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Philosophy – week one / Day one

Today I started an on-line philosophy course with The University of Edinburgh. This is my first post on the subject. I intend to blog my thoughts and progress for the next seven weeks.

Why I am taking this course.

When I was exploring the courses available in Coursera I signed up for the E-Learning and Digital Cultures because I use E-learning in teaching English. I then noticed that this course started on the same day. I looked at the course and thought about what it would mean for me to do this course.

I live in south-west France and my daughter has been schooled here since she was six years old. All French children when they go to Lycée have philosophy as part of the curriculum no matter which BAC they take. I have never looked at or studied philosophy. How will I be able to talk about this subject with my daughter? If she has problems with her homework will I even understand the question?

I am not able to help with all aspects of home work. I don’t speak Spanish for example. But if she talks about her problems with her Spanish homework I can at least relate to the problem. Her maths homework is beyond my knowledge but I know where to look for help and how to understand the logic of mathematics. I am not sure today – day one of the course, exactly what philosophy is exactly.

What do I think philosophy is?

I think it is about great thinking. Thinking about questions on the meaning of life and our life in relation to the universe. Looking at questions that cannot be solved by any scientific or mathematical processes. I believe the stars and planets are a part of it but I am really not sure how they come into it.

Google

I just googled ‘What is philosophy?’  There are 361 thousand results.

This dictionary definition is the first one:-

phi·los·o·phy

/fəˈläsəfē/

Noun
  1. The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, esp. when considered as an academic discipline.
  2. A set of views and theories of a particular philosopher concerning such study or an aspect of it.

The second one is Wikipedia . Here is the first paragraph of that.

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with realityexistenceknowledgevalues,reasonmind, and language.[1][2] Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument.[3] In more casual speech the “philosophy” of a particular person can refer to the beliefs held by that person.

I am not going to look further on the google results. I am going to start the course and see what the lecturers have to say and see if there is more to learn.

First Video

Introduction – Dave Ward. 

The aim of the first week is to find out what philosophy is. He asked the question what is philosophy and how do we define it?  He suggested googling it but I have already done that. We had a look at what other people think it is and what the dictionary says it is. The quote I like the best was Barry Stroud ‘Thinking clearly and well about reality and our place in it.’ That seemed to sum up my confused ideas above on what philosophy is.

The video concluded that Dave Ward thinks Philosophy is :-

The activity of finding out what is the right way to think about it. What is philosophy is itself a philosophical question?

He accepted that not all philosophers will agree with him.

At the end of the video he said we should think about whether we found the information compelling and whether we agreed with it. Does anything seem wrong or not make sense. Has anything been left out?

My thoughts on the first video.

From what I have understood philosophy then is not thinking about those big questions but deciding on the best way to think about them. I wonder if I am being too simplistic?

There are five videos this week so I think I will leave it there for today. I have to do some of my other course as well this evening. Interestingly the first question we are looking at over at the other MOOC is whether Digital culture can be considered Utopian or Dystopian  Now for me that is a philosophical question. So maybe if I first decide how to think about it I will be able to answer the questions philosophically.

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4 Comments

  1. Frank Brown says:

    Hi Louise,
    I too am taking the Intro to Philosophy course. Congratulations on your blog. It looks like you’ve put some real thought and effort into it. I have had a little exposure to philosophy over the years. Not enough to make me well informed, just enough to make me dangerous. 😉

    So I thought that, with my underwhelming knowledge of philosophy, I would comment on what you said at the end there. To paraphrase: “Is philosophy thinking about those big questions or is it deciding on the best way to think about them?” That’s not simplistic at all, you’ve just distinguished for yourself the difference between several approaches to philosophy, or areas within it.

    Of the many areas of philosophy, the ones closest I think to that question are: Ontology, which deals with the nature of existence (the big questions); epistemology, which asks “What is knowledge? What do we know, and how do we know it?”; metaphilosophy, that is, the philosophy of philosophy. There are of course many other branches, as shown in this interesting taxonomy of philosophy.

    • Louise Taylor says:

      Hi Frank
      Thank you very much for that link. That is a great way of showing just how many branches and indeed twigs there are to philosophy.

      The new video that Dave Ward has put up as a summary for week one has helped and he seems to encourage people disagreeing with him and arguing it out for themselves. I intend to do that. I am going to read and think about as much as I can and then decide what I think, The other course I am doing is giving me plenty of scope for a project. Such as ‘If technology is the answer then what is the question?’ Or the question that I tried to tackle about Utopia and Dystopia being defined by democracy. It would be good to combine the two.

      Thank you for commenting on my blog. I think writing down what I feel about it each day will help me to understand it.
      Best wishes for the mooc
      Louise

  2. Dave Young says:

    Hi Louise – well, as promised I got home this evening and I have been doing a lot of catch up with all sorts of things that I have missed in the past 10 days or so. Eventually I got around to finding your blog. I am doing much the same as you but with a different style – no pictures – yet! I keep a ‘Learning Log’ for all my MOOC activities and then I take extracts of my thoughts into my blog which you can find, if you are interested, at http://davidayoung.blogspot.com/. I am in awe of your commitment to helping your daughter at school. and you have done much to help yourself to keep up to date on your learning. I am technically challenged with a lot of what is going on and I muddle my way around some of the content. I had a very slow ADSL speed which I have this last week upgraded. It helps a bit but I still have to watch some videos – particularly Vimeo – in ‘freeze-frame’ mode. I prefer the readings which I supplement from time to time with other readings that I can find via Wikipedia. Keep going the way you are.

    • Louise Taylor says:

      Thank you very much for coming by and commenting. I find some of the videos very slow too, The last one True Skin I had to just leave for half an hour to buffer and then watch it. It was still really slow and bad sound quality.
      I am no technical genius and I have found out about blogging as I have gone along although I have found some videos that really help for wordpress. blogs.
      I will go over to your blog and see what you are up to?

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