Blog Response 1 (Parts 1 and 2)

I am never all that engaged in textbooks but I cannot stop thinking about the questions being asked in Sophie’s World. I sat in another class and zoned out for fifteen minutes thinking about the ‘Do you believe in fate?’ question the philosopher posed. I had genuinely never considered the topic so deeply and from so many different angles until it was proposed in the book. If we assume fate is real, what is tangibly controlling it? Who established this? Why? Can we change it or harness it? I keep turning these questions over in my mind. I’m also really intrigued by the fatalism idea discussed in the Fate chapter (as you may be able to tell, it’s my favorite chapter so far). Predestination seems a little anticlimactic to me. If life is already planned like a storybook, what’s the point? The discovery of the story, I suppose, but even so, it’s a little disappointing to think that the best and most exciting moments of life were planned out in detail. I’m interested in the fact that the Greeks thought illness was caused by the gods and the Universe when they were such a medicinally progressive society. It strikes me as slightly contradictory, but then again we see the same thing today with medical science pitted against religious ideals in the public forum. The difference is, the Greeks allowed both religion and science to blossom, whilst today it seems that it must be one or the other and I think that’s a loss we face as a society.

 

Speaking of science, that rather relates to the allegory of the cave and I suppose subsequently to my second blog post. The allegory was my favorite topic from the last week and I kept being reminded of how closely it matches the scientific world today. Every time a new discovery is made, the person who discovers it must go out to the public and fight tooth and nail for their discovery to be credited as genuine. Most of the time, the public refuses to believe the new discovery and we are no better off as a society, since the new discovery is not implemented for quite a while. One example that really comes to mind is smoking and the lung cancer correlation. Smoking was such a widespread phenomenon and was so commonplace that when the Surgeon General’s report first came out, nobody really cared for a long time. It was only when people started getting sick and really seeing the effects of the revelations that actions were taken. In effect, it wasn’t until  regular people began “leaving the cave” as the Surgeon General had already done that the research and discovery started to actually make any kind of difference. This is kind of frustrating really, because if the people don’t gain any benefit from the original discovery until or unless they discover it for themselves, then there is almost no benefit of the discovery being made early. If everyone had believed the Surgeon General to begin with, so many more lives could have been saved. That, though, is the quandary of the cave.

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The Last Blog Post

This is my very last assignment for high school, so I think it’s quite fitting that it’s for a class dealing with life and death and meaning and all sorts of other existential things. I learned a lot in this class which almost surprised me in a weird way, because I wasn’t sure what could be taught about philosophy besides the Ancient Greeks. There was a lot that I had never even heard of which was quite fun to explore as the trimester went on. I’m a little disappointed that I don’t get to see how Sophie and Alberto’s story finishes, but I’m sure I’ll find the time to get a copy from the library in my extended senior summer. I’ll miss most the discussions and the debates in class. I had never really interacted with a majority of the people in first hour, and it took me two weeks to remember all of their names. The different perspectives were really fascinating. So many of these people came from different paths than me and their ideas and experiences were generally ones I hadn’t considered which I appreciate. I also liked the fact that everyone was for the most part comfortable in sharing their ideas, universally supported or otherwise. It gave us the chance to consider all sides of a debate rather than just the well-liked or obvious facets of analysis. In a personal retrospect, I wish I had approached the reading differently. Rarely will the textbook for a class be an actual novel and I think I should have treated it more like a story and read it chapter by chapter rather than reading only for information a few nights before an exam. I did like that the exams dealt with all aspects of what we learned rather than verbatim textbook material like most classes. It felt like everything that we did in class was directly pertinent to the subject of study, which sounds like an obvious thing, but this does not occur in all classes. Whether it was a movie, a Crash Course video, an article, a discussion, or Sophie’s World, the material covered always linked back to the lesson, usually in real-world ways. I especially found interesting how the films that were not necessarily intended to match a philosophical school of thought in creation did in fact match in practice and we were able to clearly see those connections being made. In summary, I’ll miss this class a lot and don’t think I’ll soon forget its lessons. Mr Wickersham, thank you for being a fantastic teacher in both APUSH and Philosophy. Your classes have been some of my favorites at Groves, and I wish you the best in the future, though I’m sure I’ll be back to say hi!

Blog #5

This week I was most interested in Universal versus National Romanticism. I like the idea of the exploring the soul, art, and nature, and looking deeper and more carefully at the creative aspects of the world that make it what it is. I feel that we don’t place as much emphasis on these topics today in our media and culture and instead place a greater emphasis on science and pop culture, which is a bit sad in my opinion. In regards to National Romanticism, I also found the idea that the people of the world were seen as one organism blossoming in its potential really lovely. There’s such an innate level of cohesion there that we don’t always recognize on a daily basis that would go into that. I’m intrigued by the description of plants and nations both as living organisms, in fact. I have personally only ever regarded a plant as an organism, but I can recognize and understand the thought process behind calling, as the book does, poetry or a nation to be organisms. I disagree with the idea that these two types of romanticism blend together. I think there is a much clearer “world spirit” as it is called in Universal Romanticism and the direct focus on the arts and on the development of ideas versus in National Romanticism, with such a strong focus on the people themselves. People don’t always act in ways befitting where they come from or their ultimate potential, but art and literature can and more often does reflect romantic ideals.

In reading about National Romanticism and Universal Romanticism I was particularly reminded of the June Rebellion depicted in Les Miserables. The idea of the voice of the people fueling a revolution based on their ideas, language, and passion in order to change the course of their nation’s history neatly captures the ideas of National Romanticism. The rebels themselves acted and were regarded as one entity, working cohesively in order to fight, and though they eventually lost and were killed, they became symbols of the fighting people of France. Their fight went down in history as short and bloody, but it was real and meaningful and therefore recorded still. The “innate potential” of the group derived from its passion for freedom, and those who now watch the musical or see the movie or even endeavor to read the book can, as a National Romantic would do, explore the triumphs and sorrows of the unified spirit of the rebellion group. Additionally, however, with the musical Les Miserables, the use of song and lyrical explanation captures some of the ideals of Universal Romanticism. The idea behind the lyrics was to embody the spirit of revolution and combine it with the fears of loss and death, and these raw emotions can be found in the hearts of people around the world. These emotions are not simply exclusive to those on the French barricades, but are universal in themselves, and are part of the world soul. By way of Universal Romanticism, the musical itself is an organism, in that it develops, grows, changes, has deep expressions of human feeling, and is the product of artistic genius. I would never have regarded it as such until now and I’m fascinated by it.

Blog #4

In the reading this week, Kant’s philosophy resonated with me the most purely because I found it extremely strange that nobody had made the connections he made before he made them. By joining rationalism and empiricism, he appeases everyone who said “well, the empiricists kind of have it right…but so do the rationalists…” The fact is, in my opinion he hit the nail on the head when he recognized that experience shapes the mind and creates schemas within the memory. That’s where the empiricists had it right. Sensory experience and classification is key in understanding the world around us. At the same time, though, we are born with inherent understandings and basic survival instincts. We do not, for example, learn to grab fingers as infants by observing those around us doing it; instead we are born with the biological instinct to do this. The blank slate idea is more like a slate with a few notes on it from the manufacturer. I’m just really amazed that nobody fit those two together before and felt the need to keep everything so wildly polarized. I also feel the same way about the law of causality and Kant’s stance on it. Hume’s idea that we cannot ascertain cause and effect strikes me as absolutely ridiculous and like he was trying to philosophize for the sake of it. Kant’s ideas seem much more logical: we see cause and effect as there because that is how our brains work and how we view the world. This makes much more sense than trying to explain away what is in front of us.

I cannot help but draw a distinct parallel between empiricists, rationalists, and Kant and the French election. You have your polar opposites, and in this case Marine LePen represents one half of a strongly divided France. She represents the very conservative movement within France, and her ideology is staunch in its ways. There is no room for consideration and understanding from the other side. I cannot help but view empiricists and rationalists in the same fashion. They staunchly defend their own ideas, whether it be that we cannot trust out senses due to their easy deception, or that we cannot trust anything but our senses due to the unwritten nature of our conscience. In either case, the philosophers refuse to budge on policy and ideology. Kant, for me, represents the mediation between the two sides. Emmanuel Macron, in the French election, represents this balance too. Rather than adhere to one strict side of the ideological spectrum, he has openly admitted that he represents no individual party and as president will instead take policy ideas from both conservative and liberal stances in order to blend together a universally functional system. Kant does the same in his ideas. He blends the idea that we as humans rely on sensory influence to understand and categorize the world around us, but openly acknowledges that we bring to these senses a background of information and some knowledge born with us in order to create a hybrid of both empiricism and rationalism as the means for human approach and understanding. And in this blogger’s humble opinion, there’s a reason Macron is projected to win…

Blog Post #3

In the recent reading I was most intrigued by the divide between Descartes and the other philosophers of his time. The idea of philosophical skepticism in particular intrigues me. I don’t understand how people could simply sit back and passively accept that they know nothing and will never truly know anything. This is absurd to me; to choose passivity in the face of overwhelming knowledge is a desecration of the value of knowledge itself. I much prefer Descartes’ attitude to step forward and explore and realize that he could actually learn and understand rather than accept his humanity. Granted, there is an extreme amount of knowledge in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s a task too overwhelming to consider possible. That’s why I liked the method Descartes developed for a scientific approach to philosophy. To go from simple and lead up to complex ideas in order to find truths and answers follows the scientific method too and that makes philosophy seem a lot less abstract and overwhelming. I’m left wondering how the other philosophers and scientists of Descartes’ era responded to his structured methods of philosophy, because the book noted that he was significantly ahead of his time. Did this method serve as a turning point for their acceptance of him, or was his general weirdness too much for them to handle still? I just found it quite amazing that even those who are classed as odd or different from the majority aren’t always so when history looks back on them.

This concept reminded me of the story of John Snow, actually. In London in 1854 a cholera outbreak occurred and nobody knew what caused it. Everyone assumed it was an act of God or an unexplained scientific phenomenon. Effectively, much like Descartes’ contemporaries, they chose passivity and acceptance of their ignorance rather than acting to stop the illness from spreading. John Snow chose a different path that confused many around him and instead applied the scientific method that is actually very similar to Descartes’ approach to philosophy; that is, he started with the simple concept of finding what was causing the cholera outbreak and then let the process become more complex as he ran tests and eliminated causes that didn’t satisfy the results. This led to his massive breakthrough that the water supply in the town was tainted. He removed the handle from the pump where water was obtained so nobody could collect water from there and the spread of the cholera epidemic was cut off. This was the major breakthrough that others around him chose not to pursue. It wasn’t particularly easy, and going into the experiments he didn’t understand a lot or in fact anything at all about the cause of the disease, but he chose to act instead of accept his lack of understanding. This breakthrough saved the lives of his town and when nobody else stepped up, he did. Had either he or Descartes listened to their contemporaries instead of trusting their instincts, neither the development of many mathematical, scientific, and philosophical methods nor the discovery of the source of the cholera outbreak would have occurred, and as I was reading I was, if not encouraged, then certainly reminded that one’s contemporaries are not inevitably correct by definition.

Blog #2

In the last several chapters, particularly in the chapter titled Two Cultures, I have been most intrigued by the dichotomy between the Indo-Europeans and the Semites. These two groups seem vastly juxtaposed yet they hold many similar ideas. For example, both religious groups identity strongly with emphasis on good versus evil or sin, and this perpetuates many of the major teachings of both groups. Being fairly nonreligious, I found it quite interesting to read about the foundations of religions I am not particularly familiar with, such as those of the Indo-European origins. Polytheism is one topic that caught my attention; it seems that monotheism such as with Christianity and Judaism are much more widely regarded in the Western World than polytheism, though I know Hinduism does have multiple gods as a pillar of that faith. I didn’t know that the Islamic faith avoids photography and art in order to uphold God’s ability to create and to subsequently avoid any human attempts at creation. This contrasts really strongly with my own experiences with religion, where the image of Jesus is celebrated and widely represented through art and imagery. I never realized this was anything but a universal norm, though of course in this case Jesus specifically is not universally acknowledged by all religions. I was fascinated by the rate at which Christianity spread across Greek and Roman cities (the book said in only three to four hundred years). Given that the Greek philosophers had such a strong hold on culture and society through knowledge (although Socrates was rather a pariah) such a vast revolution in what is a comparably short period of time strikes me as bizarre and rather amazing.

The overtaking of the Greek philosophers in the wake of Christianity reminds me very much of the growing rates of atheism and its beliefs (or lack thereof), as was discussed in one class handout. In society today, particularly in the United States, rates of atheism have increased over an extremely short period of time. Pew Research reported on June 1 of 2016 that a 2014 study found that 3.1% of the United States population identifies as an atheist, which increased from 1.6% of the population in 2007. The handout from class states that atheism relies on logic and morality as well as other non-physical entities and concepts without the addition of a deity or God as supposed reasoning. This, along with the increasing rates of atheism, are a result of a level of shrewdness and scrutiny brought about by the Information Age. People are more heavily reliant on science and (nonfake) news information that are more easily distributed as a result of technology. This is a “real world” application exploring atheist concepts we covered in class, as people garner support for ideals through new means of communication and discovery rather than using theism as an explanation for what they see in the modern age.  The handout states that one atheist objection to theism is that most divine experiences can be explained readily by science or psychology, and this applies to the real world today through the discovery of the existence of the the Higgs Boson, otherwise known as the God Particle. The discovery of this particle enabled the understanding of how matter forms and subsequently why physical objects exist rather than simple energy. This sharply contests the idea of man being created by God from dust and woman from the rib of man, and it is discoveries like this that enable the widespread understanding and possible support for atheist ideas more than ever. As religion ebbed and changed during the time of early Christianity, atheism and forsaking religion is the new wave entering the world today through the greater understanding and application of concepts though technology.

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