2009 Fall Proseminar Student Statements
For our last class, I'd like to invite each of you to make put one or two ideas from the semester in front of the group for discussion. You can upload a paper that you like from this semester (or another) or you can respond in a screenfull or two of text to one of the following prompts:
1. Something new in philosophy that I found this semster and thought interesting (and why).
2. Something new about philosophy that I found this semster and thought interesting (and why).
3. A particular philosophical argument that you found especially good or bad or just challenging.
(You can suggest a prompt to add if you'd like. Also, feel free to use the email utility on the Course Website if you prefer not to post this to a web page.)
- 1 Shantrice Anderson
- 2 Joe Anderson
- 3 Militza Balcheva
- 4 Ashley Gales
- 5 Eric Hanson
- 6 Michael Kwasniewski
- 7 Michael McClain
- 8 Aileen Murphy
- 9 Colin Pickett
- 10 Kyle Ratuiste
- 11 Andrew Regalado
- 12 James Sydnor
- 13 Lissande Tokorcheck
- 14 Dale Tuckerman
- 15 Clinton White
- 16 Taylor Wilkinson
- 17 Sean Williams
Looking back at this semester, it is hard to pinpoint one single thing that I learned about philosophy. If anything, the one thing that I learned about philosophy is that I have a lot to learn about it.
The topics in this class were all new, challenging, and a bit daunting at first. To be honest, the concept of being in a class with other intelligent and opinionated philosophy majors learning about subjects I didn’t know existed seemed really frightening at first. The material was difficult, hard to follow, and sometimes too much of a stretch for me. It took me a while, but I realized that everyone was in the same boat as I was, the material was meant to be somewhat challenging, and that it’s okay to not agree with every essay presented to us. I realized that as a class we became really good at criticizing theories and examples of prominent philosophers, but tried a little harder to find the benefit of the doubt for some.
One of the most interesting things that we studied in this class that will definitely stick with me was the essay on abortion. To be more specific, the examples of a world-renowned violinist being hooked up to your kidneys without your consent, or people seeds growing in the carpet of your home after flying through the protective cover you put in your window. I understand the idea behind them, but I found them too crazy to take seriously. I know that I’ll never forget those examples and they’ll definitely be present whenever I talk about or are reminded of the pro-live versus pro-choice debate.
Overall, this class taught me that there’s so much to learn about philosophy. It made me realize how important it is to develop a philosophical voice, and to analyze my opinions on these issues. I know that it will take a long time until I have a decent grasp on the field of philosophy and all that encompasses it, but proseminar definitely provided a stepping stone to a gradual journey that I hope to continue beyond this class and beyond my studies at GU.
In the American Philosophy course we spent our time on the classical American Pragmatists: Peirce, James, Dewey. Though Josiah Royce doesn't fall into the trinity of classical american pragmatists, he is nevertheless, a seminal figure in our American tradition.. In this brief essay I discuss Royce's claim of a need for loyalty to loyalty:
Loyalty, Josiah Royce asserts in Loyalty to Loyalty, Truth, and Reality, encompasses the whole of morality. In order to understand and respond to the implications of this bold and one might say traditional claim, I will first define the term loyalty, explain the concept of loyalty to loyalty, and finally describe how the notion of loyalty may be able to offer a complete account of morality.
Royce begins his essay describing the benefits and consequences of what has been understood to be loyalty in the past. Before jumping into this discussion, he does not explicitly define loyalty, however it requires little work to see that Royce holds on to a traditional definition of loyalty: faithfulness to commitments or obligations Loyalty as being faithful to a cause is the definition Royce continues to develop and add his own unique perspective to throughout the essay.
If loyalty is one’s faithfulness to a cause, then how is one able to be able to be faithful to the cause of loyalty as Royce implies in this notion of loyalty to loyalty. Just as loyalty as faithfulness to one’s commitments can certainly be a “supreme good” in some instances, in other cases, “the mutually destructive conflict of loyalties is in general a supreme evil” (301). For example, if I were to be a loyal patriot of my own country and willing to take up arms to support our cause, I would at the same time be destroying the human lives of those who oppose my cause. Thus, while loyalty can have the potential to be a good, it is not an intrinsic good in and of itself when it has the possibility of inflicting harm on others. Royce then claims that an authentic loyalty, that is the faithfulness of a cause that binds me to unity, is only most right in so far as it is loyal to our fellow human’s loyalty: “loyalty to loyalty” (301). It is in furthering the loyalty of one’s fellow humans, which in turn creates a larger unity, that one can begin to understand and act in this new radical notion of loyalty.
Royce’s radical notion of loyalty then works to create a larger human unity accounts for the whole of morality. If we briefly turn to Royce’s ideas on justice and benevolence, we can see how this morality begins to play itself out. First, Royce defines justice as “fidelity to human ties in so far as they are ties. Justice concerns itself with…the mere forms in which loyalty expresses itself” (306). Whereas justice is an outward expression of loyalty, benevolence is concerned with a general disposition to do good (306). In this brief account of two traditional values, we begin to see how Royce uses this overriding theme of loyalty to account for a complete morality. These ideas of unity and justice which Royce so firmly stakes his beliefs are deeply rooted in his personal faith commitments. These faith commitments inform his working understanding of loyalty: “then indeed we can see how to work for the cause of the genuine kingdom of heaven” (302). Steeped in this religious understanding of reality, Royce lays forth a framework of loyalty to account for unity, justice, and love, which spells out a clear way of acting that can bring about the spiritual kingdom of God.
The implications of Royce’s notion of loyalty to loyalty are far reaching. One problem that arises immediately deals with opposing commitments to loyalty that are pitted against one another. If loyalty to loyalty only is to work only towards a greater unity, there seems to be an inherent conflict between two opposing ideas which both claim to not impede upon the loyalty of others and in turn create a real unity. It appears that this conflicting understanding of loyalty to loyalty arises from Royce’s strict definition of truth. Royce’s definition of truth, which from the outside seems derived from an orthodox religious orientation, leaves little room for a multiplicity of voices and opinions in regard to the make-up of real truth. Although one could certainly continue this line of critique, and rightly so I think, it is important to ask what Royce’s morality of loyalty to loyalty offers to a contemporary audience. The positive consequences which could result from an understanding of steeping one’s commitment in line with the greater commitment of the whole seem radically appealing to a current place and time seems all too often ruled by division. Royce’s new way of understanding loyalty as loyalty to loyalty, which seeks to create a common and realized unity, seems imperative for our contemporary reality.
This paper is still in the works, so it is still pretty rough. But I would appreciate any comments or suggestions you may have.
Enlightenment and Morality
Enlightenment and morality are so close at hand that one would seem to depend on the other. As it seems, morality, one would quickly assume, is all about what is “right” and what is “wrong”. Enlightenment, in that case, would be all about reaching a higher state of being. One can easily relate this to Buddhism and monks meditating for days on end somewhere in the mountains searching for “self”. But once one looks a little deeper into the meanings of morality and enlightenment, it becomes very clear how these two ends of philosophy can co-exist. There are many definitions of enlightenment. Most commonly enlightenment is defined as reaching a higher state of being. Buddhism explains that to give a definition of enlightenment is to reach that state. But for all practical purposes, it means being “awakened” or fully realizing the teachings of Buddha. For this essay though, I am going to use the definition provided by Immanuel Kant in his essay, What is Enlightenment? and show how morality depends on enlightenment.
Kant defines enlightenment as “man’s exist from his self-incurred minority. Minority is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another” (Kant, 135). In other words, the social individual has given up his power to think for himself, and would rather leave the job up to someone else. Kant explains that the self-imposed minority is not caused by a lack of intelligence, but rather by a lack of determination and courage to use one’s own intelligence without being guided by another. So in turn, people subject themselves to being looked after by their appointed guardians, and even when given the freedom to think for oneself, people opt for continuing to live in minority because they are driven by laziness and cowardice. Society as a whole cannot become enlightened quickly. People, as a group, do not take very well to new ideas, especially when these ideas are extremes of their norm. Therefore, those who become enlightened, soon become the guardians for the society, until perhaps, a time when society is ready to emerge from their self-imposed immaturity.
Kant’s version of enlightenment is quite different than that of the Buddhists. The way Kant sees it, it is a freedom from the self-imposed oppression and freedom to use one’s public opinion. Also the freedom to have the courage to think for oneself is as vital as well. There is also another type of enlightenment: that is individual enlightenment. The individual enlightenment is really not that different from the enlightenment described by Kant or the Buddhists. It is only a different path. People vary from each other greatly, thus their path of enlightenment will differ from person to person. This is how it should be. The important thing to remember is that the final destination is the same enlightenment.
This type of enlightenment allows people to make progress on their path through everyday experiences. This is how enlightenment can be reached. Merely going on about one’s day can slowly lead one on that right path. Conversations with friends, family, or daily drama are all factors which can contribute to that path. Life changing experiences are also contributors: loss of family, natural disasters, great memories, bad ones, each one of these experiences teach a lesson which, if we choose to understand, will take us one step further onto our path of enlightenment. When that point is reached the power and focus of the objective enlightenment will be understood. As the Buddhists explain enlightenment, it will be one under which all will share. It doesn’t matter the journey that a person takes, the ending result will be the same. As long as a person defies the guardians and takes the step to freedom of oppression, and he emerges from his self-imposed immaturity, enlightenment will be understood, and in turn, morality will be solved.
This ties into morality very smoothly. First, however, I will address what morality is. By having definitions of both, it is easier to understand how the two concepts connect. Moral evaluations and the reasons given for what is right and what is wrong vary from person to person. But as we have seen in society, the majority of the population would agree on several views about what a person can and cannot do. Therefore I will use the minimum conception of morality as explained by James and Stuart Rachels: “Morality is, at the very least, the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason – that is, to do what there are the best reasons for doing – while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual who will be affected by what one does” (14). Now that we have the basic definitions that we will refer back to in this essay, it is time to break down the connection between morality and enlightenment.
Because moral evaluations vary from person to person, as a whole, that is counting the entire world population, we cannot agree on what morality truly is. We may develop a “minimum conception”, but that is only a foundation, a basic building block, for a variety of philosophies and arguments. Overall, as a population of “free” thinking, intelligent beings, we cannot agree on a definition of morality. This is the key. Out of the massive number of people, there emerge those select few who have escaped from their self-incurred minority, and perhaps have realized what morality truly is. Those select few, become the “guardians” of the rest of society as Kant explains (138). These guardians, keep us in our immaturity by giving us the option of doing everything for us. “The guardians who have kindly undertaken the supervision will see to it that by far the largest part of mankind, including the entire ’fair sex,’ should consider the step into maturity, not only as difficult but as very dangerous” (Kant 135). These people understand that it is a great power that comes with attaining enlightenment, and will therefore do everything they can to ensure that it comes on naturally and slowly. Otherwise chaos among people would ensue. By keeping check on the rest of society, we don’t have to think for ourselves; which keeps people from becoming enlightened, and the guardians remain in power. These guardians can then “explain”, I’m using the word loosely, to us what morality is. Because we continue to live in our self-imposed immaturity, we don’t know any better, and differences in the definition of morality and what is right and wrong, emerge, leading to arguments among people. Because these select few have reached enlightenment, they can feed us different views and definitions of morality, and further arguments among people in society emerge. Therefore, we can never fully understand morality, until we ourselves have reached enlightenment.
Since these guardians can feed us any information they like, and society is living in a self-imposed immaturity and is too lazy to think for themselves, we constantly disagree on the definition of morality and we can never fully figure out morality, until we begin to think for ourselves, and have the courage to use our intelligence to pull ourselves out of that self-incurred minority.
However, we can anticipate some arguments against this line of reasoning. One argument that can be presented against this is, people are not controlled by guardians, but these guardians are the spokesperson for the society, which on its own, has figured out what morality is. This would seem like a good argument but it can be easily refuted. If it is true that people, on their own, figured out what morality is, then there would be a universal understanding and agreement on morality. If morality has been defined, and people have all reached enlightenment per say, there would be no disagreements on the definition of morality, and debates on controversial subjects about what is right and wrong, would not be an everyday occurrence in our lives. But as it can clearly be seen, people have their own opinions and they vary from person to person, and group to group, culture to culture. If, however, each individual has the courage to start thinking for himself, and each individual reaches enlightenment, we can obtain a universal definition of morality and all debates would cease, because we would know the true meaning of morality.
Under this, may rise the argument: Who is to say that your enlightenment will be the same as mine? At first glance this would seem a very good question. However, no matter which definition we use, the enlightenment will be the same. Enlightenment means that a person has a full understanding of everything. Enlightenment does not discriminate. Because it’s in a sense, a higher state of being, when reached by all, will the same for you as it is for me and anyone else to becomes enlightened. We can call it anything we like. So it doesn’t matter if it’s reaching awareness, fully understanding the teachings of Buddha, or emerging from our self-imposed immaturity. In the end, if we reach enlightenment, we will have a full understanding of everything, and most importantly, we would understand morality.
Another argument against this that may be presented is: Morality is based off of centuries of experiences that people have gone through. When adding centuries into the mix, and going back thousands of years, before the birth of Jesus, just about everything that can happen to a person would have happened. Here I am excluding nuclear wars and the like as we have not yet had a global war. Most of these experiences would have been recorded and referred back to in times of need. Therefore, society would have developed a sense of morality based on these past experiences. This can again be addressed by referring back to enlightenment. If society once again had figured out what morality is based on experiences, then we would see a universal agreement on what morality is. Once again, we find this to be quite the opposite. Therefore, the only way that we can define morality, and be in full accordance with each other, is by obtaining enlightenment. This cannot happen overnight or in several years or decades. For society as a whole, to reach enlightenment, will take time, as it is a slow process. Because at that point, people have to stand on their own two feet, and have the courage to question and disobey and to think.
Finally, when looking at this all together, we see that that only way true morality can be achieved, found, understood, practiced, etc., is by first obtaining enlightenment. We must first merge from out self-incurred minority and leap towards the uncertainty of life.
Kant, Immanuel. Basic Writings of Kant. ed. Allen Wood. New York: The Modern Library. 2001.
Rachels, James., and Stuart Rachels. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill Inc. 2007.
--Mbalcheva 06:01, 7 December 2009 (UTC)
Mostly this semester reinforced my thought that I’m nowhere near ready to settle down and commit to a branch of philosophy yet. This class has been wonderful as far as exposition to different philosophical subjects go and I really enjoyed the broad range of topics we were able to cover in such a short amount of time. Coming out of the class I definitely feel like I'm more well-versed in philosophical terminology and debate and better equipped to strike out into research on my own.
My favorite readings, by far, were those that incorporated some creative element and went beyond the dry explication of theory. I loved the Philosophy in Poetry, Fiction and Creative Non-fiction packet - especially Dennett’s mind-boggling 'Where Am I' and Orwell's 'Shooting an Elephant.' Although I'm not ready to commit to a single area of study yet, I'm sure whatever I end up doing in philosophy will definitely be connected to creative writing. I think I'd like to end up writing on a wide variety of subjects rather than sticking to one and I really appreciate that this class has helped me familiarize myself with so many.
The thought experiments presented for the abortion debate were also unique enough to make an impression - the dying violinist and pervasive pod people, while not perfectly allegorical, were a pretty brilliant new way to look at the problem of human 'right' to life. Along with the philosophical knowledge that will be useful to me personally, some of it a bit esoteric, it was cool to take away something like this, something highly contemporary that I can share and use in conversation. Dr. Bradley's lecture on phenomenology and Dr. Schmidt's on Game Theory were very engaging as well and are both areas I'd like to pursue in the future. I was also fascinated by the difference in philosophy between cultures, and our segment on that led me to elect to take 'Chinese Philosophy' next semester - something I definitely wouldn't have done without prior exposure, but am now very excited about :)
There have been a couple of things during my time as a philosophy major that I have really enjoyed. The history sequence, and faith and reason. The last meeting Dr. Bradley touched on the importance of the history sequence in the major and I think he was right on the money. If you jump into contemperary philosophy discussions without any knowledge of the vast tradition throughout the years, it's very likely your not going to adequatley understand the issue at hand or your argument might already have been shown to be inadequate. An example could be the postmodern critiuqe on the problem left by Kant: we can't know a thing in itself. If I would have heard of Kant saying that before taking any philosophy, I would have thought he was insane. While I agree with the postmodern critique and think that Kant is incorrect on the issue, I am coming from a position of understanding why he came to that conclusion and what problems he was attempting to solve. With that in mind, rather than unfairly, and unreflectivly writing him off as insane, I've come to see him as a brilliant philosopher who I disagree with. A lot of my criticims come from other philosophers from the history sequence (such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas)as well as others who I think are right to hold we can know a thing in itself.
I've found the history sequence to be very helpful in viewing the issue of faith and reason. I find a lot of contemperary problems dealing with faith and reason are very similar to problems encountered during the medieval times. A big one today has been trying to reconcile the evolutionary paradigm--in which modern biolgoy is commited--with Christianity. There is a position that holds what is going on today with evolution and Christianity is very similar to the medieval period where the works of Aristotle were translated into latin. The Greek science of the day held the maxim: "from nothing, nothing comes." This seemd to be in direct contradiction to the Church's doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Thomas Aquinas was able to synthesize these two views into an integrated whole that I think does justice to both faith and reason and can also be applied to the contemperary debates today.
The issue between faith and reason is a prevelent "hot-button" issue. There have been the debates about what should be taught in Science between "Darwinists" and Intelligent Designers." There was a "Nova" episode on PBS that covered the conflict in Dover Pennsylvania. There was a documentary about the topic called "Expelled" which covered the same conflict but made the issue more about academic freedom rather than one theory over the other. There is another documentary titled "Collision" where Christopher Hitchens (an avowed atheist) debates Doug Wilson (a pastor) about whether Christianity has been good for the world. The issue also came up during the last Presidential election in the "Saddleback Presidential Forum." The faith/reason topic is prevelant in our culture and I think both sides would be well served to know that this issue has historical significance and this significance is useful in clarifying the topic. I think jumping into the discussion without any kind of understanding of whats being discussed is much like me refering to Kant as being insane without knowing why he holds the views he does. I feel extremely blessed and fortunate that I have been able to be exposed to these philosophic aspects as a result of being a philosophy major at Gonzaga.
Something new about philosophy that I found this semster and thought interesting (and why).
The one realization among the many I have had this semester that has the potential to solve many of my philosophical inquires is the importance of having an extensive background in all the great philosophers who have come before me and the, generally, the absolute necessity of having a solid foundation in history. The format of the seminar was great but all it has done is introduce me to many more philosophical trailheads that I currently don’t have the time to venture down. So, essentially, it has made philosophy that much more of a daunting task. Viewing my philosophical future, I don’t know if I can ever confidently say I will be able to move myself out of the student of philosophy category to a true philosopher. The history is both fascinating and helpful in seeing the intellectual progression of different peoples. I have heard that the history of philosophy has many “infinite abysses” but that will not deter me to have as clear of an understanding as possible, although I’m sorry to say I don’t yet have this understanding, but its existence has made itself known to me and one day, I shall have it my possession. In my amateur state of education and reason, I don’t let this limit my mind’s ponderings in all the questions that I don’t have all the necessary information for. Partially because I need to contribute as a philosopher in my philosophy classes and partly because that’s what keeps me motivated in pursuing such a seemingly unattainable goal, right now I traverse the world of philosophy not unlike a linebacker would attempt ballet. I have come to the conclusion that to be a philosopher means that one must devote his life to one of reading books with only minimal time for reflection and even that usually doesn’t form itself into a legitimate philosophy.
Why in the world would someone continue to work towards such an abstract and uncertain goal as philosophy? What I realize now is that philosophy is first, Necessary and secondly, Fun. Our common study isn’t something of Aristophanes’ critique of Socrates being in the clouds, ours is rather something we must live with and within. No matter how much reading we have to do to call ourselves a philosopher, we can never philosophize anything new by only reading books. There are a finite number of comparisons to be made among established philosophers but an infinite number of thoughts and experiences on an individual level. It is this human abyss that we are called to dive into, and the deep end at that. And we have to live a life outside of a book cover to truly philosophize. What I have realized about philosophy is that it is first a search to find the balance between education and experience, or rather to do each in as much excess as possible, and secondly, to live one’s philosophy. As students of philosophy we have the advantage of tagging ourselves as a work in progress, giving ourselves a little room for gaps in our frameworks and time to establish our own views. I hope by overloading on the education part during these next few semesters, I can acquaint myself with the history and reading of philosophy and maybe one day, I’ll have most of the/my answers.
THe area of philosophy I most enjoyed this semester was when we discussed the more contemporary issues such as Genetic Engineering and Abortion. Here is a paper that i wrote on Thought experiments in which i used Thompsons article "A case for Abortion" as my main source.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says “thought experiments are devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things.” In recent years thought experiments have grown immensly in popularity and with this growth also came the growth of opinions about the usefuleness of thought experiments. Some of the most dominant opinions are that thought experiements are heuristic only, they are deductive arguments whose empirical premises are hidden, they use folk psychology and are conservative and finally that they work on our intuitions. My position on thought experiments is that they do work on our intuitions and while they may not be successful arguments in and of themselves, thought experiments make us question our positions on topics which is useful for introducing an opposing view. In her article A Defense of Abortion, Judith Jarvis Thompson uses a plethora of thought experiments to defend her position that abortion in certain circumstances is justified. For example, in one of her thought experiments she compares the right of a mother to choose if she wants an abortion after being raped to a person being kidnapped and having their kidneys connected to a world famous violinist. In using this thought experiment Thompson concludes that a mother should have the right to choose whether if she wants to have an abortion after being raped because she has the right to her body just like the person connected to the violinist should have the right to choose whether to disconect himself from the violinist. It is extremely easy to see that the the mother being raped has many differences from a person being kidnapped and connected to a violinist but at the same time Thompson does successfully make a logical connection between the two. For example, the person being connected to the violinst did not have a choice in the matter, but neither did the woman who was raped because the pregnancy was against her will. In addition, whether the violinist lived or died depended solely on whether the person he was connected to chose to stay connected, similarly the unborn baby’s life depended on whether the mother chose to have an abortion or not. Here, our intuitions tell us with little doubt that the person should be able to choose whether or not to disconnect himself from the violinist. Since there are logical connections with this case and abortion, the thought experiment is attempts to show us that the mother should also be able to have an abortion. Even if the though experiment does not completely shift our thinking it does successfully make us think hard about the issue at hand which makes it a successful exercise that would be useful in preceding an argument for the case of abortion. The thought experiment used by Thompson in A case for Abortion clearly works on our intuitions because the thought experiment uses an example that most people would agree with and compares it to a controversial issue. Most everyone would agree that if someone was kidnapped and connected to a violinist for nine months that the person should have the right to choose if he wanted to be disconnected even if it would result in the death of the violinist. In contrast, abortion is a notoriously controversial issue in which there are various differeing opinions. In using the kidnapped person connected to the violinist, Thompson is attempting to work on our intuiutions about the subject and connect these intuitions to abortion to attempt to show that abortion is justified. Thought experiments try to work on our intuitions because they attempt to compare one thing that is widely accepted to something else that is more controversial and give us reasons to believe that since we have a certain beliefs about the accepted case, we should have the same convictions about the controversial issue. While there are often many differences between the two cases in a thought experiment as shown in Thompson’s A Case for Abortion, the logical connections between the cases make though experiments a useful exercise preceding an argument. For example, proponents of pro-life may be completely turned off immediately by any arguments for abortion, but if the thought experiment in Thompson’s article was used before the argument it may get some proponents of pro-life to think about the opposing position. If these proponents were forced to think about the opposing viewpoint then it is possible that they would open their minds and listen to the arguments presented by the pro-choice view. This is one example that shows that thought experiments may not be successful arguments in themeselves but still may be extremely useful for the development of an argument.
In my opinion, the major strength of the philosophy proseminar has been its ability to give students a glimpse of the current state of academic philosophy, as well as the space and time to discuss with others the philosophical problems people are dealing with today. The undergraduate philosophy program at Gonzaga places great emphasis on the history of philosophy which is no doubt fundamental to a clear understanding of what philosophy is; however, as a result, the history courses do not allow time for studying the current philosophical problems that exist today. It has been interesting, enlightening, and at times disturbing to be able to read and discuss the philosophical topics that exist today.
The topic we discussed a few weeks ago which still intrigues me today is the idea of genetic engineering. It is both astonishing and disturbing to see that people genuinely find genetic engineering to be practical and valuable for society. In a country that places such emphasis on the positive effects of diversity, I find it appalling that people want to be able to control the characteristics that make our existence so endlessly fascinating. The mechanistic qualities our society is sadly embracing paints an ugly picture for the future of human beings. Perhaps it is a positive event that I have been able to ruminate about the problems that exist today in philosophy at such a young age, but it is also disheartening and discouraging to see a society developing that I so greatly disagree with in so many ways. My hope is that through the study of philosophy, I will be able to generate, at the very least, a greater self understanding. I may not be able to change the course of society, but I can control the path that I take as an individual.
I have to say that this semester was particularly eye/mind opening in terms of my faith thanks to Dr. Tkacz. I had read previously Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God, and various summations of essential points regarding Christian Metaphysics, but Dr. Tkacz really opened up a lot of ideas and presented them with incredible depth and clarity.
As a seminarian I am expected to develop the intellectual tools required to articulate and defend the points of faith that constantly come under attack from the secular world. I think that with the classes I have taken this semester, these skills are beginning to take definite shape. The cosmological argument for the existence of God has been especially intriguing, as well as John Paul II's Fides et Ratio, which provides a comprehensive look at the faith and reason issue in the modern world. I am finding that there are not only reasons for faith, but that faith itself is reasonable.
This semester in pro-sem has been eye-opening as well. While there were few things that genuinely piqued my personal interest, the whole experience has definitely helped to further establish my philosophical views. So far I find myself in the neo-Thomist camp with some curiosity towards phenomenology, with a continual interest in ethics. For me, there seems to be little need to go beyond Aristotle and Aquinas for leading a good life. Kant is intriguing to me and I have a clearer grasp on his phenomenology and aesthetics than the other phenomenologists we have read. The entire post-modern view, so far as what we have read in class, honestly disturbs me, and appears to represent a very unhealthy way of living and looking at life. Coming from a Christian background, the works of Foucault and Rorty are way off the target.
What this semester has done, also, is to increase my appreciation for philosophy in education. I wrote a brief opinion paper for pro-sem outlining my belief that the scholastic trivium ought to be reintroduced into basic education: As more children are able to attend K-12 public schools in the United States and in other developed countries, a greater need presents itself. This need is not necessarily more teachers, larger schools, or better computers. This need roots itself in the essential structure and final cause of public education. Without this need, I feel, education is, and will be, turned into the rote systematization and indoctrination of the skills of economically viable professions, instead of, to paraphrase Plato, a turning of oneself towards the good and truth. The great identity crises of young people, desperately searching for meaning through ridiculous and harmful means, the dissatisfaction with life and careers, and the general laxity towards moral issues in the modern world, I feel, stems from a general lack of proper education which naturally includes philosophy. My position is that philosophy is the essential need and oft-neglected foundation of a good education, and, therefore, it must be reintroduced as a basic component of every person’s education. I think that education should comprise the traditional trivium (logic, grammar, and rhetoric) as well as ethics and metaphysics, in correspondence with the sciences and humanities. What the Greeks, Romans, and Scholastics understood was that logic, grammar, and rhetoric are necessary to make an articulate and thoughtful person. Today, we understand that emotional appeal, Spell-Check, and PowerPoint are sufficient to make a person get by in life. I think that elementary through middle school should devote a great deal towards the trivium. Without logic, a person cannot adequately understand the sciences, mathematics, the difference between fallacies and solid arguments, and the power of the mental faculty itself. Without grammar, a person cannot adequately form coherent logical thoughts, see the importance and power of language, nor possess a self-awareness of one’s own dignity as a literate, rational being. Without rhetoric, a person cannot adequately present coherently formed logical thoughts in an articulate and well-designed manner. One can barely go for one minute in a modern social situation without hearing the word, “like” used as a conjunction, “uh”, or “you know?” To paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel, people are talking without saying anything. Once high school rolls around, an adolescent’s mind is formed well enough to begin ethical and metaphysical studies: the more abstract yet highly pertinent fields of philosophy. If a person has mastered the trivium, the next progression is to ask, “what should I therefore do?”, and, “how do I fit within the universe?” Notice that due to a lack of answers to these basic questions, teenagers turn to pre-marital sex, drugs, and socially self-destructive groups such as emos, punks, hippies, and jocks. Teenagers want, according to psychologists, self-understanding and meaning in their lives and relationships. Ethics provides a solid structure that governs one’s actions, and metaphysics provides the greater picture and meaning for existence. Public schools, fearing the undesirable result of offending minority groups and deviants, can easily present ethics and metaphysics in “neutral” ways so that no one comes away with hurt feelings. Teachers can present without bias various ethical systems such as utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics, leaving the logically minded youths to decide for themselves which method, if any, they prefer. Similarly with metaphysics, the larger pictures of the universe, whether theistic or a-theistic, can be presented for the adoption of the students. Today it seems that we have two conflicting opinions as to the goal of education; some say it is to prepare young Americans with the skills necessary to enter the competitive workforce, and others say that it is a turning towards the good and truth. I feel that by including the trivium along with ethics and metaphysics in K-12 public education, both goals can be harmoniously satisfied. Philosophy undoubtedly increases scientific and problem solving abilities in individuals. If, therefore, more people are trained in philosophy, they can increase productivity and competition in whatever field of work they choose to enter, thus improving the economy. If people are trained in philosophy, then they possess a greater understanding of life and the skills necessary to pursue truth and goodness, thus inclining people to live good lives. If we possess only one of these goals in education, then we are naturally bound for difficulty and unhappiness. On one hand, we may have people in the work force who are miserable because have no meaning in their lives, and on the other hand, we have very good people that suffer the consequences of having an incompetent economy. Philosophy in public education, I think, is a tool that guarantees better, happier, and more productive people. I think that it is atrocious how misdirected the youth of today are, because of the seductive power of marketing and advertisements. I think that it is extremely saddening to hear of young people turning towards drugs and promiscuous lifestyles that devalue their existence as moral, rational agents. I think that it is a stark sign of the times, that ethical and metaphysical ideas are kept out of the public forum and education, simply to satisfy the boisterous voices of select minorities. How we deal with education in the next generation indubitably will affect the direction and condition in which this nation will travel.
Before entering Bishop White Seminary and consequently being required to pursue a B.A. in philosophy at the end of last school year, half-way through my time at Gonzaga, I did not put very much stock in the study of philosophy. I was and still am working towards a B.S. in biochemistry, and before this semester the core philosophy classes represented nothing more than a welcome reprieve from “real” (e.g. scientific) work. I found the classes interesting to some extent, especially ethics, but I did not find much value in them for my long term scientific education.
After this semester in the Pro-seminar and Ancient Philosophy classes, I find within myself an unexpected appreciation of the seemingly impractical subject matter that I have been required to study further by joining the seminary. In Ancients, I was intrigued by the seminal moments of rational, natural inquiry by humans of the world around them as captured in the writings of those ancient Greek philosophers, such as the Atomists (very fascinating to me as a chemist) and Aristotle. Until hearing Dr. McClelland’s explanations during lecture, I did not fully grasp or rather appreciate the close relationship between philosophy and science, though the such a distinction may not be so clear to apply to the thought of the ancient philosophers. A main theme that I derived from that class was how lack of scientific knowledge, such as an adequate theory of matter, infinitesimal calculus, and understanding of the microscopic level, created a limit to the insight to be found by the Greek thinkers. At the beginning of pro-sem, our reading of Dennett appeared to promote an interpretation of the so-called Darwinian Revolution as a reversal of this ancient situation, namely that the underlying philosophical paradigm (i.e. primacy of the mind) constrained scientific advancement. Here, in the relatively topical area of the science-philosophy relationship, at least within the tradition of Western thought, I found something within the study of philosophy to latch on to at least initially.
In light of this, I found it rather fortunate that the semester in pro-sem did start with reading some works from Dennett, because if there was one thing I knew that I could understand, it was evolution and natural selection; additionally, an examination of the philosophical implications of the currently defining paradigm of biology was a novel and interesting exercise for me. Still, after a few weeks of Dennett, despite my initial excitement, the novelty began to wear off. Granted, as a biochemist in contrast to a biologist I am partial to reductive analysis; I like to see how things work or operate on the most fundamental of levels. However, as a person of religious faith there was clearly tension in how to reconcile the desire to tear everything down into its constituent parts and the need to maintain the God-given dignity of the human being.
I do not think that I am in a position to claim that I have found “my people” in philosophy; in fact, I find myself to a neophyte having recently embraced the subject over the course of the semester (I have found ancients and pro-sem to be just as engaging as physics and biochemistry). Nevertheless, it seems, at least for now, that the tradition of phenomenology and the grafting of hermeneutics onto this tradition may hold a good deal of potential to assist me in assessing this reduction-irreducibility problem. The notion of appreciating a dual nature of interpretation, suspicious and recuperative, is attractive in that it allows for reduction and construction to work cooperatively. At least from my understanding of the description provided by Dr. Bradley, the goal is construction while reduction serves as a check to ensure the purity and truthfulness of the construction. Furthermore, I have discovered that I am partial to a realist world view; this is especially evidenced in my instinctive inclination to see the “truths” attained by natural scientific inquiry and the “truths” revealed by faith are indicative of the same Truth. In a general sense, this tension that has elicited indications of my interest in phenomenology and realism may be a question of epistemology, so I look forward to the insights I may gain from taking that course.
Even thought I have had three semesters of philosophy during my first two years at Gonzaga, I believe that this semester has been my inauguration of sorts into the study of philosophy. Philosophy has made itself relevant to me by introducing crucial questions of truth and value that I did not consider before. In addition to this appreciation of the study, some potential leads for further inquiry have presented themselves, namely the science-philosophy inter-relationship, the tradition of phenomenology, and epistemology.
Some of the material we covered in the faith and reason class peaked my interest. Particularly the idea that faith is a "non-overlapping magisterium" to reason. I think that the Cosmological Argument is a great example of the way that they are shown to be overlapping and harmonious, so I wrote an essay (for another class) on how compelling the argument is:
History seems to show no favorites as to what religious traditions great thinkers started from. Ancient philosophers for the most part started from a polytheistic view of the world, with some exceptions. Medieval Philosophers in the western tradition by and large began from a theistic point of view (mainly Islam, Christianity, and Judaism). At the beginning of modern period of philosophy, philosophers started from a theistic model, but as time went on, they migrated more and more into a mixed group of pantheists, theists, atheists, and agnostics. Emphasis on the atheistic viewpoint seemed to gain strength as the philosophical landscape continued to change into that of our contemporary time.
However, despite this strong history of varied religious backgrounds of great philosophers, if one is inclined to see progress towards better thinking through time, then it may seem that the atheism and agnosticism that has become so prevalent of late is part of a trend that is leading us towards better reasoning. What, then, is the reasoning behind the still strong theistic tradition in philosophy and science? Brian Leftow writes that more than half of American scientists consider themselves theists, and hundreds of theists he himself has met are among the intellectual elite of the world (194 Leftow). Are these educated people standing in the way of progress of reason towards truth?
No, these theists are not standing in the way of reason, but rather standing firm in reason's own solid tradition. One of the reasons that theism is not only a viable philosophy, but that it is in fact a solid foundation upon which philosophy should start from is the Cosmological Argument for God's existence. Examination of this theistic reasoning for God's existence and existence itself will make it apparent that it is not only a reasonable explanation, but a convincing and unshakable one. Counter arguments to this position will then be considered and responded to, followed by a brief analysis of where all of these arguments, taken together, leave us.
The theistic tradition of philosophy grounded in the Cosmological argument for God's existence (a philosophical tradition traceable all the way back to Aristotle) rests on the observation that we live in a world of conditioned realities. Conditioned reality is anything that which is dependent upon something else (a condition) for its existence. If we take for example, as Robert Spitzer does in his book New Proofs for the Existence of God, something as common as a cat, we can see that that cat is dependent upon the cells that make it up. These cells are in turn dependent upon their molecular structure, which are dependent upon atoms, which are dependent upon sub-atomic particles, and so on (Spitzer 85). These conditioned realities require an unconditioned conditioner for them to exist, that unconditioned conditioner, as Thomas Aquinas points out is a reality “that everyone calls 'God'” (Summa Theologica 1.2.3).
All conditioned realities must be ultimately conditioned by and unconditioned conditioner because they cannot be argued to be conditioned by an infinite series of conditioned conditioners nor by a finite series of only conditioned conditioners. If conditioned realities are said to be conditioned by an infinite series of conditioned conditions, then nothing conditional can exist. An infinite series is by definition incomplete (unless you consider a complete infinity, which has a host of problems with contradiction in our universe – see Spitzer 5.IIIB), and since each conditioned reality requires that its condition be fulfilled for it to exist, and therefore its condition's condition to be fulfilled, and so on, then no condition's condition is fulfilled – meaning no conditional reality can exist!
Similarly, if there is a finite number series of conditioned conditions with no unconditioned reality conditioning them, then they cannot exist. Obviously, if there is a linear relationship between the series on conditioned realities in question, then the first reality cannot exist since it's conditions are not fulfilled, thus collapsing the whole chain into nothingness. Likewise, if the series is made to be circular, none of them can come into existence, since for a conditional reality to exist, it must have a preexisting condition, then a circular series would require that that conditional reality preexist itself (since it would be in the chain of conditions required for its own existence), which is of course absurd.
Are we left then with a necessary unconditioned conditioner to explain the existence of anything? Not according to Bertrand Russell, who claims that we cannot ask such a question about something that we cannot experience like the universe (Reichenbach 3.2). For Russell, it is over extending ourselves to claim that we can apply the idea of contingency to the whole of existence, for him the universe is “just there, and that's all” (qtd. in Reichenbach 3.2). Also, Hume's observation that our idea of cause and effect (and so contingency) seem to be merely a habit that we have, certainly not an a priori idea with necessity, would undermine the first premise of the argument if it is to claim a priori status. At the very least, Hume's observation strengthens Russell's assertion that we cannot apply contingency to something we have not (possibly cannot) experience, since the argument for contingency would have to be inductive.
These arguments against the Cosmological Argument seem to be far from fatal. The adoption of Hume's rejection of causal necessity would make the universe unintelligible, which is arguably absurd - against everything we experience. If cause and effect are not necessary, then it would be likely for us to experience effects happening without cause. If we found it likely that effects would happen from no cause, then we would not trust science, or at the least we would not consider it to be as solid as we do. But, as shown by our trust in and progress in science, we do not find it likely that effects come about without causes. This being the case, it does not seem so unreasonable (though perhaps it should be done with due consideration of its possible non-necessity) to apply the idea of contingency on even those things that we cannot experience.
The Cosmological Argument is a sound start for philosophy in that it is a firm argument for why anything exists. It is a long-standing argument with much force behind it. Ultimately, however, it does stand on a principle that is susceptible to Humian skepticism – but it should be noted that most of our physical science which we put so much trust in relies upon this same critique. This being the case, the seeming trend of degrading theistic philosophy seems to be less of an implicit call for theists to get out of the way of reason, as philosophy moving away from the sure path of reason it claims to follow.
Certainly there are other philosophical objections to theism - it is the same with every philosophical ideal that exists. However, as Brian Leftow argues, this by no means requires that theism should be rejected (Leftow 197). In fact, as has been shown, the Cosmological Argument serves to make theism a solid starting point for philosophy to begin at (a coherent explanation of existence). I would even argue that this foundation for existence is so compelling and without equal that it serves as a challenge to philosophies that oppose theism. These philosophies opposing theism sometimes claim to have 'progressed' in their thinking past theism – progressed on a basis as reasonable as that shown theism has? I have yet to see such a foundation. However, even if such a foundation was to be put forth, it would find itself against more than just the arguments found here, for, as Spitzer points out, the contemporary progress of physics only seems to be giving more and more credence to this long-standing philosophical foundation of theism (Spitzer 2).
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica.
Leftow, Brian. “From Jerusalem to Athens.” God and the Philosophers: The Reconcilliation of Faith and Reason. Ed. Thomas V. Morris. New York: Oxford University Press. 1994. 189-207
Reichenbach, Bruce. “Cosmological Argument.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Sept. 2008. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/> 19 Nov.2009.
Spitzer, Robert J., S.J., Ph.D. New Proofs for the existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. (Awaiting Publication in April 2010)
--DTuckerman 04:55, 7 December 2009 (UTC)
Part of the main issue that I had to personally wrestle with concerning philosophy was to link my education at Gonzaga, my education in photography, and my intention to study photography theory in a post-graduate setting in less than a year. Thankfully, between my Philosophy of the Visual Arts class with Dr. Schmidt and Proseminar, I have gotten some freedom to explore this connection between photography and Philosophical argument.
This essay concerns using philosophical and photographic techniques to map out the subjectivity of an image. I am interested to hear critiques and/or comments. It is different than we have discussed in the rest of our classes... but either way, I would like to know what you think
As the digital age unfolds in front of our eyes, it is being said that image manipulation programs such as Photoshop will forever change the credibility of photography. And though it is a wise thing to recognize the inherent risks of perceiving digitally manipulated imagery as fact, this is by no means a uniquely new challenge that we face as perceptive viewers of still imagery. In our day-to-day lives, we are bombarded with thousands of images, nearly none if any of which could be considered intentionally objective; that is, being made in a way that does not intentionally attach subjectivity to a photograph. Photography as a means of communication is deeply rooted in trying to portray subjective perceptions as objective truth. As we navigate our way through these images every day, it is important to recognize that our job as responsible perceptive viewers of these still images is not to either believe everything blindly nor become a complete skeptics of the still photograph, but rather, to engage in an active, perceptive dualism in order to separate the objective facts from what the image producer is attempting to convince us of.
In an attempt to dissect this idea of engaging in perceptive dualism, it may be best to follow the process from start to finish. That is, to start by breaking the process into the photographer, the decisions that the photographer makes when photographing and selecting photographs for the viewer, and interpretation of the photograph by the viewer.
By understanding this process, we can then apply this perspective dualism to the photographs that we are bombarded with on an everyday basis to better separate objectivity and subjectivity of the image, and thus, make better decisions concerning what we take away from the image.
Photographer James Nachtwey has covered most of the world’s most devastating social atrocities over the last 20 years. Though he used to call himself a war photographer, “now he is an anti-war photographer” (Nachtwey, 9). Nachtwey claims that there are two kinds of ways that war photographers operate: those that attempt to make a neutral recording of the situation and those that are partisan chroniclers. Anti-war photographers, on the other hand, are “first of all a witness, neutrality and partisanship are equally beside the point.” This point that Nachtwey refers to in the previous passage is that of victims, the main focus of his work. As an anti-war photographer, Nachtwey sees his job as “to see on the behalf of the rest of the world; to substitute individual cases for statistics and to counter ideological justifications with individual costs… to appeal, to alert, to upset, to cry out” (Nachtwey, 9). In this sense, Nachtwey admits an intended separation between his work and the intentional objectivity that other photographers attempt in some forms of war photography.
When observing Nachtwey’s photographs, several observations can be made in the decisions he makes and the tools he uses before, during and after the event that can shed light on his intentions. In his book, Inferno, which covers Nine major atrocities between 1990 and 1999, not a single image that he published was in color. All were high-contrast black-and-white. Of those, most were shot with a lens representative of normal human vision, but with a depth-of-field much more shallow than normal human vision. Compositionally, he uses a strong sense of framing and visual flow, often leading the viewer towards a symbolic message while keeping the viewers eye from exiting the image. Perspectives of the images vary from normal eye-level to extremely high, low or ground level angles. The book itself is a whopping 10 pounds with some images that span over 22 inches. Though these decisions can seem arbitrary and innocent, deeper investigation yields intentions to produce subjective imagery that appears objective truth. By choosing black and white, Nachtwey is doing two things: On the one hand, Black and White imagery has an implicit connection with traditional newspaper photography, adding implicit credibility. On the other hand, Black and White in high contrast allows the viewer’s brain to be drawn to compositional design and tonal details rather than color distraction. This has been done intentionally to draw out emotion as well as to control eye’s flow through the photograph.
By shooting at a lens consistent with normal human vision, but with intentionally selected depth of field, Nachtwey is functioning, “as a kind of translator: this is what you would see if you were here, his pictures say, and this also approximates what the people in the pictures might be seeing.” (Nachtwey, 10) So with this shooting selection, Nachtwey chooses with focus, leading lines and other compositional features what the viewer should see, and by selection, in what order it should be seen, all the while keeping an objective appearance by keeping a natural field of view and (for the most part) natural perspective. In choosing such a massive book, there is suddenly an elephant in the room. The images are so large in comparison to other books, that sheer magnitude can on the one hand allow the viewer to experience the image in a way that is more real than a small image. On the other hand these huge images show the viewer a subject matter not only is gruesome beyond what is normal subject matter, but do so in a size that is inescapable. The book literally takes effort to close, both physically and emotionally to the viewer due to its size and subject matter. To elaborate on the subjective and objective nature of his image, I have selected two images out of his book Inferno to analyze their compositional characteristics. The first can be viewed in detail on pages 420 and 421. The image is of a boy in Chechnya.
The image was taken with a lens representational of human vision to depict reality, but the depth-of-field is much more shallow than typical human vision in order to select what the viewer is focusing on. The subject of the image, which is the boy’s head, only shows from the eyes and above, which draws the viewer to try to relate with the subject matter to understand the situation. The viewer addresses the eyes at a downward angle suggesting innocence and the eyes are looking away suggesting some sort of disconnect. This suggests shock, horror, or being lost within those thoughts. The background of the image, because of its shallow focus, is ambiguous, but suggests the starkness of evacuation and destruction of urban environment. The Second image can be viewed in full on page 69. The image tells a story about the situation in Somalia in 1991.
In this image, there are three subjects that Nachtwey uses to tell the story of Somalia. The viewer’s eye is first drawn to the Child who is crouched over in pain. There is no face to relate to here. This forces the viewer to search elsewhere for meaning. Immediately this meaning is found in the visible bones and skinny legs. Combining the sickly look and the crouched position, the viewer interprets horrible pain from starvation. The child is separated by several feet from the second subject, which appears to be a woman; possibly a caregiver. The lack of intimacy between the two symbolizes a lack of comfort in the situation; a separation that depicts a sort of inability or unwillingness to help. Separated by a line in the road, the third subject that the eye meets is a man walking past wearing street clothes and carrying an automatic rifle. The separation between the first two subjects and the third suggests a second side to the story; the reason that the child is starving and the caregiver can’t help. The third subject does not actively interact with the other two, but the fact that the starving child, the distant woman and the passing guerilla are all in the same image strongly suggests their causal connection. There is no doubt that this image, although depicting a situation seemingly objectively, tells a three-step narrative about the situation in Somalia.
Though these are compositional tricks used by Nachtwey in order to convince the viewer that these images are credible, he makes this no highly guarded secret. “The images that I create are a confluence of what is in front of me and what is inside me. They are objective and subjective at the same time, and they must be seen that way by the viewer in order to be convincing” (Nachtwey, 469). His goal is simply this; that in order to produce an effective image in the world, it needs to be considered objective and subjective. As viewers, it is simply the next step to infer that even though not every photographer has the honesty to say that they are trying to trick the viewer as Nachtwey does, this tactic is one that extends to nearly all facets of visual imagery. Just as an effective photographer hides subjectivity in objectivity, effective viewers of that imagery try to separate the subjective from the objective. How, then, and to what extent can we separate an image’s objectivity from its subjectivity? As viewers, we only have the image to go with. To understand a situation more fully, we would have to have been there at that time and that place, which simply cannot happen. This means, of course that we will never be able to get complete objective truth from any photograph. For every photograph we see, there are infinitely others that he or she decided not to take. Consider, perhaps, when we recall the child in Somalia, that there could have been a field behind the photographer full of healthy children playing soccer. This is unlikely, but we will never know with complete certainty what the photographer chose not to include when selecting the correct photograph.
So can we know the complete objective truth from a given photograph? No, but when analyzing the given photograph, we can at least separate what is being said from how it is being said. To return to the Nachtwey photographs previously analyzed, we can use the tricks that the photographer used to create meaning in reverse in order to draw out their argument. Considering the boy in Chechnya, we can construct his argument that this boy is small and innocent, he seems tormented or bothered in some way, and the world around him is destroyed by war. We are meant to feel sorry for him and to want to help him. Once the argument is out of the image, we can then re-analyze the image to ask ourselves how likely the argument that the photographer is telling about the subject matter is true. There is a high probability that the child is in a bombed out city, but the child’s innocence that the viewer is asked to believe is less probable. In fact, on page 418 and 419, another image of the same boy tells an entirely different story. He and a friend are actually playing in bombed out army tanks and does not seem entirely distraught.
To return to the image in Somalia, we can, upon analyzing Nachtwey’s argument, say that he is drawing a strong causal connection between the boy starving, the lady being distant and the guerilla walking by with the assault rifle. Possibly, Nachtwey is asking us to believe that guerilla warfare is keeping children from receiving the proper care that they need. Like the former photograph, we, as responsible viewers, can ask ourselves how strong the photographer’s argument actually is. There is a high likelihood that the child is severely malnourished, but we may not know why. The person in the background is likely a guerilla warrior, but we cannot be certain.
We can see that taking a dualist perspective may not allow for a completely objective understanding of a situation, but in analyzing a photograph in its implied argument, based on compositional tricks, it is evident that we can tease out the photographer’s argument. Once we can separate the argument from the image, we can analyze the strength of each premise, and thus make a more responsible decision on the strength of the image’s inductive argument.
What has gripped me throughout all of our many topics and widespread discussions is not necessarily the content itself (although the content has been stimulating and indeed extremely useful in broadening my philosophical horizons) but more important is the significance of philosophy itself—as a practice—as way of living life. Many hold that philosophy is useless—saturated with obscure academic blathering and squabbling with questions like “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” as the poor scholastic philosophers have endured as a (tongue-in-cheek) criticism. In one sense, stepping just a little bit out of my “philosophy student” shoes I can see how somebody outside our circle could see our practices as “out there” and impractical.
Many times I have come out of philosophy classes bewildered after trying to work through philosophical claims only to end up shrugging my shoulders and leaving it for a mess of cluttered extraterrestrial thoughts. But more often than not, I have come out of class with a philosophical high as if I have had my eyes opened and truth has revealed itself. These are the moments I live for as a philosophy major, this is why I endure the sometimes out-of-this-world claims and dense rationales by men (and women) exponentially more brilliant than I could ever hope to be. Of course the philosophical high only lasts a week or two and at very most a month, as all good things must come to an end.
I started my studies as a Platonist, then an Aristotelian, then a Thomist, a Humean, a Kantian, so on and so on. It seems that every new philosopher we cover in the history series I subscribe to their school of thought (there are a great many exceptions of course, like Berkeley, I’m not a fan of him, or rather his philosophy). I am sad to say that I have not yet found “my people” in philosophy with any great solidity. I of course realize that I am somewhat of an infant (albeit an increasingly informed one) in my philosophical pursuit. I stand in the “blooming, buzzing confusion”, as William James famously stated (this is taken out of its context, but it’s catchy and works for my emphasis). But given my philosophical homelessness do I give up my pursuit? No way. I in fact embrace it. I do try to find the solid ground on which I can stand through the hurricane of the oft-overwhelming and vast landscape of literature that we delve in to.
I am very (and quite uncomfortably) close to the end of my structured studies here, and I plan on continuing this pursuit without the helping hand of the professors at Gonzaga University. My quest, however, will not be a shallow hobby since I do in fact believe that “the love of wisdom” has important—if not outright practical use that is invaluable to the development of my character. After all, “the life unquestioned is not worth living” so says our father Socrates. He was, and is, dead right. Humans are philosophical animals, and not pursuing some sort of philosophy is like leaving your legs to atrophy while playing the soccer game of life (stupid analogy, but you get the point). I cannot imagine life without all the big questions, and the brave quest that we take on to find the answers; as sappy as it is, perhaps it’s more about the journey than the destination, and the journey only ends via the great equalizer of our mortality.
Indeed, philosophy is “practicing for death"—the preparation and beautification of the soul before it departs the confusion of the world. So in our preparation we must adhere to the Socratic method of “following the evidence wherever it leads”. This is a lifelong maxim to stand by, and most definitely a worthwhile one. Antony Flew, known as one of the most prolific and steadfast atheists of our time has followed the Socratic principle his entire life; and at the ripe old age of 81 he “converted” to deism. This is illustrative of the fact that Philosophy (like any academic endeavor) is certainly a lifelong pursuit that can change one’s worldview in dramatic and important ways.
So what really have I learned from this pro-seminar, and by extension my philosophical studies during my time here? I have learned the methods, the logic, and the critical rigor required of one to flesh out the rationales of the great authors of philosophy as well as the great authors to be. These tools are necessary for understanding content—the real meat of philosophy—so that I may follow the argument wherever it leads all by myself, just like the big boys. A benefit (beyond the ones mentioned) is also an awareness of my philosophical maturation, as well as my weaknesses. I have not yet found “my people” but I am confident that I will find somebody to adopt me, being the orphan that I am in the world of Philosophy. And to those lingering critics of philosophy—my great practical answer to them is stolen from Socrates: I am preparing myself for death, duh! --Twilkinson 09:24, 2 December 2009 (UTC)
Philosophy wears many hats. When asked to describe a single thing in or about philosophy that I have learned or found interesting this semester, I was struck by the diversity of material and myriad of arguments, positions and methods that we have covered over the semester. The overwhelming diversity of topics and arguments I have discovered this semester has fundamentally changed my notions of philosophy and my own positions within these issues.
To be entirely honest, these topics sent me to a dictionary nearly every week. Before this semester, I had little to no knowledge of phenomenology, ontology, phenomenology, fideism, thought experiments, physicalism etc. My philosophical ignorance of the many dimensions of philosophy prior to this semester was pretty extensive.
This is also one of my favorite parts of my philosophical education. The larger variety of things I learn; I realize that I know even less. I love seeing new ways to look at things and learning about someone’s interpretation of some aspect of our lives. When I am exposed to a new idea, I feel like my eyes are being opened wider to the world around me and I feel like I am working towards leading a more fulfilling life.
Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by a certain philosophical argument but after I mull it over I find that I am pretty much always happy to have learned about it, whether I sympathize with it or not. An example of this was Sartre’s suggestion that the fundamental question of philosophy is whether or not to kill oneself. Before I really analyzed his position, I found this argument both compelling and depressing. By being exposed to such a variety of arguments, I think it has helped me to entertain an idea without agreeing to it.
I now find the diverse material that we have covered spilling over into my everyday life. I am reminded of different philosophical arguments and ideas when I watch a movie or even in my own daily actions. For example, I am often reminded of game theory because all of my roommates have space heaters in their bedrooms. We have agreed not to leave them on all the time, but one of my roommates always “defects.”
Overall, I would say that the most interesting thing I have taken away from pro-seminar is a better grasp of philosophy as a whole. Philosophy reaches a multitude of topics and sometimes the boundaries between philosophy and other fields, such as psychology and economics can be a gray one. SWilliams2 05:44, 7 December 2009 (UTC)