Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, October 14, 2019

Fall Break

Canine-assisted immortality!

What is Truth?

Do you believe truth is subjective or objective? 
Truth is a surprisingly complex term to define, noting that the definition of the word varies between most individuals. We rely on it all the time and it's very "close" to us. Yet it's difficult to define because as soon as you think you have it pinned down, some case or counterexample immediately shows deficiencies. Ironically, every definition of truth that philosophers have developed falls prey to the question, "Is it true?"To ascertain or believe something personally Is not enough to make it true or to validate it. If this was the norm, then the claim that “to believe something does not make it true” could be argued as well. What is the nature of this “truth”? How do people know when something is the truth?   
 In our presentation, we will be talking about famous philosophers points of view (ie. Plato, Socrates and William James) and theories about the term. In his allegory of the cave, Plato addresses the question whether human life is to commensurate with truth. This question is especially relevant to education. For education to take place, there must be present a minimal capacity for understanding and knowledge in the student. This is the capacity for inference.  
Socrates states that one cannot put sight into blind eyes, suggesting that some individuals have an innate disposition to envision the nature of truth. This means that an individual’s capacity for learning already exists in the soul. This is facilitated by the teacher, Plato tells us, who effectively positions the soul to view the world of Being in opposition to Becoming. This is the case with the prisoners who reflect about the nature of the figures that they see reflected on the wall. It is these prisoners who can benefit most from education, given that education, in Platos estimation, should serve as a guide that undertakes the task of turning the soul around to face truth.   
 According to William James, anything that functions and is useful in our lives is true. Pragmatic ideas about truth are often confused with the quite distinct notions of "logic and inquiry", "judging what is true", and "truth predicates" because the word pragmatic means dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.  However, James’ theory makes the term “truth” much less complex because therefore science is true, religion is true, and anything that works efficiently in our lives is true. 
In conclusion, truth is generally what a person or group of people believes, therefore, truth is a property not so much of thoughts and ideas but more properly of beliefs and assertions. Truth has many different definitions- the quality or state of being true, that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality, and a fact or belief that is accepted as true. 
  • Did Plato believe truth was objective or subjective? 
  • Whats the difference in scientific truth and philosophical truth? 
  • What did Plato and other Greek thinkers believe truth delivered us from? 
  • What did Plato believe had to be in place in order for someone to learn? 
  • Do our perceptions create our truths or do our truths create our perceptions? 

Going to College? Take Their Advice

We asked readers about their college experience, and what they wish they had known sooner both inside and outside the classroom. We heard from hundreds of students and former students across the country and in Canada. The answers have been edited and condensed.
Outside of the classroom, what do you wish you had known?

Brittany Collins, Westhampton, Mass., Smith College

In the way that my acquiring a disability put into perspective the ways in which perfectionism was guiding my academic path, so do I wish that I had sought balance outside of the classroom in college. When I returned to school after my leave, I found in the peers around me stories and experiences at times more educational than those found in textbooks.

At community colleges, and in an online degree completion program, everyone’s lives had altered from “the path.” We were thrown hurdles and had to adapt, find workarounds, wait, try, resolve. Yet there we were, in one classroom — a patch-worked bunch of learners committed to sticking out life’s turns in pursuit of education.

Rachel Lo, Oviedo, Fla., University of Florida

I wish I had taken better care of myself — my physical and mental health. And prioritized my sleep. I would’ve been healthier, less stressed and more resilient during difficult periods. The sooner you ingrain healthy habits early on, the better... (continues)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Quiz Oct 16/17

Montaigne, Descartes, & Pascal, LH 11-12; FL 23-24. Midterm report presentations continue.
Also recommended: (How to Live, ch1); LISTEN Sarah Bakewell on Michel de Montaigne (PB); A.C. Grayling on Descartes' Cogito (PB); WATCH Montaigne(SoL); Descartes (HI)

NOTE: We're saving Thoreau's "Walking" in JW for a little later. And, there are no required readings on Montaigne, but Bakewell is strongly recommended... & see the "Bonus Questions" below.

1. What state of mind, belief, or knowledge was Descartes' Method of Doubt supposed to establish? OR, What did Descartes seek that Pyrrho spurned?

2. Did Descartes claim to know (at the outset of his "meditations") that he was not dreaming?

3. What strange and mythic specter did Gilbert Ryle compare to Descartes' dualism of mind and body? ("The ____ in the ______.")

4. Pascal's best-known book is _____.

5. Pascal's argument for believing in God is called ________.

6. Pascal thought if you gamble on God and lose, "you lose ______."

7. (T/F) By limiting his "wager" to a choice between either Christian theism or atheism, says Nigel Warburton, Pascal excludes too many other possible bets.

8. What was the "takeaway" for '60s academics who turned away from reason and rationalism?

9.  How did UCLA psychologist Charles Tart get tenure?

10. Tom Wolfe said the Jesus People of the '60s were what?

11. What bestselling "nonfiction" book by Hal Lindsey predicted the looming apocalypse?

12. Even though his basic religious beliefs were not much different from Pat Robertson's and Jerry Falwell's, _____ seemed moderate by comparison.

BONUS QUESTIONS (See "recommended" above)
  • Sarah Bakewell says Montaigne's first answer to the question "How to live?" is: "Don't worry about _____."
  • What was Montaigne's "near death experience," and what did it teach him?
  • Montaigne said "my mind will not budge unless _____."
  • What pragmatic American philosopher was Descartes' "most practical critic"?
  • (T/F) A.C. Grayling thinks that, because Descartes was so wrong about consciousness and the mind-body problem, he cannot be considered a historically-important philosopher.
  • What skeptical slogan did Montaigne inscribe on the ceiling of his study?

Discussion Questions
  • Add your DQs
  • What does Cogito, ergo sum mean to you? Does it overrate thinking, and underrate (say) toothaches?
  • What do you think of Montaigne's variety of skepticism, compared to Descartes' methodological doubt-and-certainty?
  • Do you strongly desire or need certainty in your life, or are you okay with not knowing things for certain?
  • How do you define "knowledge"?
  • Do you engage in "magical thinking" and indulge superstitious beliefs in the absence of evidence?
  • Do you agree that everyone's entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts?
  • What do you think of the academic tenure system? What's its rationale? 
  • Are "Jesus people" nowadays more or less likely than the general populace to ingest hallucinogens?
  • Who are the comparatively moderate and mainstream public evangelicals these days?
  • How do you know you're awake and not dreaming? Is it meaningful to say "life is but a dream"? (And again: "Inception" - ?!)
  • Are you essentially identical with or distinct from your body (which includes your brain)? If distinct, who/what/where are you? How do you know? Can you prove it? OR, Do you believe in immaterial spirits? Can you explain how it is possible for your (or anyone's) material senses to perceive them?
  • At what age do you hope to retire? What will you do with yourself then? Will you plan to spend more time thinking? 
  • Have you had a near-death experience, or known someone who did? What did it teach you/them? How often does the thought occur to you that you're always one misstep (or fall, or driving mistake) away from death?
    • What have you learned, so far, about "how to live"? Have you formulated any life-lessons based on personal experience, inscribed any slogans, written down any "rules"?
    • Do you agree that, contrary to Pascal, most nonreligious people would consider it a huge sacrifice to devote their lives to religion? Why?
    • Is the choice between God and no-god 50/50, like a coin toss? How would you calculate the odds? At what point in the calculation do you think it becomes prudent to bet on God? Or do you reject this entire approach? Why?
    • Is there anything you know or believe that you could not possibly be mistaken about, or cannot reasonably doubt? If so, what? How do you know it? If not, is that a problem for you?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Trust, fear, and fate

"It's a long season, you gotta trust it," said Crash Davis. Cards and Nats fans are feeling that this morning, after their teams upended the two NL teams with better season records to take their respective divisions series'.  Braves and Dodgers fans are probably not.

The situation is a bit like the sinking boat scenario we were discussing out on the JUB stoa yesterday afternoon in CoPhi, during our discussion of free will etc. The boat sinks, all aboard are lost, but one would-be passenger who didn't board thinks it must have been his destiny, his "fate" to survive. But what about the actual passengers? Their trust was not rewarded, Crash.

Oh well, says the trusting believer. Life's a mystery. Why do bad things happen to good and innocent people? Why must the innocent die young? Why must the team with 106 regular-season wins now go home watch its inferiors contend for glory? God only knows.

Or the gods, as the interlocutors in Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods would say.
Cotta the Skeptic, Velleius the Epicurean, and Balbus the Stoic talk it out in an conversation that's still fresh and relevant. All score points at various moments in the discussion. We're giving it a glance today in Happiness

Early in the dialogue, Velleius mocks the idea of a Master Planner god who's got the whole world in his hands. (NOTE, class: this is a different translation than we're reading, cited by J.M. Hecht in Doubt: A History.) "So you have smuggled into our minds the idea of some eternal overlord, whom we must fear by day and night. Who  would not fear a god who foresees everything, ponders everything, notices everything? A god who makes everything his own concern, a curious god, a universal busybody? ...Epicurus has saved us from all such fears and set us free."

I recall being afraid, as a small child, that the god we sang about in Sunday School was snooping on my every indiscretion. "His eye is on the sparrow, I know he's watching me." Yikes! If trust is purchased with fear and thus (for an Epicurean) any prospect of true happiness, it's not worth it. Better to picture the god(s) as indifferent to our fate, uninterested in either protecting, rewarding, or punishing us.

Cotta the Skeptic takes it a step further. "Divine Providence was supposed to be able 'to accomplish anything it pleases' and yet it lets people die." 


"It follows from this theory of yours that this Divine Providence is either unaware of its own powers or is indifferent to human life. Or else it is unable to judge what is best. 'Providence is not concerned with individuals,' you say. I can well believe it."

Fate? You really can't trust it. Or the gods, or the God, fate's reputed Master Planner and divine engineer. We cannot count on a cosmic ally or savior to secure our happiness. We're on our own. We must cultivate our Garden.

Image result for epicurus garden
The Epicurean Revival. As the annals of history have it, in the sixth century Emperor Justinian had all the schools of philosophy that competed with Christianity finally closed. This was the last we heard of the Epicurean School, whose tradition had remained culturally vibrant for seven centuries. Epicurus had been among the first to propose the atom—2,300 years ago—the social contract as a foundation for the rule of law, and the possibility of an empirical process of pursuit of happiness: a science of happiness. These progressive schools were oases of tranquility, reason and pleasure known as Gardens, where the ideals of civilized friendship flourished and men, women and even slaves engaged in philosophical discourse as equals.

Stumbling upon happiness in the garden of Epicurus? Flowers: Tim Daniels.

If any set of doctrines can be considered the foundation of the Epicurean philosophy, it would be the Tetrapharmakon: the Four Remedies. For didactic purposes, the teachings were imparted in the form of short, easy to memorize adages. There are, to be fair, many more than four remedies in Epicureanism. However, these are known to be the core of the teaching out of which the rest of the philosophy flows:

Do not fear the gods
Do not fear death
What is pleasant is easy to attain
What is painful is easy to endure

In his Principal Doctrines 11-12, Epicurus argued for the study of science as a way to emancipate ourselves from irrational fears. For naturalists who don’t believe in gods or spirits, the first two negative statements may be translated as ‘Do not fear chance or blind luck, for it is pointless to battle that which we have no control over. It generates unnecessary suffering’.

Roman Epicurean poet Lucretius, in his De Rerum Natura, dedicates long portions of the philosophical poem to explaining how natural phenomena such as lightning and the movements of heavenly bodies are not the work of the Gods and that fear of the Gods is inconsistent with civilized life. Since he was unable in those days to produce a fully scientific theory to explain all these phenomena, he provided several possible theories for many of them without officially endorsing one, and humbly acknowledged that future thinkers would prove the main points of his naturalist and scientific cosmology, which they eventually did. And so we can say that his basic attitude was a sound one, and also that he respected our intelligence enough to not exhibit arrogance and certainty where he did not have conclusive theories. He allowed time to prove him right … and sincere.

That the prohibition against fearing the Gods, and against fear-based religion in general, is the first and main taboo in Epicurean philosophy, remains refreshing to this day.

The second remedy is elaborated in a series of teachings and aphorisms which serve as a form of cognitive therapy to deal with the trauma of death. Among them, the most memorable is the purely hedonistic one. It is summed up thusly:

Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not

There is also the symmetry argument, which compares the time after our death to the time before our birth of which we have no memory. Since there is nothing there, why fear it? (continues)