Saturday, 10 February 2018

Beyond the Boundaries: An Essay in Philosophical Transgressions

Before non-Euclidean geometry, even the greatest of mathematicians and philosophers thought that a circle is a circle and a line is a line, nothing more to it than that. But then some bright spark came along and broke the boundaries of the parallel postulate. And this was no mere exercise in difference for difference sake - this geometry has come to be used every time you open your phone. This is the most powerful testament I know to the power of going beyond what the thought was truth. It may be a cliche, but a cliche is a cliche for a reason. (That's a cliche! Self-reference is one of those things in philosophy that once you have done a couple of courses, you can't help but noticing! I'll try not to point it out every time though.)

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Another example of transgression giving birth to new "truth" is that of utilitarianism. Deonotogists have set, fixed rules regarding moral oughts. The consequentialists came along and said: well, what if we did otherwise? The old, hoary brown deontologists like Kant would say 'No! This isn't permissible!' But the English empiricists just went ahead and thought about it any way, bringing us Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Some of these ideas have even fed into economics, so we break those rules every time we open our purses. Are you going to pay for that crossiant? Well, we'll have to see - it all depends on a cost benefit analysis, and if we decide to break the rules, then so be it.
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                                                                                 We will not listen to this man.

This kind of boldness scares some people who have not done philosophy for many years. Even cost benefit analysis can be questioned, for example. But how to decide? We can't use cost benefit analysis because that is the very thing in question! But without begging the question, we can take an unknown dive into the dark, and maybe we'll come out the other end with some new philosophical wisdom!

So this is an exciting way of thinking about thinking (which is arguably a good definition of philosophy itself) - and here I have just begun scratching at the "surface layer". What rules will you break today?

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'Stop right there.' he says. Well, no! We will not stop right there!

Please leave your comments in the comments but do not make any false or misleading statements. Many of you have tried to pull the wool over my eyes in some of these comments, but I always pull my way out from under it, at which point you begin to look less astute.

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Monday, 15 January 2018

Introduction to Philosophy Using My Dog Jocone

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Philosophy is boring

I recently decided/realised that philosophy is boring. At least I now think it's boring. Long dead old men talking about one and the many, body and the mind, appearance and reality. It's just one long old dream, and now I've made a whole lifestyle out of it and am forced to teach eager undergraduates who don't even understand much of what I'm saying to them half the time.

So I came up with what I think is an exciting pedagogical initiative. I've crafted an Introduction to Philosophy. But it's not just any phil intro course. It's all based around my dog Jocone. This has really sparked up my interest again and the students are responding as well as ever. I have begun incorporating photos of Jocone and anecdotes about some of his funnier antics into my teaching. This is a rich area and I'm only just starting to really explore it in front of the students, but just as an "initial sample", here are some of the ways I've taken dry stolid old empty philosophy topics and put a twist on to them:

Mind and body dualism: so Jocone loves his treats. I sometimes wonder if we took away his body, would you still know that your treats were there Jocone? If yes, there must be some "Jocone spirit" animating his little furry body. (Descartes said animals were mere automata; he'd obviously never met anyone like Jocone. Sometimes I hold up Jocone (I can't very well kick him like Dr Johnson - I'm sorry for even mentioning that) and say "I refute him thus!" (meaning Descartes).

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This is a big one - if I train Jocone well, he knows how to sit and when to be quiet. But is this all instinct, or is there a real "objective truth" to how a dog should behave? Am I just doing what I was trained to do, or is there something deeper going on here? This is a fascinating subject that has a lot to it, but by using Jocone we can at least begin to get under the service.

Modal realism: What if I make copies of Jocone? Is that even possible? Or are they just counterpart dogs in other worlds? (What is a world?) This only gets deeper the more I have to think about it.

Logic and rationality: When Jocone sees me coming, he wags his tail. If someone scary comes in, he runs away. Is there some deep truth underlying this response? Logic says it is. There is literally a structure to every argument I have with Jocone, and we can analyze it carefully to make sure we have a better relationship in future. So even something as dry as boring as logic can actually help us to figure out better ways to be. And Jocone is still wagging that little tail of his!

I have a few more classes to teach, and a few more subjects to cover, so I might follow this post up with more ideas about teaching IntroPhil in this insightful new way. (Then again, I might not! Such is the life of Feel free to experiment yourself and to leave your comments below. Please don't say any false statements, or mislead me.
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Sunday, 7 January 2018

A Pisces Chicken: Reflexions on A Note

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This note was written on the door of my office. Go figure. I never cease to wonder at all the things that get written by the students that I have taught in the philosophy department. I try to tell my children about it but they are not interested in hearing about it. I am glad to have a forum here where I can share stories such as this, and I plan to offer this service to other people who might be interested. All in all, this was a bemusing afternoon.

I have begun to collect stories like this which I intend to compile in a book. I believe some people may be interested in it, but then I could possibly be wrong about this. I would like to find out the answer to this. If you can help me collect answers, please submit a preliminary data set to me via a secure email account. I can arrange for you to have an office, and we will work to crack the code together. I am completely serious about this, and I am looking to fund an extended project in cognate disciplines. The philosophy of social groups, and the philosophy of service. Looking at your CV I can see you like to party like a peanut, and I can see a massive curriculum taking shape with your note on it - you never know, you may even receive one day a note just like the above.

I ran forty meters this morning, and my mind was racing. I ran up and down a hill, forty meters. Gimme that ass!

Here is a picture of what Jocone was up to this morning:

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