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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The is / Ought Problem

A quick overview of Hume’s articulation of the is / ought problem.

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Computers in the Classroom

A Socratic Dialogue
By BRENT SILBY

(It can be a challenge to read long articles online. Here is a link to the PDF version, which is in a page-by-page format)


Background

Socrates is visiting Western Heights School with a view to setting up a philosophy club. Western Heights School incorporates intermediate and secondary level students. Students are aged 11 to 18 years. The school’s Principal, Allison Fells, is open to the idea of a philosophy club and is meeting with Socrates to discuss his proposal.

The school’s receptionist has delivered Socrates to the Principal’s office.
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The Atheist and the Agnostic

A Socratic Dialogue
By BRENT SILBY

Background
Walking through a small green space near the center of Western Heights town, Socrates comes across Paul, who is taking his lunch break in the sun, reading an article by the atheist writer Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens strongly argues that religion is the root cause of many of the world’s problems. In his writings and live debates, Hitchens argues that belief in God is irrational. Paul agrees with Hitchens and tries to convince Socrates that because God doesn’t exist, believing in him is crazy. Through the following dialogue, Paul finds that agnosticism is a more rational position than hard atheism.
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What’s Philosophy For?

People new to philosophy often ask: what’s the point of doing philosophy? This short video is a good reply to that question.

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Opinion or Truth

A Socratic Dialogue
By BRENT SILBY

Background
Through this dialogue we see the problem that arises when we take a relativist stance to truth. Many people have taken a liking to relativism; perhaps because it seems so wonderfully democratic. However, the further one goes down the relativist road, the more difficult it becomes to answer fairly straightforward questions. It is almost as if the relativist tries to use logic to argue that logic doesn’t work.
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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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