Philosophy 2730F/G Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Noam Chomsky, Totalitarianism, Step Outline

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29 Oct 2014

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Introduction to Media Ethics, Philosophy 2730F
Instructor: Dr. Ryan Robb.
The Point of the Course:
To learn to identify and distinguish between good and bad philosophical
arguments, specifically in respect of the ethical/political/legal issues that
arise in the context of the modern media, and to produce good arguments of
your own in response to those issues.
A: What is Philosophy? A method for justifying beliefs (and writing clear
and compelling essays)
B: What is Ethics/Morality? A set of Rules of conduct
C: What is Political Philosophy? An attempt to explain/justify the use of the
coercive powers of the State
A: What is Philosophy?
But what we care about for the purposes of a course like this one is the
methodology by which a philosopher gathers wisdom.
The key to gathering wisdom, for a philosopher (and hopefully anyone else)
is to ensure thattheirbeliefsarewellfounded…thatis,theyhavegood
reasons that support their beliefs.
The manner by which philosophers ensure their beliefs are well-founded
involves the formulation of arguments.
Arguments can be represented formally as follows:
Premise (P) 1: It was raining when I came in to class
P2: The Weather Network says the rain is expected to continue
Conclusion (C): It will probably still be raining when I leave class
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Practically, philosophical arguments are intended to, at the very least,
convince those to whom the argument is presented to accept the conclusion
of the argument (the belief) as compelling’or‘plausible’.
Ideally, a philosophical argument is intended to reveal some T’ruth about
the world and/or the human experience that was previously unknown.
How do we go about making arguments?
1. The first thing we need to do is identify a belief that needs to be
addressed, some belief (supported by reasons) about which there is
uncertainty with respect to its accuracy, and/or ambiguity in respect of its
meaning (always a belief presented by others).
2. Once the belief at issue has been identified, you then articulate its flaws
(supported by good reasons), or propose a more compelling alternative (that
ismorecompellingbecauseit’ssupportedbybetterreasons), or both.
One point we can infer from this two step outline of ‘argumentmaking’:A
good philosopher only accepts/endorses beliefs that are supported by good
reasons, i.e., beliefs supported by the best possible arguments.
A second noteworthy point: ‘goodreasons’donotimplythatourbeliefsare
supported‘withcertainty’…owing to the finite and fallible nature of human
existence, the best we can hope for is that our beliefs be supported by the
best available reasons.
This unavoidable uncertainty further implies a third point: a good
philosopher needs to be a fallibilist with respect to their beliefs (be weary of
anyone who claims to know anything with absolute certainty).
In light of these observations, we can refine what it means for a philosopher
to be a lover of wisdom in a manner that better reflects the limits of human
The goal of the philosopher is, by means of rational argumentation, to
engage the incomprehensible complexity of human existence in the universe
in an effort to make it slightly less incomprehensible.
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one that each individual philosopher accepts, the means by which knowledge
is acquired and developed by humans using arguments is a collective
The basic idea behind the collective enterprise can be traced at least as far
those beliefs, and if those reasons survive all possible criticism, then our
Of course,philosophersdon’ttypicallypresenttheir arguments is support of
particularbeliefsintheformI’veoutlined above…instead,theywrite
Start by asking about the goal of every essay:
A successful essay convinces all (or the majority of) those that read the
essay that the position taken (the thesis) is the position the reader should also
take, because the reasons presented are sufficiently compelling/plausible.
If the purpose of an essay is to defend a thesis by means of an argument
designed toconvincereaderstoacceptthatthesis,thefirst‘commonsense’
concern of every essay must be:
The Possibility of Convincing Anyone Using an Argument Depends First on
If I am a reader of your work, and I cannot understand what you are trying to
convince me of, you cannot convince me of anything.
This point cannot be overemphasized!!! Your writing must be clear to
have any hope of being convincing.
There will be two sorts of clarity that are relevant to writing an essay:
1. Clarity of Structure
2. Clarity of Expression
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