Monthly Archives: September 2017

Krauss on Philosophy

By Socrates

Today I watched an interview with a natural philosopher named Lawrence Krauss. These days people prefer the term “scientist”, so I will use that term. In fact, he is a physicist.

In the interview he talks about philosophy. He claims that science has “killed” philosophy. I was shocked to hear him make this suggestion. I didn’t think the love of wisdom could be killed. I would be certainly worried if science could kill the love of wisdom.

But I think he is actually trying to say is that since philosophy does not involve empirical investigation, it is therefore not relevant to our understanding of the world. He suggests, on the other hand, that because physics involves empirical investigation, and only empirical investigation is able to contribute to our understanding of the world, physics is relevant in a way that philosophy is not.

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Extending human life

By Socrates

This short article (read it here) presents arguments in support of life extension. It also presents arguments against. I was intrigued by the arguments supporting life extension—not because of their philosophical brilliance, but because they are based on unconvincing premises. I am a lover of wisdom, but I do not pretend to be wise. So I learn by analyzing the gaps in these arguments.

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Challenging accepted thinking

By Socrates

I found the following passage in the article (Challenging accepted thinking):

“The reason behind the achievements of Bohr’s institute is something business schools and students would do well to note. It was not the amount of money that secured success. What made the difference was the belief that accepted thinking must be questioned”


The last sentence in the passage is important to me. This is precisely what I spent my life doing. And I am fortunate to find myself continuing to do the very same thing, just as I had hoped before drinking that cup of poison. I use a method of elenchus to target premises which are poorly supported. In doing so, I question accepted thinking and I do so to test it for truth.

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Socialism, Capitalism – is there anything in between?

By Socrates

There is an election campaign underway in New Zealand. People familiar with my history will know my views on democracy. My student, Plato, built on my views and constructed an extensive criticism of the democracy of Athens. Democracy in New Zealand is different, but perhaps still suffers from the same problems I saw in Athens. Much of the campaigning is based on rhetorical tricks of language rather than rationally presented argument. There are some exceptions to this statement, of course. But overall, the person most clever with language wins the popular vote. They are sophists. They make bad arguments look good, and good arguments look bad.

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Where can Philosophy take me?

By Socrates

Oh dear. I have been reading this article about the value of philosophy: https://philosophy.as.uky.edu/where-can-philosophy-take-me

They seem to think that philosophy is valuable just because it prepares people for jobs. This idea sees philosophy as having instrumental value because it leads to something else. But those things only have instrumental value too, insofar as we want them because they lead to other things that we value.

One outcome philosophy leads to, which is not on the list, but is arguably of most value, is knowledge of oneself and what it means to live the good life. Why is so little attention given to this? If we want to promote the value of philosophy, we should include the things that make it most valuable. Certainly people need jobs, and philosophy might help people get jobs, but unless we can recognize what it means to live the good life, we may never actually live the good life. People want to live the good life, so they need to recognize what that means and how to achieve it. Therefore, it seems to me that this should be on the top of the list of where philosophy can take us. Philosophy has instrumental value insofar as it can lead one to live the good life, which is of intrinsic value.

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Alas, relativism is alive and well

By Socrates

My old friend Protagoras said that “the human being is the measure of all things, of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not”. He was a relativist and thought that every individual’s points of view are true. Well, I examined his view and found it to be self contradictory.

Alas, it looks like relativism persists to this day.

This article expresses a concern about the rise of relativism:
O’Neill Skllful Faking

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Reason and Emotion

By Socrates

A recent dialogue with a good friend brought to light the question of the role emotion plays in reasoning, and, perhaps more importantly, the role faulty reasoning plays in emotion.

During our dialogue, I considered an example in which emotional reasoning was a priority factor in the making of a decision. A young person, who was terrified of flying, missed the opportunity of an overseas trip. She refused to get on the plane. Was she reasoning? Or was she acting on emotional impulse? I think she was reasoning, but her reasoning was emotional. Her emotional reasoning can be represented as premises and conclusion. It went like this:

P1. Because airplanes sometimes crash, if I fly in one my life is at risk

P2. Because I don’t want to die, I should avoid putting my life at risk

C. Therefore, I will not get on that plane (accompanied with feelings of extreme fear)

The emotion set up a fight or flight response which kept her safe, on the ground, away from the plane. When I look at the emotional reasoning, I see that it is valid. However, careful analysis reveals missing information. There are no statistics included. It turns out that the likelihood of being involved in a plane crash is incredibly low. Now, if the young person included a premise which stated the probability of a plane crash, she might have been able to rework the argument and realize that flying is a rationally acceptable risk. And her feeling of fear may be reduced as a result.

Acting on one’s initial emotional reasoning may lead one to miss opportunities. So, it seems to me that a rational examination of our emotional reasoning can help us live a better life. After all, the unexamined life is not worth living.

— Socrates

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Aristophanes – Clouds

By Socrates

Clouds! That play caused me a lot of trouble. I didn’t realize it at the time, but people started thinking differently about me after seeing that play. In those days, playwrights liked to make plays about real people. And for comedic effect, people were portrayed in their caricature form. So although it was me in the play, it was not the real me.

It was certainly funny. I laughed out loud at the silly lines. But I clearly would never say the things my character said. So, I decided to stand up so that people could see the real me. I just stood there for most of the play… motionless, allowing people to compare the character on stage with the real person (Navia 2007, Chapter 2). As it turned out, I think people preferred to remember the character rather than the real me. The reputation of that character stuck in people’s minds and undoubtedly influenced their vote during my trial.

I am reading the play again. It still makes me laugh. Aristophanes came third place for his play. There were only three entries in the competition. I wonder if the people portrayed in the other plays were also executed.

Here’s the play:
Aristophanes – Clouds

— Socrates

References
Vlastos, Gregory (1991). Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher. Cambridge University Press
Navia, Luis E. (2007). Socrates: A Life Examined. Prometheus Books

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The Devaluation of the Humanities

By Socrates

I was once very interested in metaphysics. And I wanted to know about science and the origin of the universe. But it soon occurred to me that there were matters of humanity that were left unanswered by these endeavors. How do I live a good life? What is a good life? It was at that time that I turned my attention to ethics.

There has been a recent devaluation of the humanities (as outlined in this article), including my beloved philosophy. Is this devaluation simply the result of our tendency to rate the value of things in economic terms? After all, the humanities doesn’t generate much wealth. If so, the question I would ask is: why do we value economics? It seems to me that we must value it either for its own sake, or because it gets us something else. I don’t think people value economics just for its own sake, so we must value it because it leads to something we want. But what is that? What do we really want? What should we really want? These are questions that economics can’t answer. And human values exploration sit outside of the realm of science and technology. Answering questions about human values is the job of the humanities. So, if we want answers to these questions, we need the humanities. We need philosophy.

My life long mission has been to bring philosophy down from the heavens. I brought it to the city streets, and now I’m enjoying philosophy in the social media format of this century. We can keep the humanities alive, here, all of us.

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