Philosophy & Critical Thinking

Philosophy & Critical Thinking


Humanity’s Dark Side: Obedience to Authority

obedience to authority March 9th, 2019

There is a strain of experiments buoyed by theory that is in the category of social psychology – the branch of the study of human behavior that locates a human being in their social context. That is, people may have some individuality, some trait-like tendencies to think, feel, perceive, and act in a more or less typical way (i.e., based on their personality type). Social psychologists study how human beings function in relation to their environment. This essentially radical environmental approach doesn’t mimic the approach of Pavlov, Watson, and Skinner – dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists – because the attempt is not to change behavior, but to analyze and predict it. Read on for a brief summary, some elucidating quotations, and one of the most shocking experiments ever to come out of a major university.

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The Dialectic: A Top 10 Philosophy Concept

the dialectical method March 2nd, 2019

Have you heard the term dialectic? It’s a philosophical concept that is a bit complicated. This blog will explain what a dialectic is, how it can be useful, a little bit of history, etc. At bottom, the centuries-old concept is a way of moving toward wisdom in which two opposing positions are reconciled, compared, and synthesized, thus arriving at a new, superior, insight. It’s a higher-order phenomenon borne of philosophizing, communicating, comparing, contrasting, analyzing, and parsing. Strengths of each opposing point of view is considered, explicated, and utilized. Different theories can be compared in this manner and a final, integrative model can result. 

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Truth: Detecting and Defending It

finding truth can be elusive February 1st, 2019

“We may not always know what is true, but we can develop some proficiency at detecting what is false” ~ Michael Parenti – a wonderful quote about truth. This is such an intriguing quote, I was amazed to find it virtually buried on page 37 of Professor Parenti’s 2007 book – a compilation of essays. It is, pound for pound, a great look at the value of truth. He also wrote: “Our readiness to accept something as true, or reject it as false, rests less on its argument and evidence and more on how it aligns with the preconceived notions embedded in the dominant culture, and assumptions we have internalized due to repeated exposure.” So, what is true? How can we know it? How to defend it? Read on.

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Fake News in Trump’s America

fake news January 26th, 2019

Throughout the country’s short existence, the most authoritarian Presidents have been, in order: John Adams, George Dubya Bush, Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Jackson, and Donald Trump. There are grumblings on the Right that Obama was somewhat abusive of his power, and I think that case can be made (certainly, journalists and Freedom of Information Act seekers were very disappointed in him). I intend this essay to be about the psychology underlying political beliefs, and the hot-button topic in this realm is, perhaps with a plethora of absurdity, uttered by Trump almost daily: the term fake news. Trump most likely coined the term fake news, and though he is but a con-man, truth, lies, and deception predate him – laying bare the idiocy of our whole politico-cultural system.

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Live Your Values; Bring Them to Life!

live your values January 2nd, 2019

“…bring to Life Those Ideals.” The remarkable thinker, historian and activist Howard Zinn was referring you ought to “live your values” with that quote. It is a kind of integrity, I think, to not only know what you value, but to try to make your values real and manifest them in your life. It’s not always easy, though. “The hours” have a way of sapping energy and reducing focus. Yet Zinn lived into his 80s and was active and influential until near the end. Read on to find some inspirational quotes set in the context of living a life of value.

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Intelligence Has Much To Do With Discrimination

intelligence December 14th, 2018

No, really. I don’t mean bias and social meanness. I am referring to the idea that intelligence has much to do with the ability to analyze correctly, to tease apart concepts, to question astutely, to distinguish two related concepts, and compare and contrast things. Your basic nightmare from English class back in high school 🙂

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Socrates, Thoreau, King & Zinn on Civil Disobedience

Socrates December 3rd, 2018

In Plato’s Crito, Socrates is shown to believe, essentially, that one should obey the laws of one’s city-state (Athens), even if in a particular case the law seems excessive, asinine, and/or immoral(i.e., not in keeping with a rationally acceptable view of moral justness and rightness) (in other words, laws that are unjust). Obedience to authority, whether to obey unjust laws, autonomy vs. group membership, and social contract theory are all relevant questions based on a modern and objective reading of Plato’s Crito. Further, these considerations have relevance to the question, Does Socrates have an obligation – legally and morally– to kill himself(i.e., choose not to escape after receiving a death sentence)? It is my contention that Socrates probably does not have a moral obligation to kill himself, though legally he probably does. After bringing in a few relevant theorists/philosophers, I will sketch a working theory on how to deal with obeying the law versus civil disobedience.

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Beliefs and Actions Involve Values

beliefs and actions involve values November 24th, 2018

Yesterday I wrote a blog with the headline “Values Underly Our Beliefs and Actions.” A friend got on my case about how it was very one-sided, partisan, myopic, and very unlikely to change anyone’s mind. That’s probably fair. I might be accused of having a terrible case of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Most good Americans who follow news probably do. In fact, I replied to my friend that there are probably very few “independents” out there in the sense that they haven’t decided what their political beliefs are or if they think Trump is a madman or a white knight. Folks who don’t get the threat that Trump poses to this country (and the planet, and the future of the planet) (or who think we all just need to chill for 2-6 years until he is done) in my opinion either misunderstand the threat or aren’t paying attention. However, I did realize that even though I couldn’t probably write a toned-down version of that very blog, I could write a similar blog that steers clear of politics. Ideally, I could make points that were agreed with by 90% of readers. Let’s see how I do.

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Free Will: The Mystery of Libertarianism

free will November 19th, 2018

In this blog, guest blogger Chad Vance, Ph.D., of the College of William and Mary, explores the mystery of libertarianism. Not political libertarianism (the view that government is to be extremely limited), but philosophical libertarianism – the view that we human beings are capable of acting freely. That is, we are not utterly constrained in our choices and actions (because hard determinists do believe exactly that). Do you think we are free to act as we wish? Check out what Professor Vance thinks.

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Is There Hope for Free Will and Moral Choices?

free will November 12th, 2018

One of the oldest questions in psychology, and in other fields such as philosophy, is whether humans have free will. That is, are we able to choose what we will do with our lives?” This is how psychologist Seth Schwartz begins his trenchant piece entitled, simply, “Do We Have Free Will?” This article, which originally appearred on PsychologyToday.com, is particularly relevant to the section of this blog called Applied Psychology. I am eager to present this piece here because this 10-minute read carefully captures the intriguing and vexing issue of free will vs. determinism when it comes to human actions – and, importantly, morality.

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