filing cabinet at the rear of the garage. In back of the handwritten notes on epistemology and the dot matrix printout of reference materials I grabbed from the library, I found a single page on which I had written some lines in red ink. It’s dated June 1995 which makes it just a touch over 20 years old almost to the day.

In June 1995 I was scouting graduate schools with the goal of studying philosophy. I had grown up a Christian fundamentalist who generally had the world figured out by the time I was a teen and had my eyes firmly set on full time ministry. I took a required intro to philosophy class during my senior year at an ultra-conservative Baptist college by a professor who was not so conservative (and not so Baptist it turns out). I would never be the same. For the first time in my college experience, I had found myself with questions. Real questions, not the kind you’re taught to ask knowing you already have the answer. And there was something else. For the first time in my life, a small seed of doubt had been planted. I found myself with the terrifying consideration that some items in my worldview may not have been as iron-clad and irresistibly true as I had been led to believe they were. That seed flowered and by the end of the summer I had, for the first time, started reading to try to discover the truth rather than to reaffirm it.

Three years later, my worldview was in shambles and I knew I needed more training. Graduate school seemed like the best option and I headed to southern California to check out the program at Biola University. I stayed at a friends house not knowing who I was or where I was headed. I was alone and contemplative, one foot in the warm, comfortable old world and one out in the frigid unknown. Thoughts flooded into my head in that quiet room on that hot summer June evening and I jotted down these words.

At the top of the page, I simply wrote,

“Philosophy”

Look inside, outside, through pages of endless thought
endless mind in weary, dreary droll.

A slight glimpse a shadow vague—a stick, a nail
a jury-rigged edifice growing on the knoll.

Take, steal, beg, borrow desperately humbled
to light (or dark) not quite my own.

But shoulders are strong and tall enough
to bring heaven closer, nearer (not alone).

Secluded so it seems. A bubble impenetrable or only slightly visible.
A flame to few.

Half moon—silly half as many see it. Intelligence and genius reign
for those outside the pew.

Taste it. Good? You know it now. Ghosts haunt my mansion.
You live in an exorcised house.

Empty though it is, free, loose, explode! What’s beyond? Look!
The heres and nows.

Hand in hand we stand? Confusion with glasses on. Look closer.
More, heavier pages.

It squiggles and squirms. Can you catch it?
Not for all the stacks filled with sages.


Posted in Philosophy News


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Philosophical Basis of Science


Go back far enough in history and you’ll find the point where science emerged from philosophy. Indeed for most of history, science was known as natural philosophy.

As Mark Vernon writes in his delightful new book, The Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy:
The presocratic philosophers were those individuals who began to ask the kind of questions that cause a certain distance to open between the individual and the world in which they had felt immersed. They began to create a mentality that feels more familiar to us, one that planted the seeds of the modern. We know one of those queries left by Anaxamines of Miletus, one of the earliest philosophers of the sixth century (B.C.E.) He thought to blow on his hand in two ways. First with his mouth wide open. Then, with his lips pursed. He noticed a difference. Try it.
When blowing with his mouth wide open, Anaxamines found that his breath felt warm. With his lips pursed, it felt cold on his hand. And then he thought to ask why.

That small question, Vernon writes, represents a massive leap of mind. “It wonders if the difference might have a physical reason, a proto-scientific explanation. We now describe the effect as a result of Boyle’s law.”
Read it all here.


Mark Vernon is a former Anglican Church priest. His Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy grew out of lectures he delivered at the New Academy based in Notting Hill, London.

Related reading: Ancient Wisdom, Science and TechnologyPlato's Debt to Ancient Egypt

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Chinese Philosophy in the Western Classroom




Philosophy professors in the United States have all heard of Confucius and the Daoist Laozi. Many have also heard of their approximate contemporaries in ancient China: the later Confucians Mencius and Xunzi; the easygoing skeptic Zhuangzi; Mozi, the advocate of impartial concern for everyone; and Han Feizi, the authoritarian legalist. But most of us have not read their works.

As a result, most U.S. university students are not exposed to Chinese thinkers in their philosophy classes. Looking at the course catalogs of three major universities in Los Angeles — UCLA, USC and Cal State L.A. — I find 23 philosophy department course listings that mention ancient Greek philosophy or specific ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato or Aristotle. Four such classes are on the fall 2015 course schedule. In contrast, neither USC nor Cal State L.A. has a single philosophy catalog listing that mentions ancient China or a specific ancient Chinese philosopher. UCLA has one listing — for a class that was last taught in 2009.

In the United States, there are about 100 doctorate-granting programs in philosophy. By my count, only seven have a permanent member of the philosophy faculty who specializes in Chinese philosophy. Ancient Chinese philosophers are more commonly taught in departments of history, religious studies, Asian studies and comparative literature than in departments of philosophy. The same is true — even more so — for Indian and other non-Western philosophers.

Our neglect of ancient Chinese philosophers in U.S. philosophy departments is partly a remnant of our European colonial past. But is it justifiable on academic grounds?

Read it all here.


Related reading: The West Fails to Engage the East; Dr. David Bradshaw, St. Cyril's Philosophical Theology

Monday, September 7, 2015

Progressives enjoy attacking Kim Davis



What follows is an excerpt from a piece written by a philosopher who is less concerned about the question of homosex than about fallacious reasoning on the part of so-called "Progressives."


Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, has been the focus of national media because of her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. As this is being written, Davis has been sent to jail for disobeying a court order.

As should be expected, opponents of same-sex marriage have tended to focus on the claim that Davis’ religious liberty is being violated. As should also be expected, her critics sought and found evidence of what seems to be her hypocrisy: Davis has been divorced three times and is on her fourth marriage. Some bloggers, eager to attack her, have claimed that she is guilty of adultery. These attacks can be relevant to certain issues, but they are also irrelevant in important ways. It is certainly worth sorting between the relevant and the irrelevant.

If the issue at hand is whether or not Davis is consistent in her professed religious values, then her actions are clearly relevant.


Read it all here.

In the ancient world, she would have been stoned to death by these people. That way everyone was seen to be in agreement about her guilt and nobody could be identified as her killer. Progressives are not progressive when it comes to breaking ranks.

As G.K. Chesterton wrote, "He is only a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of the Conservative." (Varied Types, 1903)




Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Dearth of Women in Philosophy

Martha Nussbaum in 2008

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.

There certainly was a time when prejudice kept women out of philosophy. When I was a student in Cambridge at the end of the 1960s, we agitated for various academic changes, including the replacement of unseen examinations by assessed coursework. The suave senior philosopher deputed to serve on our reform committee was sympathetic, but felt that there was no way round what he was pleased to dub the “boyfriend problem” – what was to stop some female undergraduate getting her cleverer male companion to write her papers for her? Another of our teachers was blunter. “Women are no good at philosophy”, he told one of my female friends, who understandably left the field to forge a career as a distinguished journalist.

Read it all here.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Philosophy Professors on "Irrational Man"



"Irrational Man" is a movie, directed by Woody Allen, about a despondent philosophy professor who takes a position at a small-town college where he finds "the will to live.” Films featuring philosophy professors are rare, and though the movie is getting mixed reviews, it may signal a growing interest in philosophy. One can hope!

The Daily Nous has a post on what some philosophy professors think about a movie. Marcus Hedahl (US Naval Academy), Kristina Meshelski (CSU Northridge), James South (Marquette), and Daniel Weinstock (McGill) share thoughts about the movie. If you haven't seen it yet, beware! There are a few spoilers.

Read the conversation here.




Wednesday, July 29, 2015

University of KY's Philosophy Summer Camp




By Rachel Lorch

(July, 28, 2015) - Students participating in the Department of Philosophy’s inaugural summer camp tackled a wide range of topics including the differences between animals and people, ethics and the self and the nature of change.

Sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and supported by the College of Arts and Sciences, the week-long camp was run by four Ph.D. students passionate about the field and eager to share their love for philosophy with others. The camp drew a group of students ranging from 11 to 17-years-old who possessed a variety of backgrounds.

Caroline Buchanan, a Ph.D. student in the UK Department of Philosophy, spearheaded the camp’s creation. Outlining her main goals for the camp, Buchanan stated that she wanted to expose kids to the field, to show them what philosophy does and what questions it asks. Buchanan was also interested in giving students a chance to dig in and do a little philosophy of their own, bringing their questions and perspectives to the table.

“We encouraged them on the first day to think of a question that had been bothering them, a question about anything at all that they were just kind of stuck on, or that they thought was interesting and would like to try to figure out,” Buchanan said.

Read it all here.

What a terrific idea!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gender Bias in Academic Philosophy?

Elizabeth Anscombe

This appeared in The Guardian
25 July 2015

Only 25% of philosophy posts in UK universities are occupied by women. So what, if anything, should be done to redress the balance?
Does philosophy have a problem with women?


Mary Warnock, philosopher and writer
This question has been debated by women and men in philosophy for years, and last week became the cover story in the Times Literary Supplement. Of all the humanities departments in British universities, only philosophy departments have a mere 25% women members. Why should this be? How can the balance be redressed? On the whole I am very much against intervention, by quotas or otherwise, to increase women’s chances of employment, whatever the field, and there is nothing intrinsically harmful about this imbalance. I certainly don’t believe it shows a conscious bias against women. Nor that it can be explained by the supposition that, philosophy being concerned above all with arguments, women are naturally less adept in the field.

There may be some women who think emotionally rather than rationally; but, heaven knows, there are some men who do as well. Nor do I think that women dislike the idea of philosophy because of its supposedly adversarial style, its devotion to winning an argument rather than seeking truth or consensus. For I don’t think this style, when adopted in academic dispute, is peculiar to philosophy. No, I think that academic philosophy has become an extraordinarily inward-looking subject, devoted not to exposing and examining the implications of the way we think about the world, but to exposing instead deficiencies in the arguments of other philosophers. If you pick up a professional journal now, you find little but nitpicking responses to previous articles. Women tend to get more easily bored with this than men. Philosophy seems to stop being interesting just when it starts to be professional.


Julian Baggini, philosopher and writer

I agree there is little or no conscious discrimination against women in philosophy. But that is not to say there isn’t a great deal of unconscious bias. The puzzle is why this should be stronger in philosophy than in other disciplines. The answer, I think, is to be found in philosophy’s self-image. Philosophers have tended to have an inflated sense of their ability to “follow the argument wherever it leads”, as Plato’s old saw has it. What matters is the argument, not the arguer, which means there is no need even to think about gender or ethnicity. Philosophers have thus felt immune to the distorting effects of gender bias. Logic is gender-neutral, philosophy is logical, ergo philosophy is gender-neutral. I suspect this has led to complacency, a blindness towards all the ways in which, in fact, gender bias does creep in. It is a well-established finding in psychology that believing you are an objective judge actually makes your judgments less objective, and I’m sure philosophy suffers from this. I admit that this explanation for at least part of the under-representation of women in philosophy is somewhat speculative, but I would be interested to hear what you make of it.

Read it all here. The comments are interesting.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Popularity of Philosophy in Germany


In Germany, Philosophy appears to be gaining popularity. It is taught in high schools (Gymnasia) so many who choose to study it later already have had a positive experience.

According to this 2015 report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the enrollments in Philosophy courses at Tübingen increased by nearly one-third, to 1,600, in the past three years. The philosophy departments at Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg and Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, now have to impose limits on enrollments in Philosophy classes.

At the German universities it is not the norm to major in Philosophy alone. Students usually have at least one other major.

Another factor is the free education at the universities. This means there is less pressure to major in subjects that will help pay back student loans.

The German media also appears to be more sympathetic to philosophy, perhaps in recognition of the great contribution Germans have made in Philosophy.

These factors make the study of philosophy much more attractive to German students. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Reflections on America


"Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot."-- Alexis de Tocqueville




Alexis de Tocqueville’s four-volume Democracy in America (1835–1840) is commonly said to be among the greatest works of 19th-century political writing. Its daring conjectures, elegant prose, formidable length and narrative complexity certainly make it a masterpiece, yet exactly those qualities have together ensured, through time, that opinions greatly differ about the roots of its greatness.

Some observers cautiously mine the text for its fresh insights on such perennial themes as liberty of the press, the tyranny of the majority and civil society; or they focus on such topics as why it is that modern democracies are vulnerable to “commercial panics” and why they simultaneously value equality, reduce the threat of revolution and grow complacent.

Some readers of the text treat its author as a “classical liberal” who loved parliamentary government and loathed the extremes of democracy. More often, the text is treated as a brilliant grand commentary on the decisive historical significance for old Europe of the rise of the new American republic, which was soon to become a world empire.

Some observers, very often American, push this interpretation to the limit. They think of Democracy in America in almost nationalist terms: for them, it is a lavish hymn to the United States, a celebration of its emerging authority in the world, an ode to its 19th-century greatness and future 20th-century global dominance.

How should we make sense of these conflicting interpretations?
Read it all here.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Philosophers Discuss Supreme Court Ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges



The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges reveals a lack of clarity as to what marriage is. The Court's language suggests that the equality of civil unions requires calling two distinct things by the same name: marriage.

Civil partnerships of same-sex couples and male-female marriage are now on the same legal footing in all 50 states. That does not mean they are the same thing, however. We have yet to see how the courts, U.S. corporations, the media, etc. will hold these distinct entities in balance. Will the balance tilt toward the equality of unequal pigs described by George Orwell?

The Supreme Court decision breaks with international precedent. Other countries call the same-sex legal arrangement a "partnership" or a "pact" and in these nations the issue was resolved much more quickly and justly. There was never the confusion about how marriage is properly defined.

Norway has had "registered partnerships" since 1993.

Sweden has called them "registered partnerships" since 1994.

Hungary and Iceland have had "registered partnerships" since 1996.

France has called them “civil solidarity pacts” since 1999.

In Denmark “registered partnerships” were first recognized in 1998 as an alternative to marriage and an option for heterosexual couples. Adoption by homosexual couples was approved in 2000.

The Netherlands, Finland and Germany have had "registered partnerships" since 2001.

It is clear that gay and lesbian couples deserve spousal benefits. The majority of Americans are for fairness. However, the legal waters are muddy and there will be more law suits.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated that hundreds of public officials in Texas were seeking guidance on how to implement what he called a flawed decision by an "activist" court. Thousands of county clerks in Texas who object to gay marriage can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, because while the Supreme Court justices had "fabricated" a new constitutional right, they did not in Paxton's legal opinion diminish, overrule, or call into question the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion.

County clerks are elected officials. Many will refuse to issue licenses out of respect for the views of those who put them in office. Some will refuse on religious grounds to issue "marriage" licenses for same-sex couples. There will be more law suits.

The following philosophers have written brief comments about the Supreme Court decision:

Elizabeth Brake (Arizona State)
Cheshire Calhoun (Arizona State)
Clare Chambers (Cambridge)
John Corvino (Wayne State)
Brook Sadler (South Florida)
Edward Stein (Cardozo)
Kevin Vallier (Bowling Green).

Read what these philosophers have to say here.


Related reading:  Native American Tribes Ban Gay Marriage



Saturday, June 20, 2015

G. K. Chesterton on Drawing the Line

Sketch by Dan DeWitt, Ph.D
Dean of Boyce College
(From his book Clerihews)
"Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere."-- G. K. Chesterton. The Illustrated London News, May 1928

"What we dread about our neighbours, in short, is not the narrowness of their horizon, but their superb tendency to broaden it." -- G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

"Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold, creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffee with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature.

You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called “The Loves of the Triangles”; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which in some ways is the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colourless." -- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, "The Suicide of Thought"

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Academic West Fails to Engage the East



In his recent Hippo Reads essay describing why he left academic philosophy, Eugene Park makes two important claims. First, he says most Anglo-American philosophy departments, especially those often considered the best, do not engage with non-Western philosophical traditions. Second, he says this is because “professional philosophers today often perceive non-Western thinkers as inferior.”

The first claim – that most Anglo-American philosophy departments don’t engage with non-Western philosophy – cannot be denied. It can be verified just by looking at the courses offered in most Anglo-American philosophy departments.

However, in a response to Park’s essay, Brian Leiter, a prominent philosopher at the University of Chicago and the embattled editor of an influential ranking of Anglo-American philosophy departments (whose resignation has been the subject of a recent petition), denies Park’s second claim. Leiter suggests the reason most departments don’t engage with non-Western philosophy is nothing as nefarious as their perceiving non-Western traditions as inferior. Rather, it is a matter of ignorance. Leiter writes: “My own impression, from having talked to a lot more philosophers than Mr. Park and for a much longer period of time, is that most Anglophone philosophers have no opinion at all about non-Western philosophy because they are simply ignorant of it.”

Read it all here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Desire to Learn




"Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry." --Charles Sanders Peirce, 1896


Peirce identifies the "desire to learn" as essential to learning. Educator Aaron J. Magnan has asked, "Do you think we can 'teach' or model a desire to learn? What role does the educator have in this modality?"

That's an excellent question.

When children are nurtured in a home where there are books and a love of reading, it is common for those children to become good readers. For me, it was the love of gardening because there were gardening enthusiasts in my family. There is a desire to enter into what we see gives pleasure to those around us, especially in our immediate families. I would say that the desire to learn begins there, in the home. Sadly, there are few homes where enthusiasm for philosophical conversation exists.

My philosophy classes tend to be small. A year long college-level course in Philosophy and Ethics is not a popular elective with high school students. Some who take the course are motivated initially by the challenge; others by what they have heard from former students: that you will learn a great deal about virtually everything! In Philosophy class, we have specific areas of exploration: metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, ethics, etc., but all things are interconnected. The educator's role is to help students see this, and to do so with the same enthusiasm as the artist painting a masterpiece or the gardener creating another Eden.




Wednesday, May 20, 2015

C.S. Peirce's Principles of Learning


Charles Sanders Peirce
(1839-1914)

"Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry." --Charles Sanders Peirce, 1896




Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Benefits of Philosophical Studies


Penn State New Kensington's associate professor of philosophy, Donald Bruckner

Interest in Philosophy on the university level has increased in the past decade. There are more colleges offering undergraduate philosophy programs today than a decade ago, according to the College Board. Some schools with established programs include the University of Chicago, Rutgers, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the University of Pennsylvania.

In part, the increased interest is due to the fact that American public schools have failed to address students' interest in metaphysical topics.  Additionally, intelligent young people are discovering that philosophy is useful in a wide range of fields, especially in business and technology.

Dr. Damon Horowitz quit his technology job and got a Ph.D. in philosophy -- and he thinks you should too.

"If you are at all disposed to question what's around you, you'll start to see that there appear to be cracks in the bubble," Horowitz said in a 2011 talk at Stanford. "So about a decade ago, I quit my technology job to get a philosophy PhD. That was one of the best decisions I've made in my life."

Read more here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Philosophy Education in France




Hugh Schofield

I have been staring in admiration over the shoulder of my 17-year-old daughter, as she embarks on a last mental rehearsal before a much-dreaded philosophy exam.

My primary thought is: Thank the Lord I was spared the torment.

I mean, can you imagine having to sit down one morning in June and spend four hours developing an exhaustive, coherent argument around the subject: Is truth preferable to peace?

Or: Does power exist without violence?

Or possibly: Can one be right in spite of the facts?

Perhaps you would prefer option B, which is to write a commentary on a text. In which case, here is a bit of Spinoza's 1670 Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Or how about some Seneca on altruism?

I take these examples from my daughter's revision books. My heart bleeds for her, as I look at the list of themes that have to be mastered.

Ruby has chosen to take what they call a Bac Litteraire - the Literature Baccalaureat.

There are alternative, more science-biased versions of the Baccalaureat. They all include an element of philosophy.

But in the Bac Litteraire, philosophy is king.

Read the full article here.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Plato: A Heart Fixed on Reality




Plato: copy of portrait bust by Silanion


When the mind's eye rests on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and comprehends them, and functions intelligently; but when it turns to the twilight world of change and decay, it can only form opinions, its vision is confused and its beliefs shifting, and it seems to lack intelligence. (Plato, Republic)


Plato is one of the most penetrating and influential thinkers in the history of philosophy. He is the philosopher who invites us to participate in the "philosophical project" perhaps more than any other philosopher. In this we see the influence of his teacher, Socrates.

Plato (429–347 BC)
Plato's writings present philosophy as a living conversation to which his readers can contribute. His Dialogues are rich in humor, argumentation, and the portrayal of people and events of ancient Athens.

An Athenian citizen of high social rank, Plato's works reveal an active interest in the political events and intellectual movements of his time. His commitment to the "philosophical project" influenced his students and many generations of thinkers who have enjoyed his writings. He left his mark on metaphysics, ethics, politics, and epistemology, and though he and his student Aristotle did not agree on some important matters, Plato's influence of Aristotle is considerable.


Here are samples of Plato's wisdom and wit.

And those whose hearts are fixed on Reality itself deserve the title of Philosophers. (Plato, Republic)


"We are like people looking for something they have in their hands all the time; we're looking in all directions except at the thing we want, which is probably why we haven't found it.'

'That is the story. Do you think there is any way of making them believe it?'

'Not in the first generation', he said, 'but you might succeed with the second and later generations.'

'We will ask the critics to be serious for once, and remind them that it was not so long ago that the Greeks thought - as most of the barbarians still think - that it was shocking and ridiculous for men to be seen naked. When the Cretans, and later the Spartans, first began to take exercise naked, wasn't there plenty of material for the wit of the comedians of the day?'

'There was indeed'

'But when experience showed them that it was better to strip than wrap themselves up, what reason had proved best ceased to look absurd to the eye. Which shows how idle it is to think anything ridiculous except what is wrong.' (Plato, Republic)


The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosophers are kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands, while the many natures now content to follow either to the exclusion of the other are forcibly debarred from doing so. This is what I have hesitated to say so long, knowing what a paradox it would sound; for it is not easy to see that there is no other road to happiness, either for society or the individual. (Plato, Republic)

Related reading:  Plato Debt to Ancient Egypt; Ethics of Ancient Greece; Plato's Just State; Plato on Thymos


Friday, April 17, 2015

Teach Philosophical Thinking in High School


We Are Dysfunctional Because We Have Forgotten How To Think?

Michael Shammas
From here.


The past few years give one the suspicion that American society is dysfunctional. Our Congress is useless, our institutions inept. Faced with the terror of existence, young men like Adam Lanza react with violence. Faced with manageable problems such as a “fiscal cliff,” our democracy self-destructs. Anger is everywhere; understanding is nowhere.

Although a democratic society cannot function unless its citizens are able to rationally debate one another, rationality is missing from American politics. We assail our political enemies with intractable opinions and self-righteous anger. An ugly bitterness pervades everything. Meanwhile, our country is slowly but surely committing suicide.

It seems to me that this dysfunctional political dialogue, which stems from the iron certainty we grant our opinions, is the most pressing problem confronting 21st century America. In fact, it is a crisis. For without the ability to carry on a useful dialogue, we cannot solve our greatest challenges, or even our smallest ones.

This raises the question: How can we solve this crisis? Because the capacity to debate requires the capacity to think, I believe the answer lies in philosophy.

Why philosophy? Because the study of philosophy, the “love of wisdom,” creates and nurtures thoughtful minds, minds that can — as Aristotle suggests — entertain a thought without accepting it. With a philosophic worldview, a Republican who despises any tax increase or economic stimulus could at least consider the notion of tax hikes or Keynesian economics. A Democrat facing antithetical ideas could do likewise. Thought rather than anger could become the default response to opposing worldviews.

Indeed, philosophy can do a great deal to lessen the anger that is growing like a cancerous tumor in modern America. The tools exist in both Eastern and Western thought — in the Stoic exhortation to accept the present as it is, in Buddhist meditation, in the Humanist’s transcendent appeal to reason, in Kant’s categorical imperative. Philosophy can help us inculcate virtue for, in the words of Socrates, “knowledge is virtue.”

While some philosophies obviously conduce toward peace more than others, while some philosophers (Marcus Aurelius) seem kinder than others (Nietzsche), the open-minded study of different philosophies at least opens one up to the possibility that one is wrong. One realizes, like Socrates did, that knowledge is anything but certain, that true wisdom lies in realizing how much one does not know, in understanding that our knowledge of the universe (and therefore of earthly things like politics) is utterly inadequate, perhaps comparable to the area of a pin’s tip against a table. This realization makes one less angry when confronted with opposing views, replacing counterproductive anger with productive curiosity.

Despite the benefits of the philosophic mindset, we do not cultivate this mindset in our children. In fact, philosophy is almost entirely absent from American schools. For example, there is no AP (Advanced Placement) Philosophy course. While some high schoolers may have heard of Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle, most do not truly understand their philosophies — much less the philosophies of men like Descartes, Schopenhauer, or Nietzsche. This is shameful, because a person who does not understand the history of thought does not understand the rationality behind our political system.

The first time I read a philosopher was not until my first semester of college. My professor assigned Plato’s Republic, and while at first I (admittedly) did not understand anything, eventually I became absolutely enamored with this incredible man. Here was a person who had thought about so many of the same things I had, albeit thousands of years ago and with much more sophistication than I could ever muster. What is justice? What is truth? Why do people suffer? Is there an afterlife? These are the questions that children ask their parents, the questions that scare us most, and perhaps because of this fear we do not consider them when we grow up.

I think this is a great mistake. We should consider these questions. For by reading philosophy, I became less frightened of them. I no longer shirked away from contemplating death (thanks Epicurus) or morality (thanks Kant) or misfortune (thanks Epictetus). More, I realized that anger — in both politics and everyday life — is largely a reaction to fear, and that this fear can be lessened exponentially through the sort of reflection philosophy fosters.

I don’t know why philosophy isn’t taught in high school. Perhaps the subject seems too esoteric or pretentious. Perhaps there is a fear that philosophy could encroach on the sort of questions religion purports to answer — “how should one live,” “how should one die,” and so on. Some parents may feel uncomfortable with the idea of their children receiving answers to “the big questions” from Socrates and Plato as well as from Jesus and Paul.

This fear is unfounded. In general, philosophy does not squander religion; it merely exhorts one to understand the world by opening one’s mind. It encourages one to consider multiple possibilities (unlike our politicians), only accepting the possibility that appeals to one’s innate sense of reason. In a diseased society that is filled with so much anger and bitterness — indeed, with so much madness — we could do worse than expose our children to philosophy. In fact, such exposure would teach our children to react to problems with an inquisitive rather than angry mind — a concept that the children in Congress have not yet grasped.

To those who say philosophy is impractical (and thus that learning how to think is impractical) I say: nonsense. Our society is dysfunctional because we have forgotten how to think, if we ever truly knew how to think at all. Although we as a society believe we are in possession of all truth, we are not. To study philosophy is to learn how woefully ignorant we are, and this knowledge can perhaps teach us humility, can perhaps suggest to us that the other side may have some value after all.

So my point is this: Our diseased political system is in dire need of a hefty dose of philosophy, and the best way to inject this dose into American society is to start at the stem — to raise our children to have a philosophic mindset by teaching philosophy in schools. In the process we will, slowly but surely, be raising Americans who possess the capacity to respond to problems with inquisitive rather than angry minds, perhaps ending this suicidal gridlock.

I hope it is not too late.

END

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Philosophy Should be Taught with STEM


“Whatever happened to the recognition that a university education has at least three purposes: helping one understand who they are and what excites and motivates them; helping understand one’s relationship to the greater world; and, also, becoming prepared for a job.” –Bernie Machen, University of Florida

“It is clear that to thrive in a society where they may have up to six different careers, business and STEM graduates need also to be curious and creative, to be critical thinkers and good communicators.” –Jim Barker, Clemson University

“The failure to incorporate studies in the liberal arts and humanities, along with STEM education, will deprive the next generation of students the critical thinking skills and context necessary to address the challenges they will face in the future.” –Charles Steger, Virginia Polytechnic Institute

“Employers send a consistent message about what they look for in a college-educated employee: the ability to write clearly, speak persuasively, analyze data effectively, work in diverse groups, and understand the competitive global knowledge environment.

“These characteristics are all nurtured and tested in a purposeful liberal arts education.” –Kevin Reilly, University of Wisconsin


Read the First Things article here.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Kant on Virtue


Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Deontological ethics, categorical imperative, transcendental idealism


Kant
Kant tells us that David Hume awakened him from his "dogmatic slumbers" (c.1771). Hume had stated that experience consists only of sequences of feelings, images or sounds. Ideas such as 'cause', goodness, or objects were not evident in experience, so why do we believe these to be real? Hume applied this reasoning to Christianity, stating, "The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one." Kant felt that reason could prove Hume's skepticism to be baseless, and he set out to demonstrate how this is so.

Kant synthesized early modern rationalism and empiricism, and explored metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics with great intellectual power. Kant's “critical philosophy” is set forth in his three Critiques: the Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787), the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790). The fundamental idea is that of human autonomy through the exercise of reason and duty. He argues that the human understanding is the source of the general laws of nature that structure all our experience; and that human reason gives itself the moral law.

In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant writes, “If we take away the subject [Humans], or even only the subjective constitution of our senses in general, then not only the nature and relations of objects in space and time, but even space and time themselves disappear; and that these, as appearances, cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the nature of objects considered as things in themselves and without reference to the receptivity of our sensibility is quite unknown to us.”

He proposes a kind of "Copernican Revolution-in-reverse", saying that: "Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but ... let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition."

Kant is regarded as the “father” of deontological ethics, asserting the necessity of duty as an absolute moral category. He agreed with Plato that it is not natural for humans to prefer evil to good, and he agreed with the Roman statesman-philosopher Cicero that every moment of our lives involves duty. He believed that true freedom rests only in fulfilling one’s moral duty, and that all people have an innate sense of moral duty.

Kant defines virtue as “the moral strength of a human being’s will in fulfilling his duty.” According to his definition, the moral person fulfills his duty even when not inclined to do so, and not because he fears the consequences of failing to perform the duty. Further, he who does his duty only to appear virtuous is not moral. Only the person who does his duty because it is his duty is moral. This is Kant’s argument for the universal nature of duty:


Everyone recognizes that they had duties and obligations.

Therefore, duty is a universal human experience.

Duty is the basis of Moral Law.

As all humans recognize duty, the Moral Law applies to all humans.


To Kant, one acts morally only when one acts out of an innate sense of duty. Acting to please others or to achieve personal happiness cannot be regarded as moral. Such acts are done out of self-interest or as a slave to inclination. Such a person is not truly free since, for Kant, true freedom requires that the individual be completely autonomous and guided only by the categorical imperative. Kant’s categorical imperative is granted to maxims that are universalized. If a proposed action can be shown to be true for all people, in all places, at all times - it is binding and absolute, allowing no exceptions. If it cannot be universalized, one ought not to perform the proposed act.

According to Kant, intentionally telling a lie is always immoral since the universalizing of lying would lead to social disorder and disintegration.

For Kant, recognition of one's duty depended on one's own autonomous reason and "holy will." Kant’s categorical imperative is tied to his argument for the existence of God. He believed that God is just and will judge all people according to His justice. Since it is evident that immoral people are not judged in this life, Kant argues there must necessarily be an afterlife in which the Moral Law will be fulfilled. The truly free individual performs his duty at each moment out of his free will because his will has been made holy. This is how Kant, the theology professor, balanced the question of free will and divine calling/appointment/election.


Related reading: Why You Have to Love David Hume; Theories of Knowledge: Hume and Kant