What is Philosophy? http://www.whatisphilosophy.net A Philosophy Definition Sat, 14 Mar 2015 19:35:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Children Benefit from Practical Philosophy Lessons /children-benefit-from-practical-philosophy-lessons /children-benefit-from-practical-philosophy-lessons#comments Sat, 07 Jan 2012 17:56:32 +0000 /?p=60 Philosophy is often considered the province of the highly educated. However, a new study from Great Britain suggests that schoolchildren make better moral judgments and more informed decisions when they are taught to engage in philosophical debate.

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Philosophy is often considered the province of the highly educated. However, a new study from Great Britain suggests that schoolchildren make better moral judgments and more informed decisions when they are taught to engage in philosophical debate.

The study, led by Claire Cassidy of Strathclyde, followed more than 130 school-aged children who were given lessons in practical philosophy. The study found that the children showed improvements in their listening skills, demonstrated increased respect for others and were more able to view issues from a variety of perspectives. In addition, the children learned to analyze problems and make more thoughtful decisions.

Participants in the study attended sessions led by a teacher who was trained in a technique called Community of Philosophical Inquiry (CoPI). During the sessions, the teacher showed the children a prompt, then asked them to formulate questions. One question was chosen and a dialogue was begun.

At the beginning of the study, the children were presented with scenarios involving people facing ethical decisions. Examples included an imaginary situation in which people who found money had to decide what to do with it, as well as one in which people had to decide which charity money from a fundraiser should go to. The children were asked to propose different possible courses of action and to describe what they would have done under the same circumstances, as well as to explain why they would have made those choices.

After receiving the CoPI training and participating in sessions over a period of eight to 10 weeks, scenarios similar to the initial ones were presented to the children. The researchers observed that the children were able to formulate more detailed answers and to explain the reasoning behind their responses in greater detail after they received the practical philosophy lessons.

“They found they were able to debate and discuss reasoned argument without conflict and often continued their discussions after their sessions had finished. They felt CoPI got them thinking deeply. As one pupil put it, thinking like they had never thought before,” said Cassidy. “Doing practical philosophy in this way provides children with tools to enable them to participate as active citizens.

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/children-benefit-from-practical-philosophy-lessons/feed 0 Moral Operating System a Must in a Changing Technological World, Asserts Google’s Horowitz /moral-operating-system-a-must-in-a-changing-technological-world /moral-operating-system-a-must-in-a-changing-technological-world#comments Sun, 18 Dec 2011 00:34:58 +0000 /?p=39 In this video, David Horowitz, professor of philosophy and cognitive science, as well as Google's official In-House Philosopher, presents his idea for a "moral operating system" to guide individual and collective decisions about how to develop and use technology.

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In this video, David Horowitz, professor of philosophy and cognitive science, as well as Google’s official In-House Philosopher, presents his idea for a “moral operating system” to guide individual and collective decisions about how to develop and use technology.

Over the past few decades, technology has developed to the point where users have the ability to gather intensely personal data about private citizens without their knowledge or permission and to use that data to predict the behavior of individuals. Horowitz equates data with power and asserts that it is the job of developers to think about how their technology will be used and to consider the ethical ramifications of that use.

It is imperative, Horowitz maintains, that those who are at the forefront of the development of technology examine their consciences and allow their own ethics to influence the work they do. Currently, developers, and society in general, consider the role of developers to be merely to develop. Development is typically viewed as being divorced from morality; ethical considerations are generally considered the sole province of those who utilize the technology after it is developed.

Horowitz asserts that it is time for developers to begin operating under a moral framework. Citing the Hannah Arendt quote, “The sad truth is that most evil done in the world is not done by people who choose to be evil but arises from not thinking,” Horowitz urges his audience to take the time to consider the moral implications of their work and to begin dialogues with people from other fields in order to develop their own moral operating systems.

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Experimental Philosophy Shines Scientific Light on Free Will [Study] /experimental-philosophy-shines-scientific-light-on-free-will-study /experimental-philosophy-shines-scientific-light-on-free-will-study#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2011 21:23:59 +0000 /?p=33 For thousands of years, philosophers have used logic and debate to try to uncover the answers to ethical questions. Over the last ten years, however, researchers have begun exploring philosophical questions using the same research methods social scientists have been using for decades.

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For thousands of years, philosophers have used logic and debate to try to uncover the answers to ethical questions. Over the last ten years, however, researchers have begun exploring philosophical questions using the same research methods social scientists have been using for decades.

“Mostly what people have done is work on these problems in conceptual ways. You think through the problems; you think about the implications of various theses. And a lot of excellent work has been done on complex philosophical issues using those techniques over the last 2,000 years,” according to Shaun Nichols of the University of Arizona. Nichols is a philosopher and cognitive scientist who recently published an article in the journal Science that seeks to shed light on the age-old philosophical debate over the existence of free will. According to Nichols, experimental philosophy can help thinkers examine such questions.

Philosophers have long debated whether human behavior is the result of free will or whether all behavior is predetermined, either by a supreme being or by experiences and decisions that have come before it.

The concept of free will has generally proven the most popular of the two, but even people who believe strongly in free will often make exceptions to the rule, absolving people of responsibility for their actions under certain circumstances. Similarly, even people who believe in predetermination sometimes hold people accountable for their behavior.

“The dilemma is how do we reconcile how we normally think about causal explanation with this intuition that we have that our decisions are not just the product of these inevitable causal chains,” according to Nichols. “It seems like something has to give, either our commitment to free will or the idea that every event is completely caused by the preceding events.”

As part of his research, Nichols explored young children’s ideas about the nature of free will. Children typically said that a ball had no freedom to do anything but roll down a ramp into a box. However, nearly all of the children said that an adult could have chosen to do something besides reach his hand into a box. These responses suggest that ideas about the nature of free will may be formed at a very young age.

Adults seemed more conflicted in their response to questions about free will and personal responsibility. Most people agreed that humans are not morally responsible for themselves in a theoretical universe where their decisions are predetermined by past decisions and events. However, if the scenario was expanded to include a human living in that universe who commits a shocking crime, most of the same participants who concluded that free will was impossible in such a universe were nevertheless prepared to assign full moral responsibility for the crime to the person who committed it.

One explanation for the inconsistent responses is that people find it easy to think logically when they are calm, but when they are emotionally aroused, they tend to blame the actors involved, even if there is no reason to believe they are responsible. “When you present people with an emotionally laden transgression, and if you ask if the person is morally responsible, then people overwhelmingly say that the person is responsible, even if their action was determined,” said Nichols.

Experimental philosophy has the potential to shed light on the thought processes that lead people to philosophical conclusions. “The movement is less than 10 years old and there are now hundreds of publications in experimental philosophy…I think it’s been a huge success just in terms of the body of research that’s been produced.”

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Prison Philosophy: How A Teacher Freed A Prisoner’s Mind /prison-philosophy-how-a-teacher-freed-a-prisoners-mind /prison-philosophy-how-a-teacher-freed-a-prisoners-mind#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2011 22:55:36 +0000 /?p=11 Damon Horowitz's official title at Google is In-House Philosopher/Director of Engineering. When he's not occupied at Google, he busies himself teaching philosophy, among other things, at Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University and San Quentin State Prison. In this video, he relates an experience he had with one of his students at San Quentin.

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Damon Horowitz’s official title at Google is In-House Philosopher/Director of Engineering. When he’s not occupied at Google, he busies himself teaching philosophy, among other things, at Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University and San Quentin State Prison. In this video, he relates an experience he had with one of his students at San Quentin.

The student, identified only as “Tony,” is serving a 25-years-to-life sentence for a murder committed during a robbery when he was only 16 years old. On the first day of class, Tony challenged the stranger who stood at the front of the classroom talking about the study of ethics. No one could teach him about “wrong,” Tony asserted. He knew wrong. He had done wrong. He had come to believe that he was, in some inexplicable way, the embodiment of wrong. Then it was Horowitz’s turn. He challenged Tony to tell him what wrong is. Not to give an example of something that is wrong, but to explain what it is that makes a thing wrong.

What followed was the incredible metamorphosis of a felon into something that could no longer be contained by prison walls. Horowitz acted as facilitator for the transformation, challenging his students to learn to question not only what they believe but why they believe it. For Tony, Horowitz was the tour guide to a mode of existence that was entirely different from anything he had ever imagined. As Tony studied the words of some of history’s greatest thinkers, he began to examine his own existence, until, finally, as Horowitz puts it, there was no more prisoner, no more professor, “just two men, ready to do philosophy.”

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Morality Experiment: Would You Take A Life to Save Five? [Study] /morality-experiment-would-you-take-a-life-to-save-five-study /morality-experiment-would-you-take-a-life-to-save-five-study#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2011 02:01:44 +0000 /?p=6 Is it OK to do the wrong thing if doing it can prevent something far worse from happening? Can morality ever be relative? These are the questions researchers who conducted an experiment at the Michigan State University posed to participants.

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Is it OK to do the wrong thing if doing it can prevent something far worse from happening? Can morality ever be relative? These are the questions researchers who conducted an experiment at the Michigan State University posed to participants.

In the experiment, which was published in Emotion, participants were placed in a virtual scenario in which a train car was bearing down on five innocent people. The potential victims were powerless to escape or do anything else to save themselves, but the participants had the option to reroute the car so that only one helpless victim will perish.

Earlier researchers had asked the same question. In fact, the experiment has been conducted over and over again. This time, however, the researchers elevated the dilemma from a merely philosophical conundrum to a virtual reality where the actions of the participants are played out in real time to the benefit or detriment of realistic digital figures, with, as the study’s authors put it, “the sights, sounds and consequences of (their) actions thrown into stark relief.”

Participants wore head-mounted virtual devices that plunged them into a virtual setting in which they were poised, switch in hand, at the point where the tracks divided. Ahead, they could see the five unsuspecting hikers who, without intervention, faced a violent death. Down the other track, they could see a lone hiker who would face certain doom if the tracks were switched. The level of emotional arousal the participants experienced during the experiment was monitored using fingertip sensors.

Participants were able to see the car approach and had the option of watching as it killed the five characters or of pulling the switch and rerouting the car, sealing the fate of the virtual human on the alternate path. Just as in earlier experiments conducted without the added enhancement of virtual reality equipment, around nine of 10 participants pulled the switch.

“What we found is that the rule of ‘Thou shalt not kill’ can be overcome by considerations of the greater good,” according to Carlos David Navarrete, one of the study’s authors. These results shouldn’t surprise anyone who has spent time observing humans and their behavior. Real-life scenarios are rarely black-and-white, and people are frequently forced to choose between two unsatisfactory courses of action. Often, this is simply a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils, but sometimes people must choose between violating their own ethics in order to prevent suffering or standing idly by while someone is harmed. A common example is a police officer who shoots a bank robber to save the lives of innocent hostages.

The study revealed that those who didn’t reroute the car were also apt to be the most emotionally aroused. Navarette likens this to a soldier who freezes up in battle and doesn’t fire his weapon. According to Navarette, moral strictures are important to people, but they can be spurred to violate those rules when doing nothing means that more people will suffer as a result. “I think humans have an aversion to harming others that needs to be overridden by something. By rational thinking, we can sometimes override it…But for some people that increase in anxiety may be so overpowering that they don’t make the…choice for the greater good.”

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