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Another “Help with my philosophy class” thread
Posted: 25 September 2009 12:02 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi Everyone,

It’s been a while since I last posted. I’m currently in a beginner’s Epistemology/Metaphysics class and the instructor is very open about being a theist. He used to be a Catholic priest actually. He’‘s mentioned numerous times how scientists or proponents of reductionism and materialism can be (and are) very dogmatic in their own right. He’s mentioned a few times how dogmatic Carl Sagan was. He only seems to see any proponent of materialism/reductionism as making the claim that there “is nothing else” but what can be observed through the lens of materialistic reductionism. I’ve rebutted that I think proponents tend to more often say that this appears to be the most reliable method in many ways and not make the absolutist claims that he accuses them of and he seems to ignore comments like that. I figure he doesn’t even consider that because he accused them of the same thing shortly after I made that comment. He says that he welcomes dissenting opinions but he doesn’t hide that his philosophy is very heavily based on a belief in “god” and of course, this is the material that we must study. The book that we read was written by him. I would first like to know what you guys think of this in general. This is my first college class ever, so I don’t know if this is common in philosophy classes. I enjoy it either way. I consider it a nice challenge for my own beliefs.

What I also wanted to know was if my objection to something he said is a valid one (for my own learning experience). Obviously he disagrees, but I’m not sure if I can get anything but his biased opinion on this. The main focus of the class so far has been on philosophical skepticism, which he disagrees with. He’s not a fan of subjectivism or relativism. He recently pointed out that there comes a point where we run out of explanation and we must look to our own subjective experience before we may move forward to any knowledge of anything objective. So my question is, if we ultimately must rely on our subjective experience as the sole criterion for truth, doesn’t this lead to subjectivism? And if so, I don’t see any contradiction if it would lead to relativism. There’s nothing to stop people from saying something like “Well that might be true for you, but it’s not for me.” He says I’m off base and that I need to clarify to myself some ideas like “truth”, subjectivsm and relativism. Any thoughts?

Thanks
Phil

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Posted: 25 September 2009 01:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Kaizen - 25 September 2009 12:02 PM

He recently pointed out that there comes a point where we run out of explanation and we must look to our own subjective experience before we may move forward to any knowledge of anything objective.

I guess that’s great news! If subjective experience suffice when you run out of explanations, it almost guarantees you an A+ on every paper you write.  grin

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Posted: 25 September 2009 01:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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George - 25 September 2009 01:19 PM

I guess that’s great news! If subjective experience suffice when you run out of explanations, it almost guarantees you an A+ on every paper you write.  grin

I was wondering if it was just me. But then he switch the focus to me somehow making that claim that agreement between people was necessary for truth to exist. I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that I’m the ignorant newbie, but I want to shout red herring.

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Posted: 25 September 2009 03:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Kaizen - 25 September 2009 12:02 PM

So my question is, if we ultimately must rely on our subjective experience as the sole criterion for truth, doesn’t this lead to subjectivism? And if so, I don’t see any contradiction if it would lead to relativism. There’s nothing to stop people from saying something like “Well that might be true for you, but it’s not for me.” He says I’m off base and that I need to clarify to myself some ideas like “truth”, subjectivsm and relativism. Any thoughts?

Thanks
Phil

I am biased against theists, and to me your prof sounds like a tool.  When I went to college I learned, as you will, that professors are just as ordinary and flawed as anyone else.  Some profs attempt to give information in a balanced way, and others feel their bias is the logical conclusion from evaluation of facts.  Here’s an example, I did foreign study in Greece.  There were only a few profs, because it was “College Year in Athens” set-up specifically for a year abroad.  There were two ancient history profs, a man and a woman.  The woman explained the unexplained rooms of the Minoans as having this or that religious significance, like a room meant for purifying.  The man explained the unexplained rooms of the Minoans as simply storage, always storage.  This was a joke to all of us students, because the truth is, no one knows, the rooms could be religious, storage, a combination or something quite different. 

The moral of my story.  I feel for you, but profs don’t always know everything.  You have to sort through the mess they give you for yourself, and always question.  Read, read, read.  I’d take the profs advice and find some good material on “truth”, subjectivism, and relativism.  Something funny I found when I googled relativism:  “That’s true for you but not for me.” (Wikipedia).  It is funny that it is EXACTLY what you said.  I think you might be onto something, and you might want to double down on the research and bring some “weapons” to your next class discussion.

Good luck!

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Posted: 25 September 2009 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Kaizen - 25 September 2009 12:02 PM

He says that he welcomes dissenting opinions but he doesn’t hide that his philosophy is very heavily based on a belief in “god” and of course, this is the material that we must study. The book that we read was written by him. I would first like to know what you guys think of this in general. This is my first college class ever, so I don’t know if this is common in philosophy classes. I enjoy it either way. I consider it a nice challenge for my own beliefs.

It is not common in philosophy classes at the university level. I’d wager that only a very small percentage of university professors of philosophy are theists, and in my experience they are usually thought of as a little odd. That said, I did have one strong theist as a professor in grad school, and learned to like him. How did I do it? I learned to parrot back to him all the arguments he provided, as well as I could, before attacking them. That is, I took them seriously, even though I didn’t agree with any of their conclusions.

In fact, it was in his classes that I realized that I was an atheist, and not simply an agnostic. Kind of ironic.

But each professor is different, of course. It’s hard to know in advance if you have a guy who is willing to debate in good faith and teach you how to be a more careful atheist, or if you have someone who will brook no dissent, until you’ve taken a class or two with the guy already. Unfortunate, but true.

Kaizen - 25 September 2009 12:02 PM

What I also wanted to know was if my objection to something he said is a valid one (for my own learning experience). Obviously he disagrees, but I’m not sure if I can get anything but his biased opinion on this. The main focus of the class so far has been on philosophical skepticism, which he disagrees with. He’s not a fan of subjectivism or relativism. He recently pointed out that there comes a point where we run out of explanation and we must look to our own subjective experience before we may move forward to any knowledge of anything objective. So my question is, if we ultimately must rely on our subjective experience as the sole criterion for truth, doesn’t this lead to subjectivism? And if so, I don’t see any contradiction if it would lead to relativism. There’s nothing to stop people from saying something like “Well that might be true for you, but it’s not for me.” He says I’m off base and that I need to clarify to myself some ideas like “truth”, subjectivsm and relativism. Any thoughts?

I’m not sure I follow this part of your post, since it’s summarizing a huge amount. Philosophically, “skepticism” is generally taken to be the view that we can’t know anything; it follows from the so-called radical skepticism of Descartes. Descartes pushed skepticism as far as it could go, and then tried to rebuild a “foundational” epistemology built upon his own subjective experiences, plus God. (Who he believed he could intuit existed).

Now, there are problems here all down the line, as many have pointed out post-Descartes, but his beginning was historically extremely important in overcoming the stranglehold that Aristotle and the Bible had on western thought since the early middle ages. So as fans of the enlightenment we really shouldn’t be so hard on Descartes. His arguments might not have been completely accurate but they were crucial at the time in laying the groundwork for philosophy as a discipline not only separate from theology, but superior to it. For that he was considered a radical in his own time.

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Posted: 25 September 2009 03:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Chicken - 25 September 2009 03:03 PM
Kaizen - 25 September 2009 12:02 PM

I am biased against theists, and to me your prof sounds like a tool.  When I went to college I learned, as you will, that professors are just as ordinary and flawed as anyone else.  Some profs attempt to give information in a balanced way, and others feel their bias is the logical conclusion from evaluation of facts.  Here’s an example, I did foreign study in Greece.  There were only a few profs, because it was “College Year in Athens” set-up specifically for a year abroad.  There were two ancient history profs, a man and a woman.  The woman explained the unexplained rooms of the Minoans as having this or that religious significance, like a room meant for purifying.  The man explained the unexplained rooms of the Minoans as simply storage, always storage.  This was a joke to all of us students, because the truth is, no one knows, the rooms could be religious, storage, a combination or something quite different. 

The moral of my story.  I feel for you, but profs don’t always know everything.  You have to sort through the mess they give you for yourself, and always question.  Read, read, read.  I’d take the profs advice and find some good material on “truth”, subjectivism, and relativism.  Something funny I found when I googled relativism:  “That’s true for you but not for me.” (Wikipedia).  It is funny that it is EXACTLY what you said.  I think you might be onto something, and you might want to double down on the research and bring some “weapons” to your next class discussion.

Good luck!

Thanks for the input Chicken. Yeah, I’m definitely going to take the advice and look into these subjects a lot closer, but it’s going to take more time than what I have between classes. I’m starting on truth, but the articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy are pretty long and it’s takes ma a while to really understand each section when going through something as thorough as those types of articles. Whether I’m right or wrong doesn’t really matter to me at this point, I have a lot to learn and a lot to think about regardless, so I like the advice. Funny thing, when talking about Consciousness last night, he slipped and called it the “soul”. He tried to catch his word and call it consciousness, but he already said the whole word. I thought that was pretty funny.

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Posted: 25 September 2009 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is written at a high level. IMO it makes a poor introduction. Further, many of the articles are written by people with pretty strong points of view, which is to say, they can be somewhat skewed to one particular approach out of many. But if you know a little of the background, many of the articles are well done.

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Posted: 25 September 2009 04:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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dougsmith - 25 September 2009 03:33 PM

It is not common in philosophy classes at the university level. I’d wager that only a very small percentage of university professors of philosophy are theists, and in my experience they are usually thought of as a little odd. That said, I did have one strong theist as a professor in grad school, and learned to like him. How did I do it? I learned to parrot back to him all the arguments he provided, as well as I could, before attacking them. That is, I took them seriously, even though I didn’t agree with any of their conclusions.

In fact, it was in his classes that I realized that I was an atheist, and not simply an agnostic. Kind of ironic.

But each professor is different, of course. It’s hard to know in advance if you have a guy who is willing to debate in good faith and teach you how to be a more careful atheist, or if you have someone who will brook no dissent, until you’ve taken a class or two with the guy already. Unfortunate, but true.

Thanks for this. I really am doing my best to understand where he’s coming from. But I will be more conscious of this from now on. I’m definitely going to be parroting back his points. I’ve found that useful in sales and negotiation in many cases.

I’m not sure I follow this part of your post, since it’s summarizing a huge amount. Philosophically, “skepticism” is generally taken to be the view that we can’t know anything; it follows from the so-called radical skepticism of Descartes. Descartes pushed skepticism as far as it could go, and then tried to rebuild a “foundational” epistemology built upon his own subjective experiences, plus God. (Who he believed he could intuit existed).

Now, there are problems here all down the line, as many have pointed out post-Descartes, but his beginning was historically extremely important in overcoming the stranglehold that Aristotle and the Bible had on western thought since the early middle ages. So as fans of the enlightenment we really shouldn’t be so hard on Descartes. His arguments might not have been completely accurate but they were crucial at the time in laying the groundwork for philosophy as a discipline not only separate from theology, but superior to it. For that he was considered a radical in his own time.

I’m not sure how these are normally categorized, but he seems to place subjectivism and relativism under the umbrella of skepticism in that they ultimately leads us to conclude that there is no truth or falsehood, right or wrong, knowledge, etc.

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Posted: 25 September 2009 04:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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dougsmith - 25 September 2009 03:39 PM

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is written at a high level. IMO it makes a poor introduction. Further, many of the articles are written by people with pretty strong points of view, which is to say, they can be somewhat skewed to one particular approach out of many. But if you know a little of the background, many of the articles are well done.

Would you suggest that I start with the Stanford Encyclopedia (SEP) over the Internet Encyclopedia (IEP) or vice versa? I do try to keep in mind that finding a “neutral” position may be more difficult to find in philosophy than others lines of study.

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Posted: 25 September 2009 07:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Kaizen - 25 September 2009 04:33 PM

Thanks for this. I really am doing my best to understand where he’s coming from. But I will be more conscious of this from now on. I’m definitely going to be parroting back his points. I’ve found that useful in sales and negotiation in many cases.

Right. I think one can learn a good deal from an honest opponent, simply by trying to take his arguments seriously and trying to find the holes in them. Of course, it’s a two way street and will depend on him as well.

Kaizen - 25 September 2009 04:33 PM

I’m not sure how these are normally categorized, but he seems to place subjectivism and relativism under the umbrella of skepticism in that they ultimately leads us to conclude that there is no truth or falsehood, right or wrong, knowledge, etc.

Well, not being there, I’m not sure where he’s coming from. But certainly any theory that has it that there is no truth or falsehood, right or wrong, is bunk. (It’s a variety of extreme postmodernism as well). So you can begin by making it clear to him that you are on the same page that there are truths and falsehoods, right and wrong answers to questions. That may help get beyond the issues about subjectivism and relativism, I don’t know.

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Posted: 25 September 2009 07:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Kaizen - 25 September 2009 04:36 PM

Would you suggest that I start with the Stanford Encyclopedia (SEP) over the Internet Encyclopedia (IEP) or vice versa? I do try to keep in mind that finding a “neutral” position may be more difficult to find in philosophy than others lines of study.

Haven’t looked at the IEP recently. There’s also Wikipedia, which can be relatively decent. One of the problems in philosophy is that it’s hard to find good intro stuff, unless maybe you are assigned a decent intro textbook.

If you can make sense of the SEP it is good info, but I expect much of it will be sort of byzantine to a beginner. Depends on the case.

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Posted: 26 September 2009 07:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Kaizen - 25 September 2009 03:35 PM

Whether I’m right or wrong doesn’t really matter to me at this point, I have a lot to learn and a lot to think about regardless, so I like the advice. Funny thing, when talking about Consciousness last night, he slipped and called it the “soul”. He tried to catch his word and call it consciousness, but he already said the whole word. I thought that was pretty funny.

That is a great attitude!  I think it will help you out throughout all your college endeavors, and beyond.  That slip of the tongue is funny.  I wonder how many people “want” to believe in a soul, but logically know better.  A little Freudian slip, eh?  Keep us posted on how this class/prof/discussion evolves.

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Posted: 26 September 2009 02:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I’m a lot less forgiving than you, Kaizen.  When I got interested in philosophy (in my late 40s) I started by taking the first of a three part history of philosophy course at a local university. The instructor was great, and loved to discuss (but not argue) in depth.  The only problem was that everyone had to work hard to understand him since his bachelor’s degree was from the University of Kyoto (maybe Osaka), and his PhD was from Heidelberg.  A strong Japanese-German accent is challenging.  The second was an epistomologist who was a very bright, nice young guy who taught a worthwhile course.  The third was an egotistical jerk who loved belittling the young students.  I put up with him at first, but when he assigned the students the job of presenting some argument he proposed in the form of Hegel, that was too much.  It was obviously far above the capabilities of non-philosophy major, college freshmen, so he was just doing it to show his “superiority”.  I wrote a four hundred word analysis and criticism of Hegel and of the instructor’s pedegogical approach and told him, in polysyllabic words, what he could do, and it was written in one sentence just as Hegel tended to do.  Then I dropped the class.  If I were you I’d quickly drop that class and find one with a more open instructor. 

Oh, I later found out that the jerk instructor was part of the cause of the breakup of a young friend’s marriage because the wife (very pretty) had taken that course and the instructor (married) started an affair with her.  People are consistent.

Occam

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Posted: 15 February 2010 11:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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He’s not a fan of subjectivism or relativism. He recently pointed out that there comes a point where we run out of explanation and we must look to our own subjective experience before we may move forward to any knowledge of anything objective. So my question is, if we ultimately must rely on our subjective experience as the sole criterion for truth, doesn’t this lead to subjectivism?

Some academics are wary of dogmatic subjectivism because, like other dogmatic beliefs, it is dangerous.  Whereas on one far end of the objectivist/subjectivist spectrum, we slip into oppressive value-systems (e.g. forcing people to believe in your god), on the other end one might encounter moral subjectivists—who believe that any act, no matter how immoral, is justifiable in its own right.  In my opinion, it is best not to be radical/dogmatic in either direction, and this sounds like what your professor is getting at (although you obviously know him better than I).

If you’re having trouble with the concept of objective truth, just consider how you use the term in ordinary language. You wouldn’t, for instance, say that it is true that 2+2= 4 here, but on so far off planet (where no one believes in the same truths that you and I do) that 2+2=5.  This is because we ordinarily consider truths to be something that exist whether or not mind’s think them to be true.  Hence, if I stop believing that the pythogorean theorom is true, it should not be the case that the P.T. ceases to be true.

Now, you might say: “these are only truths to me.”  But this seems like an unfair use of language.  That is, you are pairing a contradiction with the phrase “only to me” and the word “truth”; whereas truth entails the existence of something whether or not you believe it, “to me” requires only belief.  Moreover, “only” would be taken to imply “only a belief,” yet we have already established that “truth” is not “only a belief”

[ Edited: 15 February 2010 11:43 PM by aroyal641 ]
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Posted: 16 February 2010 12:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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aroyal641 - 15 February 2010 11:24 PM

He’s not a fan of subjectivism or relativism. He recently pointed out that there comes a point where we run out of explanation and we must look to our own subjective experience before we may move forward to any knowledge of anything objective. So my question is, if we ultimately must rely on our subjective experience as the sole criterion for truth, doesn’t this lead to subjectivism?

Some academics are wary of dogmatic subjectivism because, like other dogmatic beliefs, it is dangerous.  Whereas on one far end of the objectivist/subjectivist spectrum, we slip into oppressive value-systems (e.g. forcing people to believe in your god), on the other end one might encounter moral subjectivists—who believe that any act, no matter how immoral, is justifiable in its own right.  In my opinion, it is best not to be radical/dogmatic in either direction, and this sounds like what your professor is getting at (although you obviously know him better than I).

If you’re having trouble with the concept of objective truth, just consider how you use the term in ordinary language. You wouldn’t, for instance, say that it is true that 2+2= 4 here, but on so far off planet (where no one believes in the same truths that you and I do) that 2+2=5.  This is because we ordinarily consider truths to be something that exist whether or not mind’s think them to be true.  Hence, if I stop believing that the pythogorean theorom is true, it should not be the case that the P.T. ceases to be true.

Now, you might say: “these are only truths to me.”  But this seems like an unfair use of language.  That is, you are pairing a contradiction with the phrase “only to me” and the word “truth”; whereas truth entails the existence of something whether or not you believe it, “to me” requires only belief.  Moreover, “only” would be taken to imply “only a belief,” yet we have already established that “truth” is not “only a belief”

It’s been a while since I started this thread and I’m no longer in that class. John Searle pointed out something interesting that pertains to my question. He talks in one of his esays on consciousness about the difference between epistemic and ontological objectivity.

RE: Your comment on truth, while I agree that truth should remain consistent regardless of any subject’s opinions, my understanding of truth is that it is basically a statement/proposition that aligns with reality. So if no one existed, there would be no one to express any “truths”, but there would be reality. Not really a disagreement with what you’ve said, just adding.

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Posted: 16 February 2010 06:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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A reality would never “be”, without subject. God is the unifying factor of Being - the transcendental object that brings all together. From God emanates dharma, the stream that brings one to the recognition of how Love works its way to fulfill Life, or Being. With practice and sincerity, this truth can be Remembered more and more frequently, until one abides in Love as a permanent state, empty of form.

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“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” -Voltaire
“It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.” - Thomas Paine
“It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” - Carl Sagan
“It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” - Baha’u'llah

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