Philosophy & Critical Thinking

Philosophy & Critical Thinking


A Life of Philosophy: How To, and Why

living a life of philosophy March 20th, 2022

I was reading a book entitled Masterpieces of World Philosophy – 683 pages of serious cogitation for sure!  The chapter about the Apology (the trial of Socrates, as recorded by his loyal student Plato) was quite enlightening. Socrates is envisioned as one of the world’s first and foremost prophets (yes, literally, a prophet). I found it both enlightening and edifying. I was moved to stop and write about a lifestyle called a life of philosophy. This blog describes what I think it means.

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Responsibility Necessarily Entails Free Will

free will March 10th, 2022

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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Virtue Ethics: Doing the Right Thing

virtue ethics January 28th, 2022

Virtue ethics is one of the top four or five ethical theories. Ethical theories are ways of organizing information in regard to right and wrong. Typically in science, theories can be shown in just one or two experiments or studies to be “false.” However, when it comes to ethics, it’s a bit more nuanced. The other major theories go by names such as utilitarianism, deontology (duty-based ethics), and religious ethics. Other contenders for the Top 10 include ethical subjectivism, religious ethics, casuistry, and authority-based ethics. Virtue ethics is one of my favorites for sure, and I will share some thoughts and perspectives about it in this blog. In the end, hopefully, the readers gain some appreciation for it, see how it is different from competing ethical theories, and recognize how to “use it” in real life (making ethical decisions, facing moral dilemmas, etc).  

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Culture: Philosophers Kessler & Kingwell Interviewed

culture January 23rd, 2022

I want to discuss culture, not just because it has an academic fascination, but because it’s relevant to the way we live our lives. Many people in America even hybridize cultures— a Mexican American, a white-collar and blue-collar mixed nuclear family, a gay adolescent. This obviously equals certain advantages as well as special disadvantages. My first partner in dialogue is Gary Kessler, Ph.D., who has a Master’s degree in divinity and also a Ph.D. in philosophy. He taught comparative religion and philosophy at the California State University, Bakersfield. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. I personally know his book, Voices of Wisdom: a Multicultural Philosophy Reader; its Sixth Edition was published in 2006. He’s working on a book called The Dark Side of Religion. Tune in to the interesting discussion of culture, sociology, environmental influence, cultural anthropology, and relativism.

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America Desperately Needs Truth, Wisdom, and Critical Thinking

truth, wisdom, and critical thinking November 26th, 2021

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

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Knowledge, Education & Wisdom in Colonial America

knowledge November 17th, 2021

Philosopher/psychologist and distinguished man of letters, Daniel N. Robinson, says much about knowledge, wisdom, and education in the citizenry and the founders at the time of the Declaration of Indpendence and the crafting of the U.S. Constitution. It is very enlightening, and he takes pains to connect the state of affairs then with our horrible political, social, and educational predicament that is so clearly exemplified by corporations, Donald Trump as President, and social media bickering today. It’s not a pretty picture, but one worth taking a long, hard look at. I then follow up his incisive commentary on the Founders with quotes about knowledge, wisdom, and education in modern America. Recall that education is not just about keeping the economy rolling: “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty,” wrote the main architect of the Constitution, James Madison. And this is very important; as modern progressive author, Thom Hartmann puts it, “We need to begin paying attention to the wisdom of the Founders and Framers [of the United States] if our country is to survive.”

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Is the Fear of Death Rational and Appropriate?

fear of death September 15th, 2021

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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Liberty and Truth are Allied Values

truth requires liberty to flourish September 7th, 2021

Albert Einstein said, “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

I found John Stuart Mill’s ideas on the freedom-truth relationship very enlightening and interesting when re-reading his book, On Liberty. Frankly, I hadn’t thought much about that exact relationship even though I have studied liberty and truth to some degree over the years. In some sense, I knew that a closed society or a cult would not facilitate the search for truth – that much is obvious. But in America, for example, the idea that truth is only apprehensible under conditions of openness and freedom and individuality is worth sustained consideration. What follows is a summation of Mill’s ideas about this relationship, and a little commentary from myself and relevant luminaries.

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Engaging in Socratic Dialogue

Socratic dialogue August 27th, 2021

There is something called Socratic dialogue. Essentially, two individuals engage in a conversation – a dialectic, as it is known – and they try to figure out the nature of the question and try to formulate an answer that is logical, rational, true, and correct. It’s not easy, but it is probably better to have a knowledgeable person work in concert with you if you are trying to figure out truth. This takes wisdom, obviously. Though it is not quite ready to be “an app,” there is something about the Socratic method that can be learned and useful to an individual even sans interlocutor, if you will. Thus, I will share with you my notes on what Socratic dialogue is all about. May it lead you one step closer to wisdom!

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“Values of the Wise”: What Does This Mean?

Values of the Wise logo August 12th, 2021

The goal of Values of the Wise (the company) is to bring to life ancient wisdom and progressive thinking. This is done through books, online tools and resources, quotations, social networking, and the like. But what are “the values of the wise?” What does the phrase actually mean? I am Jason Merchey, the founder and originator of the concept, and I will be happy to explain what I think it means.

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