Philosophy & Critical Thinking

Philosophy & Critical Thinking


There is Great Wisdom in Game of Thrones

wisdom in Game of Thrones March 30th, 2020

Game of Thrones, the brain-child of George R. R. Martin, David Benioff, and D. B. Weiss became one of the most significant cultural sensations in the last 50 years, up there with Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter books, Dungeons & Dragons, Big Bang Theory, etc. It is amazing to me that a mere “fantasy” could be so well-written by Martin (what he titled A Song of Fire and Ice, and many spin-off books) and so well produced by Benioff and Weiss (and, essentially, adapted for the screen), and backed by HBO, that it holds such remarkable cultural sway. When I was playing D&D as a teenager, it was almost like a dirty little secret; I am sure that many “geeky” types feel that way about their obsession. However, let’s face it, Game was one of the most popular and well-regarded and most critically-acclaimed phenomena in American life. Yes, I’m sure that Will Rogers or Mark Twain or The Tonight Show or the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies will perhaps be more vaunted and venerable names as time wears on, but for anyone alive today either knows of or loves Game of Thrones. This blog explores the idea that, amazingly, amongst the sex, violence, gore, and scheming, the 8-year series so brilliantly woven together by the trio I mentioned, wisdom in Game of Thrones reigns supreme.

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Social Cohesion and Progressivism vs. Rugged Individualism and Cognitive Bias

social cohesion March 10th, 2020

The New York Times columnist David Leonhardt worked his way into my respect naturally. Somehow, the NYT started sending me his opinion pieces maybe three or four times a week, and my first thought was, “Who’s the new guy?” A page that has featured Charles Blow, Thomas L. Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Nicholas D. Kristof, Paul Krugman, and Bob Herbert creates a high bar in my mind. But, over time, Leonhardt has grown to be one of my favorite and most-quoted writers. In one piece, he gives voice to a core is a political philosphy precept of mine: social cohesion depends on political progress. Another way to phrase this idea would be: social welfare vs. individual supremacy vis-a-vis political progressivism.

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Morality as it Relates to Politics

morality as it relates to politics February 16th, 2020

When we talk about Bernie Sanders supporting a “Medicare for All” approach to healthcare, there are many distinct and legitimate approaches one can take when thinking about it. One is functionality; another is cost. Viability is a third, and unintended consequences is yet another. There are also moral aspects of politics, for example, when it comes to healthcare. For example, is it a right or a privilege? Can a CEO promise it during heated negotiations with employees, and take it away the next quarter? Is there equal access to quality healthcare, or is it, as with most goods in society, available in varying degrees based on one’s privilege, wealth, and power? This is but one example of morality as it relates to politics, the subject of this blog.

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What Do We Deserve? Moral Desert & Entitlement

moral desert January 21st, 2020

What does a person – let’s confine it to Americans in this blog – deserve? In philosophy, it is termed moral dessert. That is, as a member of society, what rights does one have to goods and benefits and opportunities? Contrast dessert (sometimes spelled desert) with entitlement – the rights one has based on law, contracts, and agreements. In this piece, I want to dilate on this topic, and to that end, will share a brief discussion a friend and I had. You may not be surprised to learn that I take a generally liberal position, and my friend, a fairly libertarian one. I am more likely to see, optimistically, that people deserve opportunity, chances, and help from society at large (i.e., the institutions of government and associated social welfare provisions). You can expect, of course, to see apt quotations brought to bear on the dialogue.

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What is Socratic Dialogue?

Socratic dialogue January 12th, 2020

“In order to improve yourself, Socrates insists, you have to know yourself,” said philosopher Judith Barad. Socrates hasn’t been around since ancient Athens, Greece, but the method of inquiry and self-examination he pioneered is still valid and has a lot to recommend it. “Socrates was the first to call philosophy down from the heavens and establish it in the towns and introduce it into homes and force it to investigate life, ethics, good and evil,” according to also-significant Roman orator Cicero. “Socrates’ method was to go about, as he said himself, ‘cross-examining the pretenders to knowledge and wisdom,’ and by the cross-examination, showing them that they were in error, that what they supposed they knew, they did not know,” noted the luminary Mortimer Adler. This blog is about Socratic dialogue – how to appreciate it, and what it can do.

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America Desperately Needs Truth, Wisdom, and Critical Thinking

truth, wisdom, and critical thinking December 16th, 2019

America has a boat-load of problems. To open a newspaper any day of the week is enough to discourage anyone. Partisanship has reached nearly-fervid proportions. I fear we have little hope of seeing the forest for the trees when 45% of Americans don’t think Donald Trump should be tried in the Senate! Indeed, Trump may be the grotesque manifestation of a country that is sick, but the origins of what ails us are older than the huckster in the White House. What does this have to do with values? Truth, wisdom, and justice are not values that one can expect to apprehend if one sits around watching Fox News, “America’s Got Talent”, and football. If we want to improve, to thrive, to avoid disaster, the road is a tough one – much tougher than a trope such as “Liberals have been causing the decay of American society for decades now!” or “The most important thing in 2020 is to remove Donald Trump from office!”

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America’s Wars: Same Inhumanity and Lies, Different Decade. 

December 10th, 2019

Noted social critic and historian, Howard Zinn, pointed out that, “Indeed, when the [Vietnam] war was studied years later, it was clear that no rational decision based on any moral principle had led the nations into war. Rather, there were imperial rivalries, greed for more territory, lusting for national prestige, and the stupidity of revenge.” Though Abraham Lincoln knew the gravity of a civil war, he also used soaring rhetoric at times to characterize the nobility of the side wearing blue: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in.” When looked at in an objective sense, war is almost never justified, and yet in America, is appallingly repetetive. It’s like, Same inhumanity and lies, different decade.  This is especially true now, as new information has come to light that American presidents all knew the war in Afghanistan couldn’t be “won”, and yet it is to-date the nation’s longest-lasting war. 

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Is It True That “Everything Happens for a Reason”?

everything happens for a reason November 18th, 2019

At first, this might sound like a foolish title, because in one sense of the phrase, everything does happen for a reason. The universe operates according to the laws of physics which posits that everything is determined and so on (well, quantum physics kinda is the fly in that ointment). I get determinism and physics’ position. However, in a different vein, the more commonly-used vernacular you hear is, “Everything happens for a reason.” But is that true? I would say the evidence does not point in that direction, though, as some are quick to point out, “God works in mysterious ways” and almost anything is possible. This post explores metaphysics and truth and other heady subjects.

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Only Fools Vote Against Their Best Interests

only fools vote against their best interests August 16th, 2019

“A new report reveals that almost all of the states where people earn the least are controlled by Republicans, while the states where people make the most money are almost exclusively led by Democratic politicians.” So writes Michael Harriot. This raises some interesting and haunting issues. In a nutshell, Republican voters who are poor are fools. Only fools vote against their best interests. It’s not by chance that this came about, though. The GOP is an abomination, and Trump is only the natural result of that. Here is my reasoning as to how this all happens. Functionalism and conflict theory are very helpful in understanding this gross phenomenon.

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Social Problems: Gun Control and Mass Shootings Analyzed

gun control August 12th, 2019

In this blog, I will aim to parse the gun violence issue. I thought to do so because I came across a compelling essay by Nicholas D. Kristof entitled “How to Win the Gun Control Argument.” I then went to go look it up by name in a Web search, and guess what popped up in the #2 slot? An article from the exact opposite perspective entitled “Winning the Gun Control Debate”. That is obviously enough to give one a headache. However, wisdom is the ideal guide to analyze the competing claims, complex issues, and difficult aspects of the gun control/gun violence social problem that currently plagues us. Next to the opioid epidemic, I would say that gun violence is a massive concern for American society – as it is for New Zealand, Norway, and every other country, practically. We live in difficult times, and at their worst, humans are basically clothed chimpanzees with semi-automatic rifles.

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