Thursday, December 16, 2010

Upcoming movies with philosophical content

Here's one called I Am by director Tom Shadiak, director of Bruce Almighty and Ace Ventura

Here's an interesting, but highly improbable movie called The Source Code:

This is the preview for The Adjustment Bureau that I showed you in class:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blog #38 - How would our culture differ if we lived in Plato's Republic?

Watching the Great Books episode on Plato's Republic got me started thinking on how our culture would be different if suddenly its cultural requirements were imposed upon the United States.  For this blog, we'd have to suspend our disbelief about the probable mass confusion / rebellion that might explode across the nation while transitioning from freedom of expression and protected 1st Amendment rights to a society where poets and writers bow to reason (to borrow a phrase from the video). 

Bertrand Russell divides up Plato’s Republic into the three neat sections. You may find his simple outline helpful:

1.Books I-V: The definition of “justice” and the Utopian Republic
2.Books VI-VII: The definition of “philosopher” and Philosopher Kings as the ideal rulers
3.Books VIII-X: Discussion of the various forms of government (their pros and cons)

  - Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, Book I, part 2, ch. 14 (2)

I will quote Socrates in Book III of Plato's Republic as to why there needs to be censorship:

"Some tales are to be told, and others are not to be told to our disciples from their youth upwards, if we mean them to honour the gods and their parents, and to value friendship with one another...But if they are to be courageous, must they not learn other lessons besides these, and lessons of such a kind as will take away the fear of death? Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?  And can he be fearless of death, or will he choose death in battle rather than defeat and slavery, who believes the world below to be real and terrible?

It sounds as if Socrates wants his warriors in the ideal society to not fear death but fear defeat and slavery instead.  Stories of myths, ghosts and the gods can somehow convince warriors that the underworld / Hades / afterlife is real and that if the warriors believe that from these "incorrect" stories, the Republic's warriors might be willing to accept death as an alternative to surrender. 

"Then we must assume a control over the narrators of this class of tales as well as over the others, and beg them not simply to but rather to commend the world below, intimating to them that their descriptions are untrue, and will do harm to our future warriors.  Then, I said, we shall have to obliterate many obnoxious passages, beginning with the verses...

"And we must beg Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we strike out these and similar passages, not because they are unpoetical, or unattractive to the popular ear, but because the greater the poetical charm of them, the less are they meet for the ears of boys and men who are meant to be free, and who should fear slavery more than death...

"Also we shall have to reject all the terrible and appalling names describe the world below--Cocytus and Styx, ghosts under the earth, and sapless shades, and any similar words of which the very mention causes a shudder to pass through the inmost soul of him who hears them. I do not say that these horrible stories may not have a use of some kind; but there is a danger that the nerves of our guardians may be rendered too excitable and effeminate by them...There is a real danger, he said.  Then we must have no more of them."

Ghost stories might make our leaders too nervous if they're exposed to them.  I guess it's time to stop the remakes of Friday the 13th and Halloween.  Because if the leaders are too scared, then the warriors / guardians might be as well.  But what happens if a warrior loses a friend in battle, is that warrior allowed to grieve?

"Reflect: our principle is that the good man will not consider death terrible to any other good man who is his comrade... And therefore he will not sorrow for his departed friend as though he had suffered anything terrible... Such an one, as we further maintain, is sufficient for himself and his own happiness, and therefore is least in need of other men...And for this reason the loss of a son or brother, or the deprivation of fortune, is to him of all men least terrible... And therefore he will be least likely to lament, and will bear with the greatest equanimity any misfortune of this sort which may befall him." 

In essence, when a warrior would lose a friend or family member, he/she wouldn't take a moment to grieve b/c in the whole scheme of things, that person was just one human.  But what about comedy? 

"Neither ought our guardians to be given to laughter. For a fit of laughter which has been indulged to excess almost always produces a violent reaction... Then persons of worth, even if only mortal men, must not be represented as overcome by laughter, and still less must such a representation of the gods be allowed..."

So, apparently no comedy.  Sad.  What about fiction, you ask?  I wondered the same thing myself.  Socrates equates fiction w/ lying and only reserves that "right" to doctors and the State:

"Again, truth should be highly valued; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them...Then if any one at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons; and they, in their dealings either with enemies or with their own citizens, may be allowed to lie for the public good.

But nobody else should meddle with anything of the kind; and although the rulers have this privilege, for a private man to lie to them in return is to be deemed a more heinous fault than for the patient or the pupil of a gymnasium not to speak the truth about his own bodily illnesses to the physician or to the trainer, or for a sailor not to tell the captain what is happening about the ship and the rest of the crew, and how things are going with himself or his fellow sailors."

For a leader to lie to the public, it must be "for the public good."  Well, I wonder, what the difference is between a politician's lie and a broken campaign promise.  If Obama said he would end President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy but then has gone back on his promise (like he has recently in a compromise to extend unemployment benefits), is that a lie?  And what is the public good?  Is keeping knowledge of the discovery of extra-terrestrial aliens a public good?  Or what about news of an asteroid hurtling towards the planet that could have a dramatic impact on our climate - is that in the interest of the public good? 

And in the interests of truth?  How does lying work in the best interests of truth?  I'm still not happy w/ Socrates' answers with this one. 

As for crime / mystery stories, I'm in agreement with him:

"Because, if I am not mistaken, we shall have to say that about men poets and story-tellers are guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy, and the good miserable; and that injustice is profitable when undetected, but that justice is a man's own loss and another's gain--these things we shall forbid them to utter, and command them to sing and say the opposite." 

In summary, Socrates explains why he wants his warrior / guardians to hear only positive things in his very specialized society:

"If then we adhere to our original notion and bear in mind that our guardians, setting aside every other business, are to dedicate themselves wholly to the maintenance of freedom in the State, making this their craft, and engaging in no work which does not bear on this end, they ought not to practise or imitate anything else; if they imitate at all, they should imitate from youth upward only those characters which are suitable to their profession-- the courageous, temperate, holy, free, and the like; but they should not depict or be skilful at imitating any kind of illiberality or baseness, lest from imitation they should come to be what they imitate."

In the end, my question is, how would our American culture change if Socrates had his way about the arts?  Provide specific examples by using points listed above and songs / TV shows / artists / movies from our culture today. 

Due Monday, December 13.  Minimum 200 words. 

Further reading:
1. Plato's contribution to society - specialization / division of labor -

Online books, Book III, Plato's The Republic.

Plus, a great quote from a cool movie:
"BILL MURRAY: “What did you study?”
BILL MURRAY: “Yeah, there’s a good buck in that racket.”
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: “Well, so far it’s pro bono.”
Lost in Translation (2003)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Blog #37 - Which of the six philosophers best fits your personal views?

In the article, "Philosophy 101," we surveyed five major philosophers and came up with some modern-day applications / examples of their ideas.  What you should do with this blog is review their ideas and pick which one best suits your own personal outlook on life or views about the world.

I. Ancient Greece
  A. Plato - he believed in the idea of the perfect form, that there is a perfect concept for everything (person, horse, chair, etc.) and that everything manmade or natural on Earth is an imperfect copy of that perfect form (In the picture to the left, you have a photo of a chair, a definition of a chair printed out, and an actual chair - each one is a chair but they each have different degrees of reality to them - the farther away from the ideal form they are, the less perfect they are).
 - Plato felt that achieving this perfection would be impossible but it would be important to live a good life by striving for perfection. 

  B. Aristotle - Some of his ideas included deductive reasoning (that we might see in cop/mystery movies or forensics TV shows), the Golden Mean (choosing between two extremes), and the feelings of catharsis or an emotional cleansing.  Aristotle was also one of the first true scientists of the ancient era who had the means to study and catalogue numerous plants and animals. 
  - With the Golden Mean, Aristotle might feel today that a balance should be struck somewhere between being totally in touch with one's friends through social networking and cutting one's self off completely.   
  - Here's an interesting website about a concept called the Overton Window - the points along the scale (if you mapped out the spots between one extreme and another) at which the public is willing to accept an option. 

II. Modern Philosophy
  C. Rene Descartes - He is the father of modern philosophy and started many snowballs rolling downhill, but the one we focused on here was the idea of dualism, the mind and body are separate and not linked. An example the article gave was that if you died in a dream, you wouldn't die in actuality.  Movies like The Matrix and Inception deal fully with this mind / body dualism.   Descartes is also known for the statement "I think, therefore I am" in which in order to exist, you must first think.  Quite a concept! (See link for a further elaboration on different types of dualism).

  D. David Hume - This Scottish philosopher improved upon some of Descares' ideas like skepticism (that we cannot truly ever be sure of something b/c it might not reoccur - the article uses the example of a bottle breaking when knocked off of a table).  Part of the reason that this type of skepticism exists is b/c of the randomness of life and the infinite number of variables that play into it (later to be called the chaos theory in Jurassic Park or the butterfly effect).  Lastly, there's the post hoc fallacy, or to believe that because we see two things occur together, one must have caused the other.  Let us say that one morning I get up and turn my coffee machine on, but at the same time, the dishwasher starts up.  Does that mean that X (turning coffee machine on) causes Y (dishwasher turns on)?  No, not necessarily. 

  E. Immanuel Kant - One of his biggest ideas was the categorical imperative, or in other words, putting yourself to a moral test for each of your actions.  You should consider what would happen if everyone followed your course of actions and how that would impact society.  Applying this standard to all of your actions would be the key to living a righteous life. 
 - Also, perception matters, and it differs for everyone.  We can never fully perceive what we perceive b/c we are not that object which we perceive. 

  F. Georg Hegel - Hegel had an idea that had been around for awhile but he refined it to something called absolute spirit - a network that connected every thing to ideas, people and other things around the universe.  Hegel also came up with an idea called zeitgeist (German for time-spirit) where peoples' thoughts are guided by the political and cultural atmosphere of a specific time in history.  For instance, our time period represented the angry Populist revolt of the Tea Party.

Your job: pick which of these six best fits your own personal philosophy at the beginning of our class.  Explain why.  You may find that your ideas come from a couple different guys, so include that. 

200 words minimum.  Due Thursday, December 9 before class begins.