1 discussion and 2 replies

Learning Goal: I’m working on a philosophy discussion question and need support to help me learn.

After reading “How to Change your Mind” and “What makes a philosopher” select one of the two readings and submit a discussion board posting that completes one of the following two options.i have the readings for you down the page

Option 1: How to change your mind?

Steve Campbell-Harris identifies two different models for how we might change our minds. Explain these two models in your own words and provide a unique example that illustrates how each method might function. At the end of the essay, Campbell-Harris asserts that utilizing the second model will leave us with a ‘fundamental choice.’ Explain what this choice is and indicate whether you agree with the conclusion that Campbell-Harris draws. Be sure to explain your reasoning.

Option 2: What makes a philosopher?

Siobhan Lyons identifies six traits associated with or characterized by philosophers. Select two and explain how these traits relate to philosophy according to Lyons. Identify one to two other types of people (for example, adherents to a kind of lifestyle or way of living, profession, etc.) who might also possess the two traits you selected—if other types of individuals also possess the same traits, how would you distinguish these individuals from philosophers?

Responses to classmates:

Develop a critical, sustained response to at least two of your classmates’ postings.

Due Dates and Grading:

Due Date: See Syllabus

Grading: This assignment is worth 40 points based on the attached rubric.

How To Change Your Mind


Did you know that the Dalai Lama is afraid of caterpillars? Have you heard that the first passport holders had to give written descriptions of themselves instead of photos?

If you are like most people, reading these facts from 1342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted has changed your mind. Granted, you haven’t had to upturn your worldview and reexamine everything you thought you knew. Nonetheless your perception of passports and of the Dalai Lama ever so slightly altered. We might call this the adaptation model of changing our mind; we reshape our beliefs in the light of new information.

However, we don’t only change our minds in this way. As the Dalai Lama himself put it, change also comes from within. Take the following statement. Would you agree with it? ‘You can be a good person and have friends’. If you do, consider this quote from the French Enlightenment statesman and philosopher Montesquieu, “a truly virtuous man would come to the aid of the most distant stranger as quickly as to his own friend. If men were truly virtuous, they wouldn’t have friends” (Pensées et Fragments inédits de Montesquieu, I). Montesquieu doesn’t try to persuade us that friendship is morally problematic by presenting new information about the world. Instead, he appeals to a principle of impartiality that many of us already share, leaving us to carry on the work of persuasion by ourselves. Are friends more deserving of our help than strangers? If not, why should we assist them more? As we question ourselves, we might think differently about the original statement.

Practitioners of the Japanese martial art Ju-Jitsu are trained to use an opponent’s energy against them instead of directly opposing it with their own force. Montesquieu appears to be doing something similar here; practicing a kind of argumentative Ju-Jitsu. He tries to awaken a dormant belief in us, then steps back and allows the force of our own beliefs to work against us. This technique for argument doesn’t apply exclusively to matters of morality. For example, the following belief is quite common: ‘The present exists’.

The argument below aims to refute this claim:

1. If the present is of any length, some of it will be in the past and some will be in the future.

2. But the present can’t be in the past or the future, by definition.

3. So, the present can’t have length.

4. But if the present can’t have length, the present can’t exist.

Once again, this argument presents no new data or information. Instead, beliefs we already hold (consciously or not) such as ‘the present moment has some duration’ and ‘the present can’t be in the past’ are tested against each other to see if they make sense. If we are to change our minds as a result, it will come from an acknowledgement that what we thought we knew is more problematic than we had anticipated. Our present self is aghast at the complacency of our past self.

Thinking in Crisis

When I teach philosophy in schools I often see children changing their minds in this way. Throughout the enquiry they become clearer about the principles to which they are already committed and notice apparent conflicts with them. There the work of philosophy begins, with greater self-knowledge and the drive for consistency.

The English historian and philosopher R.G. Collingwood once claimed that philosophy “does not, like exact or empirical science, bring us to know things of which we were simply ignorant, but brings us to know in a different way things which we already knew in some way” (An Essay on Philosophical Method, 1933, p.161). Collingwood is right to say that the work of philosophy is to shed new light on old beliefs: by seeing something familiar in an unfamiliar way we can relearn it. However, he doesn’t adequately address the sense of confusion that follows this. Philosophy is thinking in crisis. When we revisit our beliefs we find ourselves stuck, imperilled, lost. We need a way out.

Many of the classic problems of philosophy come from juxtaposing different beliefs. I believe both that ‘the River Thames today is the same River Thames from last year’ and that ‘the water in the Thames is always changing’. But if the water in it has all changed, in what sense is it the same river? I am told that ‘time and space began with the Big Bang’, but also believe that the claim that ‘time began’ is paradoxical because for something to begin presupposes time. So must time therefore be eternal?

These and other problems of philosophy are spring cleaning for the mind. Perhaps this is why the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein described philosophy as “a work on oneself, on one’s own interpretation, way of looking at things” (Culture and Value, 1970, p.16). Interpersonal disagreement, or disagreement between people, is incidental. The real work is in resolving our intrapersonal disagreements: our disagreements with ourselves. Socrates concurred, “It would be better for me… that multitudes of men should disagree with me than that I, being one, should be out of harmony with myself” (Gorgias, 482c). The ‘being one’ in Socrates’ statement is both aspirational and declarative. We are a hodgepodge of different desires, thoughts, and feelings, and yet somehow aim to present ourselves as, and to be, one person. Part of the goal of philosophical thought is to reconcile our many views into a coherent whole and so act and be as one in the world.

Motivations for Self-Examination

When we recognise an inconsistency in our beliefs we may find this irresistible to puzzle over. The possibilities on offer can elicit a childlike wonder. The feeling is akin to that described by Arthur C. Clarke who, in contemplating the possibility of alien life, wrote “two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying” (quoted in Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the Twenty-First Century, 1999, p.295). We can be drawn to philosophy by a sense that the different possible answers on the Big Questions are equally compelling, terrifying, and awe-inspiring. Questions such as: Do we have free will or not? Are there moral facts? Is time an illusion? Regardless of the answers we reach, they will have a profound impact on how we think about the world.

Nevertheless, we may feel this sense of wonder and deep intrigue when considering philosophical possibilities and still not be moved to investigate. We may instead choose to stay in a state of detached perplexity, not seeking any resolution. This was the avowed goal of the school of Pyrrhonian scepticism founded by Pyrrho of Ellis (c.360-c.270 BCE). According to the Pyrrhonists, when we are pulled in different directions by our beliefs or reason or evidence, we should choose to stay in a state of suspended judgment. When we are not committed to anything, we don’t have to be defensive about our beliefs and we can be even-keeled and non-dogmatic in our dealings with others. This way we can achieve a freedom from mental disturbance (ataraxia in Greek). The suspension of the desire for truth can set you free!

While the Pyrrhonian way may be tempting, for many it amounts to an evasion of responsibility. We shouldn’t prematurely decide that some matters will never be settled. They might not be; but the only way to put this daily to the test is by continuing to strive for maximum coherence from our beliefs and the evidence.

In the end, then, it seems we are left with a fundamental choice. Either we can leave this potential disharmony with our beliefs alone by ignoring it or developing a deep skepticism for the truth; or we may find that these conflicts prompt a quest for invention and a desire for new ways of viewing the world and ourselves. In the process of destroying old beliefs, the hope is that something more durable will emerge. And along the way, we might just change our minds.

© Steven Campbell-Harris 2020

Steven Campbell-Harris is a philosophy specialist and teacher trainer at the Philosophy Foundation, an award-winning charity that brings philosophy to schools and the wider community.

What Makes A Philosopher?


Just what makes a philosopher? It’s ostensibly such a basic question, but the answer is more complex than it may at first seem. So what makes someone a philosopher? And how does one become a philosopher?

Since the word ‘philosophy’ comes from the Greek for ‘love of wisdom’, we could just say that anyone who has a love of wisdom is a philosopher, and leave it at that. But if we look at those who have been granted the title of ‘philosopher’ down the ages, what distinguishes them from the ‘everyday’ lover of wisdom?

The first Western philosopher of whom we have any record was Thales of Miletus (c.624-545 BC). The story goes that Thales was staring so intently at the stars as he was walking along that he fell into a well. (Ironically, Thales’ philosophy revolves around water.) This fable was first chronicled in Plato’s Theaetetus (c.369 BC), and has since become a popular anecdote about philosophy, not only in indicating the value of ideas over the material world, but in terms of worldly foolishness, as in the fable Thales’ rescuer mockingly proclaims that one ought to keep one’s eyes on the earth and not on the skies. Other critics have made similar jibes, such as a reviewer of Somerset Maugham’s novel Of Human Bondage, who said its central character, Philip Carey, was “so busy yearning for the moon that he never saw the sixpence at his feet.” This criticism inspired the title of a later novel by Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence.

So the philosopher is, at heart, an idealist. Where there is wisdom, there is foolishness. But without apparent foolishness, there can be no wisdom.

Time & Being (a Bad Conscience)

Truth Lies at the Bottom of the Well
Truth Lies at the Bottom of the Well by F. MacDonald (c.1912-1915)

Simon Critchley makes an astute observation regarding the essential difference between philosophers and lawyers. In contrast to the lawyer, he says, “who has no time, or for whom time is money”, there is the philosopher, “who takes time.” “The freedom of the philosopher,” Critchley argues, “consists in either moving freely from topic to topic or simply spending years returning to the same topic out of perplexity, fascination and curiosity” (‘What is a Philosopher?’, The New York Times, 2010).

So the philosopher is one who has time: not only time to think, but time to observe. This might explain why a vast number of philosophers were outcasts; in their isolation they had time to commit themselves to pursuits beyond social gatherings.

In addition to having time, the philosopher is often legitimately at odds with the time in which they live. I say ‘legitimately’, because there are also those who are provocative for the sake of being provocative; purposefully belligerent simply out of a desire to be seen as different. Yet as Friedrich Nietzsche notes, a genuine philosopher is “a person of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow… his enemy has always been the ideal of today” (Beyond Good and Evil, 1886, p.106). For Nietzsche, the philosopher’s task lies in “being the bad conscience of their age.” This would include Spinoza, Marx, and Nietzsche himself, while discounting someone like Jordan Peterson, who is beloved by many and deliberately courts controversy for its own sake. As Richard Gilmore similarly notes (in Doing Philosophy at the Movies, 2005, p.26), “The philosopher is one who necessarily stands outside of society, but he or she does so for the sake of society.” He goes on to say that “The philosopher must stand outside of society in order to understand the forces that impinge upon us as members of a society, of a community. From inside we do not see: we conform and abide. It is only by going outside that one gets a perspective on what those forces are that demand conformity and abiding” (p.26). So a philosopher must invariably be somewhat separate from the society they comment on if they hope to be in a position of the ‘informed outsider’.

The Conceptual Persona

The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze offered some practical points on what makes a person a philosopher by noting that the philosopher must create new concepts: “The philosopher is the concept’s friend; he is potentially of the concept. That is, philosophy is not a simple art of forming, inventing, or fabricating concepts, because concepts are not necessarily forms, discoveries, or products. More rigorously, philosophy is the discipline that involves creating concepts” (What is Philosophy?, 1994, p.5). Deleuze goes on, perhaps with a Gallic shrug: “What would be the value of a philosopher of whom one could say, ‘he has created no concepts; he has not created his own concepts’?” (p.6).

Indeed, each great philosopher seems to have their own great concepts. Plato had his theory of Forms and allegory of the cave; Kant put forth the thing-in-itself and the categorical imperative; and Nietzsche proclaimed the theory of the Übermensch (Superman). But for Deleuze, this connection between concept and philosopher runs much deeper: “The philosopher is the idiosyncrasy of his conceptual personae. The destiny of the philosopher is to become his conceptual persona” (p.64, emphasis mine). In other words, Plato is his own shadow in the cave, or, as Deleuze puts it, there is the ‘Socrates of Plato’ or the ‘Dionysus of Nietzsche’. Essentially, then, one is not merely a philosopher by way of philosophising alone. The true philosopher must live in and for their philosophy. Even if the philosopher acts in contrast to their own philosophy (as has so often occurred), it must occupy their thoughts unceasingly.

Philosophy as a Necessary Virus

A simple yet efficient definition of a philosopher is found in the online Urban Dictionary, known for its colloquial, straight-forward approach. One user, ‘Gottlob Frege’, defines ‘philosopher’ as “the best kind of person. A person that just thinks about things, which then enables other people to do things.”

There is something in this. A philosopher’s work grounds the reasoning behind other professions. Without a philosophical foundation, various other professions can lose their meaning and their moorings. For instance, a doctor can save lives; but why save lives? And what to do in borderline medical situations where hard choices have to be made? Ethicists have historically argued over the value of a human life, and their ideas can sometimes be useful to doctors facing hard decisions. Examples of other professions that at least sometimes rely on philosophy: psychiatrists, AI researchers, politicians, mathematicians, statisticians, beauticians. Okay, maybe not beauticians. On the other hand, why not? The study of beauty is at the heart of a well established branch of philosophy called aesthetics.

A more self-referential interpretation of the idea that a philosopher enables other people to do things is that a philosopher is one whose work lends itself to the production of more philosophy. If they are good, then their work begets more work, as other philosophers develop or criticize or respond to their ideas. Philosophy is not merely derivative, but nor is it isolated: it spreads itself around. In this manner, philosophy becomes a kind of necessary virus, which causes a constructive fever in others, compelling them to be and to do more than just survive. It is not there to appease or to make people feel better; it is there to provoke a constant restlessness of being. Therefore, the philosopher must produce ideas and concepts that lend themselves to producing other ideas and concepts. The better philosophers read everything – elite, trashy, or otherwise – to get a better picture of the world in which they’re living. As Joshua Krook argued in a recent article, specialisation has produced a narrowing of skill sets and thinking, “creating a dampening effect on innovative thought and creativity.” Innovative ideas, by contrast, “tend to come not from specialised experts, but from generalists.” (‘Expert Culture Has Killed the Innovator in Workplaces’, The Conversation, 2017) Or as Mark Anderson puts it in his analysis of Plato’s Dialogues, “the philosopher is one who possesses not only the Stranger’s dialectical skills but Plato’s much wider array of talents as well” (Plato and Nietzsche: Their Philosophical Art, 2014, p.162).

The Gyri of the Thinker's Brain
The Gyri of the Thinker’s Brain… by B. Sanderson (1997)
Wellcome Collection. cc by 4.0

Knowing Nothing

Some definitions or approaches to philosophy and philosophers aren’t entirely persuasive. Bikrama Bahuguna argues that “if philosophy is search of truth, a philosopher is one who is perpetually busy with the search of truth” (Layman’s Introduction to Philosophy and Life, 2009, p.123). Linking philosophy and truth is a common approach; but I believe that philosophy is less a search for truth and more of an engagement with possibilities; those that exist and those that are yet to exist. Philosophy deals with things as they are and things as they might and perhaps ought to be. A philosopher is therefore one who does not profess to know everything. Philosophy is not dependent on an excess of knowledge, but on a respect for knowledge, and, therefore, an awareness of its limits. Socrates famously said that he was wiser than others in one respect only: that at least he knew that he knew nothing. Let’s say at least this: we know less than we will know tomorrow, even if we know more than we knew yesterday, and we will never know everything. This is why philosophy is dependent on philosophers, plural, and why it resembles a necessary virus. The philosopher must therefore be one who utilises the work of other philosophers, and allows their work to be used by others.

So if you are foolish, idealistic, produce new concepts, are at odds with your time yet have time on your hands, and are aware of your own unawareness, you may just be able to call yourself a philosopher. But the greatest philosophers do not philosophise in order to call themselves a philosopher. They philosophise simply out of the Will to Philosophise.

© Dr Siobhan Lyons 2018

Siobhan Lyons is a scholar at Macquarie University, where she earned her PhD in media and cultural studies.

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