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Philosophy Midterm Notes.docx

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Western University
Philosophy 1200
Ryan Robb

Philosophy Test 001 Notes PhD  Philosophy is a method of gathering knowledge that involves making arguments publically to ensure that our beliefs are justified  The method of gathering knowledge that philosophers use is the same overarching method that all academics apply to their respective areas of study  Philosophy is the very first discipline that gave rise to all other disciplines – science used to be called natural philosophy  Someone with a PhD [A doctor of the philosophy of] is able to assess data or the quality of the methods used to gather the data or asses the conclusions drawn from the gathered data and interpret their own data in their respective fields  A PhD means they are experts in reading, assessing, and producing knowledge in their fields according to the respective methodologies of those fields Definition of Philosophy  Philosophy, translated from Greek means ‘Love of Wisdom’  A ‘wise’ person is someone who has a great deal of knowledge  A lover of wisdom will spend their time trying to accumulate knowledge  To say that someone has knowledge of something is to say that they have a justified true belief about that something  Plato introduced the definition that Knowledge is a belief that can be justified 2500 years ago  Knowledge refers to a persons beliefs  To justify a belief means that the person holding the belief can develop and articulate a set of reasons that establish that the belief is compelling and/or plausible  A belief must also be true – Being able to present a set of reasons in support of a belief is not enough to qualify a justified belief  The justified belief must be objectively true, independent of the belief in question  A statement will be objectively true if the truth of the statement does not depend on the individuals’ belief of that statement Philosophers  A philosopher is one who loves wisdom, which can be understood as an accumulation of a set of justified true beliefs  In an ideal universe, humans would resolve to never adopt any belief unless it was both true and justified  Humans however are both fallible and finite – we do not live in a perfect world  Fallible – we are prone to making all kinds of errors of reasoning and errors in our judgment  Finite – we are severely limited by our abilities and characteristics and we furthermore only live for a very short amount of time  We should and we can strive to ensure that all of our beliefs are both true and justified; however it is still the case that there are very few beliefs that we can be absolutely certain that is true 1 Philosophy Test 001 Notes  There is a high degree of probability that most or all of the beliefs of humans, most of the time are either: false, and/or incomplete, and/or flawed, and/or unjustifiable.  What distinguishes philosophers / academics is the shared desire to strive towards this unattainable goal th  Philosophers, starting in the 19 century have recognized this is unattainable and have now moved towards focusing on establishing that their beliefs are justified  There is a hope that the stronger the justification the more likely the belief will turn out to be true  The goal of the philosopher is to make the incomprehensible complexity of human existence in the universe slightly less incomprehensible  They strive to accumulate knowledge by attempting to ensure that any belief is justified Arguments as a Method of Justifying belief  What distinguishes philosophy is not the subject matter, but the method by which knowledge is gathered  The making of arguments is the method philosophers rely on to justify their beliefs  Arguments are normally made by single individuals  Making an argument requires the person to provide a compelling set of reasons that support a conclusion  It is the capacity to make arguments that make a human a rational being [and then the ability to provide reasons to explain and support their arguments]  Human rational capacities are normally distinguished from human emotions; arguments should be rational rather than emotional  For the purpose of this course, emotion is not a valid reason  Belief is the conclusion of the argument, premises serve as the justification [they are the reasons or evidence which, when taken together, are meant to establish that a belief is justified]  Premises should be criticized based on if they are reliable sources/statements  If premises are true, do they work together to add up to the conclusion (the inference from the premises to the conclusion must be plausible)  The general means in which humans overcome the limits on their abilities and life experiences have been to come together and divide their labor  The division of labor allows for the goods and services to be distributed so that not one single person is in charge of everything  Academics represent one category in the division of labor in the sense their tasks are to accumulate knowledge  Scholars publically present their arguments to other scholars so that those arguments can be subjected to critical scrutiny  This is the method humans use to overcome the problems of individual limits  If each individual makes their justifications for their beliefs public, others can then assess the strength of those justifications  If there are flaws, the argument can be rejected 2 Philosophy Test 001 Notes  If there are no [or few] flaws, then the argument can be accepted as plausible, and is therefore a genuine contribution to the ongoing collective enterprise that is the accumulation of knowledge by humans  This therefore becomes the significance of essay writing; it is the means the ongoing collective enterprise proceeds Components of an Argument  Philosophers love wisdom, meaning they love to accumulate knowledge where knowledge consists in a justified true belief  Owing to human’s being individually useless (fallible and finite), we have difficulty identifying truth that is objective: true independent of any individuals of any individuals own set of beliefs  We have, as a result, directed our focus towards justifying our beliefs by making arguments  There are two primary components of every argument, the conclusion/point/opinion/thesis that is the proposition in need of support  Proposition: statement that can, in principle be true or false  Often we don’t have enough knowledge, but we call them propositions because we believe there can be either a true or false value associated with it  Propositions are broader than sentences – arguments are made up of at least 2 propositions  One of the propositions are going to be the reason or the premise, the other would be the conclusion  When you use a proposition you are trying to argue that whatever your belief is, it is more often true than not  There is always one conclusion and at least one premise  Every argument will always have one ultimate conclusion [one of the propositions]  Being able to justify conclusions is not sufficient to overcome our problems of being finite and fallible Peer review  We therefore need to have our justifications scrutinized by other rational individuals  Academics work together by writing their arguments up in the form of essays as a means of publically presenting these arguments to other academics interested in the same field  The acceptability of the premises and the strength of the support provided can be assessed by others with a similar degree of knowledge and expertise  It is likely that even when working collectively with humans will never have either complete or certain knowledge, yet there are reasons for why we continue to attempt to reach this idea–we try because o More knowledge might improve the character of human existence o New points in the accumulation of knowledge help improve human civilization 3 Philosophy Test 001 Notes o It is good to know as much as you can because as a human you are the kind of being that is capable of knowing stuff  We’re going to assume that the universe, to some degree, is knowable by humans  We must be trying to accumulate knowledge o This implies that every single essay, every single article, must in some way respond to prior work o A response includes:  A criticism of a set of arguments that have been presented  An application of a theory that has been determined to be based on a plausible justification  An addition to or expansion of an existing set of observations or arguments  Incorporating a theory or set of plausible observations that have been made in one area into a second area in which they are not normally invoked  The accepted means in which humans overcome individual limits are by working together  Firstly we are divided into groups that can specialize and study a particular area of knowledge  Each member of these groups can use their individual knowledge to produce public arguments that can then be responded to by other scholars to create an ongoing collective enterprise of knowledge  To say that a journal is a peer reviewed journal means that, upon submission, the editor of the journal sends the essay off to a set of at least three independent professors [experts] to make sure that it is in fact a genuine contribution to knowledge and has a sufficient justification that warrants its publication  The point of a peer-review is to protect the integrity of knowledge  New arguments can be introduced only if a set of independent experts in the field agree that the arguments are new and worthy of bring publically discussed and scrutinized  Once the arguments that respond to the existing knowledge of a discipline are published as essays, [in academic journals] then other experts in the field will have the opportunity to review and scrutinize the conclusions presented  The academics reading this published material will then write their own essays in response to those they read and it then continues  Overtime, this process will lead to a significant accumulation of knowledge, which is how the collective enterprise progresses [and roughly how it has been progressing for the last 2500 years]  The process of peer review is the means by which the most cutting edge appears as journal articles rather than in form of full length book – finding three experts with the time to read a 20-30 page essay is easier than finding someone to read a two-three hundred page book  The ongoing collective enterprise proceeds with the publication of essays in peer reviewed journals  New arguments that respond to those that have already been made are made public which ensures that existing knowledge is not simply repeated and new 4 Philosophy Test 001 Notes knowledge is not simply repeated and new knowledge can then be scrutinized, all of which is intended to further ensure knowledge actually accumulates The goal of an essay  The goal of an essay is to convince the reader that your position [as expressed in your thesis] is the position that they should have, using effective reasoning  The goal of every paper is to convince every person that ever reads your paper that your belief is the belief that they should hold as true and justified  The means that this is achieved is by presenting an argument that provides a justification of your position of the issue Clarity  Clarity is the necessary precondition to convince your reader to accept your thesis  The person must understand what you are saying  It must be understood that the mere fact that your argument is clear us not enough to be successful  There are two senses in which you can construct a clear essay: clarity of structure and clarity of expression  You can use universal phrases but be clear to define what it is you are referring to, and in what context The three parts of every essay  The thesis/point of the essay  The exegesis/exposition/description/literature review  The reasons that support your thesis/point The thesis  Your thesis is the focal point of the entire essay  Every single word, sentence, or paragraph needs to make your thesis more convincing  You are always editing by referencing your thesis  A good essay cannot begin without a working thesis  The thesis must appear in your introduction  The thesis must be precise, you must not claim you are unrealistically certain  The best way to hook an academic reader is with a clear and explicit thesis  You show respect to your reader by telling them precisely what it is that you’re trying to convince them to accept, giving them the option of whether they want to keep reading  The purpose of your essay is to defend your opinion using an argument, which is impossible to convince someone of if the reader cannot determine your actual thesis The road map  The rest of the introduction should outline the steps you will take to support your thesis 5 Philosophy Test 001 Notes  Your introduction is an introduction to what will happen in your essay – not your topic Exegesis/exposition/description/literature review  The purpose of an exegesis is to describe the argument  Before you can convince someone about the argument you present, they must first know what your argument is about  Exegesis is used most often to denote a description of a specific written argument
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