Philosophy in the World: Health and Nutrition

Throughout this semester in Philosophy 102, my definition of what philosophy is has evolved tremendously. Prior to this course, I saw philosophy as a field of ancient study dominated by famous Greek and Roman thinkers. I imagined it to be sophisticated discussions of vague concepts – predominantly pertaining to thinking and knowledge. However, as the course progressed I was able to see the importance philosophy plays in modern day, and its relevancy to daily life. This caused a change in my preconceived notions, helping me arrive at a new definition and enabling me to view the world from a different lens. In this paper, I will start by defining what philosophy means to me. Next, I will provide an example of how I practice philosophy according to my definition, focusing on my diet. Lastly, I will apply that definition to a popular health and nutrition documentary, What the Health, thereby establishing its philosophical nature. Ultimately, this paper will provide another interpretation of philosophy, demonstrating an additional way in which it can be applied in the world.

My definition of philosophy is based upon Socrates’ belief that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Plato, “Apology,” 13). This statement was recorded by Socrates’ pupil, Plato, during the former’s trial. When charged with corrupting the youth and impiety, Socrates rationalizes his actions by referring to his personal philosophy (5). In his explanation Socrates refers to himself as a gadfly, gifted by God to the Athenians (9). Socrates tries to show to the Athenians that in his role as a gadfly he is “fastening upon [the Athenians], arousing and persuading and reproaching” them (10). Without the harmless nuisance that Socrates imposes, the state of Athens would not be critical of its actions, as it is Socrates who constantly challenges the status quo. In fact, Socrates’ method of inquiry has been coined the Socratic Method, as it is unique to the way he practiced philosophy. An example of this method can be found in Socrates’ conversation with a clergyman named Euthyphro, in which he is trying to define piety (Plato, “Euthyphro,” 4). Socrates asks Euthyphro many questions, and just as the latter reaches a response, Socrates cleverly reveals the fallacies of that answer (5-8). This method of inquiry, although often vexing and irritating, results with individuals questioning their beliefs and trying to identify the reasons behind them. Evidently, Socrates was a bit careless in his method, as it concluded with growing resentment towards him that culminated with his execution at trial (Plato, “Apology,” 4). Nonetheless, the example with Euthyphro, a clergyman that cannot define piety, imprinted upon me the importance of questioning one’s beliefs. This idea has become the foundation of my personal definition of philosophy. Like Socrates, I believe in the necessity of examining one’s life. Where I diverge from Socrates is that I apply this idea not to vague concepts and words such as impiety, but to established activities or actions that have become so ingrained in my life that, unless I consciously question them, will go unnoticed. One such activity is the way I eat, which was a topic I put under philosophical scrutiny this year.

As a consequence of starting university and living on my own, I began to think more about the decisions I was making regarding food. When I was living in my parents’ home, I seldom questioned what I ate – I would just have whatever my mother had prepared that day. However, switching to eat at my campus residence cafeteria, there were far more food-decision to be made. Instead of unthinkingly settling into a habit, I decided to practice what would later become my definition of philosophy and examine this aspect of my life. I started by searching online for dietary guidelines and advice, however I soon realized that the plethora of contradictory information will be impossible to navigate effectively. I quickly identified documentaries as a better way to learn about health and nutrition. This strategy enabled me to practice my current definition of philosophy with people doing just the same; namely, filmmakers determined to shed light on an unexamined part of life. One such filmmaker, Kip Andersen, is what I believe to be a modern-day gadfly, and it was his film, What the Health that inspired me to continue examining this aspect of my life and change it.

What the Health is a film which traces back the astonishing growth in chronic diseases -specifically heart disease, cancer, and diabetes- to diet. In the film, Andersen investigates the causes behind the rise in these illnesses, echoing Socrates in his inquiries. On the What the Health website, Andresen’s start as a filmmaker is described as an “awakening;” Socrates uses similar language, comparing the Athenians who learn from his questioning and get frustrated by it to those who are “suddenly awakened from sleep” (Plato, “Apology,” 10).  Much like Socrates, Andresen goes to experts in their field, and questions them about matters to which he expects they would have answers (like a clergyman knowing the definition of piety). However, he finds that getting an answer is far more difficult than one would anticipate. Throughout the film, Andersen’s use of the Socratic method unveils shocking information about the dietary misconceptions so commonly accepted by our society. After viewing this film, I began watching countless other documentaries about food, nutrition, and what composes a healthy diet. Some of the information I came across shocked me, not so much the facts but the possibility that they are not known by most people, and that in many cases, the opposite is held true. For example, dairy is believed to strengthen bones, but it has been found that in countries where dairy consumption is the highest, so too are the rates of osteoporosis (What the Health, 29:47). This is but a mere example of the information What the Health and similar documentaries have discovered. The volume of uncovered statistics, coupled with consistently reliable sources, has pushed me to examine my life in terms of diet, ultimately adopting a vegetarian lifestyle and reducing the amount of animal products I consume. Although at the time I did not attribute this quest for knowledge as philosophy, I have now realized that I was, in fact, practicing my own definition of philosophy. Moreover, this definition parallels that of a great Greek thinker I once considered far-removed and irrelevant in my daily life.

As demonstrated, through Philosophy 102 my notion of philosophy has significantly shifted. From an ancient study, my definition of philosophy has evolved to mean examining aspects of one’s life to reach meaningful conclusions. Such a definition enables me to dissect different parts of my life, for example my diet. Moreover, this definition has allowed me to appreciate others’ philosophical journeys, like that of Kip Andersen through his film. Ultimately, I am now able to identify philosophy when I see it in the world. This helps me lead a more informed life, and one that I -along with Socrates- would argue is worth living.

Kip Andersen’s Film Website: http://www.whatthehealthfilm.com

What the Health Film Trailer:

Works Cited

What the Health. Directed by Andersen, Kip, and Keegan Kuhn. A.U.M. Films & Media, 2017.

 

Philosophy In The World: Philosopher’s Café (B)

On the night of Wednesday, March 21 I decided to attend my first philosopher’s cafe in Port Coquitlam. Honestly, prior to actually attending a philosopher’s cafe for myself I had no idea what to expect. My knowledge regarding how this type of event would work was next to nothing, besides the few sentences that briefly described the topic on SFU’s website, so I was very curious as to how the evening would unfold. For some reason I had assumed that I would be entering a room of people of similar age to mine upon arriving at the Michael Wright Art in Leigh Square, yet my assumption was completely wrong. Of the 13 people who were there (including myself) I think I can safely say that 11 of them were middle-aged adults, most of them being of or around the same age as my parents. Luckily, I asked one of my friends to come along with me so that I would not be all by myself. Interestingly enough he ended up being the only person there that was the same age as I am. The fact that I knew we were the youngest made me nervous because I felt a little out-of-place at first, but I soon became more comfortable being a part of the group once the discussion started. The conversation was structured like a discussion group. There was one moderator who kept the conversation flowing by bringing up new topics or ideas and redirected the conversation if it ever became too off topic, but other than that we could all talk freely about our thoughts and opinions one at a time. I did not notice this until it was pointed out, but the moderator mentioned how it was interesting how the majority of people happened to be men, with only four women present including the moderator herself and myself, when the topic was about evil and where it comes from.

Personally, I believe I gained a deeper understanding of philosophy from this experience as philosophy is not simply one single thought from one person. It is more of a collection of thoughts from multiple people who can be used to explain and expand on ideas we all have. To me, philosophy is attempting to answer the bigger questions like “what is right/good?”, “what is wrong?”, and “how should humans act and behave?”. It is looking for responses to situations that do not simply have one sole explanation or solution. Philosophy is about discovering what we do and do not know and continuously questioning both. My definition could be seen as quite similar to Plato who sees philosophy as having the curiosity to learn because one is never satisfied with the amount of knowledge they have or even Socrates who would describe philosophy as a daily activity or unending search for  understanding. I found that the Socratic method (as seen in Euthyphro by Plato), a form of dialogue where questions are thoughtfully asked and answered to provoke critical thinking, was present at the philosopher’s cafe. By further questioning thoughts, a more in depth conversation emerged. As new ideas and opinions were being brought forth, we openly discussed each one while analyzing possible answers and conclusions.

Speaking more specifically about the philosophy discussed in the philosopher’s cafe I believe that the concept of evil can be related to the ideas of Socrates and Plato. Because Socrates sees knowledge as the greatest good, I found that his philosophy was very present at the philosopher’s cafe. We are to treasure knowledge and continuously be in search of further knowledge through introspective deliberation. The fact that Socrates highlights self-realization because of “his belief that it is the innate knowledge which man cannot disregard” becomes quite relevant when discussing acts that are morally wrong and could even be considered evil (http://www.al-mawrid.org/index.php/articles/view/good-and-evil-1-views-of-the-philosophers). He would say that knowledge that one does not have has no significant impact. Socrates points out that humans are not voluntarily ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. Humans become evil when they are not aware of the difference between what is good and what is bad. Similarly, Plato also considers the role of self-awareness and sense of morality in the soul. He explains that “the soul will always choose to do good, if it recognizes what is good” (https://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/athenians.html). Plato believes that, in our souls, we are naturally drawn to good. Both Plato and Socrates would agree that if one knew what is good, it would be natural for them to choose it. They focus on how humans can be good and bad. They see morality as a very important aspect in explaining philosophy.

After having participated in a public philosophical discussion I believe my idea of philosophy was reinforced. My thoughts on how philosophy is the continuous search for answers was strengthened. As a group we questioned what we already knew (or thought that we already knew) in order to discover new possibilities. It seemed as though everyone at the philosopher’s cafe had their own individual thoughts, yet everyone was open to learning more and hearing thoughts from others, possibly to widen their own perspective. The ideas discussed fit with the ideas I already had on knowledge and how curiosity leads to further learning. I would say that the experience of being able to have a philosophical discussion greatly enriched my understanding of what philosophy is because I had the opportunity to see how people can have meaningful conversations to broaden their perspective. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in not only sharing their point of view, but also listening to the point of view of others as well. Philosophy is about thinking and by thinking in the presence of other people one can greatly enhance their knowledge. By engaging in conversation and listening to thoughts that are conceived by other people we can further develop and expand on our own personal thoughts. By contributing to a discussion we may also be contributing to the growth and expansion of thoughts, opinions, and ideas of the people with whom we are sharing. After having attended the philosopher’s cafe, I would definitely recommend going to one. I was surprised by the cafe in the best way and I think that anyone who loves thinking, learning, and sharing ideas would certainly benefit, regardless of age and gender. I believe that these types of discussions in the community would be useful to both individuals and to the larger society because they provide a deeper insight into philosophy and how philosophy is everywhere around us.

Philosophy in the World Assignment (Option C)

For this assignment, I attended the BC Poverty Reduction Strategy Consultation on March 7. When I walked into the BC Hydro Theatre, the room had around 8 separate tables. Each table had around 6 people, including a discussion facilitator and a note-taker. Funnily enough, the other people at my table were all students of PHIL 102 as well— I guess we saw familiar faces and sat down.

The event started with a brief introduction of the history of poverty in Vancouver, with the usual statistics and graphs to show trends in the city. But the real discussion began soon after. We talked about how poverty (or money in general) has been a problem relevant to our lives, or in the lives of those around us. Although everyone in my group was from PHIL 102, we were each shaped by different experiences in our lives. For example, I don’t live alone and I don’t have student loans, so it was a learning experience to hear from those who did. After a break, we split into new groups based on topics such as housing, post-secondary fees, or general affordability. We brainstormed ideas on a poster, then pinned it up along the back wall to be seen by everyone. The best solutions would be included in the upcoming Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan. Overall, it was a very enlightening event because I got the chance to talk about issues I never thought about before.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up for the consultation. I actually thought it would be like a big Q&A discussion with a panel up front, so I was very surprised when I saw the room was quite small! It was definitely telling that this discussion took place in a university, just because my groups talked a lot about how UBC could alleviate financial strain and provide support for its students and staff. I came out of the event learning about issues that matter, even if they didn’t affect me, and potential small steps towards bigger changes. My favourite ideas I saw at the end was a low-income transit pass for those who can’t afford normal transit fare, and rent freeze— a concept which I was completely unaware of before.

This experience made me realize how much philosophy isn’t just about what you think— it’s about how you share your ideas with others and expand your worldview from discussions.  That is my definition of philosophy: the learning and sharing of ideas in order to understand the world better. This definition is very similar to what Socrates/Plato defines as philosophy, which can be summed up as an unending search for wisdom. He enacts this by going around Athens asking people questions, trying to prod them to think. In Euthyphro, Socrates spends asks Euthyphro, a religious figure, what the definition of piety is. The more uncomfortable Euthyphro becomes, the more persistent Socrates gets, because he is trying to probe Euthyphro for an answer. Socrates does this because, as he is famously quoted for ‘saying’, “the unexamined life I not worth living” (Plato, Apology 11). Socrates believes living a full life requires an unending questioning of oneself and of others. Even when persecuted to the point of execution, Socrates stands by his words, refusing to stop his search for wisdom.

The consultation was not interrogative or accusatory, as Socrates sometimes appears to be, but enlightening and welcoming. However, the general theme of gaining knowledge and wisdom from questions and answers is still prevalent. Our discussions were prompted by questions: how is poverty an issue? Why does it affect us? What can we do to fix it? There were no right or wrong answers, because it was dependant on each person.  We can disagree and refute somebody’s opinion, but in the end, that is all it is— an opinion. But by talking and listening to others, as well as speaking through big issues, we make connections and link ideas in our heads. By asking and answering questions, learning can be catalyzed; the Socratic method is based on discussion.

One can argue that the reason why public consultations are effective is because they are public: they involve groups of people that otherwise may not be in conversation. The event brought together students from difficult faculties, ages, political standings… People typically seek out others that think similarly, so these groups give a chance for the problem of poverty to be taken apart from various directions, allowing points of view that may not be present from groups of similar people. If the consultation only involved one person a time, then although I would be able to give my opinion on poverty reduction, I would not be able to learn what others think of the issue. To illustrate, consider this: there was someone in my group who was a couple years older than me; he had a different perspective of poverty and money, one that I wasn’t familiar with because I don’t need to support myself. So not only did I contribute to the consultation, I was in conversation with others, and my worldview expanded as a result. This is where philosophy— gaining wisdom through discussion— is relevant.

Although the consultation does not seem philosophical on the surface, it is the methodology and result that makes it philosophical. Facilitation of discussion and encouragement of knowledge is extremely important to learning and improving quality of thinking. This type of group discussion is necessary for brainstorming ideas and inspiring change— how else are we supposed to be challenged to think of what might be possible? Society progresses when people come to together to discuss, whether for rebellions or policymaking. Group conversations are philosophical because they provide a place for us to acknowledge our ignorance, and is a birthplace of wisdom and knowledge. Through the consultation, I was able to converse with experts working to reduce poverty, and with peers that have different perspectives than me. And through these interactions, I learned to think differently and became all the little wiser in the process

Socrates to Mozi

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Philosophy in the World

Philosophy is one of the most debated topics in academia. For centuries, philosophers have argued about life’s most grandiose questions: What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose? Why should we or should not care? Even now, these questions have no definite answer. Although I have been on this Earth for only twenty years, I cannot help but believe that philosophy does not have to be so complicated; in fact, it is quite simple. Philosophy exists simply so that humans have something to believe in to make their time on this planet more meaningful and understandable. Of course, this differs from person to person. For me personally, philosophy is all about helping people. It is the pursuit of knowledge with the goal of providing others with the opportunity to make their own choices in life. In order to better explain what I mean, I must draw on the ideas of Socrates and Peter Singer.

As previously stated, philosophy is the pursuit of knowledge with the goal of providing people with the opportunity to make their own life choices. This definition implies, first and foremost, that one should have a goal or purpose in life. Socrates had a similar opinion to this. He believed that philosophy was all about the “examined life”, and that an unexamined life was not even worth living (Plato, The Apology, p.76). Living an “examined life” simply means that one needs to critically reflect on their actions and try to do things that will make them the wisest, most moral person they can be. A life spent frivolously traipsing about without any thought of one’s ambitions or intentions is not worth living at all. I, too, believe that one’s life should have some sort of purpose to it; one should have a goal they wish to achieve. This bring us to the next question: what goal should this be? What should be the purpose of one’s life? This is where Peter Singer comes in. I think that one should live their life with the goal of providing people with the opportunity to make their own choices in life. In many parts of the world, there are people who cannot make the choices they wish to make. This is usually because they lack the education, finances, physical ability, or the political freedom to do so. Therefore, it is the responsibility of those who have the opportunities and means to make their own choices to help those who cannot. Peter Singer has a similar argument. He states that if one can prevent something bad from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance, then one ought to do it (Singer, Famine, Affluence, and Morality). Specifically, those who reside in affluent countries have a moral obligation to help those in poverty-stricken countries since it is usually the wealthier nations that can prevent bad things from happening without much sacrifice. Instead of buying the new iPhone or the bigger house, one should direct those resources to charity instead. In his article, Singer uses the poverty in Bengal as an example, but I think this principle should be applied to people in any type of poverty, including the homeless in one’s own neighbourhood. I also agree with Singer when he states that money is not the best solution to fix these issues. Spending time and making relationships with people one wishes to help can sometimes be even more effective than simply giving away money. In my opinion, this is what philosophy is all about; it is to live one’s life with the ambition to help those who cannot help themselves.

With this definition in mind, working at a non-profit organization is an incredibly philosophical activity. No matter the organization, it fills one life with the purpose of helping other people. Helping Syrian refugees, for example, gives that refugee the political freedom and the education needed to make their own choices in life. Working at Covenant House gives a teenager the opportunities to make choices they could not have made before. Although these choices are something the middle and upper-class view as simple human rights, they are privileges to others less fortunate. The ability to choose what you want to study, who you want to marry, or where you want to live are only a few of the decisions that all people should have equal opportunity in making. Working at a non-profit embodies what philosophy is to me: the pursuit of knowledge with the goal of giving others equal opportunities.

In my personal life, I am an avid supporter of charity work. One non-profit that I have been involved with for many years is a Vancouver-based organization called KidSafe. KidSafe provides a safe haven for underprivileged children on the Downtown Eastside during times where elementary schools are traditionally closed. During summer, spring, and winter break, KidSafe provides a safe alternative to children who would otherwise stay home unsupervised. Drug addictions, poverty, and jail time are common occurrences in the child’s family. Through no fault of their own, these children are robbed of the opportunity to make the life choices they deserve to make. As part of the KidSafe team, I provide the children with the resources to ensure that their disadvantageous environment does not hinder their opportunities later on in life. This includes nutritious food and warm clothing for physical health, and a safe, welcoming environment for creativity and learning without fear of judgment. I previously stated that philosophy is a belief humans have to make their life more meaningful. Helping people, especially, children, is what gives meaning in my life. Giving all people equal opportunities in life is a philosophy I will continue to preach and practice for many years to come.

Peter Pan; the Boy Who Couldn’t Grow Up

One of my favourite stories is that of Peter Pan, written in 1904 by author and playwright J.M Barrie. He tells the tale of a mischievous boy gifted with the ability to fly, and most importantly, to stay young forever. His misadventures with pirates, mermaids, and lost boys have thrilled audiences for generations, with numerous adaptations to date. There is something in this story that captivates and truly enthralls the reader, which may be the magic and whimsy in staying young forever. Barrie wrote the character Pan based on his younger brother, who died at the age of 11 and was frozen in memory as forever young. Even though the character has unhappy roots, Pan himself is the gleeful picture of childhood innocence and imagination. His ability to stay young is one that many people waste away chasing after, and is one of the reasons this story is so popular.

To me, philosophy is the study of and search for knowledge and truth. It is inquisition into the deepest aspects of reality and existence. One does not have to consider themselves a philosopher, take a class in the subject, or even know what philosophy is to be able to participate and contribute to the pool of knowledge created by those with an interest to learn more about the world around them. This is similar to how Socrates defined the word, and what he based his life around accomplishing. In the Apology, Socrates explains that he was sent by the gods in order to teach, learn and search for the truth in every situation (Plato, 33d). Based on this definition of philosophy, I see myself engaging in this search for wisdom. I often contemplate and discuss with friends what we believe our meanings in life are, and have studied many religions and belief systems. While I have my own convictions as to what is truth in the case of meaning in life, I still want to expand my knowledge of the topic, and continue to learn more.

The original story of Peter Pan, which goes by Peter and Wendy, Peter Pan; the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, contains the famous quote “to die would be an awfully big adventure” (Barrie, 1904). The 1953 Disney adaptation of the movie, however, altered this to say: “to live would be an awfully big adventure” (Peter Pan, 1953). What is the reasoning and motivation behind this modification? Is it simply for the younger audiences watching this movie, that they not be upset over the use of the word “die”? I think that actually, there is deeper reasoning, with roots in philosophical concepts. Humans have long argued over notions of life after death. The use of the word “die” in this quote is I believe a play to the very human fear of mortality. It is implying some sort of continuation of experience post life, which may have made it a controversial line to include in the movie. Substituting the word “live” in the place of its forerunner may make this quote friendlier and more inviting, but it very much removes the original meaning Barrie seemed to be attempting to convey.

This story falls into the philosophical realm as it is an inquisition into mortality, the primary threat to the existence of man. Socrates himself would, I believe, be very intrigued by Peter Pan and his perpetual youth. As a person, whose death sentence was ordered because of his search for truth, Socrates would be able to appreciate Pan’s lack of fear in the face of death. Socrates faced death without fear as well, and did not see the reasoning in being afraid of something that did not concern the living.

Another philosophical theme evident in the story of Peter Pan is that of the meaning of life. It is often discussed that if there is no God, nothing awaiting us after we die, that there is no meaning to existence. The aforementioned quote however points to an afterlife, and therefore enters into this conversation. There is insufficient evidence as to whether Barrie himself was religious, but his indications through his show the hopefulness that he held for both himself and his deceased brother that in some sort of way their adventures would continue in the future. The story of Peter Pan raises the question of life having meaning if there was a way that one could live forever. Whether Peter Pan’s eternal youth is an allusion to an afterlife is unclear, but it makes one consider the possibilities of finding purpose if time was no factor. The story of Peter Pan, when carefully examined, holds many interesting philosophical themes that contribute to the greater pool of understanding of knowledge concerning the world and truth within it.

 

Works Cited

Barrie, James M. Peter Pan. United Kingdom: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911. Www.readprint.com. Web. Apr 2017.

Peter Pan. Prod. Walt Disney. Dir. Clyde Geronimi. Perf. Bobby Driscoll. Disney, 1953.

Plato. “The Apology.” The Apology and Related Dialogues. Broadview Press. Peterborough, Ontario. 2016.

Philosophy in the World: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

Aldous Huxley, a novelist of great renown, is often referenced in terms of his book Brave New World. Published in 1932, it broaches the topic of a futuristic dystopia – though not in the traditional sense. Whereas one might picture a dystopia as the militaristic and totalitarian society of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Huxley ostensibly describes a society of peace and happiness. Set approximately 500 years in the future, the nations of the world are united under the government known as the World State and society has been engineered to be happy. Through the distribution of antidepressants known as soma; the use of psychological manipulation; and the invention of artificial birth and genetic engineering, the World State’s motto of “Community, Identity, Stability” is upheld. Though perverse and strange from the reader’s viewpoint, this is Huxley’s bleak depiction of what the future might hold in the pursuit of community, identity, and stability across the world.

I consider philosophy as the study of knowledge and wisdom to achieve enlightenment. A philosopher is one who analyzes the mundane parts of life and applies that knowledge to reach greater harmony. As one of Utilitarianism’s most distinguished philosophers, John Stuart Mill adheres to this definition through his Greatest Happiness Principle. He reasons that happiness must be considered in the scope of the entire world if one is to act ethically. Through the application of a logical argumentative process, he believed it is possible to maximize the amount of happiness produced from every action (Mill 2). The philosopher whose ideas most contrast the themes found in Brave New World is Socrates. Placing value on the examined life, knowledge and awareness are of the utmost importance in being happy. As this science-fiction novel is an example of society gone wrong, it provides both a malevolent interpretation of Mill’s Utilitarianism and the consequences of a society devoid of deeper meaning.

Conditioned and controlled since birth; lacking freedom in both speech and mind, the society of Brave New World does not seem to promote happiness as per Mill’s Greatest Happiness Principle. However, through a confrontation between two major characters – Mustapha Mond and John the Savage – Mond reveals why the World State is considered moral despite their manipulative ways. Mustapha Mond and John the Savage act as character foils – the former being one of the 10 overseers of the World State and the latter being a young man raised separate from society, possessing Shakespearean views on lifestyle.

Mond argues that freedom in academics, art, and thought could not coexist with the maxim of “Community, Identity, Stability”. With technological advances, world peace could only exist through the control of a totalitarian government. He states that the presence of choice and free will enabled chaos, therefore, every moment of a citizen’s life is occupied by drugs, sex, and work. If Utilitarianism, as Mill describes, advocates for the measurement of an action’s morality proportional to the happiness provided worldwide, the World State’s actions are unmistakably moral (Mill 2).

John, however, refutes this reality. His entire moral code is based off the works of Shakespeare; therefore, he cannot accept stability has greater value than freedom to express one’s self. Similar to the arguments of Socrates, John believes that the superficial happiness of drugs and bodily pleasures encouraged by the World State is not sufficient for a happy life. Though he is not aware of it, John exemplifies Socrate’s analogous gadfly in his attempts to spread awareness of the morally bankrupt state of society (Plato 69). Through his beliefs, John acts as the vessel for the reader’s disgust with Huxley’s depiction of the future.

While Aldous Huxley’s dystopian society can be considered philosophical, I cannot accept it as an ethical world under my definition. Through the lenses of Utilitarianism and a consequentialist/objective stance on morality though, it can exist morally as it promotes happiness. The reader is left questioning: is absolute stability worth the deprivation of culture and free will? Huxley’s Brave New World is one of my favourite novels as it provokes debate of government ethics, the shallowness of consumerism, and the societal impacts of technological advances. Its message, since its publication in the early 1900’s, is becoming increasingly relevant as we approach greater leaps in technology.

In my own life, philosophy is present in all my actions. I think of it as the process of accumulating experience and learning from my mistakes to become a stronger person. Reading books is one activity I find very philosophical. I find that by reading books – be it non-fiction or fiction – I can derive some deeper meaning from the author’s words. By reading of a character’s exploits or learning of a new concept, it promotes the ability to think from different perspectives. This is partially why I chose Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for a philosophical example. Reading has been an activity that I have done since I was a kid, and something I will continue to enjoy for the rest of my life.

 

Works Cited:

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. 1st ed. 1863. Print.

Plato. (2016). The Apology and Related Dialogues. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

Philosophy in the World

Philosophy in the World

Josh Barrett

Philosophy 102

 

Socrates famously stated, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. I believe this statement is highly representative of what Philosophy is truly about, the ability to freely think and examine everything in our lives. Today in our society there are some fast moving forces at work that seek to assure the only life one can live is the unexamined one. Certain groups of people seem intent on the removal of specific ideas that are contrary to their own beliefs. These people seem intent on banning ideas, movements, and expression that they consider to be racist, homophobic, sexist, or just overall bigoted. While their intention is in fact beneficial as nobody should want to seek to be any of the things that were just listed, they greatly overstep when they begin to want to legislate a person’s morality. The basic right to free speech is by far one of the most precious rights any individual has. Without the ability to openly speak your opinion regardless of the issue and despite your opinion on it, no matter how vile, you are not truly able to live an “examined life”, therefore it is not worth living.

 

 Freedom of speech gives people of all social and economic backgrounds an opportunity to openly speak their minds about any topic that they have an issue with. In our era, the right to free speech is being questioned more and more. Some people no longer feel as if they can openly speak out and voice their opinions properly as they will be shunned and slandered by a small portion of society. This is in large part due to the Social Justice movement. People who are a part of this movement are typically referred to as Social Justice Warriors, or SJW for short. While SJW’s are only a small portion of the population they garner great amounts of media attention by doing things such as destroy private property, attempt to ban conservative and libertarian speakers from speaking at events, and attempt to censor ideas that differ from their opinions. One of the most recent example of this took place at UC Berkeley. A right wing speaker by the name of Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at an event on campus on february 6th 2017. Some students petitioned the university to prevent him from speaking but the university refused. Because of this, students resorted to heavy duty rioting which in turn made the conditions to dangerous to hold the event. They set parts of the school on fire, they smashed windows, and worst of all students that were supportive of Milo were physically beaten. The students would claim that Milo was a Nazi, therefore they had every right to burn down parts of their school in order to prevent him from speaking. For those who do not know who Milo is, he is a gay jewish immigrant who preaches the idea of less government, but somehow he is still a nazi. I think it would make more sense to say that someone who uses violence to prevent the discussion of opinions that are contrary to their own is closer to a Nazi then Milo.

 

There are many things that I personally do not agree with Milo on, but what is more important to me is that ideas from all across the political spectrum are able to be shared freely. Without this you can not truly examine an issue. If we deny ourselves the freedom to have a real debate on serious issues, we are forcing ourselves to live an unexamined life. Therefore, by preventing ourselves from partaking in certain political discourse we are ensuring that our life is, according to Socrates, not one worth Living.  

 

Bibliography

Plato, The Apology

 

http://www.sfexaminer.com/protest-troll-milo-yiannopoulos-causes-100k-damage-uc-campus/ (Image)

 

Philosophy in the World – “From God’s Perspective”

For Robert “Bo” Burnham’s third album and second comedy special “what.,” released in 2013 in its entirety on YouTube and Netflix, he wrote a song called “From God’s Perspective.” He begins the comedy song by stating that he worries he comes across as thinking he’s superior to others, before launching into his “song from the perspective of God” (Burnham). The song questions widely held beliefs among theists, seeming to mainly allude to Christians, though they are not explicitly singled out. It’s especially impactful coming from “God” because it seems as though those who are religious are blindly following practices that “God” himself questions. Near the end of the song, Burnham, as God, claims to have lost faith in humanity and encourages theists to reclaim control of their lives and earn their God’s love.

To me, philosophy is critical reflection and thought regarding the way things are (and often whether they should be that way), typically as part of a larger quest of understanding the world and ourselves within it. This can often include taking different perspectives and approaches to the same concepts. Philosophy involves a method of questioning that transcends all subject matters, including our lives. In “Euthyphro” Plato’s depiction of Socrates embodies this when he relentlessly questions Euthyphro, a “professional religious prophet,” on his beliefs regarding piety (Plato 31). Socrates, in doing so, expresses his pursuit of a single definition of piety, the “one form [by which] impious things are somehow impious and pious things pious” (Plato 39, 6e). With each consecutive definition that Euthyphro provides, Socrates finds issues within them, showing his refusal to stop critically reflecting on piety. For example, Euthyphro suggests that “what is beloved by the gods is pious, and what is not beloved by them is pious,” but Socrates argues that the gods may disagree on what is pious, so some acts would be both pious and impious at once (Plato 39-43).

In a similar manner, philosopher Albert Camus in “The Myth of Sisyphus” questions “whether life is or is not worth living” which he considers the key to answering what the meaning of life is, the “fundamental question of philosophy” (Camus 3-4). Again, this aligns with the definition of philosophy as understanding our place in the world through critical thinking and questioning. As Plato’s Socrates mentions during his defence while he is on trial in “Apology,” he “examine[s] both [himself] and others (76, 38a). This demonstrates his ability to think critically about what he does and believes, as well as about those around him, rather than accepting it without question.

Likewise, Bo Burnham in “From God’s Perspective” refuses to accept the beliefs of theists without question. When he sings “I don’t watch you when you sleep/ Surprisingly I don’t use my omnipotence to be a …creep” (Burnham), he is questioning why anyone would believe an omnipotent God would spend time watching his disciples when there are more pressing matters in the world. This is reminiscent of an argument made by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. In his “Letter to Menoeceus” Epicurus writes that the gods exist, but not “like most people describe them” (Epicurus 1). He suggests that as a “god is an immortal and happy being” they are unconcerned with the affairs of mortal human beings (Epicurus “Letter to Menoeceus” 1).

Burnham goes on to sing that “you shouldn’t abstain from rape just because you think that I [God] want you to” but that it should be because you know that it is morally wrong (Burnham). He goes on to claim that masturbation, homosexuals, and eating pork are not things that “God” takes any issue with it, but theists have demonized these things anyway in the name of God (Burnham). In approaching these beliefs from the perspective of God, he is offering a different view of them, which leads to the question of why theists believe such things, and whether they should; this closely parallels my conception of philosophy. He questions why an omnipotent God that “created the universe…would draw the line at the …deli aisle,” a relatively insignificant thing (Burnham). Burnham sings “Eat a thousand crackers, sing a million hymns/ None of you are going to heaven/ You’re not my children, you’re a bad game of Sims” (Burnham). Here, he is specifically referring to the Christian ceremony of Eucharist with the inclusion of “crackers”. Burnham suggests that God would be ashamed of theists who focus on getting into heaven by singing or eating crackers which are trivial rather than meaningful. He is engaging in philosophical activity by thinking critically about religious practices and questioning things theists take for granted as true, like what it takes to get into heaven.

As the song nears its end, Burnham sings about religion as a divisive debate and questions why “no one entertains the thought that maybe God does not believe in [them]” (Burnham). With this line, he is expressing “God’s” lost faith in humanity. Then, he goes on to sing “maybe life on earth could be heaven” so that theists emphasize their finite, certain life rather than praying “so badly for heaven” (Burnham). In this sense, this is akin to Camus’ argument of acknowledging the absurd position in life you have and finding happiness in it anyway, as Sisyphus does. Sisyphus was condemned to keep pushing a boulder up a hill, knowing that whenever he reached the top, it would roll back down; yet, Camus writes that “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” because he is in control of his own fate (Camus 3). Instead of praying for life after death, Burnham questions whether taking control of the life you know you already have and making the most of it is a better philosophy. In that way, Burnham suggests you can earn the love of God, but “when you earn it you won’t need it” because you will be happy with what you have done and become.

Based on my view of what philosophy is, I think engaging in philosophical activities is something people do regularly in their daily lives, consciously or not. In reading, conversations with friends, and even listening to music, I often find myself inspired to engage in critical thinking and questioning about the way things are in the world as well as my own life. For example, I recently read Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, which started the absurdist fiction movement called Theatre of the Absurd among European playwrights. In this tragicomedy, the characters, Vladimir and Estragon, await the arrival of a man named Godot, who never comes. While they are waiting, the two men engage in seemingly pointless conversations and repetitive, meaningless interactions with another two characters. The purpose of these interactions, their motivation for waiting, and the identity of the mysterious Godot are never revealed throughout the course of the play.

In this way, the play focuses on the idea of existentialism and human existence without meaning. Camus writes about this idea of meaningless life in “The Myth of Sisyphus” by focusing on absurdity. In the play, the characters even contemplate suicide, much like Camus discusses in his essay. Another play that I reread recently was William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which the eponymous character also contemplates suicide in the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, though he arrives at a slightly different conclusion. In reading these plays, I have really thought about the meaning of life, or whether there is one. Are we born astride a grave, as Beckett writes (Beckett 333)? More specifically, if life is meaningless and just leading to death, what is a good way to spend our time? And does it matter? If all action is distraction, is it any more meaningful to sit under a tree waiting for Godot than to do anything else? Or as Hamlet would suggest, is it only better to live and suffer as a result of living because it’s safer than the uncertainty of dying? I often think about these things when I am deciding what to do with my life, especially in choosing a career. I also frequently channel my thoughts on these matters into my own writing, which as a result, is another philosophical activity I engage in.

Works Cited

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. Grove Press, 1954.

Philosophy in the World: Ayahuasca Ceremonies

Ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic plant, is embedded into the culture of the indigenous Amazonians and is a form of philosophical activity. Ayahuasca is a mixture of plants “in the form of a brew” (Fotiou 152) much like a tea. It’s prepared by the base, banisteriopsis caapi, and then combined with psychotria viridis (Fotious 152). This substance holds important spiritual and ceremonial values for the indigenous and Mestizo people of the Amazon. Using ayahuasca in healing rituals is an important aspect of the cultural values of the community, and can be considered as a philosophical activity. The ayahuasca ceremonies often involve visualizations and experiences of awakening. In the Quechua language, ayahuasca translates to “the vine of the soul” (Fotious 153) which demonstrates the deep connections the indigenous Amazonians have with the plant.

I look at philosophy as a method of understanding and examining the world around us. To me, philosophy essentially entails critical thinking and the further examination of reality. Philosophical activities can consist of stepping outside of one’s own mindset and begin to understand the world from a different perspective. Questioning the world and the concepts it withholds is an element of philosophy and this is communicated in “The Apology” written by Plato. In “The Apology”, Socrates goes through a trial. During this trial, Socrates expresses his views on the world and addresses that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Plato 76-38a). This shows that questioning the world and the different components of reality is crucial for living a worthy life, and an important aspect of philosophy.

A lot of the times, philosophers write material that challenges the mind and makes us think. Philosophers also provide guidelines of how one should live life and ways that we can live a pleasurable life. Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, provides his notions of how life is lived through his own examination. He believes that “every choice… we make is guided by pleasure as our standard for judging the goodness of everything” (Letter to Menoceus). Pleasure is our end goal for every decision that we make. This concept of pleasure connects greatly to ayahuasca ingestions in traditional Amazonian use. The indigenous Amazonians use ayahuasca to essentially feel pleasure. Whether pleasure is induced through ayahuasca as a tool to discover game animals, articulate ancestral-communications or as a means of understanding oneself (Fotious 152).

Ayahuasca has been known to induce personal insights, self-understanding, and novel psychological comprehension (Shanon 268). The personal insights are explained by Benny Shanon using her own experiences with the brew. She describes her first encounter with ayahuasca and how after only a few hours after ingesting the brew she had learned more about herself “than in several years of psychoanalysis” (Shanon 267). This depicts the understanding of ayahuasca and its aiding effects with understanding reality and oneself. The use and purpose of ayahuasca in a ceremonial setting are therefore not to just get high and have visualizations, but to understand oneself and the world in a new way and this can be considered as a philosophical activity.

The interesting element that ayahuasca ceremonies withhold in regards to discovering oneself and understanding the universe are extremely philosophical. I think that sometimes our thought processes can be cluttered by our past experiences and therefore new mindsets and open-mindedness is necessary for analyzing the world in a new form. Essentially, ayahuasca allows for new perspectives which allow individuals to experience the world. The traditional use of ayahuasca is a philosophical activity in the sense that it provokes thought and allows for individuals to analyze the world from different perspectives. Critical thinking and the examination of ideas and the earth are often present in ayahuasca ceremonies, which according to Socrates is crucial for a worthy life.

I think that everyone, in some way or another, engages in philosophical activity throughout their day-to-day lives, even if they aren’t aware of it. In my life, many long conversations about parallel universes, fate, and death have been evident. Especially since moving into residence at UBC, I have found that the degree in which I discuss philosophical ideas with my friends has increased. A lot of the times we will be in someone’s dorm room and will begin to discuss the strangest things. At times, the topic is so dense and intricate that I contemplate the possible answer for days. The conversations always begin after we have been spending time in someone’s room for a few hours, usually late at night. The other night, for example, we were discussing fate and whether if you believe in fate you could also believe in parallel universes. Overall, I think that conversing about philosophical ideas is very intriguing. It’s amazing to hear my friends talk about things relevant to the universe, rather than just small talk. “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Plato 76-38a), and therefore I’m extremely glad that my friends are so open to contemplating ideas about the universe.

By: Katie Taher

Works Cited

Fotious, Evgenia. “Working with “La Medicina”: Elements of healing in   contemporary Ayahuasca rituals.” Anthropology of Consciousness, March 14, 2012.  Doi:10.1037/e719402011-014

Shanon, Benny. “The epistemics of ayahuasca visions.” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9, no. 2 (April 29, 2010): 263-80. doi.10.1007/s11097-010-9161-3