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Sunday, 10 October 2010

My 1st History of Western Philosophy Seminar

Well, it was a daunting experience, not knowing what to expect when i entered the room. Being on eof the first people to supply a seminar paper added to the pressure and tension. But i've survived it, and found my 1st seminar in philosophy to be quite useful in establishing that i'm on the right track with my reading.

Bertands book is certainly a challenge to read, particularly if you;ve never studied philosophy before. However, i feel like i am starting to get to grips with it's theories and ideas, and even some of the language is starting to make more sense after a few checks in the dictionary.

In the seminar we discussed the first set of reading from the book, which includes the points of discussion that were raised in the lecture the week before.

Some of the discussions I enjoyed revolved around some of the books that the philosophers decided to write explaing certain ideas. This included 'The Prince' which was written by Machiavelli. It was seen as a guide on how to gain power, as well as how to maintain it.

What i found interesting was no matter how humorous or some of his ideas sound at first, it is clear that he thought hard about the points he made. As well as this, the book has a very modern appearance.
Despite mentioning some horrible suggestions for gaining power, it seems that he hopes the rulers would do good with their power, despite not specifically stating that in the book.
He also believed that a prince should ‘seem’ to be religious. The word seem suggests he doesn’t see it as a necessity that they have to be, but feels that a ruler that portrays themselves to be religious will be more accepted as a ruler and perhaps create a better image.

Another book i found interesting was 'Utopia' which was written by Sir Thomas Moore.
More was a Humanist and a man of profound piety, knighted in 1514. He portrays Utopia as an island in the southern hemisphere. Much like we would imagine, it is a place where ‘everything is done in the best possible way’.

In my seminar paper i covered his bizzare vision of Utopia. It had fifty four towns, and every tenth year people change houses to prevent a sense of ownership. All the people are dressed the same (except differences between male/female and married/unmarried). They all work six hours a day, 3 before dinner, and 3 after. They sleep at 8, and for 8 hours.
He appears to structure it so that the environment appears very plain, repetitive, and almost robotic in some senses. However, this suggests that he wants everybody to feel the same and be equal. The rules appear very strict and determined to keep everyone in line and under the same routine as each other every day.

During this time, modern capitalism was created which i felt almost seemed to contradict Thomas More’s Utopia vision.

In the seminar we also observed the differences between the ideas of Descartes and Plato. Plato's idea being the theory of everything having a perfect form. Such as any chair being the shadow of the perfect chair, we can't see it, but it's out there somewhere.

Descartes said the phrase 'I think therfore I am' meaning that the fact he can question his own exsistence proves that he exsists. However, that merely scrapes the surface on the magnitude of his theory. He felt that everything he learned from his 'good quality' education was useless and a waste of time. So hh decided to take apart all his knowledge. He began by regarding with sceptcism regarding his senses - 'Can I doubt that I am sitting here by the fire in a dressing-gown?'. Literally everything he knew and take away anything that he wasn't 100% certain was fact. Examples include his date of birth(how could he be absoloutely certain what he was told was true).
He then started to question God and how he knew that he exsisted. He then reverted to the idea of a perfect form, and how could we visualise God(perfect) if it didn't excist. So it must mean that God does excist in order to place the idea in our minds. I understand how this idea can be seen as flawed and i'm sure many would argue nagainst it, however at the time it was seen as a clever idea. Although I do feel like it shows signs of Descartes feeling the need to assure himself that te still was a God, otherwise he may have felt left with nothing.

The next stage of the reading is intriguing me as we will explore the thoughts of John Locke, an English philosopher. In next week's Philosophy blog i'll let you know how easy(or how difficult) he is to understand.


Very good notes, hope the seminar went well.

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