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Free Courses Online

December 29, 2012 4 comments

I started taking a course on logic through Coursera. Ah, the internet, how cool. Free classes with amazing quality. The class is called “Think Again” and it is taught by Walter Sinnot-Armstrong, a philosopher whom I respect. The class started at the end of November and must be completed by mid March. I didn’t sign up until about a week ago, but I’m cruising through it. So far this is literally the best class I’ve ever had on logic. And to think, it is completely free.

I’m still figuring out how Coursera works, but it doesn’t look like it is accredited, but it is the same course taught by accredited programs (in this case, Sinnot-Armstrong is from Duke). At the end of the class you get a certificate of completion. So really, how is it different from a paid University, where you get the same thing at the end? And did I mention it’s free? If anyone else would like to join me, let me know. I think it would be fun to connect with someone else. The forums seem daunting. I posted an introduction, but I’m like one of 2 gazillion people. So it really didn’t work for me. Plus, since I started late, I have to catch up.

There’s another cool class coming up with Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational. The course is called A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior. It begins March 25 and goes for 6 weeks. It’s harder for me to justify taking the free courses at the same time I’m taking “real” (=paid) courses for my M.Div. program. But we’ll see. It’s not really too much of an investment other than watching the videos and doing multiple-choice forms afterwards.

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Does Postmodernism Exist?

December 16, 2008 4 comments

After reading several detailed explanations of postmodernism from a Christian perspective, many book-length or at least several chapters, I finally broke down and decided I need to tackle some postmodern philosophy for myself.  In general, three philosophers consistently rise to the top of the postmodern heap: Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Richard Rorty.  Francois Lyotard comes in as a distant fourth.  He loses points in my book for having a name that sounds like ballet clothing.  Derrida gets the most press time in Kevin Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning in This Text?, so he seemed like a good place to start.

I have to admit that after spending a bit of time with Derrida himself, I have absolutely no idea what he is trying to say.  In fact I’m not really sure I even get what postmodernism is about anymore.  Oh I understand how the critics of postmodernism characterize it.  Yet I wonder how an obscure writer like Derrida can be the major powerhouse of postmodernism that his critics make him out to be.  Every book I went back to that discusses Derrida includes a sentence like, “Derrida is notoriously difficult to understand.”  Great.  Why in the world did I pick him as my launching point?

To further add to the problem, Stan Grenz points to a book by Allan Megill that lays out the debate over whether Derrida even is a postmodern philosopher.  I also found out that Foucault never claimed the term for himself, and Rorty prefers to call his philosophy pragmatism rather than postmodernism.  The only real postmodern of the bunch is Lyotard.  I am beginning to wonder of postmoderism is just a bogeyman created by Christian apologists in order to help them feel better.  The truth of the matter, as is so often the case, is much more complicated than I was once led to believe.

It seems to me that postmodernism resists being defined and categorized.  This is itself good postmodern fashion.  But what’s the point?

Is Philsophy good or bad?

November 25, 2008 7 comments

Bryan L did a great post on why he has decided to devote a large amount of time to studying philosophy.  Five years ago or more, I used to be very opposed to philosophy.  My thought, if I remember correctly, was that philosophy is based in human reasoning.  It is too easy to go astray with human reasoning, so we must put our trust in divine revelation alone.  I have since had a change of heart concerning philosophy.  I think the turning point was when I realized that philosophy, or at least analytical philosophy, is really just a tool for coming to good conclusions based on your premises.  In other words, philosophy can’t tell you where to start, but it can tell you where you end up based on where you start.  I have come to think it is a powerful tool for working out our own beliefs as well as critiquing opposing beliefs.  Analytic philosophy is really nothing more than applying the laws of logic to our beliefs.  I had a theology professor who passed on the following quote (the source of which he was unable to remember): Logic is ethics applied to the intellect.  I like that.  Philsophy is not bad.  It helps you determine whether your thinking is internally consistent or not.  On that count, I agree with Bryan that philosophy is pretty cool.

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Killing an Arab

November 17, 2008 11 comments

the-cure-standing-on-a-beachI have been driving my parents van the past few weeks and it only has a tape player, so I have dug out some of my old tapes to listen to while driving.  One of the tapes that made it into the queue was The Cure’s “Standing on the Beach”, a compilation of their singles – A sides on side A, and very mediocre B sides on side B.

The first track (or I suppose I should say song since tapes technically don’t have tracks) is “Killing an Arab”.  The song is based on the novel The Stranger by Albert Camus, a classic in philosophy of the Absurd.  The main character, Meursault, finds life empty and meaningless.  Finding every decision in life to be essentially the same, he decides to shoot an Arab man on the beach.  He is tried, convicted, and sentenced to the death penalty.  The point, I think, is that life is absurd and concepts like hope have no real meaning.  This seems to be what the Cure took from it anyway.  Here are their lyrics:

I’m standing on the beach with a gun in my hand
Staring at the sea, staring at the sand
Staring down the barrel at the Arab on the ground
See his open mouth but I hear no sound
I’m alive, I’m dead, I’m the stranger, killing an Arab

I can turn and walk away or I can fire the gun
Staring at the sky, staring at the sun
Whichever I choose It amounts to the same
Absolutely nothing
I’m alive, I’m dead, I’m the stranger, killing an Arab

I feel the silver jump down smooth in my hand
Staring at the sea, staring at the sand
Staring down myself reflected in the eyes
Of the dead man on the beach (Dead man on the beach)
I’m alive, I’m dead, I’m the stranger, killing an Arab

What a depressing song.  Not a lot to get excited about here.  Why, you may ask, was I subjecting myself to something so depressing?  Well it has a pretty groovy bassline, for one.  (Watch the Video on Youtube here.)  But I got to thinking about it.  When I first got the tape it came packaged with a sticker on the outside (which I no longer have, but is reprinted by Walter Everett) which read,

“The song KILLING AN ARAB has absolutely no racist overtones whatsoever.  It is a song which decries the existence of all prejudice and consequent violence.  The Cure condemn its use in furthering anti-Arab feeling.”

With one little sticky-dot the entire message is deconstructed.  The Cure makes it seem hip and cool to be influenced by Camus, to philosophize about the absurdity of life, but when there is a threat that actual Arabs will actually be hurt by the message, the Absurdist philosophy goes out the window.  Why?  Because there is something within us which inherently rejects such a worldview.  We want to cry out that life does have meaning.  The lives of Arabs do matter.  You can’t just go around killing people.  Actions have consequences, those consequences actually matter, and the Cure band members know it.

This is where all secular humanistic worldviews ultimately break down.  If there is no God, if there is no creator, then it seems that murder, racism, and violence or peace and benevolence amount to the same: absolutely nothing.  The fact that such a concept is detestable is a strong evidence for the existence of God.  It is not conclusive proof in itself, but it stands out as one of the major reasons why theism makes more sense than non-theism or atheism.

Could Solipsism Be True?

October 14, 2008 Leave a comment
Solipsism:
  1. The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified.
  2. The theory or view that the self is the only reality.

I was a role-player in high school.  For those of you who have never experienced role playing games, it is the epitome of geekdom.  It totally consumed my life.  In role playing games, one guy gets to be the Game Master (GM), who sets up the entire world.  Everyone else plays a character within that world.  In essence you all sit around a table and tell a story; the GM tells what is going on in the world and the players all tell how their characters (PCs, for Player-Characters) react.  All the people in the game world that are not controlled by players are called NPCs (Non-Player Characters).

Now in high school, I had one obscure game called Over the Edge by Jonathan Tweet (who went on to redesign AD&D for the 3rd and 4th editions).  One of the scenarios that can be played in the game is a story-line where the characters come to realize that they are only characters in a role-playing game, having no existence outside the game itself.  I totally loved the concept.  I think it has captured me ever since.

So I was at a party a few weeks later and I met a kid who was a couple years younger than me from the next town over.  I started telling him that he was just a character in a role playing game and I wasn’t even real; I was just an NPC.  And he just started flipping out.  It was mean, I know.  But it was really funny.

Of course I’m not an NPC.  If I’m a character in a Role Playing Game, I’m certain I’m a Player-Character.  I hope you are too.  But if you’re not, you don’t really exist.  But then I guess neither do I really.  Bummer.

Categories: Philsosophy Tags: ,