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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

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clipped from www.telospress.com
Richard Rorty, the leading American philosopher and heir to the pragmatist tradition, passed away on Friday, June 8.
He was Professor of Comparative Literature emeritus at Stanford University. In April the American Philosophical Society awarded him the Thomas Jefferson Medal. The prize citation reads: “In recognition of his influential and distinctively American contribution to philosophy and, more widely, to humanistic studies. His work redefined knowledge ‘as a matter of conversation and of social practice, rather than as an attempt to mirror nature’ and thus redefined philosophy itself as an unending, democratically disciplined, social and cultural activity of inquiry, reflection, and exchange, rather than an activity governed and validated by the concept of objective, extramental truth.”

Richard Rorty, 1931-2007

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Richard Rorty’s contribution to American Pragmatism was important and profound. I am deeply saddened by the news of his death, Rorty had a significant influence on my own thinking, especially his distinction between normal and abnormal discourse. It will be a long time coming before another philosopher of Rorty’s stature and influence appears on the American landscape.

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clipped from www.y-origins.com
Q.
IS THE ARGUMENT FOR DESIGN BASED ON SCIENTIFIC IGNORANCE?
A. But, today’s intelligent design arguments are based upon a growing body
of scientific evidence concerning everything from DNA to the laws of physics;
and upon our uniform and repeated experience.Design theorists offer extensive evidence that blind, material causes are
incapable of building irreducibly complex and information-rich systems.
They then point out that whenever we know how such systems arose such as
with an integrated circuit, a car engine, or a software program invariably
a designing engineer played a role. Design theorists then extend this uniform
experience to things like molecular machines and the sophisticated code
needed to build even the first and simplest of cells. An increasing number
of leading scholars attest that increased scientific knowledge about such
things has greatly strengthened the argument for design.

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The argument from irreducible complexity suggests that the removal of a single part from a system destroys the system’s function, ergo evolution is ruled out, ergo the system must have been designed by some external force. This is the basic argument advanced by Michael Behe and his followers. Below I counter some of the claims made by the proponents of irreducible complexity.

  • Sometimes the functions are changed so that they do something other than what they did prior to mutation. Such evolutionary development of irreducibly complex systems have been described in the scientific literature in great detail.
  • Even if irreducible complexity does preclude Darwinian evolution, the conclusion of design does not follow. Many other possible conclusions can be argued. It is an example of a failed argument from incredulity.
  • Systems have been considered irreducibly complex that might not be so. For example:
  • Michael Behe’s mousetrap example of irreducible complexity can be simplified by making some minor alterations to the mousetrap. Furthermore, the mousetrap may lose functionality as a mousetrap if a part is removed but then one might craft a fishhook from the spring, turn the nonfunctional mousetrap into a paper weight and so on.
  • The bacterial flagellum is not, in fact, irreducibly complex because it can lose many parts and still function, either as a simpler flagellum or as a secretion system.
  • The immune system example that Behe is so fond of is not irreducibly complex because the antibodies that mark invading cells for destruction might themselves hinder the function o fthose cells, allowing the system to function (although not as well) without destroyer molecules of the complement system.

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I am posting a short video I made that addresses Pascal’s Wager that simply states that even if the odds for the existence of God or gods is overwhelming, there is the slight chance that one is wrong. If it turns out that God(s) exist then the non-believer risks eternal damnation while the believer is eternally rewarded. If it turns out that there really is no God or God(s) then it makes no difference to the believer or non-believer–nothing is lost in the bargain. So Pascal concludes that on the off chance that there might, in fact, be a God(s) it makes sense to believe.As this video points out, there are substantial flaws in Pascal’s reasoning. Which God(s) does one choose to believe in? Wouldn’t picking the wrong one be tantamount to not picking at all? Isn’t Pascal’s belief merely a belief of convenience and not of conviction; wouldn’t an omnipotent, omniscient God(s) see right through the rouse and leave the pretender in the same position as if he didn’t choose at all?

I think I’ll remain a Bright. There simply isn’t enough evidence to convince me beyond a reasonable doubt that God(s) exist. I’ll not fall into the destructive trap of Pascal’s Wager.

clipped from youtube.com

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Clipped from YouTube, this video is a powerful reminder that asking the skeptical questions is the first and only requirement of being human. Without skeptical inquiry we would still be napping flint weapons, living in caves, and wandering about the plains in search of food. Asking skeptical questions, however, is not a remedy for ambition, hubris, or evil. It is not a remedy for those who believe without evidence. It is not a remedy for stupidity. Skepticism is, however, the springboard to human progress and greatness.

clipped from www.youtube.com

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And this is a powerful response to Pale Blue Dot.

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I decided to mess around with making a video for my students as I begin to teach research methods to graduate students. In this course I push ideas such as clarity of thinking, accuracy in both thinking and in how one relies on source material, precision in thought processes, relevance of information to one’s argument, the depth and breadth of one’s investigation of both the relevant literature and the methodological approach one takes as a researcher, the logical development of the argument, the significance of the argument and, finally, whether or not one has been fair to all sides of a given position–this last point is not to argue that one cannot take a stand, rather that one must at the very least acknowledge alternative stances and, if one wishes, pick them apart.

This YouTube video will serve as an introduction to the class in which we discuss issues related to the difference between belief and rigorous research. I sort of like what I made here. I think it serves as a good introduction to the topic, but, then, I am the creator and am a bit biased.

My university is insisting that we all teach using technology to a greater extent in order to look good for an accreditation review upcoming in 2010. So there you have it.

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Žižek (2001) makes the claim that in order to break the liberal-democratic hegemony in order to reclaim an authentic radical posture, one must endorse a position that refuses to compromise (in the pragmatic political sense) and be willing to accept both the positive and negative effects of one’s position. To do otherwise is to fall embarrassingly short of the “unconditional ethical demand.” In order to accomplish this goal Žižek suggests that one cannot turn to foundational theorists. He argues that Christ does not become Christian until he encounters St. Paul and later Augustine, bishop of Hippo; that Marx does not become a Marxist until he is interpreted by Lenin; that Freud does not make sense until he is seen first through the eyes of Jung and, finally, through a Lacanian lens. The point made by Žižek is simply this: the revisionists, those that first put into practice that which the foundationalists offer reject the “irresponsibility” of the foundational thinkers. Žižek argues that the foundationalists advocate grand projects, but, when the chips are down, they are unwilling to pay the price for implementing their positions with concrete and often cruel political acts. “Like an authentic conservative,” Žižek writes, “a true Leninist is not afraid to pass to the act, to assume all the consequences, unpleasant as they may be, or realizing his political project.” Žižek goes on to write, “[A] Leninist, like a Conservative, is authentic in the sense of fully assuming the consequences of his choice, i.e. of being fully aware of what it actually means to take power and to exert it.” (emphasis in original)

In brief, what Žižek suggests is that in order to break the strangle-hold of any established institution, in this case perhaps global-liberal-capitalism it is not enough to simply fixate on adjusting the old program to new conditions. To do so is something like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. Change, in Žižek’s terms, is not nostalgia, not more of the same, not a return to the good old days. Change, rather, is brought about by radical acts that are bound up by in but are significantly different than their theoretical origins. Žižek sums up this way: “What Christianity did with regard to the Roman Empire, this global “multiculturalist” polity, we should do with regard to today’s Empire.” This clear reference to Gibbon’s argument that the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of Rome was the root cause of the decline and fall of the once great Empire is arresting. What does Žižek see as the uncompromising force of the 21st Century that will prove to be the underlying action that will bring about the decline and fall of the West?

References

Žižek, S. (2001). On belief. London, UK: Routledge

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I sat through an active presentation by Steven Turner in which he asked whether teaching for achievement or teaching for understanding is appropriate in public schools. In the current climate many of the participants at this session agreed that teaching for achievement as an isolated concept equates to teaching skills appropriate for testing with little or no evidence of transferability or sustainability. We also tended to agree that teaching for understanding led to students developing critical thinking, reflection, rigorous sense of internalization of knowledge. One participant argued that teaching for achievement meant teaching to a predetermined, external set of standards while teaching for understanding had no predetermined borders but is broadly focused on relevant issues and knowledge. What also developed from this discussion was a consensus that if one teaches for understanding this does not negate the need to teach the necessary skills required for particular understanding. The two are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the great irony is that when children are taught with understanding as the goal of the process test scores rise in a direct relationship to student engagement. If, however, children are taught only for achievement their test scores are erratic and, perhaps more importantly, students become resistant to school and schooling. Turner’s work is worthy of a second look and some follow-up studies as well.

In a second session, Steven J. Thornton and Keith C. Barton presented a paper entitled Why history education is impossible without social studies. This work suggests that teaching history as a separate academic discipline is impossible without relating the history being taught to the other social studies, areas of study that include economics, political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography and the like. I was drawn to the session not only because of Thornton’s work, but by the title of their paper. I have been thinking about how to effectively link the social studies to teaching history as many social studies educators are doing but I simply assumed that history serves as the underlying foundation for the rest of the social studies. Thornton and Barton suggest a different relationship, one that understands history as the factual exemplar for the theoretical concepts endemic to the rest of the social studies. An example they gave is the American Revolution. One cannot understand the revolution without understanding the concept from political science of representation or the concept from economics of taxation. While a gross oversimplification, the point they are making is that political science and economics provide us with theoretical constructions while the narrative of the revolution transforms those abstractions into narrative reality. History, in this sense, is the exemplar that provides students with concrete examples of weighty though abstract concepts. I really liked this take on the problem raised.

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