Philosophy & Critical Thinking

Philosophy & Critical Thinking


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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Is the Fear of Death Rational and Appropriate?

fear of death November 5th, 2018

Epicurus (341-271 BCE) put forth an argument centuries ago that still retains much appeal and boasts some notable adherents (e.g., Rosenbaum, 1986). His thesis was that the actual occurrence of death (as distinguished from any possible afterlife or the act of dying) was not a bad thing, and thus the great anxiety our fear of death brings many people is unwarranted. He did admit that “being alive is generally good.” Epicurus believed that no post-mortem experience was likely, and that we never really know death because where we are, it isn’t, and where it is, we aren’t. It is appealing, but though it contains a meritorious theoretical/cognitive technique to stave off anxiety, I believe that Epicurus’ argument is somewhat shallow and incomplete, it doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny.

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The Risks of an Open Mind

an open mind October 19th, 2018

I was just having a discussion about my nemesis, Donald Trump, with a libertarian friend of mine. An economist, no less. I informed him that the American deficit just reached a seven-year high! It’s amazing that Obama was working with a horrible economy given to us by (drum roll……..) the Republicans – and still had a smaller deficit than what we do in 2018. Stimulus spending was the order of the day back then. The GOP loves to claim the Dems are “capital-S” Socialists who will run us into the ground with profligate spending on Medicare for All and such. Yet, the record seems to show that the GOP likes to spend tax revenue, but they also like to cut taxes to please their donors and feather their own nests. My friend tried to tout the idea that when we cut taxes, revenue increases. It’s magic! Actually, George H. W. Bush, then running against Ronald Reagan, did call this phenomenon “voodoo economics”!! I claim that supply-side economics doesn’t have good support, but it was my friend’s contention that it does. It led me to want to write a blog about the risks of one keeping an open mind in today’s hyperpartisan culture.

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The Mystery of Good Character

character October 16th, 2018

The following is a guest blog written by A. C. Reid Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University, Christian B. Miller. In it, he addresses character and introduces the reader to the concept of a character gap. His new book is entitled The Character Gap: How Good Are We?  There is also a link to a blog written by Jason Merchey entitled “The Values and Virtues America Desperately Needs”

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Views of Death Held by Various Philosophers

death October 16th, 2018

Epicurus put forth an argument centuries ago that still retains much appeal and boasts some notable adherents (e.g., Rosenbaum, 1986). His thesis was that the actual occurrence of death (as distinguished from any possible afterlife or the act of dying) was not a bad thing, and ought not to be feared or be a source of great anxiety. He did admit that “being alive is generally good.” The context of this notable Greek thinker was primarily a response to the theistic imaginings of the day that predicted very unfortunate occurrences in the “afterlife.” Epicurus believed that no post-mortem experience was likely, and that we never really know death because where we are, it isn’t, and where it is, we aren’t. It’s logically sound. What follows is a summary of some philosophical points of view about death.

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Responsibility Necessarily Entails Free Will

free will October 8th, 2018

Though determinism has much weight on its side, I have to believe that free will is not an illusion. Imagine there were a god or a supercomputer which could predict with 100% accuracy what I was going to do, 100% of the time. Would I be responsible for my behavior? Could I be praised to doing right or blamed for doing wrong? Is my free will my own, or an illusion? The main reason for believing that if God or a supercomputer could predict my behavior with absolute certainty, I would not be responsible for my actions is that responsibility necessarily entails freedom to choose, to act.

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Aristotle’s View of Humanity’s Highest Aspirations

humanity's highest aspirations September 15th, 2018

Aristotle is the grandfather of ethics and human flourishing; his book The Nicomachean Ethics has been a classic read in philosophy and ethics courses at universities since about 340 B.C.E. He studied with Plato and is largely credited with inventing logic and natural science. In this blog, I will share a brief outline of Aristotle’s first section entitled “The Human Good”, including a few quotations about humanity’s highest virtues.

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