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Why We Need Philosophy Camp for Adults
Go back to school, Agora style. Philosophy can train us to respond to life's problems rather than merely react. One such training camp is coming to Baltimore.
Consider this: you know that your best friend’s husband or wife is having an affair. Do you tell your best friend about the affair even if they don't ask you? And when you make the decision, do you consider the “ripple effect” of your actions? For example, who will be affected if you don’t tell? How about if you do? What moral principle or virtue are you exercising in each case?
Similar cases and questions are being discussed in the classes of Dr. Fred Guy, Director of the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics and associate professor at the University of Baltimore. Guy’s main goal is to inspire his students to think about philosophy and ethics and help them improve ethical decision making in their personal and professional lives.
Recently, Guy has been thinking about the need for a similar type of education for adults, a philosophy camp that will challenge its participants with complex cases and force them to revisit and refine their moral principles.
“Adults are so busy and focused on so much other than ethical issues that we don’t often stop to think coherently about what our moral principles really are. Or what we think of our own moral character. We just assume we’re good people and let it go at that,” he says.
But he has seen first-hand how transformative studying philosophy and examining our moral code can be. He remembers a policewoman in his ethics class who told him that had it not been for that class and his “Guide to Ethical Decision-Making,” she may have killed a man over the weekend. The man was the uncle of her daughter and was guilty of molesting her.
The idea for philosophy camp for grownups came to Guy after an op-ed piece he published in The Baltimore Sun describing his experience with a diverse group of 22 city teenagers who participated in the University of Baltimore’s first Philosophy Camp.
As he writes, “There was no particular reason why this post-millennial, Instagramming, Snapchatting generation would want to engage in serious conversations with each other.” Yet they did, very successfully. A recent study has even shown the gains in confidence and academic performance that comes from teaching philosophy in schools.
He ended the article with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek challenge for adults to behave as well as those kids, and was surprised at the positive response he received. Now, he promises to make the Philosophy Camp for Adults a reality next summer at the University of Baltimore.
Participants in the first Philosophy Camp for Teens at the University of Baltimore / Photo Credit: University of Baltimore
We reached out to Dr. Guy to find out more about his idea, why we need such a camp, how it would work, and what kind of tips he can give us to become more ethical decision-makers ourselves.
BIG THINK: What are the main benefits of studying philosophy as an adult?
DR. FRED GUY: The benefits of studying philosophy as an adult are many. First, it opens the mind to a greater appreciation of what we don’t know. Sounds paradoxical. But it’s the start of wisdom. Knowing that we don’t know and admitting it. In this process, we are more apt to leave behind some personal prejudices, biases, and pet theories that just can’t be supported by good philosophical thinking. If we only get this response: “Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought of it like that before,” I’d say the camp would be a success.
BT: How would the camp work? What would you teach?
FG: I haven’t figured out in detail how the camp would work, but I would imagine that we would follow the teen camp by dividing the week up into the major branches of philosophy or what we called the Big Questions: What is real? What can we know? What is good? And what is the best way to live? We may include: 'Is there a God?' with the adults. I think they would like that. These questions resulted in the major divisions in philosophy respectively: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political & social philosophy, and philosophy of religion.
A couple of days ago marked the 50th anniversary of Louis Armstrong’s 'What a Wonderful World'. We start with that. What gives you a sense of wonder? What gives you a feeling of awe? Are we so fixed in our daily routines that we can’t appreciate the idea that our lives, the world around us, and existence itself is a great mystery?
We would have exercises in wonder. Aristotle wrote that “Philosophy begins and ends in wonder.” So we would certainly start with that. I think adults would get into this very quickly and find it refreshing: “Hey, it’s ok to wonder and contemplate the beauty and mystery of it all.”
BT: Do you think that big companies would benefit from implementing such education for their employees?
FG: Yes, I think big companies could benefit from this kind of education. An obvious benefit would be thinking outside the box and actually challenging a company’s “boxes” along the way. I also think it may encourage employees to think less linearly and more organically in planning ahead and being creative about their products and services. Knowing people is essential for most companies and philosophy is all about self-awareness, “know thyself” said the ancient Greeks and, “All things in moderation.”
Philosophy teaches self-discipline, especially the ancient Stoics and Buddhists. Leadership in corporations must reflect discipline and the primary virtues of moral character: courage, self-control (or temperance), practical wisdom and justice. Aristotle taught this in his Nicomachean Ethics. And the Stoics and Buddhists were all about knowing what is within our control and what is not, as well as the problems of becoming slaves to our desires and wants. This will fit a corporation as a whole or persons in a corporation.
BT: It appears that adults have a relatively fixed moral code. What are the main mechanisms through which our moral frameworks change as we get older?
FG: I think the best way to approach adults with fairly fixed moral codes is to do what I do in my philosophy and ethics classes: Put them in positions from which they cannot escape without thinking. By this I mean challenge adults with ethics case scenarios that put them at the center of the issue and have them justify on moral principles the decisions they make in these scenarios. The adults will be what we call the primary moral agent, who is responsible for the ethical dilemma or problem. Or they may be the moral recipient, who is adversely or positively affected by another’s actions.
Most people just say things like, “Well, it seems to me to just be the right thing to do.” Or, “I wouldn’t want to be treated that way, so I followed the Golden Rule.”
[As adults] we often “back into” moral and ethical wrongdoing without noticing fully what we’re doing. Or we justify a lie, a cheat, a theft on the basis of some greater good — e.g., family, finance, friendships, career goals.
So, I would emphasize exercises in self-awareness of our moral character and what we stand for. I would especially challenge adults to justify their ethical decisions and actions.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.