To begin, watch this review of 500 Days of Summer from the perspective of feminist philosophical analysis. While the video is a little silly at times, it's also a great example of what I'm looking for with your projects - a philosophical "reading" of a piece of media that opens up questions about its relationship to reality and our lives.
For now though, I'm curious what you think about her argument after seeing the film. You job is to write a response (worth 25 pts) to her claim, which is that the movie is NOT a romantic comedy and Summer is not a "manic pixie dreamgirl," which is a term cultural critics invented to describe a one-dimensional female character who seems to exist just to make a sad male protagonists happy again. Instead, she sees the movie as a philosophical critique of how too many men see and treat women: as objects for their amusement, not subjects in their own right. This is the same argument made by the great existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir in her groundbreaking feminist work The Second Sex. She sees it as an ontological question: "What IS a woman?" And she thinks a "woman," like a "man," is a social role designed and defined by society, which has typically been controlled by men. Do you think the movie takes a position similar to de Beauvoir's? Or do you disagree? Or do you think the movie DOES take the feminist position but disagree with it? Or think the movie SHOULD take that position but doesn't? Post a full-paragraph response (a paragraph means 6-10 sentences here) for a quiz grade.
Postmodernism, as you've hopefully figured out by . The same is true of the self. Postmodern thinkers tend to see the self as a fluid, ongoing "process" rather than a "being" or a "soul." This means abandoning Descartes's belief in a solid, unquestionable ego (embodied in his cogito, "I think, therefore I am"). You could argue this questioning of the "solidity" of the self, meaning the idea that we are always the same, independent person, began with John Locke back in the Enlightenment. He argued that it was memory that gave us a sense of personal identity, making the self something like an ongoing string of experiences.
Similarly, the postmodern understanding of the individual is all about how we constantly change, and can't separate who we are from the social and linguistic structures that shape our thinking. The person is "fragmented," or "socially-constructed," or a "subject of language," and so on ... Some postmodernists even argue that we all have multiple personalities! Here is a good, slightly goofy but clear explanation of this skeptical attitude toward simple ideas related to identity.
I'd like you to think about this, first in terms of yourself, and then in term of Captain America and Bucky in the film. Do you feel like you are a "thing," that you have a solid set of characteristics that make you "essentially" and "objectively" you? Or do you feel like the self is something complex and confusing, and identity categories really can't define us since we are always changing? Then consider the Captain, who misses a huge era of the world's development and is forced to completely change much of his simple, "modernist" black and white worldview. What holds him together as a person? Is he the same person he was at the beginning by the film's end? And how about Bucky, separated from his memories themselves and controlled directly by outside forces. Who is Bucky, now? Are Bucky and the Winter Soldier the same person or two different people? (In the trailer for Captain America III, Bucky says "I don't do that anymore" - not "it wasn't me who did those things" - worth considering). Write a paragraph responding to these questions by giving your theory of what identity is, with examples.
Also, a paragraph is four sentences minimum, and none of those can be filler or repetitive if you're writing that little. I'm not going to give credit for lame answers that don't engage critically with these questions, or at least show an effort to do so.
In our first post we discussed Michel Foucault's philosophy of power in history, exploring how he used Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham's idea for a "Panopticon" prison represented a new "diagram" or model of social control. He called this practice of enclosure, observation and training "disciplinary power," based on collecting knowledge (rather than the violent "sovereign power" of Kings):
When Foucault's major work Discipline and Punish was re-released in 1991, it came with a new afterward by his friend and fellow philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995). Deleuze identified the model of "free-floating control" that he thought had come to rule in the postmodern era, expanding the disciplinary model's regulations into a network of information-gathering mechanisms maintained by universal data surveillance (make sure to watch the linked video). This is similar to what we see in the film when Project Insight's algorithm calculates a person's "threat level" based on all of the information it can find about them: as the corrupt Agent tells the Captain, "THE 21st CENTURY (i.e. the postmodern era) IS A DIGITAL BOOK. [WE LEARNED] HOW TO READ IT. Your bank records, medical histories, your voting patterns, emails, phone calls, your damn SAT scores!" Download and read this two-page document with an except from the essay and a age of commentary with examples.
Then post a response to one or both of the following questions:
1. Do you agree with Deleuze that our postmodern/digital era has become a kind of universal, data-driven panopticon? Cite examples to support your position (focus especially on what he say about schools).
2. Is it possible to find, as he puts it, "new weapons" to fight this evolving system of control? We might not have Captain America's super strength ("specimen!"), but, as Hannah Arendt reminded us, we all have the power of thought. Is there any way that thinking can help? Or are we better off accepting how things are?
We’re watching Captain America II, the story of a man who misses the Atomic Bomb, Cold War, and rise of Computer Technology, as a way of exploring the ethical implications of our so-called “postmodern era.” The Captain comes from a time (the 40’s) where traditional ideals and values still reigned, before they were called into question by the catastrophic and culture-warping events of the second half of the 20th century. One way to understand this is the Captain comes from a DEONTOLOGICAL moral perspective, one based on absolute standards of rules and duties, whereas our society has moved to a more UTILITARIAN or PRAGMATIST mindset which is more concerned about “what works” than right vs. wrong. Yet ironically, the Captain must break his own deontological rules when he learns that this Utilitarian mindset has led the government to create Project Insight, a massive world-surveillance program that will calculate people’s threat-levels and simply assassinate them before they commit a crime. His deontological opposition to this idea leads him to a utilitarian rebellion against government.
The philosopher Michel Foucault thought that Utilitarian thinking could be dangerous. It was better than the old deontology that simply demanded obedience, but it wasn’t really making people any freer. We went from threats and punishments to what Foucaults “training” and “discipline,” molding people into the prevailing idea of “normality.” But since everything is an interpretation from Foucault’s Nietzsche-inspired perspective, knowledge is less a matter of “truth” than power. The collection of “facts” or the development of ideas that claim to reflect a situation’s “truth” are always attempts to influence, even control others. His favorite example of this comes from Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, who proposed a prison called the Panopticon (literally, pan-optic mean “all-seeing”). Through constant and unpredictable surveillance, prisoners would start to discipline themselves, following the rules out of fear that they were being watched by the officer in the central tower, who kept their cells always lit:
In other words, Foucault says our society has begun to run like a giant panopticon; “panopticism,” mainly through surveillance, is the model of power that defines the (post)modern age. Foucault, like Captain America, saw himself as an advocate and defender of human freedom; Bentham and the utilitarians saw this surveillance as promoting safety and security in society. Who do you side with, and why? Cite as many real-world examples as you can to justify your position. This is worth a quiz grade!
You need to make a lot of decisions before beginning your final project and do some research. You are doing an original, extensive presentation demonstrating clear comprehension of some philosophical theory as well as an ability to tie it into real-world questions and get fellow teens thinking about its implications.
1. Who are you going to work with?
2. What topic/question will you address?
3. What 3 philosophers (minimum) will you incorporate?
4. How will you fill a minimum of 40 minutes (max 2 blocks)?
5. How will you incorporate media (from TV to Film)?
6. What will your presentation component look like?
7. How will you make it interactive with discussion?
8. How will you grab attention at the opening?
9. How will you grade class participation (yes, you have to)?
10. What kind of format will you use?
-Creative Film/Art piece with Q+A
-And many more options...
Your goal is to group up, think, and by the end of the block post as much as you possibly can about your idea for the project. Only one group member needs to post it, but this is a quiz grade based on EFFORT.
Make sure you completed the previous blogs, too!
"Post" means "after," but how can there be such a thing as "after-modern"? Isn't "modernity"whatever is presently happening? In one sense that's true, but people don't start to think of themselves as being "modern" until there's a clear break with some kind of past. And for our culture, that break happened with the scientific revolution, which culminated in the Enlightenment, as ultimate authority of Religion passed to Reason. "Post-modernism," then, refers to another historical break, the beginning of a new era that is different in some special way from the period when we thought of ourselves as "modern," the period of reason and science:
But if the modern period was all about the transition from religion as the most trusted authority on Truth to science as the most trusted form of Knowledge, then what transition defines our postmodern period? According to Jean-Francois Lyotard's famous book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, there IS no longer any single trusted source of understanding. Science led to great technological progress, but also to the mind-numbing overload of the mass media, where "information" is "now something that is produced to be sold," not to be "true" (Lyotard). Most people in our culture no longer really believe in what Lyotard calls "grand narratives," which are belief systems that claim the absolute Truth about reality (Lyotard cites religion and Marxism). If Lyotard is right, our culture will become more and more fragmented, and "politics" as the large scale pursuit of social change will fade away. Even the idea of "society" could become outdated as technology evolves.
Is Lyotard right? Have we entered a "postmodern" phase that means the end of knowledge and society as we once understood it? Your goal is to take a position on this question after watching these videos by posting a one-paragraph response with at least one real-world examples that supports one of these perspectives:
1. Jean Baudrillard: Postmodernism, or as he calls it "Hyperreality," is here to stay. Watch movies, eat Arby's, do whatever... Just don't think you can change the world - those days are over. Simulations are all that remain.
(Optional - Also watch this explanation of how Baudrillard's ideas influenced The Matrix.)
2. Neo-Marxism: The "Postmodernism Condition" is an advanced stage of capitalism where everything has become a product thanks to advertising and "branding." We need to fight capitalism, not give up on politics.
(Optional - Watch modern Marxist Slavoj Zizek argue that capitalism's ideological power is the real problem).
3. Rorty's Pragmatism - Politics is not dead; Americans can and should come together to restore the American dream. This isn't going to be easy, because our politics have become corrupt, but we must retain hope.)
(Optional - Watch John Green address this question, hear from a variety of Americans, and a British perspective).
Utilitarianism is an ethical and political philosophy that states, in the words quoted above from its founder Jeremy Bentham (1789), actions or laws are good if they promote "the greatest happiness of the greatest number", or in other words...
To learn more about this philosophy, watch these two short BBC videos:
The Trolley Problem
Kant vs. Utilitarianism
Then these two 8-bit philosophy videos:
John Stuart Mill
Take basic notes. Finally, in a short post,
a.) define Utilitarianism in your own words using an example, and
b.) take a position on Peter Singer's Utilitarian argument about animal rights in the last video.
Tip - the image below provides a visual summary of the key utilitarian ideas in case you need a refresher after the videos.
Watch these two very brief BBC animations describing two opposed points of view on wealth in society:
First, John Rawl's left-wing philosophy of economic equality.
Second, Ayn Rand's right-wing philosophy of economic self interest.
Then post your thoughts in a brief but substantive comment. Do you with agree with Rawls or Rand? Or do you think their positions are both flawed? If so, would you move in a more left-wing or right-wing direction, or would you try to find some middle ground instead? Finally, what examples support your point of view? Be careful of going too far in the direction of generalizing (assuming all cases are the same) or using anecdotal evidence (assuming one case proves how things usually are).
[Try to think beyond your own experience as well, or to look into the complexities of it. For example, I have parents who rose from poverty to into the upper middle-class, but I know that part of that is due to my dad's natural intellectual talents which enabled him to get a job on Wall Street even though he hadn't been able to afford finishing college. And I can't deny my dad's effort OR the fact that this effort wouldn't have gone as far if he wasn't white, due to a lot of conscious and unconscious prejudice in our society (my dad's company has only in the past decade started to hire minorities for good positions). So I have to take ALL that into account...]
To begin, take the political compass quiz. If you're comfortable, post and comment on your results (like, do you think they accurately reflect you? and which philosophers does this align you with?); if not, write about your results on paper and turn it in directly to me. Either way, this comment is worth 25 points.
Then, begin to compile your personal notes on political philosophers - I will check these like I did with the early units for 25 points as well. You can use the handouts I distributed, or review these videos I showed in class:
Social Contract Theory (8 Bit Philosophy)
John Locke (Whiteboard Animation)
Confucius and Laozi (The School of Life)
From the beginning of the year we have seen an endless debate about how the human min, with its concepts and judgments, "fits together" with the seemingly meaningless world of material, physical things in which we find ourselves. There are three key movements in this debate:
-PLATO thought that real things were reflections of "Ideal Forms" from a Higher World of pure, eternal ideas;
-ARISTOTLE thought there was no Higher World, but that real things contained their own inner purpose (telos)
-Most importantly, ST. THOMAS AQUINAS unified these two views with the Christian religion, providing a long-lasting (and still popular) explanation of the world: the things around us are products of God's Mind (like Plato's Ideal Forms), each "designed" with their own specific built-in "law" or purpose (like Aristotle's telos).
The centuries between Aquinas and the death of Nietzsche (1900) saw the collapse of uncomplicated faith in religion, thanks to the scientific revolution, the discovery of evolution, and the rise of technological nihilism. It seemed that humans, with our minds and their search for meaning, were left stranded in a world without any purpose or significance beyond the random movements of matter. The five 20th century philosophies we looked at each tried to address this problem. Which do you think provided us with the best means for finding new meaning in life (or helping us cope with the lack of meaning)? Defend your answer with an example from your own life, a world event, and/or a fictional character's experience.
-Existentialism: All meaning is invented by the human subject ("Existence precedes Essence")
-Pragmatism: All "truth" is a temporary interpretation of a changing reality which is good as long as it "works"
-Psychoanalysis: The nonsensical drives of the unconscious are more basic than the rationalizations of the mind.
-Marxism: Meaning is found through analysis of the "objective" structures of society (dialectical class conflict)
-Analytic Philosophy: "Meaning" is just the product of a logical structure of language and social interaction