Jacob J. Walker's Blog

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A Little Bit of My General Philosophy and the History of How I came to Where I am Now

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The following is a slightly edited excerpt of an email I sent to Dr. Paul Prinsloo and Liz Archer who are my tentative supervisors for my doctoral research and thesis in the Philosophy of Education with UNISA.  To start to be able to work together, I sent them a little bit about what my current general philosophy about “truth” is and how I have come to that general philosophy:

Much of my philosophical basis originally came from the “western” traditions of mathematics.  I had an excellent Geometry teacher in high school, who helped me learn about proofs. At the time, I thought that math held the answer to life, the universe and everything…  (Note: Yes, I’m a Douglas Adams fan).   But, mathematics has the Achilles heel of being based upon postulated statements and undefined concepts.   Further, later I learned how Gödel had derived incompleteness theorems, and while I can’t say I fully understand the theorems, I do understand that they basically mean that any system of pure logic is either incomplete or contradicts itself.   This was disheartening to me, and along with the fact that there was no way of knowing whether the postulates were “true” (and the fact that due to my study habits in college, Calculus kicked my butt), I turned away from math as a way of finding truth.

So then I turned to science.  I had an excellent Physics teacher in high school also, and so I thought, this must be the way that we can understand what the postulates should be so we can use deductive logic (math) to figure out the rest.   And so I started to get into the philosophy of science, and I have to say that I think UNISA’s book about Metatheories in Philosophy of Education is a great primer on much of this.  But again, I found differences in opinions about the foundations of science, and thus confusion about guiding principles.Along the way, I also discovered Hume’s “Is-Ought” problem, and I realized that this is a key problem that probably can’t get fully resolved; and it completely affects ethics, aesthetics, and epistemology. For example, in epistemology, all philosophies of science (whether from the Vienna Circle or Popper) are based upon certain un-proveable beliefs about how evidence should be used to determine “truth”.  Ethics and aesthetics get even more slippery!

So this left me with needing to decide how I ought to believe something is true.  And at this point in time I am probably mostly a pragmatist, (although I must admit that I haven’t read much of the works of early pragmatists, but I’m sure through this journey towards my doctorate, I will!)  So I believe that the value of truth comes from the relevancy to a specific context.   In fact “context” is a key part of my philosophy at this point in time, and it is the form of relativism that I am OK with, which is basically the form of relativism that Einstein was OK with.But I reject the notion that some relativists have, such as some postmodernists, that suggest universal truth can never be found: because in the context (and thus relative to) the universe, there are truths such as the laws of physics, that as long as one has some belief in evidence as being a method of deriving truth, must be true (and if one doesn’t believe in evidence, such as the extreme example of certain schizophrenics, it still doesn’t suddenly negate the truth).  In other words, and as an example: I don’t suddenly fly out of my chair because I think I will.  (By the way, this doesn’t mean I don’t respect the power of the mind, but my mind can help me get out of the chair by using my legs, and not allow me to float in the air, unless I have a jet-pack on that I designed with my mind!)

But, in the field of education there is a need for some relativism in the form of contextualism.  And there is also always going to be some unprovable ethical statements (again the “ought” portion of the “is-ought” dilemma) about the aim (purpose, goal, mission, etc) of education.  I have come to the belief that I want my aim for what I do with the field of education to be “To Empower Humanity, such that We All may Thrive”  This of course opens up a lot of new questions, and can lead to potential conflicts, like what happens when the thriving of one person takes away from the thriving of another….   And I think in the context of my thesis, I will need to answer that question to a degree.  And I will need to demonstrate that this thesis is compatible with this mission and can show that it is sufficiently important to be worthy of being the topic of a doctoral thesis.

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Written by Jacob Walker

July 12th, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Philosophy

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