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Hume’s Best – Philosophy’s Best Bits

The Self

  • Hume subtracted anything supernaturally special from the concept of the self, arguing that there is no coherent self or “I.” Instead, each of us is nothing but a bundle of perceptions. “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself,” he wrote, “I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.” This subtraction may seem initially disheartening. Further reflection, however, reveals its many benefits.
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An idealized version of David Hume’s self in his hometown of Edinburgh
  • Who we are depends on how we think, what causes our actions, and how we choose to live.  Who we are is what we construct, not what we discover.

How to Think

  • There is no such thing as chance in the world, yet nothing is more free than the imagination of man.
  • Reason requires the existence of a motivating desire, but reason also informs and corrects the passions.
  • “There is just one phenomenon which may prove that it is not absolutely impossible for ideas to arise independent of impressions. Suppose a person, enjoying good sight, be presented with all the shades of blue from the deepest to the lightest, except a single one. Even if he has never had the fortune to meet with the missing shade, it will be possible for him to imagine it.”
  • Hume beguiled many later philosophers with his problem of induction – a large number of something doesn’t prove conclusions based on that large number. That all observed swans were white didn’t mean that all future swans would be white, which was proven upon the later discovery of black swans.
  • He divided the mind’s contents into impressions and ideas. Impressions are our immediate perceptions, and ideas are our concepts and thoughts that we are able to form of the things we are no longer experiencing.  The point was to insist that there is nothing in the mind – even the most abstract thought – that is not simply sensation transformed.
  • If an idea can’t be traced back to its original impressions, then it can not be an idea based in reality, but rather imagination.  Hume used this notion to skeptically critique the ideas of a devine occupier, the self, and causation.

Causation

  • There are always causes, even if the power behind them is hidden from us, as with medicines or clouds.
  • We associate ideas because of their resemblance (we see a painting and think of the original), their contiguity (resemblance in time and place), or their perceived cause and effect (think of a wound and we can not avoid thinking of pain).
  • He wrote that, “If you tell me that any person is in love, I easily understand your meaning, but can never mistake that conception for the real passion, for even the colors of poetry can never paint natural objects.”
  • We assume that certain things are connected just because they commonly occur together, but a genuine knowledge of any connection is mere habit of thought.

How to Live

  • Hume’s Law is generally put as “It is never possible to deduce evaluative conclusions from factual premises.” This is also known as the is/ought problem. Basically, being judgmental belongs more in the realm of emotions than facts. You can say, “You should be “blankety blank,” because that would make me feel better,” but not because of anything factual about “blankety blank.”
  • Hume held that people can exhibit qualities that give happiness to themselves as well as being useful to others. These qualities were justice, faithfulness, and politeness, in addition to benevolence, which he regarded as the highest general quality a person can have.
  • Virtues, such as justice, faithfulness, politeness, and benevolence, are qualities that a person can develop. In this sense, overall altruism toward others is a sign of personal development.
  • To ascertain our obligation, we naturally place our sentiments into the public arena for scrutiny to see if others concur.
  • We should not let philosophy interfere too much with real life. Be a philosopher, but amidst all of your philosophy, be still a man. This was Hume’s response to the inclination of taking his skepticism too far (Many observations of white swans does actually make it very likely your next swan will also be white).
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Language Therapy Ideas – Helping Verbs

Blurt!  Students are instructed to state the helping verb in orally presented sentences.

First write the helping verbs on the board:  For example,  “Is Are Am Does”

Then say a sentence with a helping verb.  For example, say: “I am hungry.” The first student to say the helping verb, am, gets a point. Increase sentence length to increase complexity.

For a noncompetitive activity, write each word more than once, and instruct students to work together to eliminate all the words on the board.

Surprising Statements.  Use tag questions to verify surprising statements, such as,  “My son is seven feet tall.” or “My pet birds wear shoes.” The student is instructed to create a tag question with the helping verb.

Examples:  “He is?”  “Sarah did what?”  “Your pet birds do?” “I should have?”  “Ben Franklin did?”

Persuasion.  Write target helping verbs on the board. Student is instructed to convince a reluctant friend to go somewhere using target words. Examples of possible places:  an amusement park, the zoo, a skating rink, a rodeo, etc.

Examples:  “The rides are great.”  “There are a lot of elephants.”  “It was not crowded the last time.”  “You will have so much fun.”

Zig Zags.  Write target words on one side of page or board, and matching pictures on the other side, not directly across from each word.  When the page is finished have the student match the pictures to the words, or send home for quick and easy homework.  Zig Zags work great for differentiating common confusions, such as singular and plural helping verbs, e.g. is, are, was, were, has, have, do, and does.Screenshots_2017-04-17-15-02-35

(Find many more activities, in many other areas under the menu header above labeled, “Language Therapy Ideas.)

The Same Story – The Factors That Are Keeping American Education Mediocre

Yet another study popped up in my feed saying the same things about what successful educational countries are doing that America isn’t.  This study, as many of the others have been doing, looked at what foreign exchange students are saying when comparing their systems to ours.  If America ever wants to compete, these are things that have got to happen:

  1. School is harder. There’s less homework but the material is more rigorous. People take education more seriously, from selecting the content to selecting the teachers.
  2. Sports are just a hobby. In the U.S., sports are a huge distraction from the business of school, but that’s not the case in other countries.
  3. Kids believe there’s something in it for them. The students in other countries deeply believe that what they are doing in school affects how interesting their lives were going to be. Even if they don’t like a class, they see their education as a stepping stone to their future.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if all the parents in the U.S. pressed their kids to succeed as much academically as they do with sports?  What if every community member knew not who had the better football teams, but the better mathletes or young scientists or writers or artists?  The sad truth is that especially in poor and rural America, not only are we a long ways away, but we’re still falling.  Here’s the original story:  This researcher asked kids what’s wrong with U.S. schools. Here are their ideas.

Philosophy’s Best Bits – Aristotle

Virtue Theory

  • His definition of virtues divided them into two types: moral, which are shaped through early training and reinforced to become matter of habit, and intellectual, untitledwhich can be rationally taught.
  • All virtues have the common structure of falling between two extremes at a point called the Golden Mean. Virtues are the mean between excess and deficiency.
  • He believed that because every action and decision aims at some good, the good has been well described as that at which everything aims.
  • A virtuous response or action is intermediate. For example, it is not good to feel angry too often, or too little, because then one can be taken advantage of.
  • There are child prodigies in chess, math, and music, but never in morality, because moral knowledge comes not genetically, but only by experience.
  • According to his virtue theory, philosophy should concern itself with defining conditions of flourishing, or eudaimonia, for humans.

Eudaimonia

  • His concept of eudaimonia, which is sort of like human flourishing, is promoted by certain ways of living, just as certain ways of caring for a cherry tree will cause it to grow, blossom, and fruit.
  • We are what we repeatedly do.
  • According to his concept of eudaimonia, a tragedy toward the end of your life can potentially put a slant on whether your entire life as a whole went well. This implies the truth of the converse; that a wonderful event toward the end of your life can positively alter an otherwise bad one.

Ancient Science and Logic

  • Begins with the conviction that our perceptual and cognitive faculties are basically dependable, that they for the most part put us into direct contact with the features and divisions of our world, and that we need not dally with skeptical postures before engaging in substantive philosophy. Accordingly, he proceeds in all areas of inquiry in the manner of a modern day natural scientist who takes it for granted that progress follows the assiduous application of a well trained mind, and so, when presented with a problem, simply goes to work.
  • Aristotle saw logic as a tool that underlay knowledge of all kinds, and he undertook its study because he believed it to be a necessary first step for learning.
  • Aristotle’s most important contribution to logic was the syllogism. A syllogism consists of certain assumptions or premises from which a conclusion can be deduced. Aristotle referred to the terms as the “extremes” and the “middle.” The middle term is the conclusion that links the two extremes. A traditional example runs as follows:
    • All men are mortal.
    • All Athenians are men.
    • Therefore all Athenians are mortal.

Specific Language Therapy Ideas – Conjunctions

Look in a cookbook. Identify conjunctions. Follow directions in a recipe. Talk about the conjunctions used.

Example Statements:  “Put the ingredients in a bowl before mixing them together.”  “Mix the ingredients until all the lumps are gone.”

Talk about some games’ rules. Talk about reasons for the rules using conjunctions.

Example Statements:  “You collect two hundred dollars when you pass go.”  “The other team gets the ball whenever there’s an interception.”  “If another piece is diagonal to yours, you can jump that piece, and then take it.”

Use an atlas. Instruct students to give directions to places they want to visit.  Or, you could use Google Maps, street view, and have one student direct another with conjunctions.

Example Statements:  “Get on highway 16 after you cross the state line.”  “Turn left before 31st street.”  “Go north for twenty miles and drive until you see the exit for Pomona Falls.”  “Keep going until the end of the street.  Then turn right so we can see what’s over there.”

Give common explanations, such as for crossing the street, wearing warm clothes in the winter, not quitting when you’re behind, taking care of your belongings, etc.

Example Statements:  “Wait until the sign says walk.”  “Walk across the crosswalk after the sign says to walk.”  “Don’t go if the sign says don’t walk before you get to the intersection.”  “You’ll get cold outside in the winter unless you wear warm clothes.”  “You shouldn’t quit when you’re behind, because you still might win.”  “Use both hands to hold a heavy plate full of food so that you don’t drop it.”

Sentence Combination – Instruct Students to combine two or three phrases with limited or not use of the word and.

1) the phone rang; he answered it – After the phone rang, he answered it.

2) the girl stood up; she had to stand up to see – The girl stood up so that she could see.

3)  the man opened his umbrella; it was not raining – The man opened his umbrella although it was not raining.

4) the pen was blue; the pen broke; the pen fell – The blue pen broke after it fell

5) the boy was inside; he took off his sunglasses; he could see better – The boy took off his sunglasses inside so he could see better.

The Different Levels of Lies

Lying has obviously become a huge issue recently.  And while politicians have long bent the truth and engaged in other exaggerations and distortions, the intentions seem to be what’s changing.  The more common political lies of the past, used primarily to win individual elections, have been replaced by elaborate webs of distortions intended to use voters’ confusions as tools in constructing greedy gain.  As part of this confusion, the distraction has often been raised that because the other side has been dishonest, the voter should just, well, keep listening to the distraction of how the other side has been dishonest.  But not all lies are equal.  Not by a long shot.

For the sake of space, not all lie types could be included.  Exaggerations, misleading implications, errors of omission, and baseless claims are some other common types.  What this should all emphasize is that the word “lie” itself is a word that is almost always not specific enough.  It’s a word like “thing” or “stuff,” a filler word which can almost always be improved.

types of lies.jpg

Philosophy Best Bits – John Rawls

  • He was an American philosopher who lived from 1921 to 2002.rawls-pic
  • Rawls reconciled liberty and equality in one way by saying that each citizen has the right to the maximum basic personal and political liberties that are compatible with a similar system that can be afforded to others.  His difference principle states that social and economic inequalities should be to the most benefit of the least advantaged members of society.
  • We should put our effort into ensuring that the rules of the game are fair. Once society is organized around a set of fair rules, people can set about freely playing the game without interference.
  • The adoption of his original position would allow individual people to make political decisions which may benefit more people than the current democratic systems prevalent throughout much of the world which typically rely on rules and structures inherently beneficial to those already with power.
  • His veil of ignorance was the tool required to achieve his original position. According to this hypothetical tool, justice is best achieved by creating starting points which ignore factors extraneous to a situation. While Rawls focused on society at large, and a desire to eliminate factors such as parents’ wealth, height, skin color, etc., as is so often the case, a sports analogy may help make things clearer. Fantasy football leagues usually start from behind a veil of ignorance in which players’ draft positions are chosen only by luck.  The NFL draft does not have this veil, as it starts out with knowledge of the previous season’s records and gives extra advantage to those who need more, in an effort to create more parity.

Specific Language Therapy Ideas – Comparatives and Superlatives

Tell me Use comparisons familiar to student to ask comparing questions. For example,

Comparatives:

  • Tell me what’s bigger: a car or a bike. Expected answer:  (A car is bigger than a bike.)
  • Tell me what’s quieter: a library or a gym. (A library is quieter than a gym.)
  • Tell me what’s colder: Alaska or Florida. (Alaska is colder than Florida.)
  • Tell me what’s drier: a desert or a jungle. (A desert is drier than a jungle.)
  • Tell me what’s more expensive: a house or a candy bar. (A house is more expensive than a candy bar.)
  • Tell me what’s more delicious: liver or spaghetti. (Spaghetti is more delicious than liver.)

Superlatives:

  • Tell me who the tallest person in your family is. My cousin Joe is the tallest person in my family
  • Tell me what the biggest planet is. Jupiter is the biggest planet.
  • Tell me who your best friend is. Priscilla is my best friend.
  • Tell me the most nutritious food that you can think of. Broccoli is the most nutritious food that I can think of.

Discuss world records, such as those in the Guinness Book of World Records.  For example, “Where is the biggest piece of string in the world? Who is the best selling singer of all time?

Ask “why” questions. Use both questions that are familiar to student as well as ones that are personally relevant. Require the use of comparatives and superlatives.  For example:  “Why don’t you like classical music instead of rock and roll?”  “Because rock and roll is better than classical.”  “Why can’t your little brother beat you in a race?”

Go on a scavenger hunt. Write a list of target comparatives and/or superlatives to find. See who can get the most.  For example, Find: the longest hall, someone taller than me, something heavier than a desk, the most confusing poster, etc.

Discuss “what ifs” using comparatives and superlatives.  These are situations where things could be different What if pencils were longer than cars? What if hammers were softer than tissue paper?

The Eightfold Path

(This is part of the Philosophy “Best” Bits series that can also be accessed from the top menu.)

Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path may be one of the best concepts to ever come out of any religion.  Buddhist tradition ascribes it as the fourth of the four noble truths, taught by the original Buddha, Gautama Buddha, as the way of overcoming life’s inevitable suffering.  While many may see the four truths’ admonition of life’s crappy nature as too pessimistic, it is much harder to find fault with its advice that we can better ourselves by periodically contemplating the habits of our ideas and our actions.  There are many excellent explanations of the Eightfold Path on the internet that can easily be Googled, and that go into more detail than the very basic outline I’ll provide here:

Right View – One aspect of this is that we should really try to understand The Noble Truths.  Another aspect of Right View – that the world, and us, and our possessions are impermanent – can truly help us come to separate our views of things from how things really are.

Right Intention – It’s not enough to just do the right things.  We must habituate doing the right things for the right reasons.

Right Actions – We should attend to the effects of our actions, and attempt to adjust our future actions accordingly.

Right Speech – Be aware of the harm our words can do, especially gossip and non-constructive criticism.

Right Livelihood – I like this one, because I’ve really seen nothing like it anywhere else.  Sure, we all have to earn a living, and often we have to do things we’re not crazy about in order to provide for our families, but sometimes this involves doing things which help small groups of people at the expense of society as a whole.  A well contemplated life will involve scrutiny of one’s vocation as well as the consideration of change if necessary.

Right Effort – Buddhism stresses the middle way.  We should be constantly considering our actions and efforts involved.  This involves our time resources.  It may be that we are putting too much time and effort in one area, and this time and effort can be better spent somewhere else, but we can only know this through consistent deliberate attention.

Right Mindfulness – This involves not spending too much time in the past or in the future, but instead attending to the present task at hand.

Right Concentration – Can we block out distractions effectively?  Can we properly distinguish between distractions and what’s really important?  If not, try to do better.

Here’s a good visualization of The Eightfold Path, from the Mindful Teachers website.

Philosophy Bits – Jean Paul Sartre

You can find tons of information about Sartre and his background all over the internet.  I just want to paraphrase a few highlights from his beliefs that I think stand out.

sartre

  • Everything we do affects not only ourselves, but by our choices and actions we are constantly setting examples for the rest of mankind.  This is similar to the old, “actions speak louder than words” adage.
  • When people would rather adhere to existing rules and norms rather than face the “terrifying” freedom of creating ourselves, we willingly possess what Sartre called, “bad faith.”
  • We should not just remain open to change, we should be vigilantly seeking change to improve ourselves and our world.
  • “Hell” is other people.  This could be interpreted to mean  that it is important to sometimes seek time to ourselves.
  • In people, existence precedes essence.  Sartre uses the example of a butter knife as the opposite, because the knife exists only after it’s purpose is known.  People exist and then make their own purposes.

Some good places to find more on Sartre’s unique philosophy:  The Philosopher’s Mail; The Existential Primer; Sartre’s “Blog”

Just Released International Testing Results Are Clear

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test results released on Tuesday compare critical thinking abilities in math, science, and reading of 15 year olds in 69 countries, as it has been doing every three years since 2000.  It pretty clearly shows what effective countries are doing as far as education policy, as well as what doesn’t work.  Here’s what the smarter countries do:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

Maybe the best piece of educational advice I’ve ever heard is a quip that can be applied equally to individuals, organizations, states, or countries.  The quickest way to improve is to pay attention to what you don’t do well, and focus on that.  So, generally grading the U.S. in these areas would reveal:

  • Making teaching more prestigious and selective – FAIL
  • More resources to neediest children – PASS in some states; FAIL in others
  • High quality preschools – PASS in some states; FAIL in others
  • Establish cultures of constant academic improvement – FAIL in many places.  (Note that the cultures of constant athletic improvement so common in secondary school sports show that we do know how to create a culture of constant improvement.)
  • Establish consistent, rigorous standards – Almost PASSED, but recently rejected by voters nationally, and in many states.

Increasingly, we know what works.  Maybe the continually increasing discrepancies between states and countries that are succeeding compared to those who don’t might start motivating some to start doing better.  First though, we have to pay attention.

What’s Wrong With Vouchers? We’re About to Find Out

Get ready. The United States seems primed to undergo the largest experiment ever pitting public versus private education. Never mind that similar smaller scaled experiments, such as the 20 plus year Milwaukee’s School Choice Program, and voucher programs from Cleveland to Louisiana to Chile, have all produced results ranging from mediocre to sub-par; Donald Trump’s recent announcement of Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education has indicated a new scale to this battle.

DeVos is one of the central soldiers of a small army of wealthy conservatives who have relentlessly fought to funnel funding from public to private, under the guise of giving parents greater choice. She seems to have no experience in education, other than her part in this long battle, detailed here. Despite losing the overwhelming majorities of these battles in the form of failed voter initiatives, and legal challenges, a small handful of wealthy conservatives have used their clout and incredible persistence to continue the fight. And now, with DeVos as the key leader of American education, and with the Tea Party in control of vast swathes of America, from congress to the state legislatures, to the presidency, the voucher movement appears to have the wind at it’s sails like never before.

On the surface It sure sounds like a nice idea that if you don’t like your kids’ current schools, you should have the ability to enroll them in a different school – without moving yourself – but this notion consistently whitewashes the fact that what tends to bring many public schools down are the requirement that they educate the less advantaged, from the disabled to the poor. So what’s wrong with vouchers? Here’s a quick rundown:

  • There’s no accountability. There are no voter chosen school boards, no mandated reporting of test scores, and multiple reports of corruption that so frequently follows a lack of accountability.
  • There’s no proof they work. Earlier reports of their efficacy in raising student achievement have not held up under recent scrutiny. Now the consensus is that there’s no good evidence supporting them, and the research that has been done has not only not been able to weed out extraneous variables, it may even suggest that public education is better. And, not only is there absolutely no evidence that they’re cost effective, what evidence there is suggests otherwise.
  • They often use public funds to support religious institutions. This article excellently describes how the racist origins of America’s voucher movement have come to be intertwined with the Religious Right’s more recent acrimony against public school’s secularization.
  • They’re discriminatory. Private schools can always choose who (and critically, who not) to accept. Get rid of this allowance, and any private school immediately gains the problems inherent in public schools.

Few come out and say it, but many educators have experienced first hand the hostility of some whose taxpayer dollars have to go toward special education. Ultimately, this discrimination is what has fueled much of the voucher movement. Many people continue to be outraged that “my money” is used to help “other people,” without “my consent.” The voucher battles are just another in a long list in the overall culture wars, the ultimate crux of which continues to be: Do we want to live in an inclusive or exclusive society? Of late, the allies of exclusivity have been organized, powerful, loud, and winning.

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