Dec 28, 2015

InPO 2015 Stage II - Different Strokes

Different Strokes

The Stage I of the Indian Philosophy Olympiad 2015 was conducted between 19th and 22nd Dec with students attempting an online test with SCQ, MCQ and some grid-response questions. The form was available online to all and there was no time constraint or other checks. Students were expected to research on the internet to answer the questions. Out of the 220+ people who enrolled we got about 170+ responses with many students in the top 20 percentile. These 31 students were chosen to the next level.

At the Indian Philosophy Olympiad Stage II which ran through 25th - 27th Dec 2015, we tried a new way of testing students. The usual manner was to conduct an essay round like the IPO or the Baltic Sea Essay Event. What we had seen over the past many years of asking students to write philosophical essays, especially when they were uninitiated into philosophy, was that even the best of them wrote an ineffective argument. Arguing from different points of view and comprehending the author's argument are key to writing a good essay. 

Hence, we chose to present the students with various tasks, each one taking them through a certain steps of learning (like a tutorial) and then posing them questions to complete their learning. These tasks built up to the point where students should be able to elaborate their thoughts into an essay. So rather than writing essays, we got them to first grasp the issues involved in the arguments and then the problems with the arguments presented. Finally they reached the point where they had to critically examine and comprehend the author's argument.

I write this to enthuse those who attempted the first stage but fell short of crossing over to the next one. To these students I say - Well done and a good show - and to them I owe a little training, so they make it better the coming year. And, even if they may not participate in the Olympiad, they would really benefit from some critical thinking. Hence and also for the sake of record, I present the outline of the tasks for Stage II here with links to the tutorials.

Task 1 - Classifying Issues

One of the first things we need to learn before proceeding with discussing philosophical quotes is to sort out the context of the quote. In that, we need to realize what branch does the issue discussed in a quote belongs to and hence if and does it have a bounded context. Also, the author may be arguing from a certain 'ism' (point of view) and hence again it may narrow down the scope of the author's argument. This thinking will later benefit you in being able to counter-argue.

Thus we have described in the posts below as to what things you need to be aware of and learn to whatever extent possible in order to categorize thoughts in philosophy. The discussions in the posts are examples of thinking done by previous teams and as such you may ignore particulars like how the training camp will proceed etc. and focus on the concepts and tips. The task was to go through each of the statements given in the questions and try to classify as to which area / branch of philosophy they belong to as specifically as possible. Through this round we observed sense of language, general awareness of philosophy and the world in general and the capacity to differentiate between various ideas. 

Task 2 - Grasping Reason

Now, before one can analyse the opponents argument comprehensively and hence construct one's own point of view, one must be able to spot the reason or the absence of it in his opponent's words. Thus arguments can be:
1. Valid: Conclusions follow unambiguously from the premises
2. Sound: It's valid and it's premises are true
3. Persuasive: It makes complete sense to you. i.e. there is no other way this issue can be looked at

Read the following posts and the connected links (especially Jim Pryor's page) before moving further:

Now read the little chit chat between our dear Pooja and Abhishek and try to put things into perspective for yourself. Then try to spot in each chunk / part of the argument whether the argument put forward by either speakers is Valid, Sound and Persuasive. If it is not one of these for some reason, specify so and explain your reasons. Each question allows space to write about one chunk of the argument, do not mix them together. You may give the context or reference of another chunk while discussing the problem with a particular one, but your examination should be restricted to the given chunk.

Abhishek and Pooja are reading an article about the Syrian refugee crisis. They have the following discussion while sipping on tea comfortably in their homes in India.
------ Part 1------
Abhishek: Hey Pooja, do you know that countless Syrians are being displaced by the ongoing civil war? They have lost their homes, families and property. Even so, European countries are reluctant to accept the fleeing refugees into their countries. Isn’t that abhorable?
Pooja: That’s not true. Many European countries are opening their doors to the refugees, even though they have no obligation to do so. They are doing their bit.
Abhishek: But why don’t they all think from a humanitarian point of view? These rich countries have more than enough money to take care of these refugees. So don’t you think that it is their duty to do so?
Pooja: Hmm… yes, you are right. Of course it is. 
------ Part 2------
Abhishek: The European countries (especially the NATO members) have this duty because they are largely responsible for the political instability in the Middle East.
Pooja: However what do you think will happen if these European countries begin to take in refugees indiscriminately? Most of the refugees are Muslims. Do you think they will be able to assimilate with the predominantly Christian societies in these countries? There might be a clash of cultural values, leading to unrest, followed by riots and perhaps even civil war. Do really think that they should take such a risk? 
Abhishek: Don’t be so harsh on them. I have family friends who live in Germany. They have temporarily opened up their home to a pregnant refugee, who they say is the sweetest woman in the world.  I think it’s impossible that these refugees could ever be so ungrateful to the people who are doing so much for them.
Pooja: Well I don’t know... All I can say is that some countries like Germany could accept refugees. Not out of the goodness of their heart, but rather because they have a valid reason to do so : countering their own rapidly aging and shrinking demographic.
Abhishek: What!? So are you saying that European countries should accept refugees only for their own selfish and pragmatic reasons?
Pooja: So you think it is wrong for countries to think about their own good, but it is their moral duty to help other people? How hypocritical!
Then they both go to have a chilled ice-cream, at the nearest Baskin & Robbins.

Task 3 - Interpreting Quotes

So far you have tried to understand what an argument talks about and if it has flaws. Now we turn to arguments made by professional philosophers which are usually quite valid and sound (there are exceptions). However, they may not be persuasive due to some or the other fallacy or limitation of perspectives. This is where philosophical research lies. And this is where the IPO expects the student to be able to form opinions, which are after a due consideration of the argument made by the philosopher in question.

So we turn to interpreting quotes of various authors. The first thing here is that you are not expected to know exactly what the author meant and in what context did he say that. You are not even expected to have read a lot of philosophical texts of the 'ism' of the author or for that matter any texts at all. What is expected however is that you are able to coherently interpret the argument presented in the quote and hence argue in support or opposition. For this task you are required to only interpret the author's argument. There should be no attempt to express your point of view or present a counter argument. 

So how do you proceed? Read up the links below which are takes on different quotes. The first parts of these discussions are what we think is the argument of the author - i.e. what premises must he have had in mind (or rather in the full text of his work from which this is taken) and how must he have connected them towards the conclusion. The intention is to comprehend the author's reasoning with justice to his point of view and not to deliberately introduce fallacies in his (perceived) argument so that we can later hammer it down.

The manner in which you write this down can be (preferably) as points (premises, connecting statements / hidden premises and conclusion) as shown in most of the examples. Or, you could write a para or two to explain the author's context. You will have to read between the lines and try to explore what each clause /phrase in the quote means and how it connects to the other. You will have to use your knowledge and understanding of the world and how it works to fill in the missing pieces of logic, keeping in mind that you cannot put words in the author's mouth. 

2. (Only read up to Piekoff's argument as the further part is not relevant to today's task)
3. (Focus only on my take of Hobbes' argument)
4. (This gives another style in which you could present an argument)

All these tasks were put up on Google forms and space for answers was provided.

Though we are still processing the answers, a quick glimpse indicates that many students did exceedingly well compared to previous years. We have many really detailed arguments in the answers, which could indicate that the method worked. i.e. Students seemed to have learnt philosophizing while giving their first test in philosophy.

Nov 30, 2015

Announcing InPO 2016 (Marathi News Brief)

नमस्कार !

मी, केदार सोनी, एक शाळा संचालक असून, गेले ८ वर्षांपासून एक उपक्रम राबवत आहे आणि ही माहिती ह्या उपक्रमाला विविध माध्यमातून भारतीय तरुण शाळकरी मुलांपर्यंत पोहोचाव्ण्याकरिता आहे. इंडिअन फिलोसोफी ओल्य्म्पीयाड (InPO) हि चळवळ ९वि ते १२वि च्या मुलांना आंतरराष्ट्रीय तत्वज्ञान स्पर्धेत (IPO) उतरवण्याची पहिली पायरी आहे. हि आंतरराष्ट्रीय स्पर्धा गेले २३ वर्षे चालत असून, त्यात ४० पेक्षा जास्त देश सहभाग घेतात व त्याला UNESCO ची स्पॉन्सर्शिप देखील आहे. ह्या स्पर्धेचे लक्ष्य विद्यार्थ्यांमध्ये तत्त्वज्ञानाचा प्रसार करणे  व तरुण पिढीला आजच्या जगातील किचकट आणि गंभीर प्रश्णांचा विचार, आणि जमल्यास उपाय, करण्याची मानसिकता देणे असा आहे.

ह्याकरिता तत्वज्ञानाची सखोल माहिती असणे तितकेसे गरजेचे नाही पण तर्कशुद्ध विचार क्षमता आणि सारासार विचार करण्याची सवय आवश्यक आहे. ह्या उद्धीष्टांनी भारतामध्ये ही चळवळ रुजव्ण्याकरिता गेले ८ वर्ष माझा प्रयास चालू आहे. सुरुवात माझ्या शाळेच्या २ विद्यार्थिनींनी झाली व हळू हळू दर वर्षी देशातील जवळ जवळ २०० विद्यार्थ्यांचा सहभाग होऊ लागला. InPO मधील पहिल्या फेरीत मुलांची तर्क व भाषा प्रभुत्व य्हाची चाचणी होते. ही फेरी online असून हे प्रश्न ३-४ दिवस इंटरनेट वर जाहीर केले जातात. य्हाचे कारण असे कि मुलांना त्यांच्या अभ्यास व क्लास्सेसच्या चक्रातून वेळ काढून हे करता यावे. इथे उत्तरे इंटरनेट वरून किंवा कोणाला विचारून शोधता येत नाहीत, कारण प्रश्ण नुसत्या माहितीवर आधारित नसून गंभीर विचार करून स्वतःचे मत मांडावे लागेल असे अस्तत.

पहिल्या फेरीतून साधारण १०% मुलांना दुसर्या फेरीत नेले जाते येथे त्यांना IPO प्रमाणे ४ वेगवेगळ्या विचारवंतांची वक्तव्ये दिली जातात. त्यांना त्यापैकी एकावर आपला विचार लेख-स्वरुपात मांडायचा असतो. हे लेख शाळेच्या सामान्य लेखनापेक्षा वेगळे असे कि त्यात त्या विचारवंताच्या बाजूने किंवा त्याच्या विरुद्ध तर्क व पुरावा मांडायचा असतो. २०१६ च्या InPO मध्ये मी आणि माझी साथ देणारे माजी विद्यार्थी एक नवीन प्रयोग करू पाहतोय. दुसर्या फेरीत नुस्त लेख लिहिण्या ऐवजी, निवडलेल्या मुलांशी ब्लॉगच्या माध्यमातून काही दिवस चर्चा केली जाईल व प्रत्येकाला एखाद्या मुद्यावर आपला वाद इतरांसोबत मांडावा लागेल. अश्या चर्चेतून सगळ्यात समर्थ युक्तिवाद मांडणाऱ्या २ मुलांना भारताच्या वतीने IPO मध्ये शामिल होण्यास निमंत्रण दिले जाईल.

आंतरराष्ट्रीय स्पर्धा दर वर्षी वेगवेगळ्या देशात होत अस्ते. २०१४ साली Lithuania तर २०१५ साली Estonia येथे हि स्पर्धा झाली. येत्या वर्षी हि बेल्जियम च्या घेण्ट ह्या शहरात होणार आहे ( हि स्पर्धा दर वर्षी May महिन्यात ४ दिवस चालत असून, २ शिस्क्षक व २ विद्यार्थी य्हांचा सर्व खर्च यजमान देश करीत असतो. भारतातील ह्या चळवळीला कोणाचे आर्थिक सहाय्य नसल्याने प्रवासखर्च प्रत्येकाला स्वतः करावा लागतो. भारतीय संघाची तयारी करून घेण्यास किंवा InPO च्या कोणत्याही फेरीस बसण्यास फी आकारली जात नाही. हे काम मी आणि माझी माजी विद्यार्थिनी पूजा बिलीमोग्गा स्वेच्छेने करितो. पूजा २००९ साली फिनलंड मध्ये स्पर्धक म्हणून तर २०१४ ला शिक्षिका म्हणून सहभागी झाली होती.

IPO मध्ये भारताला आजपर्यंत ४ सिल्व्हर, १ ब्राँझ व ३ हॉनेरेब्ल मेन्शन मिळाले आहेत. २०१६ च्या संघाची निवड करण्याची पहिली फेरी १९ डिसेंबर २०१५ ला सुरु होईल व त्याचा पेपर आमच्या संकेत स्थळावर असून, २१ डिसेंबर पर्यंत त्याची उत्तर्ण्याची मुदत राहील. ह्या काळात भारतातील ९वि ते १२वि ह्या वर्गातील कोणत्याही बोर्डातील व कोणत्याही शाखेतील विद्यार्थी प्रविष्ट होऊ शकतो. ह्याची संपूर्ण माहिती आमच्या ह्या संकेतस्थळावर उपलब्ध आहे - नोंदणीकरिता ह्या लीन्क्वरचा फोर्म भरावा  -

For article about last year's Olympiad please read our post 
For past training assignments see our posts.

May 29, 2015

Another Silver for India ... Another IPO to be treasured

Silver, yet again, at the 23rd Int'l Philosophy Olympiad

I am very happy to announce that India has won yet another silver medal at the 23rd International Philosophy Olympiad held at Tartu, Estonia (Results of IPO - Estonia). This was also Abhishek Dedhe's second silver in two years of participation. This year about 40 countries participated in the Olympiad which included Japan, Korea, Bangladesh and India from the Asian continent. There were countries from all over Europe and the Americas as well. About 90 high school students battled to demonstrate their power of intellect and argumentation and to present a coherent understanding of philosophy. Please read further to know what we experienced between the 14th to the 18th of May, 2015, in Tartu.

The competition

Like every year the students were given topics from different areas of philosophy. The topics are quotes / questions posed by philosophers from different parts of the world. Students are expected to choose one out of four topics to write an essay upon in about 4 hrs. The essay should give a coherent interpretation of issue that the author is presenting, without having to know anything about the author otherwise. The essay should then give a convincing argument as to why the student agrees with or disagrees with the author. More stress is put on the students maturity in presenting logical arguments and his/her understanding of the different philosophical aspects covered by the quote.

The team

Nihar Kulkarni (Ahmednagar) and Abhishek Dedhe (Pune) were selected from two rigorous rounds at the Indian Philosophy Olympiad. Abhishek had previously been to the IPO in Lithuania (2014) and won a silver medal. Nihar and Abhishek were then trained online (through hangouts and blog) and in the month of April, brought together for a camp at Abhinav Vidyalay, Dombivli for a period of about 2 weeks. The training was exhaustive discussions in Ethics, Epistemology, Aesthetics and Praxeology with some time also spent doing Metaphysics. It used to be a daily 14 hour grind in analyzing and discussing quotes and different philosophical positions. (isms) It was indeed a steep learning curve for these two and the other students who are preparing for the next Olympiad. Even the teachers - me and Pooja Bilimogga - felt totally exhausted at the end of the day.

The IPO Experience

We journeyed from Riga (a port in Latvia) to Tartu (Estonia) on the 13th of May, 2015. While in Riga we spent some time at the Natural History Museum which was an immensely fulfilling experience as both Nihar and Abhishek are avid nature enthusiasts. From hundreds of species of butterflies and other insects to all sorts of birds and animals to fossils of extinct species ... we saw it all. 
Once at Tartu the pressure of the competition started showing. The weather was beautiful and the people very helpful and jovial. The other teams had started arriving and our students were soon making friends with the Bangladeshi's and the Estonian's and the Germans and so on... And yet the aura of the exam remained. 
Liisi Voll - Estonian student
- wearing Nihar's Bindi
The 23rd IPO was formally inaugurated with much pomp and splendor at the University of Tartu with dance and music and very inspiring talks by some senior philosophers and the minister of education among others. This was followed by partying late into the night. Time is difficult to guess since its daylight until almost 10 pm. Needless to say most students went back to their rooms to prepare for the next day. The next day the competition went smoothly although the topics were rather tricky this time, There were topics from each major area - Aesthetics, Ethics, Epistemology and Metaphysics. The students were finally done with their job and free to go on tours around the city and participate in various discussions and seminars based on the theme - Disagreements. (read more here)
After the competition was done, the true colors of the IPO came to the fore. The IPO is more of a meeting of minds then a mere competition. Students and teachers of different nationalities gelled together like they were the best of friends, although most of them had met for the first and probably for the last time. There was good-hearted banter on one hand and intense discussions on the other. There was laughter and games and exchange of thoughts and gifts and addresses. Above all there was a strong vibrancy in the air. Each year it is interesting to watch this from the corner (if you can afford to stay in one for long) as if it is one large creature engaged an exquisite and enthralling dance.

The Jury Work

While the students were enjoying the activities, we the teachers were busy evaluating their essays. The international jury comprises of the teachers from different participating countries who are competent to read philosophical essays in at least one of the official languages - English, French, German or Spanish. There were about 75 of us. The jury split into groups of four with each group comprising of two senior (read experienced) members and two members who are new to the IPO experience. Each group gets 5-7 essays to read. Each member of the group then reads a common essay and then discusses what he or she thinks about it. This way, if one of us has missed some relevant point, it can be brought into notice by the other three. After a good discussion each member is free to retain his / her point of view and then mark the essay. No teacher is given to read the essays of their own students.
One thing I must make clear here, is that in Philosophy there is no single "correct answer". Philosophy is about the viewpoints and about reasoning as to why one's point of view is better to explain a certain phenomenon or to understand a certain idea. The teachers are also from different traditions of doing philosophy from different parts of the world. Hence there is a natural bias in their evaluation. The idea of four people evaluating it independently is helpful in reducing this bias.  Also, the discussion in groups helps everyone get a more complete perspective of what the topic is and also what the student is trying to say.
If there is a difference of more than 3 marks, then a 5th assessor is involved. The students whose average mark hence is above 7.5 are considered for the next level. Here again two different assessors go over the paper and a final average is taken. Finally the international jury comes together to see the result of these two rounds.
Those who have received above 7.5 marks are chosen to be sent to the steering board to be evaluated for a medal. Those who may have just missed the bus are recommended by the jury for an honorable mention. The steering board which is made of three FISP members and two members from among the teachers, choose which medal should a particular essay receive. The steering board usually works late into the night so as to give the organizers time enough to prepare the awards.

The Awards

The Silver Medalists - IPO 2015
And then the day arrived that all had been waiting for. All teams were dressed up and ready for the final ceremony which began with a nice talk about the possibility of Uralic-Altaic philosophy and proceeded to a few songs by a local choir. When we thought that the next announcement will be for the medals, the organizer Leo Luks would treat us to another beautiful song instead. Finally the medal announcements began. First were the honorable mentions and there were 19 in all. As each student got up to receive the award, everyone clapped loudly. It did not matter whether the person was from the same delegation or not. Everyone knew everyone else. Even as teachers we had often interacted with the students from other countries, often intensely. Then again the cheering was louder for the more popular students as is always the case. Then came the bronzes. 
(The number of medals awarded changes every year depending upon how the performance of the students changes. This year there were 6 Bronze, 8 Silver and 2 Gold's awarded.)
As each announcement was made, I am sure every student (and probably a few teachers as well) felt the nervousness. Maybe the next name will be mine (or my students's) ... and if not, then maybe my name will be in the next category ... and so on. But as the categories advance you can sense a little dejection in the air. Nevertheless, the applause builds up to a crescendo right up to the last gold. This after all is the proper spirit of competition. This after all is what the students learn as an essential life-skill. 
Abhishek expressing respect in the
traditional Indian way to
Prof. William McBride (FISP)
And thus the ceremony was over - Abhishek won a silver. For a moment and a moment only, I looked at Nihar's face expecting dejection and expecting to feel depressed myself. But, Nihar is a different mind entirely. Maybe there was a fleeting sadness in there somewhere, and there should rightfully be. But she not only cheered me up, but also back to her flamboyant self in no time. And one would expect Abhishek to be on cloud nine, but he was, and is, a very grounded person; always rational; always sensible.
There were many pats on the back and photos taken and soon the farewell dinner began. Within no time, everyone had forgotten all about the results and who won the medals and all that, and everyone was happily dining and chatting, singing and dancing until the night almost turned into day. I remember laughing like crazy after a long time, though I don't really remember what we all laughed about.

Happy Minds ... Heavy Hearts!

The next day was pretty hard to wake up to ... and not so because of the hangovers ( ;) ) ... but rather because we would be bidding goodbyes to each other. Some teams had to leave immediately after the ceremony, while some soon the day after. I remember the Finnish teacher and my dear friend (Juha Savolainen) telling me that one of his students had to give his IB boards' final exam the day after the IPO. 
The longest serving submarine in
the world at Lenussadaam, Tallinn
The Indian team however had a couple of days to spend in Tartu and then Tallinn (the capital of Estonia). We visited the AAAHA science center and saw and did a lot of wonderful things there. Then we peeked at the Astronomy Observatory and then some shopping. In Tallinn the most interesting things we saw were a hot-air balloon ride and a fantastic sea-plane museum which housed a real soviet era submarine, the oldest relic (ship) found, some sea-planes, tanks and anti-aircraft guns among other things. These were sights to make one go crazy ... I know ... I did.
We watched the sunset over the harbor and discussed how marine trade led to some very important discoveries on mankind. The next day we were on a flight back ... With happy minds and heavy hearts ... as THIS is the IPO feeling.

May 6, 2015

When philosophers become kings ...

Yet another essay to write team 2015 ...
This quote by Marcus Aurelius should take you on a tour of personal ethics, politics, human rights and self-interest. Post your essay today itself as a comment to this blog-post and not in the Facebook page.

Different things delight different people. But it is my delight to keep the ruling faculty sound without turning away either from any man or from any of the things which happen to men, but by looking at and receiving all with welcome eyes and using everything according to its value.

Marcus Aurelius, 121-180 AD, Roman emperor and philosopher in "Ta eis heauton" (The things you say to yourself), VIII, 43

May 5, 2015

Crime and the Collective

Analyse this quote and present your point of view in brief (as a comment)

When all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.
HANNAH ARENDT, Crises of the Republic

Abhishek on What Arendt may be saying:


Key ideas -
Culprit - one who commits the crime
Guilty - one who bears responsibility for the crime

Arendt’s argument

A - Only the culprit ought to be be held guilty
B -  In a society where A is not applicable, the entire collective may be considered guilty for the crimes of an individual culprit. This is equivalent to saying that no specific culprit is considered guilty
C - The magnitude of the crime ought to determine the magnitude of the penalty
D - In the societies that where A is applicable, the penalty applies only to the culprit
E1 - In a society where A is not applicable, the penalty would apply not just to the culprit but to entire collective (which is guilty)
E2 - Therefore, a crime of greater magnitude would lead to a penalty of greater magnitude applicable to the entire collective
F - E2 would be against the interest of the collective and thus the collective would avoid implementing the penalty
G (follows from F) - A greater magnitude of the penalty (stemming from a greater magnitude of the crime) would increase the chances of the collective not implementing the penalty

Arendt’s position - Societies ought to be such that A & D are applicable, and B & G are avoided

(Look for Abhishek's supporting argument in the comments)

Apr 24, 2015

Analysing Agnosticism

Hey Team 2015!

Take the next quote analysis assignment on a scathing remark made by Peikoff on agnosticism. Analyse the author's point of view, her argument and hence construct your arguments in favor and/or opposition. To view previous quote analyses read here.

"The agnostic miscalculates. He thinks he is avoiding any position that will antagonize anybody. In fact, he is taking a position which is much more irrational than that of a man who takes a definite but mistaken stand on a given issue, because the agnostic treats arbitrary claims as meriting cognitive consideration and epistemological respect. He treats the arbitrary as on a par with the rational and evidentially supported. So he is the ultimate epistemological egalitarian: he equates the groundless and the proved. As such, he is an epistemological destroyer. The agnostic thinks that he is not taking any stand at all and therefore that he is safe, secure, invulnerable to attack. The fact is that his view is one of the falsest—and most cowardly—stands there can be.
- Leonard Peikoff, The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series, Lecture 6

Analysis by Nihar Kulkarni & Abhishek Dedhe

Note- *no. assigned to arguments, (*no.) denotes to what argument the current argument is opposing., ...for supporting a pt.

Argument of Peikoff:

  • P1- Acceptance of Agnosticism is to avoid being antagonistic toward any belief.
  • P2- Considering 2 antagonistic claims equal involves allotting equal possibility of being true to the false proposition as well.
  • P3-Considering 2 contradictory propositions simultaneously true is irrational
  • C1-Agnoscicism is irrational.( P1+P2+P3)
  • P4-Agnosticism a concept in epistemology as it is defining a limit to epistemological reach i.e. impossible to `know` whether the god exists or not.
  • P5-Epistemology exists to reach a valid & sound conclusion through reasoning & available evidence.
  • P6-Agnostics consider to reach a conclusion to be impossible.
  • P7-Agnostics deny certainty of available evidence.
  • C2-Agnostics harm epistemology. (P4+P5+P6+P7)

 Counter Argument:

  • Assumption wrong – P1.*1
  • Currently person – Diff of support for any 1 claim=negligible(P4)
  • Waiting for more evidence for one.(P5)
  • Rationally chosen indecision.*2
  • Can the result of a rational method be irrational? (C1)
  • Agnosticism, Atheism & Theism are related with an individual.*3
  • Allotting values to different claims depends on that individual.
  • No right to any other individual to judge the allotting. (P2)
  • Why not aim of epistemology Search for a conclusion rather than reach it?*4
  • Also, as the assumption P1 is wrong the quote is wrong.*5
  • As agnosticism allows theism & atheism i.e high level of tolerance of both.
  • Wouldn’t world be more peaceful if more people were agnostics?*6

  • Counter to counter arguments:

  • If the claim is that there may be something you do not know, how do you know that that something exists.
  • Rational stand is to have a conclusion from what you know.*7
  • Is the stand to reject changing the beliefs for the sake of individuality correct?
  • Growth of individual & society hampered.
  • Result of rational method applied to a consideration starting from an irrational claim can be irrational.*8
  • In reality 2 kinds of agnostics-
  • A)Temporary Agnostics-Confusion whether to choose theism or atheism, but they do choose at some point of time.
  • B)Permanent Agnostics-They choose not to arrive at any conclusion.
  • Every person consciously choosing a belief system was a temporary agnostic at some point.
  • Opposition is to permanent agnostics for the reasons mentioned in *7 & *8.....*9.
  • Plenty of reasoning for Atheism & no reasoning nor evidence for theism.
  • Pt of negligible diff for any claim meaningless.(*1)
  • Once you decide to reach no conclusion at all despite evidence & reasoning, no longer the decision is rational *9. (*2)....C1
  • Different isms exist because every belief tries to portrait reality in the way they see.
  • The picture of their reality could only be complete & absolute truth when others do not hold any other contradictory reality to be true.
  • Involving others in our beliefs a fundamental part of any ism.
  • So existence of uninfluenced individual beliefs unrealistic.(*3)
  • Also, if the agnostics become powerful enough they may start opposing theists & atheists.
  • The basic claim is that it is impossible to know the existence of god.
  • The people claiming possible in opp to them. (*6)
  • The aim of all kinds of sciences including philosophy is to reach certainty at the fundamental level possible.
  • Epistemological methods are a mean to do so.
  • Though searching for a more fundamental certainty an inseparable part of epistemology,
  • the search for next fundamental certainty starts by holding the current one as basis.
  • i.e. at each step, you have to choose one most rationally reasoned & evidential possibility by eliminating others.
  • Not choosing one means not being antagonistic with any other...P1,(*1)
  • Agnostics refuse to do so i.e. they do not apply epistemological methods,
  • though limit the reach of epistemology.
  • This stance is misleading & harm the epistemological reasoning of the individuals who hold Agnosticism to be a righteous epistemological stance...C2. 

Chosen Side –Supporting Peikoff. 

Feb 6, 2015

On Education and its Quality: Purpose of education

For the past three decades, Abhinav has been working to establish quality education. This has lead us to first question - What is education about?, What are the benchmarks of its quality?, How can we achieve it? It has not been an easy path to find answers so that they may be actually applied in the field. And then the mindset one needs to comprehend this and apply it is very much opposite to the thinking prevalent in the society around us. However, we believe that this is the mindset one has to acquire before one gets concerned with education - either as an occupation, or a profession, or even simply as a parent. So, in a series of articles I will try to bring out the idea in the hope that even the young ones may understand.

There are many text-book definitions and philosophies that one could write here, but allow me to take an easier path. To be educated is a state in which a person reaches after a certain deliberate effort, partly by him/her and partly by the people around such as parents, teachers, etc. This effort, like any other, has a purpose, and once we understand it, we achieve it. Would you take the effort of cooking food if it were not to satisfy your hunger, or to buy good clothes if it were not to improve your self-image? Would you buy a house if you did not require a sense of stability? Would you raise a child if you were not to get the feeling of being loved and at the same time of being accomplished in certain way?

Getting educated has a purpose ...

How learning may have evolved

Lets take a little detour into how we evolved as intelligent creatures. Man evolved superior only due to his brain being different than other creatures. What may have led to this being so? Darwin answers - survival. To elaborate - Man had to learn to survive; survive from dangers of nature, survive from lack of food, survive from loneliness, etc. To this end, he had to figure out new and better ways to do things - find food or grow it, fight tigers with spears instead of stones, find others like him so they can hunt together, protect each other, and so much more. While this was happening, his brain was also developing, making his mind better.

Better ... in what way? Would Man be better off if he could not figure out that sharp objects can kill better than blunt ones? Would Man be better off if did not see the practical benefits of living in a group? Would he be better off, if he did not study his adversary before he attacked? ...

Each task required Man to use and sharpen his faculty for abstract thinking, i.e., his faculty to connect the reality of the senses to the ideas in his mind - ideas formed by selectively choosing what aspects of reality to focus on. When he saw a wild elephant, he had to judge the distance that he must maintain to remain safe, and the shape of color of the ears was not important. When forming a society, it was important to name the relations for what benefits they give you and the specific nature of every person in that relation did not matter so much; a grocer is someone you deal with for groceries, regardless of his looks or dental hygiene.

Thus every act of learning was broadly to grasp the properties and behavior of certain objects (living or not) around you, pick the ones you think are important for your survival/betterment, store them in memory and later connect them with similar or dissimilar observations of other objects. Most of this process is automatic in that we get used to it in early childhood. What is never automatic and therefore needs constant adjustment and focus, is the part where we connect the different things together. 

Reality, Reason and the Mind

Would the ancient Man know that a larger creature like the elephant cant run for too long (because of its weight/size) without having observed many different creatures and their speeds? Can the modern Man create lighter alloys for making aircraft without first knowing the properties of different elements and then figuring out a way of combining them? Can a poet create a lasting poem without having observed the deepest desires and tribulations of men and having woven these observations together in a meaningful way to ask some of the most difficult questions? Can an educator proceed to educate, without having connected the various kinds of learning that Man does throughout his life, with the objective of such learning? And, can the educator, profess a method without truly judging the outcomes of such a method of learning?

One can connect different observations in many ways, some of these are logical, others are not. Even in logic, one can find different ways of using the facts (with different interpretations) and hence arriving at different results. So how does one know which is the right path? ... or the right answer? 

Correspondence with Reality ... That is how we know the right answer ... The path which leads is to this correspondence, is the right path.

Let's imagine the ancient Man who encounters a wild elephant for the first time; He can ...
  1. imagine it to be a divine creature and worship it, probably ending up squashed under its feet
  2. reason out that it is huge and so like cows (which are larger than deer) it cant run fast enough
  3. reason out that it has strong legs and so like a lion, can outrun him quickly
The last kind of thinking is the one which will surely save him and he would know so only once he sees the consequences of his thought. He will possibly lose his life, but the other men around him will observe and learn and save theirs. Thomas Alva Edison tried about 2000 ways of making a light bulb and when all failed, he famously said that he found 2000 ways of NOT making one. Since then mankind has made billions of bulbs using the technique that worked.

Of what use is our learning, if the decisions it leads us to make, do not give us returns? How can our decisions and actions give us returns if they are based on unreal assumptions or wrong expectations? The acid test of ALL learning is whether it gives results. Results are a certain effect upon society around us and also the return-effect upon us. These effects are governed by the laws / standards of morality as also the principles of economics, politics and science, which ensure that individuals and, in turn, the society survives. These laws define our reality for us.

Thus, Reason is the means of connecting observed facts together so as to form the truest impression of the world, so as to decide our course of actions, to get the best possible outcomes. It may not work the first time, so we do it again and again, with different approaches, until we get it right. This is the process of learning. This is the training of the mind.

... and so the Purpose of education

To be educated is to train our mind to think in correspondence with reality. The purpose of education is therefore simply to enable Man to deal with the world around him. More critically, education trains the mind to gather facts, analyse situations, solve problems and hence analyse the results / consequences which in turn is used to fine tune our mind further. 

A worrying trend in our society today is that we either completely or partially ignore the analyses of the consequences of our thoughts and actions. We do so because its difficult to analyse the consequences each time, especially when there are more pressing deadlines to be met. Consequently, we end up saying "... So What!!!" often and pretend to ignore our mistakes. We can only do so because society is more flexible today than it was for the ancient Man. We can commit small mistakes every now and then and people will tolerate. But, what about the bigger ones? What about mistakes in deciding our careers, or marriage or how to spend our wealth, etc.?

Now, here's where we either resort to social norms and customs or the advise of the elders. This by itself is not wrong, however, circumstances change with each passing day. What was true for the tree-dweller was not true for the cave-man; and what was true for the cave-man does not work for the civilized man. Likewise advises and customs can be only correct some of the times.

Hence, more critically the purpose of education is not only to train the mind to think rationally and critically in some circumstances (e.g. those that may be arranged in a school environment) but also to temper the mind to operate this way for each problem on one hand, while on the other, to be capable of doing so efficiently in terms of time and resources.

Please stay tuned for the next article on how this may be achieved.