Category Archives: Articles

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. It is a worthy question. Does emotion play a role, or should it be ignored.

During our dialogue, I considered an example in which emotion 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 be 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.

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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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Punishment

A Socratic Dialogue
By BRENT SILBY

 

Background

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Socrates is walking through the streets of Western Heights, a small town in the country of New Zealand. Feeling rather hungry, he decides to visit a café for food and coffee. As he is about to enter, he bumps into his old friend Greg, the owner of the café.

Persons of the dialog

Socrates
Greg

 

Socrates: It is good to see you Greg. It has been too long, my friend.

Greg: Two years I think.

Socrates: I remember last time we talked, you told me about your interest in opening your own café. Did you go ahead with this?

Greg: Yes indeed. This is my place. I have been running this café for nearly a year. It’s been hard work, but I think I’m now on top of things.

Socrates: I hear there are long hours involved in running cafés and other such businesses.

Greg: It is a seven-day a week job.

Socrates: If that is the case, it is no surprise that you say it is hard work. You surely deserve to take some time off. Do you employ staff?

Greg: Yes, I have a few part-time employees.

Socrates: Well, perhaps they can take care of business while you have a day off. You can turn a seven-day a week job into a six-day a week job.

Greg: I wish I could, but I can’t rely on the staff. I have had a bad run with employees. On more than one occasion I have caught them stealing from me.

Socrates: I am sorry to hear that, my friend. To suffer an injustice can be a troubling experience. May I ask, what was your response?

Greg: I sacked them. I was very angry. The legal system didn’t give them nearly the punishment they deserved. People get off lightly these days.

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Philosophy in Schools

A Socratic Dialogue
By BRENT SILBY

Click here to download the PDF for reading in a page-by-page format

 

Background

Over recent years there has been a growing movement pushing for the inclusion of Philosophy in schools.[1]

As a subject, Philosophy is broad. It can be separated into many sub-disciplines such as Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Mind, Ethics, and Philosophy of Science, to name a few. These sub-disciplines reduce back to three broad pillars of Philosophy: Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Axiology.

Regardless of where one’s philosophical interest sits, the essential skill set remains the same. This is the ability to reason. Philosophers produce rationally convincing arguments and critically assess the arguments of others.

In this fictional dialogue Socrates meets with Allison Fells, the Principal of Western Heights School, to discuss the inclusion of Philosophy in the school curriculum. Socrates has been running a successful Philosophy club at school and believes that students would benefit through the extension of the club into the regular school curriculum. Socrates argues that Philosophy equips students with the skill set needed to live the good life.

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Self Driving Cars

A philosophical discussion starter
By BRENT SILBY

[For teachers, click here to download article and lesson plan]

Driving can be an exhilarating experience. The thrill of negotiating the interesting bends on a hilly country drive is a joy to many. At other times driving can be downright boring. The mind-numbingly dull drive through peak hour traffic is something most of us try to avoid. For many people, owning an autonomous vehicle – a car that can drive itself – would be something of a dream come true. No more boring traffic congestion. The car can worry about traffic while we pursue more worthy endeavors such as reading a book, watching a movie, or catching up with our social networks. It sounds promising, and many people are lining up to be among the first to own an autonomous car. However, as is often the case, benefits come at a cost. In the case of autonomous cars, the cost is a loss of driver control. For a car to be fully autonomous, the driver must relinquish some of their own autonomy – specifically, the autonomy to choose a course of action in a life-threatening situation.
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Do Schools Kill Creativity – A Response to Ken Robinson

By BRENT SILBY

Robinson argues that schools are primarily concerned with conformity and that this has a negative impact on creativity. He suggests that by grouping students by age, delivering a standard curriculum, and testing them against standardized criteria, schools are essentially diminishing the individuality and creativity of students. In his Do Schools Kill Creativity TED Talk, Robinson states that:

“…all kids have tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.” He goes on to suggest that “creativity is now as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status”. (Robinson 2006).

Robinson seems to be implying that schools currently place little value on creativity. He is also creating a distinction between literacy and creativity, suggesting that somehow schools value one but not the other. But literacy and creativity go hand-in-hand. A highly literate person can become hugely creative in the production of written works. It is not the case that schools favor literacy over creativity. Schools encourage both. Furthermore, in other areas of creativity, schools excel. During their life in school, students are exposed to an immense array of creative endeavors from music to visual art; from fiction to game design. It is simply false that schools place little value on creativity. Robinson, himself, is a product of what he might call “traditional schooling”, and he is clearly creative. Arguably the most creative people on the planet are the products of traditional schooling. Given the fact that there is so much creativity in society, it seems to be misleading to make the bold claim that “schools educate the creativity out of kids”. Continue reading

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Humans Need Not Apply – a comment

By BRENT SILBY

Last week I happened to come across a short video about the mechanisation of the work-place. The video examined the history of tool use and argued that we humans are constantly driven to extend our capabilities through the automation of mundane, or difficult, tasks. The central point of the video was to show that automation does not only apply to physical tasks. It also applies to mental tasks, such as computer programming. They argued that automation of manual jobs has shifted the workforce to office-based employment, but that this is a short-term change. Future automation of office-based work will lead to massive redundancies in the middle-class, which will lead to increasing levels of poverty. Continue reading

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Philosophy’s Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

BY BRENT SILBY

Recently, a number of prominent scientists have made the bold claim that philosophy has outlived its usefulness. On the very first page of his book The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking states that “Philosophy is dead”. Physicist Lawrence Krauss argues that philosophy might be an interesting intellectual endeavor, but it has nothing useful to say to science. Although he doesn’t explicitly state it, he seems to be implying that philosophy is sort of like an intellectual game, which is fun to play for its own sake, but has no real-world application. Continue reading

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