*Question: What is "your" relationship to the rest of the Universe?
Right off the bat this raises another ontological question:
1. What is my nature as a self (“a being”),
and what is the nature of The Universe (“Being” itself)?
And that raises a related epistemological question, plus an ethical question, too:
2. How can I know the nature of the universe when I’m stuck on here Earth (and in NEW JERSEY no less!)?
3. How should I, a mortal being, live in the absence of complete knowledge about the nature of Being?
This unit will explore that key question, and those three sub-questions, using The Lego Movie as a counterpoint for the ideas. The film reflects all three of the broad approaches to these questions we have already seen:
I. The Monist Approach – ALL IS ONE. "YOU" ARE A WAVE IN THE UNIVERSAL OCEAN, NO MORE - OR LESS.
(See: Buddha, Heraclitus/Parmenides)
* I have these Lego sets with their separate bricks, but ultimately they are all just One Lego Set. Even though I
have made many different and separate sculptures, they are still One, because they’re the same “stuff.” The
individual sculptures I make will always return to the buckets of Legos; they have no “essence” behind them.
II. The Dualist Approach – THE "TRUE SELF" IS THE ETERNAL SOUL, NOT THE BODY.
(See: Socrates, Plato, Christianity/Islam, some varieties of Judaism and Hinduism)
* I have all these Lego sets with their separate bricks, but ultimately those aren’t important. What truly matters is the instructions, the IDEA or FORM behind the physical sculptures. Praise the Instruction Book!
III. Aristotle’s Pluralism – I AM MY "CHARACTER " - MY UNIQUE AND PERSONAL HABITS, VALUES, SKILLS, ETC.
(Wait, what is "Pluralism?" Isn't there only Monism and Dualism in ontology? Not quite.....)
* I have all these Lego sets with their separate bricks, and their separateness is what defines them. Each brick is unique, each set is unique, and each sculpture I make is unique. There are basic instructions to follow, but I can create path by carefully attending to every brick I add into my personal sculpture.
* Pluralist ontology is like a variant of monism that emphasizes differentiation over sameness. Aristotle only believes in the existence of our one physical or "material" world. BUT, he thinks each individual thing or “being” in this world has its own ontological “ESSENCE." What is an Essence? It is like a Platonic Form, only it exists inside the particular things (rather than things "participating" in the other-worldly Forms). And where the Platonic Form represented an Ideal, a Perfection, an "Essence" is just a blueprint to be colored in by experience. * The Essence is the total of the things's Four Causes, which are its "Essential properties" - so a thing's essence includes its Telos or species-specific "purpose."
* You can think of a lifeform's Essence at its species' DNA. The Human Essence, meaning the specific form of life we have developed and passed on through our genes, is Zoon Politikon - the rational, speaking "Political Animal." So your Character is what you do with your Human Essence. And since "we are what we repeatedly do," excellence (virtue, arete) is not in one act, but in "habit."
* RECAP of Aristotle's pluralism: there is one world, but it is divided up into many things. Life is about understanding the kind of thing WE are (our ESSENCE) and developing it to its full potential (since our ESSENCE is to be rational-political animals, our TELOS or purpose is to develop our human creativity and intelligence to the maximum by working in harmony with others as part of a civilized political community (POLIS). TAOISM can also be interpreted as form of pluralism too: The Tao gives each thing “Inner Nature” to follow; these little parts make an overall Pattern. Or, the Lego City is defined by the Harmony of the many small, interlocking bricks.
Most of the ontological philosophies that develop after Ancient Greece's conquest by Alexander the Great (which was partially Aristotle's fault, since he taught the young warrior-prince) are variants or mixtures of these three basic ideas: The Self is EVERYTHING, The Self is THE SOUL, The Self is COMPOSED. Here are 3.
IV. HEDONISM/STOICISM - YOU'RE JUST A TINY PIECE OF NATURE. TRY TO ENJOY THE RIDE.
(These two "competing" Greco-Roman philosophies are actually similar - both focus on avoiding stress and pain)
* EPICURUS: Invents "Hedonist" ethics, stating that a good life = happiness (simple pleasures).
-Epicureanism: Everything is made of temporarily-arranged atoms, including you (another "pluralist" ontology).
-So carpe diem: "Don't fear God(s), don't worry about death; what is good [in life] is easy to get."
* STOICS: Greek ethicists urging total control of the emotions and perfect acceptance of all things.
-Seneca: Roman statesman who popularizes Stoic philosophy among the elite.
-Marcus Aurelius: Roman Emperor who governs based on Stoic compassion.
V. SKEPTICISM - IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW WHAT "I" AM OR WHAT "THE WORLD" IS
(At best, you can know the contents of your own mind, which can lead to "solipsism": denial of the external world!)
* Skepticism = denial of the possibility of complete knowledge (or sometimes, any knowledge)
* RENE DESCARTES, Rationalist Skeptic: "I am thinking, therefore I exist."
-Descartes attempts "radical doubt": if I cannot trust my senses, how do I know anything really exists?
-He concludes that because he is asking that question, he is thinking, and therefore must exist as "a thinking
thing" (res cogitans). That thinking "I" (ego) is the only thing I can trust is real, a position called "solipsism."
-Descartes doesn't embrace solipsism though: he falls back on faith that God guarantees the world's reality
*DAVID HUME, Empiricist Skeptic: "Custom is the great guide of life."
-The self is nothing but a "bundle of sensations" or "stream of consciousness," much as Buddha said.
-This means all we have is our sensory experience. We look for patterns in it and base our lives around them.
-What we call knowledge is a thus matter of memory and inference: it is CUSTOM or HABIT.
-Most "Truths" are just customs, especially religious beliefs: there's no basis for them in experience
-"Hume's Fork": All we can "know" is our own experience, and truths of math/logic. That's it.
VI. MARXISM - IDEOLOGICAL "SUPERSTRUCTURE" AND MATERIAL "BASE"
(Ideology = "Imaginary Relationship of Individuals to their Real Conditions of Living")
*Karl Marx followed in the Realist tradition of Aristotle, so he rejected the Platonic concept of a "higher world."
He believed such concepts were invented by powerful classes to keep people obedient. He even compared
religion to an addictive painkiller, an "opium" which kept people from rebelling against exploitative
leaders, keeping them focused on "Eternal Life" instead of bettering their real lives.
* So leaders present their favored Ideals (their vision of "proper" order) as if they were "Eternal Truths" from the
higher world, and people buy into them. This keeps society running the way the Ruling Class likes it - think of
how Lord Business uses "Everything is Awesome!" to keep workers thinking they're CHOOSING to follow his
instructions, when really, he plans everything out according to his own Plato-type Ideals of "total perfection."
*Marx called the "ruling ideas" in a culture its "Ideology." Today we use the word ideology to mean any political
philosophy, but Marx's concept of society's collective Ideology, what people believe is Truth, remains useful, as
shown by Slavoj Zizek. So for Marx "Who Am I?" can only be asked by first challenging society's Ideological
image of who I "should be," which has "alienated" me from my human Essence: cooperation and creativity.
THE UNIT'S ASSIGNMENTS: In class, we'll be watching the film and discussing it in relation to these topics. Your task is to work through the following multi-part assignment both outside of class and during the time I will give you after we finish the movie. Figure out beforehand which projects you are going to do so you don't forget!
-Complete your personal notes first, including these thinkers here, plus at least 3 others (40 points).
-Once you’ve finished and gotten them approved, you are free to start on these activities.
-You must complete four activities, including 2 blog posts, for 40 points (a total of 200 points)
-You may complete a fifth activity for extra credit. Also note that activities 5-8 can be done in small groups.
-The blog posts will go up near the film's end. The articles you will read for them are about 4 pages.
1. ARTICLE REVIEW: PERSONAL CHOICE (Research or ask me: 1-2 page summary/evaluation of piece)
2. ARTICLE/BLOG A: ONTOLOGY OF THE SELF (Descartes’s Skepticism: how do I really know I “exist”?)
3. ARTICLE/BLOG B: ONTO-EPISTEMOLOGY (David Hume’s Skepticism: do I really “know” anything?)
4. ARTICLE/BLOG C: ONTOLOGY AND ETHICS (Stoicism vs. Epicureanism: should I “accept” reality?)
5. ORIGINAL DIALOGUE: EXISTENTIAL ISSUES (1 philosopher, 1 thinker from anywhere, 1 random)
6. THREE-MINUTE VIDEO/TWO-MINUTE ANIMATION (8-bit philosophy type format on a question)
7. PHILO-SURVEY: BACKGROUND, FOCUSED QUESTION, DATA REPORT, ANALYSIS (email me report) 8. LEGO SCULPTURE: DEMONSTRATE A KEY CONCEPT WITH A PHYSICAL MODEL (add description)