Wednesday, March 20, 2013

#60 Criticism of Top Western Philosophers

n the article, "Philosophy 101," we surveyed six 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. The link to the grid notes we took on the board is here:

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 one of these philosophers and critique his major ideas.  Make sure you include some details and explanation in your response. Feel free to use the article, "Philosophy 101."

Due Monday, March 25.  200 words minimum response. 


  1. Aristotle is best known for his theories of deductive reasoning, the golden mean, and catharsis. Deductive reasoning is a form of logic that begins with a general concept and funnels towards a specific idea. A particular type of deductive reasoning is the syllogism, in which two premises put together reach a supposedly infallible conclusion. The issue with this concept is that the two premises must fit together to be correct, or else you reach a nonsense conclusion. The golden rule is synonymous to “a happy medium,” in that it signifies a middle road down which to travel between two extremes. In this case, Aristotle is assuming that extremes in any situation would be undesirable. In reality, however, sometimes extremes are necessary or more appropriate than a mediatory option. Or perhaps the middle of the road is not so easily distinguished, while the extremes are – possibly unfortunately – readily available. Now associated with the world of psychology, catharsis was originally coined by Aristotle to represent an episode of emotional cleansing. If you’ve ever heard someone say that they had a “cathartic experience,” they’re suggesting that they underwent a whirlwind of feelings in response to an emotionally exhausting situation. Many people believe that such a process can help depressed and angry individuals heal, finally free of their emotional baggage, but catharsis actually makes you more worked up and less likely to move past any debilitating emotions.

    Erin L.

  2. Out of all the philosophers presented, the one with the ideas that remain the most relevant to this day is Aristotle. His three major ideas were deduction, the golden mean, and catharsis. Deduction is basically taking multiple pieces of information and forming a conclusion based on what this information leads to. Take, for example, a murder. In order to figure out who is guilty, multiple pieces of data must lead towards one person (DNA, fingerprints, blood, weapon). Aristotle’s next major theory was the golden mean. This is taking the middle route between two extremes, and can be seen everywhere. Let’s take a look at politics. The Republicans and Democrats are so ideologically polarized that for any bill to get passed in congress, the bill has to be somewhere in the middle of the two party’s viewpoints. Even in an argument with your parents, you can make a compromise between their curfew: 12 and yours: 12:30 at 12:15. The third major idea of Aristotle was that of catharsis. This is pretty much emotional cleansing. Even though this idea seems like the most irrelevant of the three in a modern sense, catharsis is actually a very big part of both psychological and religious processes. In fact, there is a Jewish holiday called Yom Kippur, where the main goal is go tell god of all your sins and set yourself “free”. The reason I chose Aristotle was because compared to the other philosophers, his ideas felt more realistic to mean and are still implementable in a modern world.

    Alex L.

  3. As a perfectionist, I agree most with Plato's beliefs that there is a perfect form for everything. I feel this strive to make something even a little more perfect, especially myself, is caused by my desire to lead a life worth living twice. I want to enjoy my life living it through the first time, and when I am older, I want to look back and reminisce my life a second time. I have also discovered that the more I succeed in striving to be perfect, more things fall in place in my life. For example, this recent weekend I woke up early each morning and I finished almost all my work before noon; consequently, I was allowed to go out golfing with my friends for the day where I solved a kink in my swing. I do have concern about Plato's idea of imperfection, specifically regarding the different degrees of reality. This idea is very biased and perceptional. Using the example from the text, would a "picture of a chair" be more realistic than a "definition of a chair?" If it is then you have placed more importance on the visual senses than the ability to interpret text. For the sake of an argument let us say that "an actual chair" is a piece of wood. Would this piece of wood have more degrees of reality than a picture of a chair? I feel that would depend on the perception of the person and their importance on different senses.

    ~Kenneth O.

  4. Hegel’s major ideas included what he called the “Absolute Spirit”, a greater whole that every person, idea, and object is a part of. Hegel refined the idea that everything is interconnected with everything else, but he failed to state what the purpose of this large network is, if it even has one. Hegel also neglected to recognize the implications of everything being interconnected, such as the question “Are all humans evil since we’re all connected to evil people?” Hegel’s next major idea is that of the Zeitgeist, or the idea that people’s thoughts are guided by the political and cultural atmosphere of the time in which they live. While this argument has some validity to it (ex. Zeitgeist was clearly present in the politics of the Cold War), Hegel’s idea fails to recognize whether or not the Zeitgeist also works in the opposite direction, with people’s thoughts influencing political atmosphere. One example of Zeitgeist working in the reverse order was the presidential election of 2008, in which people’s thoughts and concerns about the financial crisis changed the political atmosphere of the next eight years with the election of Barack Obama. Hegel’s final major idea was that of the Hegelian dialect- a method of argument. Hegel’s view was that a thesis, or proposed idea, conflicts with another idea, an antithesis, which eventually compromise to form a synthesis, which becomes the new thesis in another cycle of Hegelian dialect. This process forms the basis of our Legislative branch of Government, which is designed to force compromise between the two major parties. The only substantial problem with the idea of Hegelian dialect occurs in a situation where compromise cannot be reached, such as the recent polarization in congress between the liberal Democrats and the conservative Republicans. When compromise is not an option, the entire process of Hegelian Dialect falls apart.

    -John D.

  5. People at school judge me all the time. It bothers me, I wish they would stop, but it's in their natural state. They take one look at me (or anyone really) and think that they know our whole life story. Kant has a point in believing "you will never understand something unless you are that something." It is in human nature to look at things and try to understand what it is, and have critisisms for it. Scientists have tried to explain the sky, the stars and the rain and all things that nature brings that once resembled a higher significance to our early peoples. We could justify all of these things that scientists have researched, but how will we ever know that everything we do "know" about these things are fact? Is there some sacred book that has all things that are fact and fictin? If so, will we ever have access to this book? I believe that people should except what is presented without trying to "decodde it". Trying to completely understand someting is pointless, when you are not that something; beause you will never accomplish your goal. I'm pretty biased toward this point Kant has made anyway, because I severly wish people didn't want to justify the way I act, and who I am. This specific belief of Kant's, is highly relatebale and I respect it.

    Kant does have ohter views that I am not in daccord with. He believes that "If everyone lied, then no one would be trustworthy" he is invertly saying that no one should lie. But there are times that it would be better to lie, than to tell the truth, just to keep a calm and nice enviornent. I do not completely agree with Kant on that subject however, I do believe that the truth is better than a lie.


  6. Out of all the Philosophers on the list, I feel as if it is Hegel who poses some of the greatest holes in his theories as far as common ideals and my own personal ones go. His theory of Absolute Spirit poses the most obvious of flaws, with it going so far as to connect the psyche and ideals of people such as Stalin, Vlad Tepes, and Hitler with those of our own. It would also mean that there is no such thing as true individuality, as we are actually all just part of the same, generic continuum with the same ideas, morals, and thoughts. Just as questionable is his theory on the Zeitgeist; the Political-cultural entity that guides as finalizes all of our thoughts and decisions; such a theory blatantly ignores the power of the individual’s ethics and own beliefs, as well as the influence the mass populace has upon such an entity opposite the influence it has upon them. It would almost completely dismiss the free will of an individual as an illusion with predisposed choices which were delivered upon it by said Zeitgeist, and would create a world in which the all too human concept and act of defiance was non-existent.

    Garrett M.

  7. Aristotle’s ideas are most familiar to me and could be critiqued because of how certain he is that life is based on his three ideas, deductive reasoning, the golden mean and catharsis. Deductive reasoning is the process of coming to a logical conclusion based one or more linking premises or ideas. This could be critisized because there are many more ways to come to a conclusion about something being right or wrong than it just being based on different ideas. His idea is golden mean is the desirable middle ground between to extremes, he is saying that this is the only option and in whatever scenario you are in you have to compromise which sometimes doesn’t work. Sometimes you need to pick either the more or lesser extreme as a conclusion. His last idea of catharsis is to cleanse and get rid of all your unwanted emotions. People do this because it makes you feel as if you’re starting over fresh and on a clean slate. It is the renewal of your sins. This process is physiological, therapeutic and religious. Even though it is ancient and has been around for a very long time people still use it because they believe it can help.
    Jami L.

  8. Out of all of the philosophers listed, it seems that Hegel’s theories have the most complications and contain the most uncertainty. The “Absolute Spirit” that is suggested isn’t completely clear. This “connection” might be a concept, but it serves no purpose. The idea of everything being connected makes it less possible for individuality to occur. If everything is connected in some way, then aren’t we just as evil as the people that we say are evil? This would also implicate that our thoughts and ideas don’t belong to us, but rather to everyone.
    Hegel’s next major idea was the Zeitgeist. This states that people’s ideas and thoughts are guided by political and cultural atmosphere in their current time. While the atmosphere of the current time is important, so are other factors. Regardless of outside influence people will believe and follow what is right to them, not what the general public expresses. This idea also fails to question if the same idea would also work in reverse. Could the political and cultural atmosphere be altered instead by the thoughts and ideas of the people? While they are good theories, they do have parts that are overlooked, such as recognizing that each person is an individual.

    Elliott W.

  9. I think Hegel’s idea of everyone and everything being connected through part of something bigger is missing a lot of reasoning and explanations. He never gave a purpose for the “Absolute Spirit” or this greater network of people and things. Also, if we are all connected, are we all bad? Are we all good? Are we all the same? He forgot the idea of individuality. But, I do believe his Zeitgeist idea is extremely relevant to today. Hegel’s Zeitgeist idea expresses that people’s thoughts are guided by the political and cultural atmosphere of a specific time in history. And for todays time I believe this is true. People are influenced by elites of all kinds. Famous people, government leaders, religious leaders, and community leaders all are capable of influencing others thoughts and actions. But, the people’s thoughts and actions can also influence what the elitists are doing, or why they’re doing what they’re doing. A president might act on a problem in a way he knows the people will give a positive response. Then lastly, the Hegelian dialect is a method in which the difference between a thesis and its antithesis is resolved at a higher level of truth (synthesis). For the most part, this also is applied to and used today. Two sides with different views compromise and come up with a solution that fits both sides. The only time there is a problem with this is when neither side will compromise and nothing ends up being resolved.

    Maddie A

  10. Hegel's ideas and concepts are the most controversial in my opinion. The concept that we are all connected through a larger network or source is very interesting to me because it causes many questions. If we are all connected, does that mean we feel each others' misfortunes and pain? Are we all alike in some way or another? You can look at this concept from many different angles, and think of many different ways this idea influences people and things today. Most of Hegel's ideas can be viewed as either insane or creative due to their "brain-numbing" concepts. The Zeitgeist idea states that the political and cultural atmosphere influence people’s ideas and their methods of thinking. This can be applied to many modern day issues and concepts. Hegel's different way of thinking has become known as dialectical thinking. It is not a "method" or a set of principles, like Aristotle's, which can be simply stated and then applied to whatever subject-matter one chooses. Dialectical thinking refers to the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information. It is a form of analytical reasoning that pursues knowledge and truth as long as there are questions and conflicts. Hegel also stressed that as society changes, people and their knowledge changes as well. I believe this is absolutely true because the majority of people's thoughts and ideas come form past experiences and exposure to other people and their own ways of thinking. Hegel's theories and ideas most relate to me, because I too am interested in the thoughts he talks about.

    -Joel S.

  11. I somewhat agree with Immanuel Kant’s beliefs but I find some faults. If the person who discovered that the earth was wrong didn’t consider what other people because if he did people would still think that the earth is flat. However I do believe that if you consider what would happen if everyone did what you did because you can make a difference. During the Civil Rights movement one person decided to stand up for what is right, soon many followed and today we have a President that is African American. There is also a negative side to people following you. If a Parent smokes in front of their kids, this may influence the kids to smoke thus putting them at a risk for lung cancer. Also people won’t know everything you do, if you live alone and decide to eat cheerios instead of captain Crunch because its healthier people won’t know that. Each action you take shouldn’t have a moral value to it. If you’re deciding on whether to wear blue shoes or red shoes there shouldn’t be any morals that go into consideration when making that decision because it won’t have any effect on society. If you’re doing something positive then Kant’s beliefs may apply, but if you’re doing something negative his beliefs shouldn’t come into consideration.

    Eric Scott

  12. Of the philosopher’s above, Aristotle and his philosophies strike me to be very applicable to numerous aspects of today’s society. His first philosophy, which I found irrefutably present every day is deduction, which some call “formal logic” or “top down logic.” The thought behind this was to link premises with conclusions. Essentially, Aristotle presented that if all premises are true and the terms are clear, then using deductive logic the conclusion reached is necessarily true. This form of thinking can be found everywhere today, whether it be while taking a final exam or trying to figure out who stole the cookies from the cookie jar.
    A second philosophy of Aristotle that is roughly more disputable than deduction but still present today is The Golden Mean. The basis of The Golden Mean is that between two extremes, usually one desirable and one not, always exists a desirable middle between the two. The perfect example of this is the story of the three little bears. The conflict of the oatmeal- too hot, too cold, just right. Aristotle argues that there is always a “just right”. I definitely agree with the logic that finding the happy medium can be more satisfying, but I am skeptical as to whether the happy medium is always available and always the right choice.
    These are two of Aristotle’s philosophies that I find relevant and comprehendible for anyone today.

    Kelly Greer

  13. Descartes brings up an interesting point with his idea of dualism, but I find some of his arguments, if not flawed, then missing key information. Although he insists that the mind is separate from the body and not at all linked, how then does it register physical pain? On a similar note, it would have to be at least somewhat connected in order to interpret messages regarding bodily functions such as hunger and thirst. With new scientific brain research, it is relatively easy to examine signals and responses from various parts of the brain when the body is stimulated and vice versa - the dualism concept seems to be significantly less applicable today.

    To me, on the other hand, Descartes' idea of dualism could be slightly varied in order to seem more logical - separation of the brain and the mind. Although it sounds ludicrous, to Descartes, the idea of dualism had less to do with the physical brain and more so to do with the thought pattern of the brain itself. Again, it is difficult to say that the two are not linked - through brain studies, researchers have discovered a connection between sensors in the physical brain and the thoughts of the person. However, in situations such as with optical illusions, it is possible to trick the brain into interpreting information one way (in order not to disrupt the norm our senses rely on), yet logically know that what we are seeing is an illusion. This seems to suggest a sort of separation, or duality, of the physical brain and the thinking mind.

    K. Lev

  14. I agree and disagree with some of Aristotle’s ideas. His idea of syllogism, which is having a major premise connected to a minor premise that brings you to a conclusion (for instance: All men are mortal. George Clooney is a man. Therefore, George Clooney is mortal) works, but isn’t really a type of reasoning that could lead someone to a specific conclusion. The major and minor premises have to be pretty general and connected in order to actually make sense and be correct. However, when the two premises are connected and true, then the conclusion will be true as well. Aristotle’s idea of the golden mean is finding a happy medium between two extremes, for example, a working adult usually wants to find a happy medium between their work and their family time. However, the golden mean might not always be the ideal situation. For instance, if the two extremes are nice and mean, I would hope everyone would strive for nice instead of the golden mean of sometimes nice. And the last idea by Aristotle is Catharsis which is an emotional cleansings while watching a dramatic performance. It’s sort of difficult to critique this idea because catharsis is more of a name for something than a profound idea.

    Carly Y.

  15. Immanuel Kant is the philosopher I feel is most relevant, but flawed, today. He believed that when making decisions you should pose the question to yourself “what would happen if everyone else did this?” I think that if people did this more often many problems in today’s society would be solved. Clearly this doesn’t work all the time. For example, if I posed that question when deciding what I should eat for breakfast I would wind up eating nothing because any way you slice it if everyone in the world eats the same thing for breakfast problems will arise. If I chose eggs, everyone would eat eggs and we would have a shortage of chickens. If I chose granola everyone would eat granola and there would be a shortage of grain. His idea of posing his question works for some situations but can’t be applied on a wide scale. Even with moral questions this doesn’t always work. If you are in a situation where someone asks you something like “Do these pants make me look fat?” and they do, you should lie and say “Of course not!” But if you use Kant’s question you will find lying is immoral and wrong and you should tell the truth. This will make someone feel bad and make you look like a big jerk.
    Allison R.

  16. David Hume. I agree with Hume's thought that just because something occurs once, does not mean that it will occur again. I think that this is a good thought because if you stop doing something because you think you know what is going to happen you may miss opportunities that you have never had before. Let's say for example that you get into a car accident because someone else wasn't paying attention, and you're afraid to drive again because of it. This doesn't mean that everyone who drives without giving their full attention will crash, and you shouldn't avoid driving simply because you believe everyone will crash. Lastly, I disagree that if two things happen, it does not mean that one caused another. An infinite amount of things can occur at the same time without being relevant to each other at all.
    -Brendan Dwyer

  17. Of all the philosophers listed, Aristotle seems to be one of the most reasonable. His idea of deductive reasoning is overwhelmingly pervasive in modern society. As one of the first true scientists, it only makes sense that he pioneered a way of thinking that is integral in scientific reasoning and progress.

    Another one of Aristotle’s ideas, the Golden Mean, really just seems like common sense. It’s very important to maintain a fine balance between being a no-life shut-in, and a partyholic. This is for several reasons; it’s important from an emotional standpoint to balance work and play, quiet reflection and partying. Maintaining this Golden Mean is a good way to make sure that one is a balanced, stable person. While it’s possible to criticize the Golden Mean on the grounds that extremes are occasionally necessary, I think that these criticisms can be dismissed because extremes can only temporarily be maintained. The Golden Mean is a general rule, not an absolute one.

    Catharsis is another interesting invention from the mind of Aristotle. This concept has had important connections with criminal justice systems all throughout human history. Many people clambering for retribution call for the death penalty as the answer for heinous crimes. Besides the fact that the death penalty opens the near certainty of some innocent people being killed, another criticism is the idea that facing violence with more violence will not bring true catharsis.

    Ben C.

  18. Out of all of the philosophers, I found the ideas of Hegel to be the most interesting and hardest to wrap my mind around. The idea of hid that I found to be interesting, but also extremely hard to understand, was the idea that a network connecter everything in the universe. I find this incredibly interesting because I couldn’t in a million years think of something like this. It is such a strange concept to me but the fact that he thought of this is incredible to me. What I find so intriguing about the absolute spirit idea is that, if it were true, a meteor, hundreds of thousands light years away, is connected by spirit to a fly I swatted this morning. The idea is so hard for me to consider however, because it would also create a network between things truly good and terribly evil. It could mean that there is a spiritual network between Joseph Stalin and Mother Terrisa. But this spiritual connection between things doesn’t have to be a similarity or relation between the two, but possibly an instance where you need something good to balance something evil, where, through this spirit, all things balance each other out.
    -Peter B.

  19. Out of all the philosophers that I've observed, Hume's ideas seem the most realistic because I can relate to everything he's saying. Hume believes that it's impossible to know anything without complete certainty; We base what we think will happen on our past experiences. There's been many times where I thought I knew what the outcome on a certain situation would be but I turned out wrong. For instance, my mother always gets mad when she tells me to do a chore and I forget to do it. The other day, I forgot to do the dishes and right when I heard her car pull up I knew I was about to get yelled at again. Surprisingly, she kept quiet and didn't confront me. Since I've been yelled at in the past, I jumped to the conclusion that it'd happen again and I was wrong. The winners of the past several presidential elections have gotten the majority of independent votes. It would stand to reason that since Obama won the election, he would've received the majority of independent votes but that was not the case. This is just another way to support the fact that we can never be sure about our predictions.

    -Christina L

  20. Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative idea on living a righteous life is interesting to me. There are parts of his theory that I agree with and parts of it I disagree with. Starting with the part I agree with, I believe that for an action to be morally correct you have to consider all viewpoints and putting yourself in other people’s shoes before you make a decision on what to do. The part I disagree with is that this is not necessarily the key to living a righteous life. Sometimes the right decision for society as a whole is not the most popular decision or a decision that benefits everybody because often times there is no answer to an issue that everyone can agree with even if it ultimately is the right decision. For example, America’s economy is not in ideal shape today, everyone agrees on that, however what could be done to fix it is where differences are drawn between people. Republicans and Democrats both have different views that they both believe to be correct and will not change their stance on the matter, even if one of the two views, or neither view, is correct. To make the morally correct decision on fixing the economy, one must view all sides of the argument and all consequences (this is the part I agree with), but there is no solution yet that will fix the economy that all sides will agree on, so with Kant’s idea, there would be no righteous decision even if the economy were to be fixed.


  21. Aristotle believed in the golden mean, which was that the best option is always in the middle between two extremes. This idea is incorrect because sometimes the best options are the most extreme ones. For example, it is never really considered a bad thing to be too smart or too logical, otherwise Aristotle himself would have to go against what he believes in. There are other things that are better in extreme cases such as being nice. Being kind to other people is always appreciated and can never really be bad. Although the golden mean may be accurate for many things, but to say that it is always true is incorrect. Aristotle also used deductive reasoning to prove his points. An issue with this is that it always requires some sort of an assumption to begin with. While deductive reasoning will always work when the assumptions are correct, they aren’t always. For instance, before you can prove any sort of geometry in math, you must make the assumption that points in space exist and that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Even something so fundamental and seemingly simple as geometry can, and has been proven incorrect with more information.

    Denny Walsh


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