Apr 7, 2015

Anselm on Divine Power and Greatness


Recently, the web-comic xkcd put out a one-panel one-liner that caught my immediate attention as a sometime scholar working on Anselm of Canterbury.  He's often credited with originating the "ontological argument," in some important senses a misattribution, since that term comes into use much later, in the 18th century, and since Anselm's "unum argumentum" is actually nearly the whole of the Proslogion, not just the second chapter -- there's even more to be said, but those are topics for another day, and a different post.

What's particularly interesting to me about this is the question that's being asked in the panel -- not the part about a "flaw" in the ontological argument, but rather the much more intriguing question hinted at about divine power, or rather omnipotence, and its intersection with the "that than which nothing greater can be thought" reasoning driving Anselm's argumentation in the Proslogion.  Here's why that issue is well worth thinking through in light of Anselm's actual texts and thought:

Mar 19, 2015

A New Series of Talks: "Reconsidering. . . "

I've been involved in so much philosophy-related activity of various sorts lately, that I've not had the time to write here about quite a bit of it, which might lend a mistaken impression of precisely the opposite -- that nothing has been going on! 

Last night, at the Kingston Library, we held the second of a new series of monthly community discussions -- the "Reconsidering . . ." series, this one called "Reconsidering Charlie Hebdo:  Free Speech, Violence and Offense in Context".  So, that means that it has been a month since the first session. "Reconsidering Ferguson:  Racial Politics in Context."

Feb 20, 2015

Understanding Anger - Lecture 2: Jewish Scriptures

Last Saturday, at the Kingston Library, we had a very well-attended second session of the new year-long monthly lecture series - Understanding Anger.  The previous session had focused on anger through the lens of Greek tragedy and epic.  This one looked at this prevalent and perennial passion through multiple perspectives afforded by another key source for Western thought and culture -- the Jewish Scriptures.

As always, there's many more people interested than can attend -- sometimes a factor of time, but most often of place -- so we video-recorded the session (you can watch the video here).  And as usual, although I came armed with many notes and a few handouts to structure the session, a number of digressions -- all quite interesting -- added some other elements to the discussions.

Feb 11, 2015

Appointment to the Faculty of GCAS

I'm happy to announce that the Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS) has recently appointed me to their faculty.  I'm hoping to offer me first course with them starting in April, and then start developing additional courses to be offered later during the 2015 year.

GCAS is a new educational institution -- and a new kind of educational institution -- something that is sorely needed in our deeply damaged educational landscape.  They have brought together a faculty that includes internationally recognized scholars from a variety of fields, innovative theorists, educators willing to contribute their work towards projects advancing the common good.  In fact, one of the features I find most attractive about GCAS is their conception of education as integral to the common good.

Here's some links to further information about GCAS:
What I'll be doing with GCAS is designing and teaching online courses, in which I'll be doing the sort of work I've become known for through my YouTube videos -- taking difficult or complex philosophical thinkers and texts and making them accessible to a wide range of students.  Possibly down the line I might develop some classes focused specifically upon topics that I'm currently researching, for example one examining theories of anger.  But for the time being, there's plenty to do in building foundational courses, and that's a project and prospect I'm very much looking forward to.

Feb 8, 2015

Valentines Day - Time to Give Some Thought

Valentine's Day is coming up this week.  While I've got a talk scheduled for the morning -- the next one in my Understanding Anger series -- my brilliant and beautiful wife lined up an excellent finish for the evening, attending a musical performance, the Felice Brothers, who are playing right here in town.  So. . .  I've got to devote some thought to what contribution I can make to our Valentine's day.

If you're like me -- and if you're reading this blog, there's a good chance that we share some such affinities -- you might possibly find yourself sufficiently devoted to the life of the mind, and all of the work that goes along with that, that it's easy to put things like Valentine's day onto the back burner until it's a bit late to plan anything really romantic. . .  at least to plan it out well.  But at least, fortunately, there are quite a few, let's call them "thoughtful" valentines out there, readily available on the interwebs.

Jan 20, 2015

Understanding Anger - A New Lecture Series

Last year we (that is, ReasonIO) partnered with our local library -- the historic Kingston Library (a lot in this town is historic, given its age and earlier importance, but the library really does deserve that epithet!) -- to offer a lecture series, about Philosophy but suited for the general public, spanning the entire twelve months of 2014.  It focused on eleven Existentialist writers, and was called, aptly enough, Glimpses into Existence (here's the playlist of sessions).

It turned out to be quite a draw -- a growing group of regulars from local communities would show up, hear what I had to say, and then get into some quite interesting discussions (and at times digressions).  I got to spiel out some ideas I'd been mulling over about classic Existentialist thinkers, texts, and ideas with a well-educated, interested, and responsive audience.  The Library got some decent events for adult programming.  A win-win all around.  So they asked me back to do another series -- and I'd already been thinking about what I might do.

Jan 5, 2015

Half-Hour Hegel Series: Ready for Sense Certainty

For nearly a year, I've been engaged in a rather long-term and massive project which I don't think I've mentioned previously here on this blog -- the Half Hour Hegel video series.  By the end of December, I'd managed to make it to a minor milestone -- small in comparison, that is, to the amount of work that is still waiting to be done! -- I'd shot, edited, and released all of the videos for the Preface and the Introduction to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's early masterwork, the Phenomenology of Spirit.

The general idea behind the series (the motivations for which I'll discuss in more detail below) was that I would go through the entire text, paragraph by paragraph, first reading and then commenting on each paragraph (there's a from over 800 total) in turn.   The 70-odd-paragraph Preface -- famous for, among other things, asserting the impossibility of actually providing a preface to any genuinely philosophical work -- ended up taking me 31 total lectures -- around 15.5 hours.  The much shorter and more straightforward Introduction required just 7 lectures -- 3.5 hours. 

Dec 4, 2014

Stoic Week 2014

Last year, I unfortunately allowed an opportune occasion -- the best kind, organized by someone else! -- for celebrating a philosophical school pass me by.  It's not often that we philosophers get a day, let alone an entire week, set aside as a public observance.  November actually contains both of those -- first UNESCO World Philosophy Day and then towards the end of the month, Stoic Week.

The latter is much newer, having started in 2012, organized by a number of interested and intrepid scholars, professors, and practitioners at the University of Exeter who realized just how much interest there is out there among the general educated public in not only Stoic philosophy but also in its applications and practice within modern life.

I'm not a Stoic as such myself -- and likely won't ever be such, strongly drawn as I am to other philosophical traditions which, on some points, view matters differently than do Stoics.  But there is a considerable amount that I do find admirable, interesting, and valuable in the doctrines, reasonings, and practices of that school -- and it's a philosophical approach that I do end up teaching about quite frequently -- so Stoic Week seemed like a prime opportunity for me to focus my own work on Stoicism for a bit.

Nov 17, 2014

A New Class: Philosophical World Views and Values

This marks my fourth year teaching classes in Philosophy and Religious Studies for Marist College.  The last three years have involved a mix of face-to-face and online classes -- this current academic year, however, I decided to switch entirely to teaching online for Marist.  There's a whole story behind that decision, which perhaps I'll tell in a later post -- suffice it to say that one of the main reasons was to afford me greater flexibility and more time to devote to doing more innovative work in Philosophy -- bringing it into practice, and putting it before a broader public.

In early December, I start teaching a new 10-week online course -- World Views and Values.  It's essentially a variation on Intro to Philosophy, but it's one which transfer students have traditionally taken in place of Intro (which has since been renamed "Philosophical Perspectives"!), and it bears a different course description: 
This course will help students to ask basic questions about the ultimate meaning of life, to take a comprehensive and holistic world view, and to articulate a coherent values system. The basic methodology for teaching the course is comparative and socioanalytic. 
So really, a lot of leeway there for doing what one would like with the course.  I decided to put a lot of thought into designing precisely the sort of course I think might be most useful and interesting for the students -- and enjoyable for me to put together and teach.

Nov 12, 2014

A New Critical Thinking Channel!

Last month, near the end of October, after a lot of planning and preparation, we opened the doors (metaphorically) to a new institution -- my second YouTube channel:  Critical Thinking, Logic, and Argumentation.  At present, we've released just eight 10-20 minute videos, all associated into a playlist on the informal fallacies.  But we've (and by that, I mean ReasonIO, consisting of Andi Sciacca and I) got some pretty big plans for the channel.

I picked informal fallacies to start with because they provide a relatively easy, and popular, set of topics. It's materials I've been teaching about for over a decade, and you can find discussions of these common failures in argumentation not only in Critical Thinking textbooks and classes, but in an entire range of disciplines -- Communication, English, Political Science, Civics, just to name a few.  So, focusing on them seemed like a great way to start the channel off -- provide something that students, lifelong learners, and even instructors might be able to make immediate use of.