Identifying Four Common Syllogisms

Euler diagram
An Euler diagram to illustrate the inclusivity and exclusivity of various political and geographical divisions within the British Isles

Week 4, Lecture 1

Learning Objectives

    1. Identify four common syllogisms
    2. Identify common informal fallacies

Here I offer the last section on philosophy’s methodology. In our previous lecture we identified the two categories of reasoning (deductive and inductive) and we discussed ways of evaluating the quality of arguments: are they valid, invalid, and do they have sound reasoning?

In this lecture I will present you some common valid argument forms and, more importantly, the common informal fallacies.

I will emphasize the informal fallacies because it is important for us to recognize these patterns of thinking so that we do not fall into these patterns of thinking ourselves.

Common valid deductive argument forms

Categorical syllogism: “A syllogism is an argument form that consists of two supporting premises and a conclusion. In a categorical syllogism, the premises and conclusion are all categorical statements—that is, statements about a category of things.”

Premise: All A (men) are B (mortal).
Premise: P is A (Paul is a man).
Conclusion: Therefore, P is B (Paul is mortal).

Modus Ponens: this phrase means “affirming the antecedent.” An antecedent is the first part of a hypothetical statement (so the words immediately following if). The second part of an hypothetical statement (the words immediately after then) is called the consequent.

Premise: If A (I have prepared thoroughly), then B (I will do well).
Premise: A is the case (I have prepared thoroughly).
Conclusion: Therefore, B (I will do well).

Modus Tollens: this phrase means “denying the consequence.” Like the modus ponens situation, we are dealing with an if/then proposition, but in this syllogism, the conditions of the consequent are denied in the second premise:

Premise: If A (Larry is a really good friend), then B (he will remember my birthday).
Premise: Not A (Larry didn’t remember my birthday)
Conclusion: Therefore, not A (Larry doesn’t really care about me)

Disjunctive syllogism: in this context disjunctive means presenting alternatives. With this kind of syllogism the second premise denies one of the alternatives and the conclusion affirms the remaining option.

Premise: Either A (I left my wallet in El Segundo) or B (I lost my wallet).
Premise: Not A (my wallet is not at that diner in El Segundo).
Conclusion: Therefore B (I lost my wallet).

Click here to continue the lecture and move on to informal fallacies.

Two Categories of Arguments

ReasoningPreviously we discussed how to identify and evaluate arguments. Recall that Philosophy’s primary method is pursuing reason found in argumentation.

Now, let’s look at two categories of arguments.

There are two categories of arguments that I want you to be able to identify and explain: deductive and inductive arguments.

In a deductive argument, if the argument is valid and if you accept the supporting reasons (aka premises) as true, then you must necessarily accept the conclusion as true.

Here’s a typical example:

Premise: All men are mortal.
Premise: Dr. Boshears is a man.
Conclusion: Therefore, Dr. Boshears is mortal.

With an inductive argument we reason from premises to a conclusion that is supported by the premises, but the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises.

With inductive reasoning we have conclusions that are probable, but not certain.

To illustrate this point, consider the following examples:

  • The solar system is probably the result of an enormous explosion—a “big bang”—that occured billions of years ago.
  • On the average, a person with a college degree will earn over $1,340,000 more in his or her lifetime than a person with just a high school diploma.

The “big bang” example here demonstrates what we call causal reasoning which is a kind of inductive reasoning in which one event is claimed to be the results of the occurrence of another event.

Causal reasoning is a basic pattern of thinking that we use to organize and make sense of the way we experience the world.

In the lifetime earnings example we have what is called an empirical generalization which is a kind of inductive reasoning in which a general statement is made about an entire group based on observing some members of the group.

Empirical generalizations are a bit more advanced and more susceptible to error than causal reasoning. This is because empirical generalizations are reason from limited samples to arrive at conclusions about broad populations. In order for this kind of reasoning to avoid slipping off the rails, the sample being used to draw conclusions needs to be properly representative of the population. There are a variety of methods that researchers can use to ensure that an adequate sample is gathered.

Identifying and Evaluating Arguments

Flat Earth Map
A “flat-Earth” map drawn by Orlando Ferguson in 1893.

Week 3, Lecture 2

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the structure of and categories of arguments
  2. Explain how to evaluate arguments

What is the structure of an argument?
Reason (also called a premise, or evidence) + reason (also called a premise, or evidence) —> conclusion

What are the categories of arguments?

  • Deductive: Conclusion follows necessarily from premises (reasons)
  • Inductive: Conclusion supported by premises to some degree

How do we evaluate arguments?
We have to ask ourselves the following questions:

  • How truthful are the reasons provided?
  • Is the structure of the argument valid?
  • Is the argument sound?

Let’s begin by answering the first question, “how true are the reasons being offered to support the conclusion?”

In order for us to evaluate this we must ask some further questions:

  • Does each reason make sense?
  • What evidence is there to ground these reasons?
  • From your experience have you seen this evidence to be true?
  • Are the sources of the evidence being provided trustworthy?

I would not fault you if you reflected on these questions and threw your hands up because, let’s face it: this is an ongoing process of analyzing and evaluating. There is, seemingly no end to the need for us to evaluate and analyze what is being presented to us.

Pardon me as I boldly declare that the enemies of the common good are in fact counting on you to not continuously evaluate and analyze what they are telling you.

“What,” you are probably wondering, “does it mean when I talk about a valid or invalid argument?”

An argument is defined as valid if the reasons presented support the conclusions in such a way that the conclusion follows from the reasons being provided.

An argument is described as invalid if the reasons do not support the conclusion and so the reasons do not lead us to draw the same conclusion presented.

Let’s consider the following invalid argument:
Reason: Yerkes National Primate Research Center refuses to stop experimenting on non-human primates.
Reason: The research being conducted at Yerkes is mediocre.
Conclusion: It is ethically wrong for Yerkes to experiment on non-human primates.

I may agree with the conclusion, I may agree with the reasons, but the reasons provided do not logically lead me to the conclusion.

What we are striving for in generating our arguments is that our arguments be sound. A sound argument is one that has both true reasons and a valid structure.

Chaffee provides us with this sound argument:
Reason: For a democracy to function most effectively, its citizens should be able to think critically about the important social and political issues.
Reason: Education plays a key role in developing critical thinking abilities.
Conclusion: Therefore, education plays a key role in ensuring that a democracy is functioning most effectively.
(Chaffee, The Philosopher’s Way, 22)

Click here to continue the lecture, where we will discuss the two categories of arguments.

What Is Philosophy’s Main Method?

Week 3, lecture 1

We’ve just outlined what I will argue are the most important branches of Philosophy for our class.

To this point we’ve been discussing How Philosophy Differs from Science and also How Philosophy Differs from Religion. In each of these lectures I’ve tried to demonstrate that these three pursuits are complimentary to one another.

If we appreciate the methodological differences between these pursuits, then we see that each of these domains of knowledge are concerned for similar aspects of human existence, but they are doing different kinds of work. Because they are doing different kinds of work, they are generating different kinds of knowledge.

If we become lax and don’t pay attention to these differences, we risk doing ourselves and these disciplines a disservice when we speak on their behalf.

But what is Philosophy’s main method?

Philosophy is a discipline that is concerned with understanding something, just like science and religion are also trying to understand something. Science adheres to its process of verification and demonstrable reliability, religion requires faith despite what the evidence suggests, and philosophy pursues reason by tracing its residue found in arguments.

Our main method is the study and use of arguments to better understand what reason dictates.

We will spend the rest of the semester evaluating and analyzing arguments and here I will briefly introduce the structure of an argument.

An argument, in this class, is not a fight or spat. In our context an argument is defined as a presentation of someone’s thinking that includes their statements of logical support for why they have said what they’ve said.

“Logical support” here refers to statements made by someone that provide reasons to believe that the statement is true or trustworthy. The statement being given this support is called the conclusion of an argument. The reasons given to support a conclusion are called premises.

Conclusions are like hypotheses in that they assert or predict what has or will happen. In the scientific method the hypothesis is supported by the evidence revealed through experimentation, in a religious context one may draw a conclusion or prophesy from personal revelation. With philosophy a conclusion asserts or predicts based on the strength of the premises (or reasons) that are presented as evidence.

“To make an argument, then, is to offer reasons to believe a particular conclusion. There are many styles and forms of argument, as we’ll see, some of them very good, some of them fairly good, and some of them downright awful. What we aim for in making a good argument is that it should be valid, meaning that the conclusion in fact logically follows from the premises. And what that means, in turn, is this: that if the premises of the argument are true, the conclusions must be true. An invalid argument would be one where the premises may well be true and yet the conclusion turns out to be false.” (Pessin & Engel, The Study of Philosophy, 9)

It’s easy to make invalid arguments. For example, we look outside and see that the sidewalk is wet (this is our premise), we conclude from our premise (that the sidewalk is wet) that it must have rained. Why is this an invalid argument?

In our next class we will discuss how to evaluate arguments.

What Are the Main Branches of Philosophy for this Class?

Illustration of Blind Men and Elephant
Indian skepticism towards dogmatic statements is illustrated by the famous tale of the Blind men and an elephant, common in Buddhism and Jainism. By romana klee (2012)

Week 3, Lecture 1

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify and explain the goals of the various branches of philosophy
  2. Explain philosophy’s main method

What are the main branches of philosophical thought for this class?

Metaphysics: “‘[T]he queen of the sciences,’ as Immanuel Kant called it – should take pride of place. Philosophy, as they see it, is primarily the attempt to uncover the fundamental structure of reality, to discover – at the most general level possible – that there is.” (Cooper & Fosl, Philosophy: The Classic Readings, xxvii)

Some metaphysical questions include:

  • Does God exist?
  • Are minds or souls made from the same physical stuff brains, baseballs, and dinosaurs are?
  • Is there some kind of purpose that underwrites the way the cosmos is unfolding or is it all pointless and without reason?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What is the nature of the self?
  • Do we have free will?

Epistemology: This is the theory of knowledge. Epistemology, “seeks to establish a framework that we can use to arrive at genuine and accurate understanding. This involves identifying and developing criteria and methodologies for determining what we know and why we know it. Metaphysics and epistemology are interdependent, and answering the questions in the one area frequently involves answering the questions in the other area.” (Chaffee, The Philosopher’s Way, 30)

Typical epistemological questions would include:

  • Can we ever really know anything at all?
  • How do we know when we don’t know something?
  • What are the differences between believing and knowing?
  • What is truth?

Ethics: “[P]hilosophy was in its earliest days and throughout much of its history inspired by an essentially practical ambition – to determine how human beings ought to act, treat each other, feel and live.” (Cooper & Fosl, xxvii, emphasis original)

The term, ethics comes to us from the Greek ethos (ἦθος) which points to one’s characteristic ways of being in the world. The word ethos is cognate with another important term, ethea (ἤθεα), which refers to the habitual places of things in the world. If ethos refers to habit then we understand that ethea refers to habitat; the orientation here is that one’s habitat is where one’s habit’s at.

Typical ethical questions:

  • Ask how we ought to behave or what we should do.
  • How do we decide on the appropriate way to act in a situation?
  • Is there a good life to which we all ought to strive?

Aesthetics: This is the study of making sense, a phrase that has to do with meaning and the value we assign to our meanings. The Greek term from which we derive aesthetics is aisthesis (αἴσθησις), which connotes sense and our capacity to perceive.

Most frequently aesthetics entails discussions of beauty and art but for me it is through Aesthetics that socio-political philosophy gains its teeth. To ask a question like, “What is justice?” is to seek a value judgement, to ask what is the best form of government is to ask for an assessment of the value of the distribution of material resources across a people.

Logic: This is the use and study of valid reasoning. With logic we are seeking the rules that would establish how reasoning can happen correctly.

Logic is concerned with reasoning and how reasoning gone bad leads to promoting false conclusions. Through the systematization of this body of knowledge there has developed a robust toolkit for analytic thinking and thought engineering.

Click here for the next section of this lecture: What Is Philosophy’s Main Method?

How Is Philosophy Different from Religion?

American Legion Postcard
American Legion postcard (circa 1930–1945), “Teach children religion for a better community — religion means reverence – obedience – order, irreligion means chaos – crime – social collapse, parents, wake up!” The Tichnor Brothers Collection, Boston Public Library, Print Department

Week 2, lecture 2

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain how religion differs from philosophy and
  2. Discuss the methodological differences between these two disciplines.

In our previous lecture we discussed how Philosophy differs from Science. Now let’s discuss how Philosophy differs from Religion.

How does philosophy differ from religion?

The religious and philosophical perspectives were often one and the same in the period before the Middle Ages. From the time of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) forward, however, there is a gradual distancing of the two bodies of thought. Aquinas proposed that religion is best understood as a top-down field in which God reveals himself through his sacred texts and religion is the study of these moments of “self-revelation.” Philosophy, for Aquinas, was a bottom-up activity in which humans observe natural phenomena and proceeds to generate knowledge of the world until it can extrapolate laws upward to a knowledge of God.

A core question for Aquinas was whether or not the truths of faith (another way of describing revelation) are demonstrable. Can revelation be demonstrated in the same way that natural phenomena can? If not, then reasoning can take us only so far in our search for personal salvation.

“Religion demands acceptance and belief, and philosophy demands explanation. Philosophy demands that God be intelligible, that He and His actions should make sense to us.” (Pessin & Engel, 7) Of course, if God exists, then it’s easy to imagine a response along the lines of, “who are you to demand things of me, your maker?” Would God’s perspective even make sense to humans? Faith requires a leap away from reasonable.

“[P]hilosophy differs from religion in that it bases its conclusions primarily on reasoning and evidence and not, like religion, on appeal to revelation and sacred authority. Philosophy, unlike religion, wants to find out ‘what it’s all about,’ using reason as its primary tool.” (Pessin & Engel, The Study of Philosophy, 8) It’s important that we recognize that religion and philosophy can often arrive at similar conclusions about things; however, religion and philosophy arrive at these common conclusions through different methods.

In a previous class I told you a story about Pythagoras and the origin of the term “philosophy,” and I mentioned the Olympic games where he coined the term. It’s important for us to recognize that these games were religious ceremonies in some ways. Prior to philosophy, religion provided the conceptual scaffolding that the Ancient Greeks used to explain the phenomena they observed. Initially the superstitious beliefs that underwrote the religious explanations of these phenomena inhibited the growth of philosophy and science. But today there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason why philosophy, science, and religion cannot mutually inform one another.

As Chaffee (The Philosopher’s Way338) points out, their mutual beneficence is only undermined when any of the three disciplines intentionally encroaches on the territory of the other.

For example:

  • If philosophy decrees, as the logical positivists did, that religious statements have no ‘truth value’ because they cannot be verified empirically.
  • If science proclaims, as scientific materialists have, that only physical matter exists in the universe: Entities such as souls, spirits, or gods are simply concocted fantasies.
  • If religion announces, as many religions do, that the conclusions of philosophy and science should be automatically dismissed if they appear to conflict with religious truths.

Let’s review:

Philosophy differs from science by asking more general questions than can be tolerated by the scientific method.

Philosophy differs from religion in its method, which requires reason and evidence that can be communicated and replicated.

How Is Philosophy Different from Science?

Science illustration
Illustration from The Science Record (1874) showing a direct reduction furnace invented by Carl Wilhelm Siemens, based on the revolving drum principle.

Week 2, Lecture 1

Learning Objectives

  1. Define scientia.
  2. Explain how the scientific method differs from Philosophy

The word “science” comes to the English language from the Latin term scientia, meaning “knowledge through skillful means.”

It is important to recognize that science, in this class, is not a belief system but rather a systematic organization of knowledge that has been gathered and tested through the scientific method. The scientific method comprises a body of techniques for inquiring about observable phenomena, generating new knowledge about phenomena, and for correcting and integrating previous knowledge.

The scientific method is an ongoing process that begins with

  1. observations that lead to,
  2. generating questions about the observed phenomena and these are refined into,
  3. hypotheses that predict future phenomena. These hypothetical future phenomena are then
  4. tested in experiments that seek to demonstrate the reliability of the hypotheses to generate the predicted phenomena.
  5. Typically the hypotheses will be refined and altered in light of what happens in the experiments.
  6. Usually the positive results of experiments are published for the purpose of seeking confirmation from other scientists in the field. If the published results are confirmed widely enough and gel with the findings of other scientists conducting similar experiments, then
  7. the hypotheses will be put forward by the community into new generalizable theories about the nature of the world.

What I hope you note about the scientific method is that it is an enterprise whose core operation is creating conditions for consensus about how the world appears to be.

Also notice that the scientific method is future-oriented: the experiments seek the causes of predicted future phenomena. This is not the same thing as pursuing The Truth, which is noumenal, meaning it is unchanging and not directly experienced by our senses. The sciences are pursuing reliably demonstrable matters of fact. Through the scientific enterprise there is an accretion of these reliably demonstrable facts that leads the scientific community to a consensus about what The Truth might include (in the forms of theories and laws), but it’s important to recognize that these are, ultimately, models of the universe subject to revision and not the universe in-itself.

Philosophy and science complement one another.

Fun fact: During the nineteenth century “science” was slang, among some on the Oxford University campus, referring to the section of the Literae Humaniores honors program that dealt with ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.

“Philosophy is not first and foremost the delineation of reality, or an enquiry into the nature of knowledge, or a pursuit of the good life – as if these were separate, discrete activities. Instead, it is that endeavor of the human spirit whereby men and women strive to lead the sorts of lives and to become the sorts of beings that are informed and guided by disciplined thinking about the ways of things.” (Cooper and Fosl, Philosophy: The Classical Readings, xxvii)

Philosophy takes a holistic approach to the study of things. Scientific endeavors are typically marked by exploring two questions:

  1. what is this thing? and then,
  2. how does this thing work? Philosophy also asks these questions but also asks a third question:
  3. what does it mean that this thing is here?

“It is in this respect that philosophy differs significantly from science. Philosophy tries to see things whole by asking questions that are more general than those of science, in the sense that their answers have far-reaching consequences for our understanding of ourselves and our world.
Philosophy also tries to see things whole by asking questions that are concerned with how different sets of facts are related. Not only does the nature of the pieces of the puzzle pose a problem, but how they fit together does as well.” (Pessin and Engel, The Study of Philosophy: A Text with Readings, 5)

Science is an activity of finding and communicating causes and effects. Through the scientific enterprise we gain a better understanding of natural phenomena and from these observations we can draw together some principles and theories and so on. It may seem silly, then, for me to question something as seemingly fundamental as whether or not all things have a cause. If everything has a cause, including human nature, then can we be justified in holding people legally and morally responsible for what they do?

An example (from neuroethics) may help illustrate my point. There was a case in which a father began sexually molesting his daughter. This went unnoticed by other members of the household for a number of years in part because, around the time of this series of violations the man was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had it removed. After the successful treatment, the father no longer molested his daughter. A few years later the father began to violate his daughter again and he was again diagnosed with a brain tumor in the same region as before. From this terrible situation neuroscience has learned a great deal about certain regions of the brain are responsible for the actions of people.

Am I justified in holding this father responsible for his actions if I know that his actions were caused by a brain tumor? This is the kind of question that an oncologist or a neuroscientist is not trained for and that a philosopher is.

Philosophers are not only concerned with the facts of how the brain operates but also how the facts we already have impact other beliefs we have, such as human freedom and moral responsibility. As Pessin and Engel state, “Philosophy’s questions are nonfactual.” (5)

How To Do Philosophy

Punch magazine "Wise Warning"
Caricature from the London satire magazine Punch (1890) on the relationship between Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm II

Week 1, Lecture 1

Previously we discussed how to define the term “philosophy” and there we were introduced to Pythagoras, who coined the term.

We also discussed why one ought to study Philosophy, here.

But what does it mean to do the work of Philosophy? What is it that philosophers do?

I like how John Chaffee puts it, “Philosophy is a dynamic process. This definition probes the dynamic nature of philosophical thinking, a process that is dialectical in the sense that ideas are continually analyzed in terms of their opposites, with the ultimate goal of creating a more enlightened synthesis.” (The Philosopher’s Way, 7)

Just as there is a scientific method, there are also methods for doing philosophy, among the chief of these methods is the Socratic Method. The Socratic Method is “characterized by relentless questioning, clear definitions, dialectical analysis, and critical evaluation.” (Chaffee, The Philosopher’s Way, 7)

It’s necessary for us to distinguish between “having a philosophy” and “doing philosophy.” Just about everyone will likely say that they have a philosophy of life and by this they mean that they live by a set of beliefs or codes that help them decide how to act. We typically develop these beliefs early in our lives as we seek models for how to comport ourselves in the world. Sometimes we have great models, other times we don’t. It is often the case that we are unaware of our beliefs—we may even say that we don’t have a philosophy of life, even though we nonetheless structure our lives with these beliefs. For example, we may unconsciously help an elder across the street, perhaps without thinking about what this decision reflects about us.

There are plenty of examples of irrational, or incoherent beliefs that we carry with us or that people in our networks espouse. The media and the banks are controlled by a cabal of liberal Jews, fluoride is inserted into our drinking water to make us more susceptible to propaganda, Bush did 9/11, etc. Often our biases and beliefs are unexamined or unknown to ourselves, as the neuroscience of implicit bias has helped us to better articulate.

To “do philosophy” requires us to think philosophically and this means engaging our thoughts, beliefs, and actions critically. Typical questions for critical engagement would include:

    • What is the factual evidence or reasons for my beliefs?
    • Do I have a compelling rationale for saying I know something to be true?
    • Where did these ideas I have come from, who told me that?
    • Who benefits from me thinking and acting in these ways?

Doing philosophy requires a range of advanced thinking techniques and methods that we will be discussing in this class over the course of the semester. I am going to stress and emphasize to you that doing philosophy, like any other skill or technique you cultivate, is a matter of habit. This course has been designed to promote and encourage your philosophy habits.

What is wisdom in the context of our class?

From Andrew Pessin and S. Morris Engel, The Study of Philosophy: A Text with Readings, seventh edition. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015):
“Wisdom is not something achieved merely by discovering some new fact. In this respect philosophy is unlike science. The failure to solve a scientific problem lies, generally, in our inability to get at some missing piece of information. But this is not the reason that many philosophical problems have continued to elude us. It is not for the lack of some fact that philosophical problems escape solution. In many cases the trouble is that we already have too many facts. It is like working at a massive jigsaw puzzle. Our difficulty assembling the puzzle does not normally lie in the fact that certain pieces are missing, but in the fact that we don’r see how the (say) thousand little pieces we have all fit together.” (3)

The discipline is characterized well by the English philosopher, John Wisdom, philosophy is not “knowledge of new fact” but rather “new knowledge of fact” which Pessin and Engel describe as “a deeper understanding of the facts we already have.” (4) We come to this “new knowledge of facts” through a process of disciplined perspective-making.

Philosophy is similar to science and religion in so far as each of these disciplines seeks to answer fundamental questions about the universe and our place in it. These three disciplines also each share a common source: they each begin with wonderment. They are similar in these regards but they differ, greatly, in how they go about their examinations and seek to arrive at very different outcomes.

What Does Philosophy Mean?

Ancient Greek Boxers
Boxers represented on a Panathenaic amphora.

“Ways of Knowing” Week 1, Lecture 1

Learning Objective 2:
Define “philosophy.”

What does the word “philosophy” mean?

The word “philosophy” comes to us from the ancient Greek term φιλοσοφια (philosophia, “love of wisdom), coined by Pythagoras (570–490 BCE). The term came to him while observing the Olympic games. As the games unfolded it occurred to him that much of what life is about can be seen in the drama of the games: the struggle between men reveals the character of each of the participants in a way that can be read as an analogy for the daily struggles among the non-athletes present. We can identify with their struggles.

Pythagoras noted that there are three classes of people at the Olympic games. Reflect on the last time you went to a sporting event, especially a large professional game. Who do you encounter at these games, almost immediately after parking your car at the stadium (or as you leave the train or bus)? Do we not, almost immediately, meet people looking to sell you something (water, scalping tickets, team-related merchandise)? This is an ancient scenario, present from at least as early as the original Olympic games in the sixth century BCE. Pythagoras named these folks who come to the games to trade and barter “lovers of gain.” Of course, once the games begin we are focused on the competition between people who have traveled to the stadium in order to earn fortune and fame (for themselves and their cities). Pythagoras called these folks “lovers of honor.” The third class of people that Pythagoras observed at the Olympic games were the spectators: us, the people who have come to watch, “lovers of spectacle.”

The world is full of these three classes of folks, according to Pythagoras. The vast majority of people, he holds, are largely motivated by and concerned primarily with gaining material wealth. The second class of persons is smaller than the first, this group is primarily concerned with achieving fame by distinguishing themselves in some kind of pursuit. The third class is smaller than either of the prior two, the few people who compose this tiny group are the folks who don’t care about fortune or fame but are instead busy trying to understand the spectacle that is life. Pythagoras called these people “philosophers.” It is not that these people are themselves wise—because only the gods were wise—but these people were lovers of the wisdom that could be revealed on earth when the gods intervened and let humans know their intentions.

Next we will consider the question, “how does one ‘do’ philosophy?” and this is related to your first major writing assignment.

Why Study Philosophy?

Painting: "Diogenes in His Tub"
“Diogenes Sitting in His Tub” (1860) by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Ways of Knowing” Week 1, Lecture 1

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain why Philosophy should be studied.
  2. Define “philosophy.”

Two asides.

First, some business about exams and learning

Before we proceed any further, please take a moment and review these learning objectives above.

If you are wondering—as any reasonable student would wonder—”what is going to be on our midterm?” then please review the learning objectives that I post at the beginning of each lecture.

You can expect that the questions on the midterm and the final exams will be drawn from these learning objectives. In other words, if you make effective notes based on doing what the learning objectives state, then you will likely do very well on my examinations.

Second, some poetry for your thinking

Please read Rainer Maria Rilke’s Archaic Torso of Apollo by following this link.

This poem is referenced in Dr. Allen’s Talking with Strangers, which is your first reading assignment.

Learning Objective 1
Explain why Philosophy should be studied

From John Chaffee. The Philosopher’s Way: Thinking Critically About Profound Ideas, fifth edition. (Boston: Pearson, 2016), 2–3.

“Studying philosophy in a serious and reflective way will change you as a person. Learning to think philosophically will inspire you to be more thoughtful, more open-minded, more attuned to the complexities and subtleties of life, more willing to think critically about yourself and all of life’s important issues, and less willing to accept superficial interpretations and simplistic answers. It is very tempting for people not to think, to remain submerged in reality rather than aware of it, to be carried along by the current of events rather than creating their destiny through thoughtful, independent choices. Philosophy is a training guide for your mind, showing you how to think in clear, analytic, and powerful ways.
Studying philosophy will help you develop the understanding and insight you will need to make intelligent choices and fulfill your potential as an individual. To use a metaphor, you are an artist, creating your life portrait, and your paints and brushstrokes are the choices you make each day.
Creating an enlightened self-portrait is your preeminent responsibility in life, and though it is challenging work, it is well worth the effort. Your portrait is your contribution to the world, your legacy to present and future generations.
This is the special power of philosophy: to provide the conceptual tools required to craft a life inspiring in its challenges and rich in fulfillment.
Philosophy provides us with the intellectual tools to reflect with clarity and discipline, to critically evaluate the choices we have made, and to use this knowledge to make more enlightened choices in the future.”

Now, you might, reasonably, counter Chaffee and I and argue, “well, of course, you both think I should study Philosophy: you’re both philosophers and need students to justify your salaries.”

Yes, and there are also folks out there who would gain very little direct benefit from your studies of Philosophy. For example:

Click here for Learning Objective 2:
Define Philosophy and discuss its ultimate aim.