005: Ep1 – The Molemen and Plato’s Cave Today

Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast

Photo of Dr. Anthony Cashio.This first episode of the Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast features an interview with Dr. Anthony Cashio of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (@anthonycashio), on the topic of the relevance of Plato’s Cave today, in the time when we’re told that “there are no facts.”

The audio quality gets better in the next two episodes following this one, as we start here with not the best online voice quality. Feedback has been good so far nonetheless, so please bear with us as we philosophers are learning. Enjoy a fun conversation with a lively philosopher who after Episode 1 serves as co-host for the show.

Cartoon featuring Descartes under the word "Truth," who says "I think therefore I am." On the right, there's a guy under the heading "Post-Truth." The man says "I believe therefore I am right."Listen for our “You Tell Me!” questions and for some jokes in one of our concluding segments, called “Philosophunnies.” Reach out to us on Facebook @PhilosophyBakesBread and on Twitter @PhilosophyBB; email us at philosophybakesbread@gmail.com; or call and record a voicemail that we play on the show, at 859.257.1849. Philosophy Bakes Bread is a production of the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA). Check us out online at PhilosophyBakesBread.com and check out SOPHIA at PhilosophersInAmerica.com.


(1 hr 11 mins)

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  1. In the episode, we spoke vaguely about the scandalous essay that purported to find a connection between autism and vaccinations. As we noted on the show, the piece was retracted. You can read about that retraction here on CNN: “Retracted autism study an ‘elaborate fraud,’ British journal finds.
  2. We also talked about the uncontroversial fact that the average global temperature is rising. There are various debates about what to do and to say about how to combat climate change, but the science is clear that we’re getting warmer, overall. Here’s a simple site from NASA that makes it clear: “Global Temperatures.”

Exciting Line-up for Philosophy Bakes Bread

Just a quick announcement: Philosophy Bakes Bread, food for thought about life and leadership, will go on the air Monday, January 9th at 2pm Eastern. We’re very excited to have a great line-up coming together for the spring semester. Check out our new Web page here on the SOPHIA site for the show.

Dr. Martha Nussbaum. Photo by Robin Holland (website).

In addition to great SOPHIA folks, like John Lachs, Anthony Cashio, Bertha Manninen, and more, we’re excited to announce also that 2016 Kyoto Prize winner Dr. Martha Nussbaum will be joining us for an episode in early May. This is just the beginning, folks, but it feels like quite a good start for our little show. Thanks, everyone, for your interest. Visit SOPHIA’s Philosophy Bakes Bread page for more information and do send us your thoughts, comments, and questions!

Faith Without Dead Dogma: A Reply to Hay

By Dr. Shane Courtland, Civil American, Volume 1, Article 5 (December 21, 2016), https://goo.gl/IywlxM.

After reading a thoughtful response from Dr. Hay regarding my previous blog post, I thought it would be helpful to discuss my philosophical pedagogy. Even if you have never taken a philosophy class before, the core elements of my teaching method are still applicable outside of the classroom. Moreover, describing how I teach philosophy should better show what I mean when I say that “Philosophy is a method” and “I worship that method.”

Dry erase board listing 'rules, 1., 2., 3.,' though none have yet been filled in.

When we discuss various topics, I insist that the class be bound by three rules. Their observance helps facilitate learning of the philosophical method. They are as follow:

  1. In my class, you not entitled to your own beliefs. Everything that you claim to be true in class, you must be able to justify via argumentation. If you get “called-out” to justify your view and you cannot … you must, at least for the time you are in class, give up the claim that others should agree with your view. Obeying this rule means that no one can stop discussion by merely saying, “Well, I have a right to my own opinion.”
  2. If you assert a view, the burden of proof is on you. If you get “called-out” to meet the burden, and you cannot … you must, at least for the time you are in class, give up that view. Obeying this rule means that no one can rebut criticism by merely replying, “Well, show me that I am wrong.”
  3. You must be civil. You cannot use hate speech (narrowly defined, as by law); there can be no threats of violence; there is no interrupting; etc.

With these rules respected, I will entertain any questions or claims pertinent to our class discussion. And, when I mean any, I mean that I will only stop the discussion for pragmatic considerations (e.g., the discussion is too much of a tangent, we are running out of class time, etc.).


Introducing Two New Members

Photo of the SOPHIA logo, over the word "Introducing," followed by a photo of Jim Lyttle and one of Casey Dorman.

In pursuit of SOPHIA’s mission, of building communities of philosophical conversation locally, nationally, internationally, and online, we are continuing our process of creating introduction videos. Two new members joined SOPHIA in the last month or so, and each was kind enough to be willing to create an introduction video. These two fellows are Jim Lyttle and Casey Dorman and the following is a short introduction video of each one. Get to know our new members and welcome them to the group!

Hello, Jim Lyttle!

Jim is on Twitter here, @JimLyttle.

And hello Casey Dorman!

Casey is also on Twitter, here, @ReviewLost.

Welcome, both of you, to SOPHIA! A number of members, officers, and trustees have yet to make introduction videos. The holiday season can be a great time to get that done. Reach out to Executive Director Eric Weber to plan when we’ll make yours!

What Philosophy Is For: A Reply to Courtland

By Dr. Sergia Hay, Civil American, Volume 1, Article 4 (December 13, 2016), https://goo.gl/wAlReN.

Image of a thumbs-up and a thumbs-down.I wholeheartedly agree with Shane Courtland when he writes in Civil American that being a philosopher means “giving pride of place to open discussion, encouraging intellectual diversity, and allowing a difference of opinion regarding even dangerous ideas.” I also believe it means, among other things, laying bare assumptions, defining terms, distinguishing between seemingly similar concepts, and resisting dogmatism. But having faith in philosophical method is worthless unless we keep in mind what the method is actually for – to allow us to inch closer to the truth even if we aren’t guaranteed a certain, secure, or imminent arrival to it. Therefore, I don’t agree with Courtland that a full embrace of philosophical method entails taking any and every theory seriously. While philosophical method does not always settle our questions, I believe its value lies in ruling out answers that are weaker than others and even disqualifying those that were derived fallaciously.

Logo for SOPHIA's Civil American series.

Image of a Muslim woman facing graffiti on her home, which reads "Muslims Go Home," alongside painted crucifixes.I also encourage students to draw various and competing conclusions on controversial topics like physician assisted suicide and the moral principles grounding the market system. But I do not ask them to build arguments where strong arguments cannot be built, for example on the torture of babies or the political exclusion of particular religious groups.

Like Courtland, I encourage students to express their views in class. I make pleas for courageous participation of those with minority views so that the entire class can benefit from a rich palette of ideas to consider. However, this is all done within certain acceptable bounds of conduct. Racial slurs and ad hominem arguments don’t have a place in these discussions because they are attacks and serve to erode the minimal amount of trust we require to hold ourselves together in discussion.

John Stuart Mill.Since the election, I’ve been spending a lot of time considering John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and his reminder of the danger inherent in thinking that our reasoning is infallible. We are human and we make mistakes. But I’m becoming convinced that certain ideas and public expressions of those ideas not only harm others directly (like racism and sexism), but also harm those who hold those ideas. Unlike bad tasting medicines, furthermore, such expressions offer no compensating good, but only harm. Philosophy shouldn’t just open the flood gates of all opinion. It should also help us to be gate keepers of good will and integrity. When considering the history of our discipline, we can appreciate other thinkers, like Socrates, who have attempted to be guides on our way to truth. His method was not used merely for its own sake, but for the purpose of calling us to examine ourselves and to live well. We should not have faith in mere tools alone, but in the judgment which ought to guide their use.

Dr. Sergia Hay.Dr. Sergia Hay is SOPHIA’s Membership and Chapter Development Officer and is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Pacific Lutheran University. She is representing only her own point of view in this essay. For more information about Dr. Hay, visit her profile page in SOPHIA’s Directory. 

Faith and Betrayal of the Philosophical Method

By Dr. Shane Courtland, Civil American, Volume 1, Article 3 (December 4, 2016), https://goo.gl/7lDv6l.

Please note: The following essay is autobiographical. I thought it might be helpful to share my experience. As with all personal events, those who have experienced this on the other side have very different feelings about the situation.

The way I have always viewed philosophy, regarding its practice and how it should be taught, is as a method of thinking. As philosophers, we are tasked to apply rigorous critical thinking to complicated abstract concepts and dilemmas. There are no domain restrictions; there can literally be a philosophy-of-anything. Thus, we find ourselves entangled with debates in politics, religion, ethics, physics, mathematics, ad infinitum.

Print of 'Discourse into the Night,' of two men sitting in a discussion.

While it is true that a goal of the philosophical method is to seek the truth, I wouldn’t say that it is completely preoccupied with holding true beliefs. Let me explain. After years of obsessing over this method, it has rendered most (if not all) of my beliefs tentative. I realize that one discussion, essay, or argument may compel me to abandon a cherished belief.

PETA's logo.I know this because I have suffered from it countless times. I have been a dedicated theist. Now I am a hardcore atheist. I used to be an animal rights advocate. I was an ethical vegetarian for four years and I ran a local chapter of PETA. Now I am skeptical about the moral standing of animals. I used to be a Kantian. Now I am a Hobbesian. I used to push for egalitarian redistribution. Now I tend to embrace libertarianism.

Philosophy, in a sense, is like drinking Drano. Sure it cleans out the ill-justified beliefs, but it can leave you somewhat empty. The subjective convictions of your beliefs post-philosophy are never as strong as the subjective convictions pre-philosophy. Many of my non-philosophical friends and relatives are critical of my post philosophical-self. When I have discussions with them, at some point, I inevitably receive this rebuff: “Whatever, Shane… but… you don’t really believe anything.”

There is, however, something I believe in – the method. I cannot quit the method. Beliefs come and go, but my stake in this method is forever. It has become a part of my very identity. To use a religious expression, to a philosopher the method is the true faith.

My teaching reflects this faith. I tell my students that I don’t care what views they argue for in their papers or in class discussion. My job is to assess their application of the method. If they are competently using the method to argue for crazy or morally repugnant views, they will get a good grade – PERIOD.


Dr. Bertha Alvarez Manninen, SOPHIA Intro Video

In the spirit of building communities of philosophical conversation, locally and online, we are continuing to record little introduction videos for our members and leaders. Here’s one for Dr. Bertha Alvarez Manninen. For each of these videos, we are asking 1) Who are you? 2) Why are you interested in philosophy and in SOPHIA? and 3) What’s something unique or unusual about you? We want these videos to put a face and a voice to a name. Here’s Dr. Manninen’s profile page.

If you’d like to make a video, reach out to SOPHIA’s Executive Director and we’ll record one. Getting together for that purpose also gives us an opportunity to chat. Enjoy this little intro video featuring Dr. Manninen:

If you haven’t already, consider JOINING SOPHIA!

Breaking Out of the Bubble: Fixing American Politics

By Dr. Shane Courtland, Civil American, Volume 1, Article 2 (November 11, 2016), https://goo.gl/sCV8ST.

The turn-out for an event that Dr. Courtland organized at the University of Minnesota Duluth.For approximately 5 years, I was the director of the Center for Ethics and Public Policy (CEPP) at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. As the director, I was charged with producing and executing various campus wide events.  My specialty, was the panel discussion.  This would bring multiple experts to the table to discuss a particular topic of local, regional or national interest.   What was distinctive about my version of the panel discussion was that I was obsessed with providing a balanced panel.  I always tried to ensure that, when we covered an issue, we had competent individuals arguing on each side. This might seem like an obvious strategy – but it wasn’t. Often when panels were held, prior to my tenure, all of the panelists would be arguing on the same side.  As an example, the previous CEPP director held a panel on “Sex Trafficking in Minnesota” – which, as you probably can tell, is a hard topic to find people on both sides of. Such univocal panels often seemed more like rallies than discussions.

This is the logo for SOPHIA's peer-reviewed online public philosophy series, titled 'Civil American.'

I wish I could say that my obsession with providing balanced panels was based upon a noble motivation. To be honest, however, it was strictly Machiavellian. When I took over the CEPP (in 2011) it was dying. Nobody was coming to its events and its meager funding was about to be cut. I had to do something to change its downward trajectory.

A panel that Dr. Courtland organized.So I decided to provide a good that was relatively absent in my local market. I would create panel discussions that would be marketed like prize fights. In order to have a successful prize fight, you need accomplished fighters on both sides. Moreover, the fight needs to be fair and to be a contest that truly shows their skills.  If my fights were unfair (biased toward a perspective), I would cease to get fighters for my next fight (my reputation as fair and balanced was key). Also, if the contest didn’t test their skills (e.g., they were just talking heads that failed to engage the other talking heads), no one would show up! People get those faux panels on TV all of the time.

The crowd in attendance at one of Dr. Courtland's organized panels.Long story short, this strategy was successful beyond expectations. Hundreds of people were showing up to our events and we were frequently featured on a plethora of news sources (TV, radio and print).

So, why am I telling you this? Simple. These panels had an unintended effect – they changed me. We covered a remarkable number of contentious issues: gay marriage, voter ID laws, economic inequality, nickel-copper mining, medical marijuana, legalizing wolf hunting, Minnesota blue laws, Kill or No-Kill shelters, physician assisted suicide, and so on.   In these events, I came loaded (like any other human) with a favored position. There was always a position that I wanted to, and predicted would, “win.”

But, here is what happened – after each event, I would always be impressed (yes, every time) by the proponents of the other side. They were not the “straw men” that many expected them to be. They had well-articulated defenses to many (if not all) of the arguments against their view.  I admit, I rarely changed my mind on these issues… but I always left the panel feeling less sure of my view.  These panels provided me with a heavy dose of epistemic humility. Moreover, students and other faculty expressed that they, too, had the same experience.


‘What Ifs’ and No Regrets

By Dr. Shane Courtland, Civil American, Volume 1, Article 1 (October 31, 2016), https://goo.gl/IEMKOJ.

You only live once.One often hears the expression “You should live your life without regrets” in the same situations that one hears expressions such as “carpe diem” and “YOLO.” The basic idea is that you should live your life to the fullest. One day, if you are lucky to be living, you will be able to look back on your life. When you do so, you do not want to feel that it was wasted merely because you were too timid and afraid to embrace it. Have courage, these slogans implore – reach the fullest potential of a happy and fulfilling life.

In what follows, I want to articulate a different way to understand this expression.

The logo for this publication series, 'Civil American.'

This understanding is inspired, in part, by a passage in Epictetus’s The Enchiridion. In passage #25, he writes:

Print of Epictetus.“Is anyone preferred before you at an entertainment, or in a compliment, or in being admitted to a consultation? If these things are good, you ought to be glad that he has gotten them; and if they are evil, don’t be grieved that you have not gotten them. And remember that you cannot, without using the same means [which others do] to acquire things not in our own control, expect to be thought worthy of an equal share of them. For how can he who does not frequent the door of any [great] man, does not attend him, does not praise him, have an equal share with him who does? You are unjust, then, and insatiable, if you are unwilling to pay the price for which these things are sold, and would have them for nothing. For how much is lettuce sold? Fifty cents, for instance. If another, then, paying fifty cents, takes the lettuce, and you, not paying it, go without them, don’t imagine that he has gained any advantage over you. For as he has the lettuce, so you have the fifty cents which you did not give. So, in the present case, you have not been invited to such a person’s entertainment, because you have not paid him the price for which a supper is sold. It is sold for praise; it is sold for attendance. Give him then the value, if it is for your advantage. But if you would, at the same time, not pay the one and yet receive the other, you are insatiable, and a blockhead. Have you nothing, then, instead of the supper? Yes, indeed, you have: the not praising him, whom you don’t like to praise; the not bearing with his behavior at coming in.”

The basic idea, as far as I can tell, is that Epictetus is reminding us that everything in life has opportunity costs. In order to get something of value, one always forgoes something. The man who gets to go to the party paid for it by having to sell his praise. Epictetus then tells the reader, “But if you would, at the same time, not pay the one and yet receive the other, you are insatiable, and a blockhead.”