Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blog #11 - Plato's Ideal Society - Impossible or Improbable? Neither?

We've spent a little more time on Plato's ideal society this semester than I have in past semesters; maybe b/c this time around the world seems to be crumbling around us with roiling stock markets and the Big 3 impending collapse. Where better to look than the past when the future looks so bleak, right? Well, maybe we can learn something.

Several criticisms were brought up of this ideal society:

1. Where would the innovation come from if everyone be content? Doesn't innovation come from competition and competition come from peoples' desire to be better?

2. Why do they need soldiers if everyone is content? Is it just for protection from other city-states? Or, did Plato ever intend for this city to exist? If that is the case, why are the soldiers really there?

3. What kind of guarantee is there that the philosophers will rule in everyone's best interests? Is there an impeachment process? Can the peasants overthrow the rulers?

4. In the interests of specialization, what if you get bored with your job? What if you don't want that job? What if that job that you do best is NOT something you love doing? To use an example from 4th hour, I might do math really well, but that doesn't mean I want to be an accountant.

5. Is there no social mobility? What if we don't like the class that we're born into?

This link gives a good, brief synopsis of the first four books of the Republic in which this society is described. I have countered many of these arguments in a devil's advocate style by appealing to one of Socrates' questions - courage, justice, virtue, wisdom, moderation, beauty.

The question before you is: Can Plato's society be fixed to make it more ideal to fit a 21st century American audience? Why or why not?

Things to ponder while answering this question: Is Plato's society so incompatible with American ideals and tastes and traditions that it cannot be fixed?  Can Plato's society work for people of another country? What would you have to fix in order for it to work in America? Could it work on a national or state level or could it only work on a small scale? If it only works on a small scale, what's the use?

**After reading a few of the responses, it seems to me that Americans are too individualistic to give up some of our freedoms or luxuries for the greater good of society.  This will be a topic - the greater good vs. the desires of the individual - as we go on through the semester.  

Due Friday, December 12. 200 words minimum.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Squashed Philosophers

Here's a pretty neat website called Squashed Philosophers - - it has abridged versions of the greatest philosophers' best works. It includes many of the people we are going to study.

If you're looking for #10, scroll down farther.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Blog #10 - Questions of Socrates

Due Monday, December 8 - 200 words

We discussed four of Socrates' big questions about life Thursday and Friday:
- What is virtue?
- What is courage?
- What is beauty?
- What is justice?

What I would like for you to do is to pick one of these big questions and take a moment to consider where you see it lacking in American society.

If you choose virtue, where in American society is there a huge need for virtue? What about beauty? What part of American society could become more beautiful? In what sense? Who in American life could use a little (or a lot more justice)? Which Americans need to show more courage in our tough economic times? Why? (these are sample questions to get some ideas flowing - I figure that you can come up with something yourself).

Editor's Note - I don't want to influence this too much, so I'll refrain from including pictures or quotes or anything else. I've included links to Wikipedia or quotes on courage in case you're stuck on a topic. You DON'T have to pick the same topic that you personally discussed in class, but if you want to, that's fine.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Season 5 Lost trailer

Here it is: Season 5 of Lost coming Wedneday January 21st 2009 8 p.m.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Blog #9

Please pick on the following quotes to expand upon and explain what you think it means in a more profound sense to you - or in other words, how do you think this quote can apply to your life or your world?

Minimum of 150 words about the quote and how it applies to your life. Due Monday, Dec. 1st.

1. "Wars and elections are both too big and too small to matter in the long run. The daily work - that goes on, it adds up". ~Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

2. "Men are probably nearer the central truth in their superstitions than in their science." ~Henry David Thoreau

3. "He who has seen present things has seen all, both everything which has taken place from all eternity and everything which will be for time without end; for all things are of one kin and of one form." ~Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius

4. "One day, someone showed me a glass of water that was half full. And he said, 'Is it half full or half empty?' So I drank the water. No more problem." ~filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jewish Ukranian immigrant born in Chile - wikipedia site.

5. "There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers." William James, American Pragmatist philosopher & psychologist (1842 - 1910)

6. "Philosophers say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always, so far as one can see, rather naive, and probably wrong." Richard Feynman American educator & physicist (1918 - 1988)

7. "We need men with moral courage to speak and write their real thoughts, and to stand by their convictions, even to the very death." Robert Ingersoll, American agnostic.

8. "History is fables agreed upon." Voltaire, French Enlightenment writer.

9. "Do you know the secret of the true scholar? In every man, there is something wherein I may learn of him; and in that I am his pupil." Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Quotes #1-4 came from the Quote Garden -
Quotes 5 and 6 came from the Quotations Page -
Quotes 7 and 8 came from Said What? -

Quote #9 came from The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fun philosophy stuff

I found these interesting philosophy t-shirts / posters / etc. at Cafe There are over 42,000 designs and almost 1/2 million products that you can buy these designs on.

There are some fun t-shirts there like "Plato's Cave Alumni" or "Philosoraptor" or a bumper sticker that said "Major in Philosophy: It's By Far the Most Interesting Path to Poverty".

Others were "Don't argue with me, I have a philosophy degree" and "I doubt, therefore, I might be..." "Team Schopenhauer / Nietchze / insert your favorite philosopher", and one of my favorites: "Sure, it works in practice, but does it work in theory?"

And no, I'm not a shill for this company.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Blog #8 - Can Evolution and Creation co-exist?

In the video that we saw on Friday, What About God?, we saw real people struggling with reconciling their beliefs with the physical evidence of evolution. These were college students who attended a religious college while studying anthropology. It would seem that evolution and creation are on a collision course, but to give the schools credit, they confront the controversy (paradox?) head-on.

I'm glad that we were able to watch the video b/c we got a few questions answered about the fundamental Christians' explanation for fossils and why some of the dinosaur-like reptiles survived (Noah's ark) and some didn't (drowned in the worldwide flood).

I also applaud Wheaton College's attempt to embrace science. Though some conservative Christians might think that Wheaton is becoming liberal (as evidenced from the 1961 The Sword of the Lord editorial about Dr. Hearn's comments about evolution being possible) to the concerned parents, Wheaton is training their students for the real world.

I thought Emi Hayashi was the most thoughtful with some of her questions: -if we have evolved, at what point in evolution did the upright primate obtain a soul? Did mankind commit their first sin around that time? Were there an Adam and an Eve that really existed - the first humans? Is that when God intervened and gave them souls? Or were they an isolated experiment who then blew up their lab?

In the end, she brought up a really great point: "there really can't be that many idiots out there in science" who are wrong about evolution when a religious person points out flaws in evolution, and there can't be that many cranks wrong with their theology when a scientist challenges their religion.

Due Monday, November 17th. 200 words. Can evolution and creation co-exist? Or, more broadly, can science and faith co-exist?

Resources: -Science, Faith and Politics: video clips and text from some of the same people that we see in the video. - Explaining the science of Intelligent Design. Evolution for Students: these websites are for all levels of kids so beware if you find one that is not up to your standards. - National Center for Science Education's website that debunks Expelled, Ben Stein's documentary about Intelligent Design.

See for yourself:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Darwin article link and questions

Hey folks,
Here's a link to the Darwin article - and the questions in case ya lost the silly thing.

Please answer 7 of the 11 questions below. (Please include the bold questions as part of your seven).
1. Why do you think evolution’s opponents use the term “Darwinism” instead of evolution?
2. Why did Charles Darwin finally publish The Origin of Species in 1859?
3. Provide at least two possible reasons for Darwin’s intestinal distress and heart palpitations during this time period with explanations.
4. Why was Darwin’s evidence so important in proving his theory?
5. How did the glyptodont fossil help with Darwin’s theory?
6. What was Charles Darwin’s more radical achievement, according to the article?
7. How did Thomas Malthus fit into Charles Darwin’s ideas?
8. What was the great implication for mankind in Darwin’s new book, The Descent of Man, published in 1871?
9. How did Darwin describe his own religious beliefs?
10. When did he first start doubting?
11. The article quotes a believer as saying that “suffering is ‘ennobling, an agent of moral improvement.’” Darwin’s favorite daughter, 10-year old Annie, died from TB in 1851, led him into some very dark places. Do you agree or disagree with this argument about suffering? Why or why not? Feel free to use a personal example.

Due Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another neat article by Newsweek: How Lincoln and Darwin have influenced our thoughts:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Blog #7 - Evaluate the Leadership Seminar

Please share your thoughts about the leadership seminar from last Monday at Berkshire. We want to hear both one positive thing and one thing that could be improved for next time (at least one thing). Use your ideas that we shared Monday in class or come up w/ some new ones.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thought I'd share a quote with you

This is attributed to Buddha. It sounds a lot like what we've been discussing lately.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blog #6 - The Most Perplexing Questions Imaginable

We've tackled heaven and hell, good and evil, perception and reality. What awaits us after we die? Anything? Catholic Purgatory? Absolutely nothing? Is evil an objective or subjective term? Who defines what or who evil is?

I know that there are many questions still left out there unanswered. What the heck was Plato thinking with his Forms? Why did Socrates allow himself to be put to death? Where is the novel going to go now that we know it's really a novel?

What if the whole Lost series is really going on in Hurley's head? Could the island be purgatory and everyone be dead waiting while their sins are washed away? What if you had a chance to reinvent yourself, who would you become?

There are many more questions to be answered, places to go, people to meet and we can't possibly cover them all in 12 weeks. Obviously, I'm just showing you the path to help you begin your journey of self-discovery, you'll have to do the rest on your own.
These are just a few examples of some questions that you can ask for this blog entry. 200 words minimum. Due Thursday, October 30th.

P.S. I apologize for posting this so late - had to go grocery shopping, make dinner, get my wife's new laptop going, and then Mario Kart Tournament. I got 2nd. If you need another day to do the blog, that's fine. Cute picture of my dog, Izzy, below.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Post #5 - How do we know what we know?

This week and next, we'll be tackling the root of knowledge - how do we learn the knowledge that ends up in our head? When it's all said and done, how did our knowledge of the world get into our mind, stay there, and be able to be recalled?

Descartes believed that we learned info through reason alone. We had to be skeptical of many many things, as he felt that we should be (especially of the learning of the Middle Ages). To quote Sophie's World, "Descartes maintains that we cannot accept anything as being true unless we can clearly and distinctly perceive it... You could say that every single thought must be weighed and measured, rather in the way Galileo wanted everything to be measured and everything immeasurable to be made measurable." Through this perception - though flawed b/c we can't always trust our senses, we must use reason to figure out what we're perceiving. One of the things that we have built in (innate) in us is our sense of God, according to Descartes.

To sum up with a quote from Sophie's World, "a rationalist believes in reason as the primary source of knowledge, and he may also believe that man has certain innate ideas that exist in his mind prior to all experience. And the clearer such ideas may be, the more certain it is that they correspond to reality."

On the flipside is the empirical belief that we learn about the world through experience. By contrast, we start with a tabula rasa, a blank slate, or nothing in our minds, and the things that we learn is added there b/c we have experienced it. "An empiricist will derive all knowledge of the world from what the senses tell the final analysis, all the material for our knowledge of the world comes to us through sensations. Knowledge that cannot be traced back to a simple sensation is therefore false knowledge and must consequently he rejected." These ideas began with Englishman John Locke and his work, Essay on Human Understanding.

In your own opinion, how do you think we learn? Is it through reason? Through experience? Both? Neither? Another way not mentioned here? Your comments (200 words).

Due Monday, 10/20/08.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Blog #4 - What is the nature of evil?

In our discussion of St. Augustine's world view, inevitably, we end up looking at the difference between good and evil. Augustine lived a decadent life before becoming a Christian midway through his life, and after he became a Catholic priest (but not before going through Manicheanism and NeoPlatonism), he wrote much on the problem of evil. His thoughts on evil were influenced by Manicheanism - an ancient Persian religion that looked at the world in purely terms of a struggle between good vs. evil. We could look at the war on terror as a battle between good and evil, but that would be too simplistic of an argument.

Augustine wanted to delve more deeply into evil and adapted the NeoPlatonic world view to Christianity. In this case, the farther you were away from God's will, the more evil you were doing. I don't believe that Augustine felt that evil was an actual force or being that existed in the physical or metaphysical realm (picture either a serial killer here in our world and Satan in Hell or demons or whatever you like). This tendency to do evil, to stray away from God's will goes all the way back to our beginning as humans, Augustine says, when Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis disobeyed God's command that they not eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. They disobeyed Him and were cast out of the Garden of Eden. For Christians, this is the Original Sin, or the first sin, and is literally already one strike against us as soon as we're born before we've done anything wrong!

So, that's his take. My question for you to consider/ponder over/ruminate upon is "what is the nature of evil?"

Thoughts to consider:

1. Is evil a tangible force that we can fight against in our physical world? For example, genocides, mass murders, serial killers, etc. If so, where does it manifest itself and why?

2. Are acts of nature (floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes), deadly diseases, catastrophes, and horrible accidents evil? Why or why not?

3. Are things like poverty, war, crime, injustice, racism and other things like this evil? (please, no jokes about political ideology here). Why or why not?

4. Is evil inside all of us just waiting for the right circumstances to arise - like if no one was watching, or if we knew we could get away with something?

5. Where does evil come from? Can it come from just one single person or do you need at least two people to commit an evil act? If you were the only person left on the Earth, would it be possible for you to commit an evil act?

6. If God exists, why hasn't He/She/It done away with evil if He loves all of His creations (us, the planet, animals, etc.)? If God is all-powerful and still leaves us alone w/ evil, does that make God evil? Or less than all-powerful?

I think examining this issue will take at least 250, maybe even 300 words. I put these questions here for you to consider, not necessarily to answer. Putting the full power of your noggin' behind this will help you write a better essay upon the same topic that will be due later this month.

Due Monday, October 6.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Blog #3 - Fate or Free Will

As we watched Lost today, we analyzed the Walkabout episode and looked at John Locke's stubborn refusal to accept the denial of his destiny of going on an Australian walkabout. We saw that his life back in America looked bleak - he was working at a box company with a jerk for a boss, wheelchair- bound, in a psuedo-relationship w/ a phone-sex operator named Helen. When the tourism company denied Locke the chance to go on his Walkabout tour, he felt that he was being denied his long-sought destiny or purpose to his life.

Now that Locke is on the island, he is beginning to see that crashing on the island is his TRUE destiny, and that the Walkabout vacation was justa detour to get him on this plane. Why else could he walk again? He has become the true hunter and leader he has always dreamed of being there on the island.

So, what's your opinion on fate? I'll pose a few questions, and it will be your job to pick one (or more) to answer with your well-reasoned words.
1. How much of life is just plain old luck, bad or good?
2. Why do bad things happen to good people?
3. Does everything that happens repeat itself eternally? Why?
4. Do we pay for our mistakes? Why or why not?
5. Does a person create his or her own destiny? Why or why not?
6. If you to fail, and then succeed, which have you done?
7. Do you believe in nature or nurture? Why?
8. Does karma exist? Why or why not?

Your comment should be a minimum of 200 words and be turned in before class on Monday, September 29.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Blog#2 - Red Pill or Blue Pill?

New Due Date - Friday, Sept. 19th

Which pill would you have taken and why?

Neo is offered the red pill and the blue pill by Morpheus in the opening act of the Matrix. The blue pill allows Neo to remain in the Matrix, in essence to go back to sleep and to remember this little encounter w/ Morpheus as a dream or "believe whatever you want to believe". The red pill allows Neo to stay in the "wonderland" and discover the truth.

Here's an essay about the pills - I like this sentence best in the essay:

"The question then is not about pills, but what they stand for in these circumstances. The question is asking us whether reality, truth, is worth pursuing."

I think since most if not all of you who are taking this class are taking this class b/c you want to dig deeper into life, you are highly curious and intelligent and want to find out what is out there, I think there's very very few who will NOT take the red pill.

So, when answering this question, consider the possible ramifications/consequences of choosing your pill.

  • Are you content with knowing that you could die at any moment from those machines that are trying to kill you?
  • What if Neo is NOT the One and you've sacrificed yourself for nothing?
  • Obviously, if you choose the blue pill and you go back into the Matrix, would you be able to live w/ yourself w/ the knowledge that you had the answers at your fingertips and you let them go (for whatever reasons - fear, apathy, etc.)?

So, when choosing, choose wisely and consider the consequences of your actions. Discuss this in your blog. 200 words minimum.