Philosophy & Critical Thinking

Philosophy & Critical Thinking


Cosmos: Science, Hope, Wisdom & Inspiration

science April 24th, 2020

Famed astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s obituary featured the President of the National Academy of Sciences, Bruce Alberts extolling him thusly: “Carl Sagan, more than any contemporary scientist I can think of, knew what it takes to stir passion within the public when it comes to the wonder and importance of science.” The television program Cosmos (now in its third season) has been a reliable, interesting, educational experience for me and for millions of others; it’s like Sesame Street for this millennium. If you want to learn more about science by that, I mean astrophysics, astronomy, geology, and even the history of science, this is the show for you. Now that the third season is out, I have collected some quotes by those involved with the show, those who are practitioners of applied science, and so on. Especially in a time when every single day folks are hearing public health officials, physicians, and biomedical researchers speak on television (the pandemic), there is both a desire for diversion, and there is an “attunedness” to applied science. If Trump and others are turning out to be the buffoons and the charlatans in this crisis, scientists, doctors, nurses, paramedics, nursing home staff — even meat packers and workers at Amazon.com — are the bright lights in the dark.

Read More

Politically Progressive Quotes from African Americans

african americans April 11th, 2020

African Americans are an integral part of the United States of America. 95% were brought against their will from Africa (or born to recently-arrived African slaves). They have had to struggle to find even a basic fair treatment from the majority-white populace, and it is incomplete. As a case in point, more black Americans are dying from the coronavirus, proportionally, than whites. Some of this might be able to be attributed to the larger number of premorbid conditions that tend to plague African Americans to a greater degree than other races, but even that leads to the recognition that there must be much about the American experience for black people that is significantly worse than for whites. Asian Americans have pretty decent outcomes in American society, and so it’s hard to tease apart the legacy of slavery from cultural mores and personal choices that are salubrious and prudent. At bottom, though, what is not in dispute is that the African American experience in America has been rough, and that has something to do with racism. I won’t chase every tangent that this introductory paragraph logically leads to — for example, the fact that African Americans are less economically advanced than whites. I will simply sample some politically progressive quotes from African Americans. Who better but these Americans themselves to share their experience?

Read More

A Rich Vein of Quotes About Public Health

quotes about public health April 9th, 2020

I often will sit at my computer, kind of bored and idle and unstimulated. I suppose some of that is not only the life of a writer, but as a mostly-unsuccessful blogger, it’s pretty much the bottom of the barrel of the writing profession. So whereas a writer such as Hemingway or Woolf or Nietzsche, whom you could imagine sitting at the typewriter (or chewing mindlessly on their quill), might experience writer’s block (or a manic work-spree), at least they have the highest-caliber brains and publishers awaiting a quality product. Now, with 1,000,000 books published in any given year, and folks being mostly resistant to being marketed to, the number of writers who probably sit and suffer day in and day out must be legion. But, today, I fell into a rich vein of political, philosophical, and written gold, and I want to share it here. The medium: quotes. The subject: America’s characteristic, predictable, and mixed response to the biggest crisis in a century: the coronavirus pandemic. It is stretching each of us, and our social fabric, and our institutions, to the limit. Here are some trenchant thoughts by three sources that all cohere nicely.

Read More

There is Great Wisdom in Game of Thrones

wisdom in Game of Thrones March 30th, 2020

Game of Thrones, the brain-child of George R. R. Martin, David Benioff, and D. B. Weiss became one of the most significant cultural sensations in the last 50 years, up there with Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter books, Dungeons & Dragons, Big Bang Theory, etc. It is amazing to me that a mere “fantasy” could be so well-written by Martin (what he titled A Song of Fire and Ice, and many spin-off books) and so well produced by Benioff and Weiss (and, essentially, adapted for the screen), and backed by HBO, that it holds such remarkable cultural sway. When I was playing D&D as a teenager, it was almost like a dirty little secret; I am sure that many “geeky” types feel that way about their obsession. However, let’s face it, Game was one of the most popular and well-regarded and most critically-acclaimed phenomena in American life. Yes, I’m sure that Will Rogers or Mark Twain or The Tonight Show or the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies will perhaps be more vaunted and venerable names as time wears on, but for anyone alive today either knows of or loves Game of Thrones. This blog explores the idea that, amazingly, amongst the sex, violence, gore, and scheming, the 8-year series so brilliantly woven together by the trio I mentioned, wisdom in Game of Thrones reigns supreme.

Read More

Social Cohesion and Progressivism vs. Rugged Individualism and Cognitive Bias

social cohesion March 10th, 2020

The New York Times columnist David Leonhardt worked his way into my respect naturally. Somehow, the NYT started sending me his opinion pieces maybe three or four times a week, and my first thought was, “Who’s the new guy?” A page that has featured Charles Blow, Thomas L. Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Nicholas D. Kristof, Paul Krugman, and Bob Herbert creates a high bar in my mind. But, over time, Leonhardt has grown to be one of my favorite and most-quoted writers. In one piece, he gives voice to a core is a political philosphy precept of mine: social cohesion depends on political progress. Another way to phrase this idea would be: social welfare vs. individual supremacy vis-a-vis political progressivism.

Read More

Morality as it Relates to Politics

morality as it relates to politics February 16th, 2020

When we talk about Bernie Sanders supporting a “Medicare for All” approach to healthcare, there are many distinct and legitimate approaches one can take when thinking about it. One is functionality; another is cost. Viability is a third, and unintended consequences is yet another. There are also moral aspects of politics, for example, when it comes to healthcare. For example, is it a right or a privilege? Can a CEO promise it during heated negotiations with employees, and take it away the next quarter? Is there equal access to quality healthcare, or is it, as with most goods in society, available in varying degrees based on one’s privilege, wealth, and power? This is but one example of morality as it relates to politics, the subject of this blog.

Read More

What is Socratic Dialogue?

Socratic dialogue January 12th, 2020

“In order to improve yourself, Socrates insists, you have to know yourself,” said philosopher Judith Barad. Socrates hasn’t been around since ancient Athens, Greece, but the method of inquiry and self-examination he pioneered is still valid and has a lot to recommend it. “Socrates was the first to call philosophy down from the heavens and establish it in the towns and introduce it into homes and force it to investigate life, ethics, good and evil,” according to also-significant Roman orator Cicero. “Socrates’ method was to go about, as he said himself, ‘cross-examining the pretenders to knowledge and wisdom,’ and by the cross-examination, showing them that they were in error, that what they supposed they knew, they did not know,” noted the luminary Mortimer Adler. This blog is about Socratic dialogue – how to appreciate it, and what it can do.

Read More

America Desperately Needs Truth, Wisdom, and Critical Thinking

truth, wisdom, and critical thinking December 16th, 2019

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!”

Read More

America’s Wars: Same Inhumanity and Lies, Different Decade. 

December 10th, 2019

Noted social critic and historian, Howard Zinn, pointed out that, “Indeed, when the [Vietnam] war was studied years later, it was clear that no rational decision based on any moral principle had led the nations into war. Rather, there were imperial rivalries, greed for more territory, lusting for national prestige, and the stupidity of revenge.” Though Abraham Lincoln knew the gravity of a civil war, he also used soaring rhetoric at times to characterize the nobility of the side wearing blue: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in.” When looked at in an objective sense, war is almost never justified, and yet in America, is appallingly repetetive. It’s like, Same inhumanity and lies, different decade.  This is especially true now, as new information has come to light that American presidents all knew the war in Afghanistan couldn’t be “won”, and yet it is to-date the nation’s longest-lasting war. 

Read More

Is It True That “Everything Happens for a Reason”?

everything happens for a reason November 18th, 2019

At first, this might sound like a foolish title, because in one sense of the phrase, everything does happen for a reason. The universe operates according to the laws of physics which posits that everything is determined and so on (well, quantum physics kinda is the fly in that ointment). I get determinism and physics’ position. However, in a different vein, the more commonly-used vernacular you hear is, “Everything happens for a reason.” But is that true? I would say the evidence does not point in that direction, though, as some are quick to point out, “God works in mysterious ways” and almost anything is possible. This post explores metaphysics and truth and other heady subjects.

Read More