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College of the Mind - Philosophy

Adult Version

Lesson 1 - Introduction

Answer 1 - from: Susan Troxel Susan112@aol.com


How does all the above relate to philosophy?


Internet research: (brevity now goes out the window..)


Cartesian Philosophy Descartes adopted the strategy of withholding his 
belief from anything that was not entirely certain and indubitable. To 
test which of his previous beliefs could meet these conditions, he 
subjected them to a series of skeptical hypotheses. For example, he 
asked himself whether he could be certain he was not dreaming. His most 
powerful skeptical hypothesis, that there is an evil genius trying to 
deceive him, challenges not only the belief that the physical world
exists, but also belief in simple statements of fact, and thus would 
seem to call into question the validity of reason itself. But not even 
an evil genius could deceive someone into believing falsely that he 
existed. "I think, therefore I am" is thus beyond skeptical doubt. From 
this Archimedean point, "I think, therefore I am," Descartes attempted 
to regain the world called into doubt by his skeptical hypotheses. His 
solution to the problem was rejected by later generations, however,
and philosophers have been struggling with skepticism especially 
skepticism about the existence of the physical world ever since. 
Descartes is known as the father of the mind-body problem. He claimed 
that human beings are composites of two kinds of substances, mind and
body. A mind is a conscious or thinking being, that is, it understands, 
wills, senses, and imagines. A body is a being extended in length, 
width, and breadth. Minds are indivisible, whereas bodies are infinitely 
divisible. The "I" of the "I think, therefore I am" is the mind and can 
exist without being extended, so that it can in principle survive the 
death of the body. Despite having different natures, Descartes thought 
that mind and body causally interact. The human mind causes motions
in the bodies by moving a small part of the brain. Motions in that same 
part of the brain produce sensations and emotions. This problem of 
whether mental entities are different in nature from physical entities 
continues to be a primary concern of philosophers and psychologists. 
Descartes argued that bodies differ from how they appear through senses. 
Colors, sounds, tastes, smells, heat, and cold are merely sensations 
existing in thought, and there is nothing in bodies that resembles them, 
just as there is nothing in bodies that resembles our sensation of pain. 
Instead the properties of bodies are those which are capable of being 
quantified, namely, extension and its modes, shape, size, and motion. He 
denied the existence of a vacuum, because what one would be inclined to 
call empty space meets his definition of body in virtue of being  
extended in three dimensions. All the phenomena in the created world 
external to human beings, such as gravity, magnetism, and the cohesion 
of bodies, as well as the complex functioning of living organisms 
including human bodies, he believed could be explained solely by 
mechanistic physics, that is, by the motions and collisions of bodies. 
He even denied that consciousness must be attributed to animals in order 
to explain their behavior. Although his laws of impact, his vortex 
theory of gravity, and his denial of a vacuum were rejected as physics 
developed, he deserves credit for one of the first formulations of the 
law of inertia, which he justified by appeal to the immutability of God. 
In mathematics Descartes is famous for the unification of algebra and
geometry, marked by the use of what are now known as Cartesian 
coordinates. He influenced not only the rationalist thinkers who were 
his immediate followers, but also the whole course of modern 
philosophical enquiry, and the Cartesian quest for certainty gave 
epistemology the central place in philosophical thought it has 
maintained to this day. 

My thoughts:

Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am!".  I find this to be 
egocentric and an incomplete view of the world.  Would you not also "be" 
if you were a vegetable and could no longer think?  I think we inhabit a 
definite reality..not some dream of a worm in a hole on some far off 
planet (have you heard that worm comment before?).  Therefore defining 
our existence in this reality goes beyond the mere mental and into all 
aspects of our being: mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, all the
way to species, evolution, community, nature etc.  Dealing with the 
pieces and parts is deceptive, whether it be the pieces and parts of 
body-mind-spirit or of ecosystems.  His skepticism is necessary, but he 
carries it too far via his view of everything as separate and only 
causally related to the other parts.  Causal (Jungian?) relationships, I 
think are what shows to the "rational" western mind.. the "symptom" that 
everything's connected.   I understand the train of thought that
he goes through... But why do I understand this?  Is skepticism and 
separateness and breaking things up into pieces and parts for analysis 
part of a biological or a social function or both?  Both, I imagine.  We 
need the skills involved to survive (i.e.. which bit of fruit is edible 
and which is poison), and western society has developed toward 
individualism as v. community.


Internet research:


[In] 1843 [Marx] left for Paris with his bride, Jenny von Westphalen. 
There he went further in his criticism of society, building on the Young 
Hegelian criticism of religion. Ludwig Feuerbach had written a book 
called The Essence of Christianity (1841; Eng. trans., 1854), arguing 
that God had been invented by humans as a projection of their own 
ideals. Feuerbach wrote that man, however, in creating God in his own 
image, had "alienated himself from himself." He had created another 
being in contrast to himself, reducing himself to a lowly, evil creature 
who needed both church and government to guide and control him. If 
religion were abolished, Feuerbach claimed, human beings would overcome 
their alienation. Marx applied this idea of alienation to private
property, which he said caused humans to work only for themselves, not 
for the good of their species.

My thoughts:

Marx said, "Religion is the opium of the masses."  He's correct from the 
limited perspective he was working from.  So many people (myself 
formerly -?- included) follow their respective religions with no further 
thought than what is given them to think...they have great difficulty 
going beyond the nine dots, so to speak, and are satisfied with the 
answers about life that are provided by rote and dogma.  Of course 
there's more to the story than that, because religion can also be a
function of spirituality rather than just a structure.   "All history is 
class struggle".. once again a limited view.  Patriarchal history is 
mostly about struggle, I'll agree.  But that is history in it's
broadest strokes, the movements and progress/regress of societies and 
politics and technology etc.  I tend to focus more on people than on 
movements/politics in my most basic philosophical thinking, so this 
approach holds less value for me.  It's important, extremely important 
in dealing with our relationship to society, but it fails to answer the 
basic questions of why we're here, what's the meaning of life etc.

Barry Commoner:

Internet research:


Biologist and pundit Barry Commoner said: (1) Everything is connected to 
everything else, and (2) There's no such thing as a free lunch.  The 
original observation applied broadly to the electrical power production, 
but the water reuse and conservation hand fits the Commoner glove
just as snugly.  

Prevention is the best solution to pollution. (my paraphrased note).

My thoughts:

I couldn't find a lot and I'm not familiar with Commoner's work, but 
from the bit I did gather I can agree with him, although the free lunch 
thing is out of context and I don't know what it relates to 
specifically.  I've heard it bantered around a lot!  It seems too 
cynical to apply broadly.  Is it about cause and effect?  Going with 
that assumption, we're looking at either common sense (?) or eco-drama 
(?)... the sky is falling!  The part that interests me is cause and 
effect from the Karma standpoint... divine justice?  What goes around 
comes around?  I like these thoughts better when phrased as the golden 
rule or the Wiccan rede of "harm none"... It a good but difficult way to 
live and can be carried to the extreme.  I'm more the "moderation in all 
things" sort myself.  Am I making any sense at all here?


Internet research: 


Natural rights are those rights that are indispensably necessary for man 
to fulfill his potential on this earth. They are "natural" because they 
derive from the nature of man and the nature of existence itself. They 
are, in other words, the conditions that are necessary for a nation of 
people to realize their birthright. They were postulated in the 
Declaration of Independence as the foundation of man's existence upon 
which rightful government is built, and on which such a government must 
therefore be designed to accommodate. 

"The principles on which we engaged, of which the charter of our 
independence is the record, were sanctioned by the laws of our being, 
and we but obeyed them in pursuing undeviatingly the course they called 
for. It issued finally in that inestimable state of freedom which alone 
can ensure to man the enjoyment of his equal rights." --Thomas Jefferson 
to Georgetown Republicans, 1809.

Therefore, the Natural Rights upon which this government is founded is 
not and was not thought to be a set of abstract theories, but rather a 
reasoned structure based on the observation of natural man in a natural 
universe. It was, perhaps, as 'scientific' as philosophy gets, relying 
as it did for its axioms on observable nature and its requirements, not 
on abstract ideals of what is the highest good. These foundational 
rights were described in the Declaration of Independence in these 
immortal words: 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created 
equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 
rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of 

The Declaration of Independence thus listed these rights as the first 
premise in an argument setting forth the rights of a people to a 
government that allowed them to live as human beings should live. This 
means a government that recognizes that the full development of human 
nature can only occur in a state of freedom enjoyed by all men equally. 
The very purpose of government was the protection of these rights. 

"It is to secure our rights that we resort to government at all." 
--Thomas Jefferson to M. D'Ivernois, 1795.

Therefore, it must be recognized that these rights are not given by 
governments nor by magistrates nor by any other body of men. 

"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, 
and not as the gift of their chief magistrate." --Thomas Jefferson: 
Rights of British America, 1774.

They are spoken of as the gift of Nature or of God, since God is 
conceived as the Author of Nature and the Creator of man. Hence, all men 
are in their very essence "endowed by their Creator with inherent and 
inalienable rights." The word "inherent" was in Jefferson's original
version of the Declaration, but was replaced by Congress with the word 
"certain." However, "inherent" makes clearer the natural character of 
these rights. 

"The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of 
force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." --Thomas Jefferson: Rights 
of British America, 1774.

Jefferson thought it important that a people realize that their rights 
were an intrinsic part of their being, hence a natural entitlement. 

"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed 
their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that 
these liberties are of the gift of God?" --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on 
Va., 1782.

Deriving these rights from the very fact of existence is the result of a 
purely rational process. 

"Questions of natural right are triable by their conformity with the 
moral sense and reason of
man." --Thomas Jefferson: Opinion, 1793.

Thus, when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he 
reached to the very foundation of man's existence on this earth in order 
to construct an argument to explain why the colonists found it necessary 
to declare their independence from Great Britain. In doing so, he
also established the moral and rational foundation for American society. 
Without question, the Declaration of Independence is the greatest 
political document in the history of man.

In referring to God, this view of the foundations of government cannot 
be said to be derived from sectarian religious dogma. These rights are 
not the result or an arbitrary divine fiat, with no other evidence for 
their existence than faith and belief; rather, man as created by God 
obviously has these rights, and the evidence therefor flows from a 
reasonable assessment of existence. It is the nature of man as 
established by the Creator and the self evident truths derived from that 
fact that form the basis of this political philosophy. There is no 
religious belief involved, other than, perhaps, the acknowledgment of 
God as the Creator of the way things are. From that given, everything 
else is rationally "self-evident." 

"Man [is] a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights." --Thomas 
Jefferson to W. Johnson, 1823.

"Under the law of nature, all men are born free." --Thomas Jefferson: 
Legal Argument, 1770.

"Questions of natural right are triable by their conformity with the 
moral sense and reason of man." --Thomas Jefferson: Opinion, 1793.

My thoughts:

Jefferson said, "All men are created equal."  He obviously did a lot of 
thinking about this, and yet he was a slave owner, and a member of the 
landed gentry and did not include women or native americans or really 
anyone except those such as himself in this philosophy.  He didn't walk 
the talk so it's hard for me to look at him as a hero or a genius.  This 
isn't PC, it's humanity!  (Sorry, my knee jerked).  Anyway... 
self-evident natural rights... hmmm I disagree.  Nature is nature and
life simply is.   Political rights are not a part of nature.  They are a 
human construct.  (And yes, we are a part of nature and I'm doing the 
separatist thing here... but bear with me).  I understand how good the 
govt./politics are, but from a purely philosophical perspective I 
struggle with classifying "natural rights".  A natural state would seem 
to be self evident, but self evidence would differ with each "self" so 
the argument is faulty and based on subjective, individual observation. 
The best example of this is Jefferson himself applying this set of 
natural rights to only white, upper class males.  Codifying this 
subjectivity into the Bill of Rights and the Constitution was a great
deed.  Treating it as the "religion" of secular government is 
problematic.  We continually struggle between conservative and liberal 
interpretations.  I side toward the liberal as you've no doubt

Jesus said, "The poor are with you always." I must say I don't really 
get it beyond the patriarchal sense of the structure of ancient (and 
modern) societies.  In that sense it is quite depressing.  Perhaps it 
could also speak to a sense a community, i.e..  there will always be 
someone who needs you or whom you need?   George Fraser said- "If you 
are not being used, could it be that you are useless?"  This idea is 
that everyone has value and is important and that we all have a
purpose in the universe, and if we don't discover and do that purpose, 
it won't get done.  And as important as finding that purpose, is the 
actualization of that purpose beyond the self so that the whole of the 
community can benefit.  It is important to give first, share always, and 
let the receiving come later.  Don't do something for somebody in 
expectation of receiving rewards for your action(s) immediately, or from 
that person at all... let yourself be unconditionally used simply
with the knowledge (faith) that it will come back to you. Fraser ended 
his speech with - "We make a living from what we get. We make a life 
from what we give."
(The above, from the quote on, is paraphrased from an Utne 

My thoughts:  This train of thought shows me personally how far away 
from a true sense of community we really are in white, middle-class 
America.  It's foreign to me in my individualistic thinking and 
lifestyle.  And it's a very tough nut for me to even want to crack.  I 
like my life, but I know that real participation in a community is 
lacking for me.  The individual vs. the community, the individual in the 
community... how does it intersect, how is it better, worse or whatever 
than the current state of my life and most other American lives?  
Perhaps I value my privacy too much or my own way of pursuing my own 
goals without community considerations or sacrifice or what have you to 
really want to answer this.  I want the good life, but I also want 
social justice and I know that every step in that direction is hard 
fought for to be won.  We all have our own interests and pursuits.  
Choosing your own path and struggles is harder in this day and age of
information overload and consumerism and selfishness and even just doing 
the work-a-day routine with little time left for immediate family much 
less your "community".  

If time travel became possible, what if you went back in time and killed 
your own grandfather?  

Perhaps my grandmother would re-marry and give birth to me anyway? :)

I'm not convinced that time is real and linear enough to have "Back to 
the Future" timeline disturbances if such a thing as time travel were 
possible.  I'm generally confused about time as a philosophical 
concept... It's seemingly There, but yet it's also something we've made 
up.  As to killing a relative, I'm more of a believer in reincarnation 
and that physical birth and death is not the end all and be all of 
existence, so killing a relative would only mean that you'd go to be 
with someone else in another reincarnation.  There's so much to learn 
and be and do in life that one lifetime seems inadequate to really gain 
the experience of life that we yearn for.  I guess I have a sort of 
personal/new-age/indigenous/etc. spirituality that allows for these 
things.  I think that humans are spiritually powerful beings but that we 
don't realize it to it's full extent.  I believe we're all connected and 
that life is the one big thing that is that connection and that life 
includes death and change and good and bad and everything.  Life is 
"god".  It's all there, we're all "it".  It's immanent and transcendent. 
 It encompasses all.  Again, am I making sense?


Internet research:

Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
II.ii.55:       What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
II.ii.56:       Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
II.ii.57:       Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
II.ii.58:       What's in a name? that which we call a rose
II.ii.59:       By any other name would smell as sweet;
II.ii.60:       So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
II.ii.61:       Retain that dear perfection which he owes
II.ii.62:       Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
II.iv.295:      see a toad, a very toad, as see him. I anger her
II.iv.296:      sometimes and tell her that Paris is the properer
II.iv.297:      man; but, I'll warrant you, when I say so, she looks
II.iv.298:      as pale as any clout in the versal world. Doth not
II.iv.299:      rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?

My thoughts:

Shakespeare: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. -  I always 
thought of this as a semantics sort of a quote.   It's seems you can 
delve off into matters of language and definition and usage but it turns 
out to be more of a stumbling block than anything.  I try to use 
language as simply a tool, rephrasing or somehow blundering through to 
some level of understanding when I hit snags.  The power of language, 
however, is undeniable.  Nothing can move me so much as lyrics with 
music or good stories or poetry...  There's also Native wisdom also 
about the power of knowing something's name.  You never tell your secret 
name, your spiritual name.  Names have power, but again it's a construct 
of humanity. 

Go to the library or somewhere and get a copy of the Dewey Decimal System or get a copy of a college's catalog of courses offered. Study it. How does it relate to this discussion?

                           The Ten Classes
000 Generalities 
100 Philosophy and Psychology 
200 Religion 
300 Social Science 
400 Language 
500 Science 
600 Technology  
700 Arts and Entertainment 
800 Literature   
900 Geography & History 

Seems to encompass all of the human endeavor doesn't it?  

Classify, name, define.  This takes up so much of our time! One thing 
that this does is block our experience.  How many times have we been 
distracted from the pure beauty and enjoyment of looking at a bird by 
trying to think of the name of that bird.... (tree, flower, plant, 
animal etc.).  I think of this sometimes as I go about my work.  Forest 
inventory is a good example.  I'm out there tromping about in the woods, 
getting a gut sense of what's going on/has gone on... but yet the 
measuring and classifying and number crunching and identifying and 
analyzing must go on.  The result usually matches up with my gut sense, 
when it doesn't, I wonder about those numbers! I guess I'm not much of a 
scientist!  Oh well, it's an art and science so I've been told.  ;)

If you are a "Star Trek" fan or a "Twilight Zone" fan or a fan of "Amazing Stories" or a fan of "Law and Order" discuss the plots from at least one of these shows in relation to this. If not these shows then pick a classic novel such as "Lord Jim" or "Moby Dick" or "The Scarlet Letter" or choose a poem and discuss. Be sure to summarize the plot as a part of your discussion.


    by Carl Sandburg

    The fog comes 
    on little cat feet. 
    It sits looking 
    over harbor and city 
    on silent haunches 
    and then moves on. 

I think this is a very simple and lovely poem about thoughful observation and relating it emotionally and physcially to people through mere words. It's genius is it's simplicity and how it triggers that "lightbulb" in people..."Yes! I know exactly what he means, but I never thought of it that way before!" Fog as a cat...how perfect! Um, I need to summarize the plot.. The fog rolls in, the fog rolls out. ;)

Comments from Duane:

Yes, but Carl Sandburg uses abstract symbols, words, to elicit a set of memories, feelings and emotions in the reader. You say "lightbulb" and "I know exactly what he means." My question is "How do you know that the feeling and emotions you experience on reading this are the same as the ones the author experienced or the same as other readers might experience?"

I might argue that they cannot be exactly the same because each person's life experiences and interpretation of various words is somewhat different. This goes to the question of how perfectly can abstract words express reality?

Also, to what extent do we feel the poem is beautiful because we feel that Carl Sandburg has done a much better job in using words to express a reality than others might? Is the beauty of the poem because of the beauty of the feelings expressed or because of the author's skill with language?

I can say "The fog drifts slowly and silently over harbor and city." and express the same idea that Sandburg does, but my words do not have the beauty of his. Why?

College of the Mind

Introduction - Lesson 1

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