Moral Relativism

A Socratic Dialogue

By BRENT SILBY

Background

As he walks through the theater district in Western Heights town, Socrates comes across John leaving a movie theater. Through a series of questions, Socrates reveals the problem with moral relativism. This dialogue serves as an introduction to moral relativism.

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Sugar and Hyperactivity in Children

A Modern Socratic Dialogue
By BRENT SILBY
2014

Background
In this hypothetical dialogue, Socrates has targeted a parent’s belief that sugar makes children hyperactive. Through the discussion, the parent comes to understand that correlation does not entail causation.

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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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Astrology: Does it work?

(an introduction to skepticism)

By BRENT SILBY

We’ve all done it. It usually happens in a moment of weakness. You see the newspaper sitting on the table, inviting you to take a little peak into your future. Quickly you turn to the horoscope section and browse down the list until you find your star sign. With baited breathe, you read through the short paragraph to find out what events are in store for you over the next few days. Often the predictions seem vague, almost like they aren’t yours. But occasionally something fits and you find yourself exclaiming, in a moment of clarity, “ah, yes, of course…I understand”. Continue reading

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Hackschooling?

BY BRENT SILBY

The TEDx talk below by 13 year old Logan LaPlant is spreading around various sites dedicated to “unschooling”. It is being promoted as an argument for alternative approaches to education. I am impressed with the articulation and confidence this young person demonstrates. But does he make a rationally convincing argument?

When talking about writing, LaPlant claims that he was turned off because “my teachers used to make me write about butterflies and rainbows, but I wanted to write about skiing”. I wonder if he’s being entirely honest here. Every teacher I know encourages students to write about what they know. He might be referring to that imaginary classroom that often comes up in these sorts of presentations. This imaginary classroom constitutes part of an often used strawman argument that characterizes schools as authoritarian institutions in which children are strapped into their seats with teachers shoehorning information into their heads.
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Is Problem-Based Learning Superior to Direct Instruction?

BY BRENT SILBY

Alfie Kohn (2008) argues that techniques found in Progressive Education, such as problem-based learning, are superior to direct instruction. His argument is based upon research carried out primarily with children ranging from preschool to year 3 of primary (elementary) schooling.
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Rethinking Education – A Response to Sugata Mitra

BY BRENT SILBY

In his recent article “Advent of Google means we must rethink our approach to education”, Sugata Mitra argues that our education system needs to change. He suggests that the existence of modern technologies such as Google make the skills of the past obsolete. For Mitra, the only reason we continue to teach skills such as longhand multiplication is because we have some sort of romantic attachment to the past.

I worry that Mitra is downplaying the importance of the skills we teach in school. I’m also concerned that his views devalue knowledge. Mitra claims that:

“It took nature 100 million years to make the ape stand up and become Homo sapiens. It took us only 10,000 to make knowing obsolete” (Mitra 2013a)

In this series of posts I will break Mitra’s Guardian article down and offer a critical response to each of his points. Continue reading

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The Ghostly Illusion of Freewill

(A brief introduction to the problem of freewill for Cafe Philosophy magazine)

By BRENT SILBY

During my childhood I was fascinated by videogames. One game that stands out in my memory is Pacman. It wasn’t the gameplay that interested me so much as the behavior of the ghosts. As you watch them roam around the maze, you get the feeling that they are intelligent. They seem to be making decisions about how best to catch Pacman. But how free are their decisions? One of the interesting things I noticed was that I could play exactly the same game over and over if I moved Pacman in precisely the same way each time. The ghosts always followed the same behavioral pattern and didn’t deviate from that pattern until I changed my pattern. Experimenting with Pacman in this way revealed to me something about the ghosts’ behavior. True, they make decisions, but their decisions are firmly and predictably determined by the way I move around the maze. Continue reading

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