“Thinking about thinking”
The word “philosophy” is often used to refer to a set of dogmas or
“George Bush’s political philosophy”
“Jim Tressel’s philosophy of team management”
“Christian philosophy of the Trinity”
“Buddhist philosophy of Karma”
“My philosophy of taking every opportunity that presents itself!”
Thus, you might guess that all you will be doing in this chapter is
merely listening to and memorizing dogmas and ideologies.
However, this chapter rather consists of subjecting dogmas and
ideologies to critical thinking. That is philosophy!
THE TOPICS IN THIS CHAPTER
Skepticism and Existentialism
Determinism, Freewill, and Moral Responsibility
PHILOSOPHY AS CRITICAL THINKING
- THE HISTORICAL CASE OF SOCRATES -
The first recognized philosopher, Socrates, lived in
ancient Athens, discussing things like justice and virtues
with anyone who would listen and talk. Anyone.
He lived the slogan that philosophical reflection is the
essence of everyone’s life.
One of his famous claims is “Unexamined life is not
Through dialogues, Socrates subjects many common
views to critical examination.
His method consists of revealing the surprising and
unwanted implications of these views, and having the
defenders acknowledge that their views need revision.
THE CASE OF SOCRATES
This method of examination does
not guarantee that the examiners
arrive at certain knowledge.
In fact, Socrates never claimed
any special positive knowledge of
justice, virtue and so on.
Socrates famously stated:
“I cannot teach anybody
anything, I can only make
Because he subjected people’s
common views to critical
examination, and often mused in
making those in power look like
fools, Socrates was tried in court
and sentenced to death.
PHILOSOPHY AS CRITICAL THINKING
- THE HISTORICAL CASE OF PLATO
One of Socrates’ students, Plato,
thought that philosophical reflection
should be guided by the exact and
certain path to necessary truths –
The entrance to Plato’s Academy is
marked with the phrase meaning “Let no
one ignorant of geometry enter here.”
Plato in effect downplays the
methodology of Socrates as an
uncertain path to knowledge.
Because only a few can master math,
Plato ends up denying Socrates’ view
that philosophy is for everyone.
The points of Plato’s tale are two:
(1) philosophy tries to apply the best way
of critical thinking
(2) philosophy questions dogmas –
whether held by the majority of people or
just one individual.
WHY STUDY PHILOSOPHY?
If philosophy does not provide
certain knowledge, what is
the merit of studying it?
A 20th century philosopher
Bertrand Russell presents one
enlarge our conception of
what is possible, enrich our
intellectual imagination and
diminish the dogmatic
assurance which closes the
mind against thinking.
RUSSELL, EXTENDED QUOTE:
The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in
its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of
philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices
derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of
his age or his nation, and from convictions which have
grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent
of his deliberate reason…As soon as we begin to
philosophize…we find…that even the most everyday
things lead to problems which only very incomplete
answers can be given. Philosophy…is able to suggest
many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free
them from the tyranny of custom. Thus…it greatly
increases our knowledge as to what they [things] may be;
it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those
who have never traveled into the region of liberating
doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing
familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.
(The Problems of Philosophy, Hackett, 1912, 156-7)
Groups of 2 - 4
Use the extended quote from Russell and
consider the following in a group discussion:
1) Why should we study philosophy (in your own
2) Do you agree that, “(philosophy) removes the
somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have
never traveled into the region of liberating doubt,
and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing
familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.”
Absolute truth: is defined as inflexible reality: fixed,
invariable, unalterable facts. For example, it is a fixed,
invariable, unalterable fact that there are absolutely no
square circles and there are absolutely no round squares.
Is there really such a thing as an absolute truth? Examples:
Time and dates. We will all die. Love is always good. Hate
is always bad. Mathematical formulas. Historical events.
Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth
or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to
differences in perception and consideration.
Connecting quote: “Custom is king over all.”
There are two major points to consider:
The first point is the uncertainty between
The claim of diversity: people’s actual beliefs and practices vary with
their cultures; and,
Cultural Relativism: what is true varies with cultures. Example- Jesus
Christ or Jesus of Nazareth?
THE CLAIM OF DIVERSITY AND CULTURAL
The claim of diversity is plausible about some subjects, but
cultural relativism is distinct from that claim.
We should keep these views separate. Take morality for
The claim of diversity about morality merely implies that
people in different cultures have conflicting beliefs and
different practices about morality. This is perhaps true.
Cultural relativism about morality implies that true moral
principles vary with cultures. This view is controversial.
A SECOND POINT ABOUT RELATIVISM
(“what is true varies
with cultures”) is only
one type of relativism.
Another version of
relativism makes truth
relative to individuals.
Relativism: what is true
varies with individuals.
AN ARGUMENT FOR CULTURAL RELATIVISM
Individual Activity. Consider the following for a large group
1. People’s actual beliefs and practices vary with their cultures.
(The claim of diversity)
2. Despite the differences, people are always convinced their
views are true and their practices are best. (Ethnocentrism)
Therefore, what is true varies with cultures.
SO…Diversity + Ethnocentrism = Cultural Relativism
Is this argument plausible?
GENERAL AND LOCAL RELATIVISM
Some people hold what we
might call General
Relativism: truth about
every subject matter is
Other people hold what we
might call Local
Relativism: truth about
some subject matter –
aesthetics, science etc. –
THE PROBLEM OF DRAWING A LINE
Get into groups of 2-4 and consider the following:
If you were raised in Nazi Germany as part of the Hitler Youth,
might you have turned out to be perfectly despicable people.
If this is true, then can we properly blame the German participating in
More generally, can we properly blame immoral people brought up in a
Last question, does the advent of the internet and mass communication
affect the outcomes of these arguments? If so, how?
CONCLUSION ON RELATIVISM
Relativism is one of the first philosophies, developed by the Sophists
(followers of Plato and Socrates). Relativism is linked to all philosophical
Relativism also has a place in all the world’s religions, but lends itself more
to the eastern religions we will uncover in the next chapter.
People can and do change their moral views as they become reflective. That
is one reason why some people can and do criticize dominant moral views
In philosophy, skepticism is an overall approach that
requires all information to be well supported by
Skeptics may even doubt the reliability of their own
Great skeptics include Rene Descartes and David Hume.
French Philosopher and
mathematician-although he lived
outside France for much of his life.
Known as the father of modern
Inspired Hobbs and Locke,
Rousseau. Indirectly inspired all
Most famous work, Discourse of
the Method and Principles of
2 famous Quotes:
“Question everything” (even
your own existence)
“I Think, Therefore I am” (so he
believes he exists)
Most Famous work completed at
age 26: Treatise on Human Nature
Concluded that human nature is
driven by desire as opposed to
Also stated that humans are only
as intelligent as their experiences;
we cannot comprehend what we
have not applied our senses to.
Human life is a cycle of cause and
Ethics: Said morality is driven by
feelings, not principles
Good friends with Adam Smith,
assisted in writing The Wealth of
SKEPTICISM IS THE DENIAL OF THE POSSIBILITY
OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE:
By definition, skepticism denies that we can have any
However, skepticism is compatible with our having
That is, reasonable beliefs based in empirical evidence can be
accepted conditionally, but should always remain open to change.
(World is flat, space is infinite)
Skeptics believe nothing is absolute, everything is open to change
THE POSSIBILITY OF AN ILLUSION:
Groups of 2-4. Discuss and debate in groups
Skeptics point out that our perceptual
experiences are fallible. What are two
1. A straight stick looks bent in water
2. Mirages in the desert
Does this possibility of illusion show that we
cannot have any perceptual knowledge?
A 19th and 20th century philosophy
that is centered upon the analysis
of existence and of the way
humans find themselves existing in
More simply, existentialism is a
philosophy concerned with finding
self and the meaning of life through
free will, choice, and personal
The belief is that people are
searching to find out who and what
they are throughout life as they
make choices based on their
experiences, beliefs, and outlook.
Major Existentialists include:
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sarte
KIERKEGAARD, NIETZSCHE, SARTE
Soren Kierkegaard: 19th Century Danish Friedrich Nietzsche: 19th Century German
Philosopher (1813-1855) Philosopher (1844-1900)
Known best for his intense criticism of the Known best for his “will to power”
modern church while supporting the philosophy.
existence of God and Jesus. Basically, the natural condition of life is
Famous Works: 18 volume set- Edifying one of profusion, so live life to the fullest.
Discourse. This line of thinking killed him, literally.
Famous Quote, “The thing is to find a Famous Quote, “There are no facts, only
truth which is true for me, to find the idea interpretations”
for which I can live and die"
Jean-Paul Sartre: 20th Century French
Most Famous Work, “Being and
Said we live in a society of oppression
Interesting: Won a Nobel Prize in
literature, but refused to accept it, saying
it would limit his freedom.
EXISTENTIALISM = FREE THINKING
The arbitrary act that existentialism
finds most objectionable is when
someone or society tries to impose
or demand that their beliefs,
values, or rules be faithfully
accepted and obeyed.
Existentialists believe this destroys
individualism and makes a person
become whatever the people in
power desire, thus they are
dehumanized and reduced to being
Existentialism then stresses that a
person's judgment is the
determining factor for what is to be
believed rather than by arbitrary
Determinism– is the view that every event has a cause. In other words, everything
that happens is “caused” to happen.
Determinism is not fatalism. Fatalism holds that human action has no influence on
events, everything is pre-determined and we are just acting out a pre-written script.
Determinism does not deny that human action is the cause (or part of the cause).
Some use science to refute determinism, specifically stating that quantum physics
shows that determinism is false because according to the theory the movement of
each particle at each moment has no cause.
Others refute determinism by observing that humans deliberate, choose, think,
confront alternatives and are directly aware of ourselves acting freely.
Free Will- to have what it takes to act
freely. When an agent acts freely—
exercising their free will—what they do is
up to them. A plurality of alternatives is
open, and they determine which path to
As we act we have the sense that it is up
to us whether or not we do it, or which
action to take.
For example, as we move our arm, we
immediately sense that it is up to us
whether or not we move our arm.
Further, this ‘awareness’ is shared by
From this ‘awareness’ of free will, some
argue that determinism is false.
CAN DETERMINISM AND FREE WILL CO-EXIST?
Groups of 2-4. Consider the following:
Many people assume that the denial of
determinism guarantees the existence
of free will. This is actually false.
That is not to say that the two can’t co-
exist. Maybe they can and maybe they
can’t. There is no absolute truth in this
Do you personally believe in free will or
What are the implications of your belief on
your everyday life?
Can free will and determinism co-exist?
Moral Responsibility can mean
several things, such as
and moral obligation. Simply
stated, it is doing the right thing for
the right reason.
However, the concern is that with an
individual’s moral responsibility for
an action and its result, two
conditions must be in place:
1. Knowledge condition: an agent is
morally responsible for an action
and its result only if the agent
recognizes, or it is reasonably
expectable to recognize, what they
are doing and what it will bring
about. (mental impairment)
2. Control condition: an agent is
morally responsible for an action
only if the agent has control over
what they are doing. (sleepwalking)
MORAL RESPONSIBILITY AND DETERMINISM
It is sometimes argued that if determinism is true, nobody has control over their
actions; thus, nobody satisfies the control condition of moral responsibility;
therefore, nobody is morally responsible for his or her action.
Arguments to show the incompatibility of free will and determinism are used to
show the incompatibility of moral responsibility and determinism.
Most philosophers (and most governments/justice systems) believe in free will
and moral responsibility.
MIND AND SOUL
The discussion of free will, determinism
and moral responsibility inevitably leads
to a discussion of the soul.
Most, but not all, identify the soul with the
It is fair to ask those who believe that the
soul is distinct from the mind the
What is the distinction between the soul
and the mind? What is a soul anyway?
Given that a soul is distinct from the
mind, can we know whether someone has
a soul? How?
Given that a soul is distinct from the
mind, is there any reason to believe that
some beings – human beings (only?) –
have soul but others – rocks, plants, non-
human animals etc. – don’t?
When relating the soul back to
determinism, freewill, and moral
responsibility a number of
interesting philosophical questions
Can an agent believe in determinism
and believe in a soul? If so, are
souls pre-determined to go to
heaven and go to hell? Would a just
God pre-determine a soul to hell?
Believing in a soul lends itself to
freewill, An agent has the ability to
make a decision (freewill) based on
their understanding of right and
wrong (moral responsibility). Based
on a lifetime of these freewill
decisions, the soul is rewarded or
punished in an afterlife.
ARISTOTLE – METAPHYSICS & LOGIC
Aristotle was a student of Plato (for 20 years) in ancient Greece,
thus he was also influenced by Socrates.
He was a teacher and advisor to Alexander the Great.
Considered by most to be the worlds greatest philosopher, he
worked across multiple disciplines. His contributions include;
physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, linguistics,
politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology.
First to discuss Metaphysics (AKA Natural Philosophy),
connecting science to philosophy. Metaphysics is a branch of
philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature
of being and the world.
The metaphysician attempts to clarify the fundamental notions
by which people understand the world; existence, objects and
their properties, time, space, and cause & effect.
Aristotle created what we know today as formal logic, or
deductive reasoning. Formal Logic is a specific and tested
method for obtaining conclusions, using “if-then” statements.
Famous Quote, “Excellence is not an act, but a habit”
Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274):
Medieval Roman Catholic
Philosopher, part of the Dominican
Order of Monks.
Contribution: First Cause-
Attempted to prove the existence
of God by arguing that everything
in the universe has a beginning
and an end. Therefore, Aquinas
surmised, God is the first cause.
Aquinas spent his life attempting
to prove the existence of God. He
made 5 total attempts to prove
God’s existence, all of which are
still hotly debated to this day.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): German
philosopher and anthropologist
Famous work: The Critique of Pure Reason
discussed skepticism and metaphysics
His work was in opposition to Descartes and
He argues that human understanding is the
source of the general laws of nature that
structure all our experience; and that human
reason gives itself the moral law, which is our
basis for belief in God, freedom, and immortality.
Therefore, scientific knowledge, morality, and
religious belief are mutually consistent and
secure because they all rest on the same
foundation of human autonomy.
He is immensely influential to 19th and 20th
JOHN STUART MILL
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
British Philosopher known for his
work on liberty and tyranny.
Said government exists to maintain
the people’s liberty.
Also said the “majority” is
dangerous to the individual,
because the majority can lead the
minority into uniformity, thus
creating social norms that limit
Coined the term, “majority of one”,
which basically states that if
thousands of people believe in a
false premise and one person
believes in a true premise, the one
person is the majority.
William James (1842-1910):
Ralph Waldo Emerson was his
Godfather. Very well connected to
the great minds of the time.
Spent his entire career at Harvard.
Also a very well rounded
philosopher, but best known for his
Popularized idea of personal
religion, which is that a religion is
what the believer believes on any
given day. Religious dogmas are
second to individual religion.
Laurence Kohlberg (1927-1987) American Philosopher known for his work
Famous writing: Stages of Moral Development
Level 1-Preconventional. Get away with what you can, don’t get in trouble.
Level 2-Conventional. Blindly obey rules, follow example of peers and family
Level 3-Postconventional. Question right and wrong, develop personal
moral and values. Take care of those close to you.
POST-CONVENTIONAL MORALITY AND ETHICS
Individual. Discussion questions on the following scenario. Formulate your
own opinion for a large group discussion
Situation: In the last 24 months you have lost your job and your health
insurance because your company decided to outsource to a third world
country. Your spouse of 30 years has a life-threatening illness that has
been stabilized in the last 10 years with a very expensive medication.
Your spouse is now out of medication and you are out of legal options. With
welfare money you can barely afford food on the table let alone the high
price of the medication. Your spouse will die a horrible death in just a few
months without the medication and you do not have anyone to turn to for
the money. You decide to break into the local chain drug store and steal the
medication for your spouse.
Are you morally correct in your decision? If this was real, would you steal?
Have you ever been in a situation where you used post-conventional
14TH (CURRENT) DALAI LAMA
(1935-?) Religious leader of the Tibetan order of Buddhist Monks.
2nd most recognized religious figure in the world, next to the Pope.
Is granted the ability to change the religion and has. Said the next Dalai
Lama may be found outside Tibet and could be a female (both would be a
“Retired” in March of 2011, but still very active.
Very practical approach to life and problems. He does not deny reason, logic,
or science; but rather attempts to marry it with the spirituality of the religion.
Living as one with nature
Accepting scientific reasoning
“The Middle Path” approach to life
Philosophy gives us very few
answers, or absolute truths, but it
does give us the opportunity to
consider questions that shape our
society; specifically politics,
economics, justice, and culture.
questions and coming to personal
conclusions is the mark on an
educated and socially conscious
Careers within philosophy:
teacher/professor, author, lawyer,
politician (political science),
religious figure, social worker, and a
career in criminal justice.