Monday, January 31, 2011

Scott Pratt

1. What is the relevance of the Tualatin people's creation stories? What becomes of the people, in each successive wave of creation?

2. What does American Indian theologian George Tinker think indigenous creation stories can do for humanity? What behavior of indigenous peoples causes Luther Standing Bear to agree? What is Tinker's definition of "liberation"?

3. What is Pratt's thesis regarding pluralism, epistemology, and the relation between European and native American traditions? For what kind of compatibility, & from whose perspective, does he argue?

4. Who is the leading American Indian philosopher of the last fifty years? Does he wish to make common cause with all oppressed minorities?

5. What is most importantly implied by indigenous claims that the earth and its people are a "creation"? How does this differ from the Christian perspective? What is the latter missing, from an indigenous perspective?

6. What is Tinker's proposed "practical response" to environmental crises?

7. What does the Lakota phrase mitakuye oyasin mean?

8. What does Daniel Wildcat propose as the proper outcome of a shared vision between indigenous and non-native peoples? What kind of epistemology will it require?

9. How might we reconcile the two different accounts of river flow (the Skyhomish and the "school" version)? How would you? Or would you?

10. Can origin stories be accurately understood in a pragmatic way that does not contradict scientifically established facts?

There's lots more to talk about, but maybe ten quiz questions is nearly enough. Just one more?

11. Wildcat quotes Bill McKibben: "the most fundamental chemistry lesson for the 21st century is that burning one gallon of gasoline in your car inevitably results in the placement of 5.5 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere." This lesson comes from western science. Is indigenous knowledge irrelevant, in this case?

Just for fun... but does Ed have a point?

Friday, January 28, 2011


The most interesting statement in the story about spiking levels of stress in college freshmen yesterday was in the last sentence: 
And while men who challenged their professor’s ideas in class had a decline in stress, for women it was associated with a decline in well-being.
I've never really noticed this particular gender-gap, but I always encourage everyone to challenge everyone else's ideas, in my classes. Especially mine. And then to accept the challenge, think about it, respond and occasionally accede to it. That's the whole point of gathering for philosophy class, and I find it a marvelous de-stresser.

By the way: most of my students say they're working harder than their peers in that study who claimed to be reading less than 40 pages of text per week, for all their classes combined. But many agree: High School really was more stressful.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


PW Quiz 9-18
 1. "Hindu" means _______________; its central trinity of Gods consists of ______, ______, and ______ (the god of destruction).

2. "Brahman" means the ___________ beneath all appearances, supposedly knowable through mysticism, meditation, and the practice of spiritual self-discipline known as what? The blissful experience of ultimate reality is called what?

3. How did the Hebrew account of creation differ from most, particularly that of the Greeks? What "radical new wrinkle" is proposed in the 19th century?

4. It is mainly from Zoroastrianism that we inherit the philosophical problem of evil, the question of what? Which divine attribute is central to the problem?

5. The Biblical book of Genesis suggests that evil came into the world through what? Does this address the problem of "natural evil"?

6. (T/F) God's response to Job, in the Biblical account, resolves the problem of evil and accounts adequately for suffering in the world by demanding faith without understanding.

7. (T/F) The existence of a powerful, malevolent, satanic demon or "Devil" is rationally compatible with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect God.

8. What's the worst, saddest, most painful or tragic thing you've ever experienced, or  heard about? Do you believe it may have been "for the best"? Why (not)?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

primal roots

1. Who were the classic American thinkers? What did they come to realize about "progress"? How did they "converge" with Black Elk? What was their response to Cartesian modernism?

2. "________ is the earth, the sky, our bodily selves in the surprisingly full amplitude of their ensemble. It is the hidden centrality of the earth." (5)

3. Where do pragmatists say we must begin, in our philosophizing? What is the "American evasion of philosophy"?

4.To what esteemed indigenous figure does Wilshire compare William James? What does James "put us in touch with"?

5. James's emphasis on pure experience and rejection of truth-as-correspondence points to the future, and to what else?

6. What did John Dewey mean by "quality" in experience? What was his view of consciousness?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


There were lots of pre-Socratic philosophers, lovers and seekers of wisdom, all around the ancient world during the so-called axial age and before it (notably in Asia). But when we in the west speak of them we usually mean the Greeks (who have a reputation for xenophobia and hostility to the "barbarians," i.e., everybody else... a reputation lately being reconsidered by some).

Thales to Democritus

O 5-10 quiz-
1. The first Greek lover of wisdom, interested in disentangling science and knowledge from magic and myth, is widely said to have been ______.

2. Who asserted the existence of natural law and speculated that humans had evolved from fish, 2,400+ years before Darwin?

3. (T/F) Pythagoras, the first deductive reasoner to derive interesting conclusions from self-evident axioms, defended a theory of cosmic harmony while rejecting superstition and mysticism.

4. Who said that because everything is in a state of flux, you can't step in the same river twice? What did he mean?

5. The treatment of _______, ________, and ___________ in ancient Greece was primitive and unenlightened.

6. Who "discovered air" and said change was a function of love and strife?

7. Democritus and Leucippus were the first ________.

Monday, January 24, 2011

bury my heart

I watched "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" last night. It's full of wisdom, and heartbreak. There is no word in the Sioux language for owning the earth... We will be known forever by the tracks we leave behind.

Native American Wisdom

Native American Wisdom quiz-

1. "...whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth." (2) What does this mean? What are its implications for the idea of human "dominion"? How much should we regret or resist "natural" species extinction and threats to bio-diversity?

2. "A man who would not love his father's grave is worse than a wild animal." (3) What is the point here, with respect to humans and wild animals? How would you draw the relevant distinction between animal nature and human nature/culture?

3. Must a "true naturalist," a lover of Nature, be a conservative with respect to technology and geo-engineering? Is that different than being a conservationist?

4. "...when we settle down we grow pale and die." (5) Ours is a transient civilization, with many of us "roaming" away from ancestral homes in search of work or adventure (or just novelty). Are we "unsettled" in a good or a bad way? Are we fulfilling the spirit of Satanta's statement? Or are we pale and dying?

5. "It does not require many words to speak the truth." (6) True?

6. "We do not want riches. We want peace and love." (13) Is this a false dichotomy? What prevents wealthy societies from being peaceful and civil?

7. What would you change about "the white man's kind of education"? (14) Are our curricula impractical? Do our schools instill narrow, selfish, materialistic values? How could they better instill a sense of mystery and connectedness?

8. "We shall soon pass, but the place where we now rest will last forever." (18) "Bright days and dark days [are] both expressions of the Great Mystery..." (19) Is this wise instruction for children?

9. "A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation." (25) Why don't we do that? Do media values (such as aversion to "dead air" and the assumption that controversy is good for ratings) reinforce our worst interpersonal habits? Can we change?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

philosophy on p.1

I can't recall the last time the Times Book Review featured not just one, but two philosophy titles on its cover: James Miller's Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche (excerpt),and All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly... plus, an essay on the literary possibilities of philosophy (and vice versa) by James Ryerson.

Wow. Is the zeitgeist shifting?

Friday, January 21, 2011

"The Psychology of Possibility"

William James, more than anyone else, was responsible for introducing the wide range of topics that now comprise the broad field of psychology. In his magnificent text, The Principles of Psychology, he explored and expanded what was then known about neuroscience, cognition, emotion, perception, and behavior and left a legacy of inquiry into the workings of human experience that still fuels this social science.
This film presents some of James’s most important formulations, including his discussions of habit, consciousness, will, and religious experience with current live-action illustrations. Dr. McDermott's commentary reminds viewers that James's work also prods us to lead our own individual lives with courage, openess to possibilities and awareness to what James referred to as the "fringe" of experience. This fringe includes the hunches, un-expressible feelings, and haunting memories that influence our thoughts and actions.
An interview with a young recovering alcoholic and an account of James’s own struggle with suicidal depression make this film an emotionally moving experience as well as an instructional one for students. Davidson Films

Thursday, January 20, 2011

passion for wisdom

Introducing the late Robert Solomon and his passion. He knew, as did Thoreau, that to be awake is to be alive. He was a skeptic who knew the value of gratitude. He can teach us something.

passion for wisdom

1. What does "zeitgeist" mean? 

2. Philosophical ideas about nature, souls,and death can be traced how far back?

3. The oldest recorded philosophy, called the _____, comes from ______.

4. The Persian prophet Zoroaster, also known as __________, was possibly the first thinker to wrestle with what problem?

5. What two religions are now espoused by a third of the world?

6. On what main points do Confucians and Taoists agree and disagree?

7. What did the Greeks "borrow" from Egypt and Iraq (Babylon)?

8. "Better never to have been born," said ______, "and next ____..." Do you agree? 

9. Philosophy first began to distinguish itself from religion by searching for _______.

10. What is the etymology of "philosophy"?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bart Ehrman

The Middle Tennessee State University Department of Philosophy 
is happy to announce a lecture by

Professor Bart D. Ehrman
“Misquoting Jesus: Scribes Who Changed the Bible and Readers Who May Never Know”

Friday, February 18 at 3:30
State Farm Room of the Business and Aerospace Building

The lecture is free and open to the public. Professor Ehrman will be signing copies of his books immediately following his lecture.
Bart Ehrman is the James A. Gray Professor with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Among Professor Ehrman’s fields of scholarly expertise are the historical Jesus, the early Christian apocrypha, the apostolic fathers, and the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.
He is the author of over twenty books.  Among his most recent are a Greek-English edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press), an assessment of the newly discovered Gospel of Judas (Oxford University Press), and three New York Times Bestsellers: Jesus Interrupted ( an account of scholarly views of the New Testament), God’s Problem (an assessment of the biblical views of suffering), and Misquoting Jesus (an overview of the changes found in the surviving copies of the New Testament and of the scribes who produced them). His books have been translated into twenty-seven languages.
The lecture is part of the annual Applied Philosophy Lyceum sponsored by the Department of Philosophy with appreciation to the Distinguished Lecture Committee.

native wisdom

1. How do you define "environment," "ecology," "progress," "nature," and "culture"? 

2. Has the total human impact on the natural world in the last century been positive or negative? 

3. Do you think our present forms and levels of industrial agriculture, food distribution, fossil fuel consumption, carbon emissions, and the whole economic growth paradigm in general are sustainable? 

4. What is a "holistic" attitude towards & relationship with the environment? Is it something that can  be achieved by individuals acting independently? Is the concept of "Mother Earth" or "Gaia" helpful in defining this attitude & relationship, and in guiding ethical choices? 

5. Do you think we can learn anything important from native and indigenous peoples about how to live? Can we reconcile those lessons with a continued interest in  expanding technology, exploration, and increased scientific understanding of ourselves and the world? Is "native science" an oxymoron?

6. Do you have a favorite example of native/indigenous wisdom (from Chief Seattle or Joseph of the Nez Perce or some other popular native sage)? 

7. What written or filmed discussions/depictions of native wisdom do you recommend? 

8. What else would you like to share, about yourself or your initial thoughts on the subject of our course?
STUDENTS: We'll do these daily quizzes every class day. I encourage you to post your thoughts and questions in the "comments" space.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What is philosophy?

O 1-4 quiz-
1. Do you consider philosophy subversive and dangerous? Is it "relevant"?

2. Can you name any dead philosophers? Do you know any living ones? What's distinctive about them?

3. Is it "better to do evil than to do nothing"?

4. Why does beer taste better after a hard day's work? Or does it?

5. What's the Greek etymology of the word philosophy? How do you define "wisdom"? Do you agree with Plato about who should rule? What was Russell's definition?

6. How does "thinking about thinking" feel to you? Does it help you decide what to do?

7. What was the axial age? What philosophers are most associated with it? Why was Greece central to it?

Note to STUDENTS: we'll discuss these daily quizzes in class. All questions for our three exams during the semester will be drawn from them.
We'll also look today at Jennifer Hecht's Doubt Quiz...

Monday, January 17, 2011


A colleague expressed surprise the other day at the claim of William James biographer Robert Richardson (which he heard during break, like me, on the radio) that President Obama is a Pragmatist, not just in the way of most successful politicians (where the word simply means flexible and expedient) but in the philosophical sense.

Richardson was passing along the view he and I had both just heard espoused at Harvard in August, by the historian James Kloppenberg. Haven't read his book Reading Obama yet, but Obama's speech at the Tucson memorial sure breathed the air of "What Makes a Life Significant"-- one of the premier popular texts representing Jamesian pragmatism as a commitment to ideals requiring fidelity, courage, and endurance. We won't all get to the mountaintop, personally; but we as a people, as a species, we can. That's Pragmatism.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What's your philosophy?

It's Day One in Intro to Philosophy. We'll begin each day with a question (or two) and a quiz, followed by discussion. For starters:

1. What is philosophy? What's your current understanding of the term, the discipline, the mindset? What's it good for?

2. What is your philosophy? Can you (like Sally Brown) put it in a word or phrase? Does your personal philosophy fit on a bumper sticker? Should it?

3. Do you have a favorite philosopher, philosophical book/film/show/musician? Who? Why? Can pop culture be philosophical?

4. Who are you? What are your goals, in this course, in school, and in life? What matters most to you?

5. Socrates said we should question everything and everyone: "the unexamined life is not worth living," "know thyself"... How do you feel about that? Are you prepared to do it?

You can post your answers here, STUDENTS, and comment on others' responses as well. Be civil, and remember that this is an open Internet forum. Non-students are welcome to participate too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

in the zone

Happy birthday William James. I've just learned that you have a "zone"...

Brains are surprisingly good at inventing reasons for being angry, even if the original reason has gone away and the only real remaining cause is the adrenaline in the bloodstream. It can bephysically impossible to let go of anger until your body has settled down. The rate at which your body returns to its baseline non-angry state varies from person to person. Being in this state of reinforced physical anger is what we call the William James zone, and how long it takes you to get out of that zone is your “William James threshold.” The philosopher William James predicted this effect long before the science of biology was able to confirm it, which is why we named this effect after him... The Usual Error Project
Good call. James has other, better zones too: the state of delight, the feeling of effort, the "sentiment of rationality" (what he also called the "sufficiency of the present moment"), the directed control of attention. The importance of knowing what zone you're in, and where you want to go, is among the great unguarded secrets of life.

Another "secret" is: don't waste any occasion for a party. I'm lighting a candle for (in A.N. Whitehead's words) "that adorable genius, William James." Remember...

And I'm lighting another, today, for my wife.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"insanely awesome"

The Moon was very roughly 1000 times farther away than the ISS when this picture was taken, and the Sun 400,000 times more distant. Yet all three lined up just right to make this extraordinary photograph possible. Phil Plait
That blotch in the lower right is a sun-spot, twice as big as Earth. Another terrific solar transit...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

they will come

More philosophy on the radio ("Philosophy Valued...")

In light of my own department's recent passage through the valley of darkness, this was really heartening. And instructive, if only our president and regents were listening.
The president of LaGuardia Community College made philosophy a priority, the department chair built a department and hired faculty. Now this community college in New York City that's under many people's radar has more philosophy majors than many four-year colleges and universities. It's like that line in the film Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.
Yeah! Let's get out there and turn the ground. Students will come.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

thumbs up!

Everybody should follow Roger Ebert. He has a new voice [Sunday Morning], almost a match for his amazing attitude. We should all be on such a mission. [The embed is out of kilter but the man is straight & solid. The woman, too, his incredible partner. An inspiration.]

Monday, January 3, 2011

give it a chance

Yoko Ono's annual Times ad ran yesterday:

I do want it, I do. I still don't believe in magic, but I do believe in imagination. And Beatles. Accelerating Intelligence News