Archive for ‘Philosophy’

December 10, 2018

Belsnickel

Belsnickel is a crotchety, fur-clad Christmas gift-bringer figure in the folklore of the Palatinate region of southwestern Germany along the Rhine, the Saarland, and the Odenwald area of Baden-Württemberg. The figure is also preserved in Pennsylvania Dutch communities.

Belsnickel is related to other companions of Saint Nicholas in the folklore of German-speaking Europe. He may have been based on another older German myth, ‘Knecht Ruprecht,’ a servant of Saint Nicholas, and a character from northern Germany. Unlike those figures, Belsnickel does not accompany Saint Nicholas but instead visits alone and combines both the threatening and the benign aspects which in other traditions are divided between the Saint Nicholas and the companion figure.

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September 23, 2018

Belief Perseverance

Belief perseverance (also known as ‘conceptual conservatism’) is maintaining a belief despite new information that firmly contradicts it. Such beliefs may even be strengthened when others attempt to present evidence debunking them, a phenomenon known as the ‘backfire effect.’ For example, journalist Cari Romm, in a 2014 article in ‘The Atlantic,’ describes a study in which people concerned about the side effects of flu shots became less willing to receive them after being told that the vaccination was entirely safe.

Since rationality involves conceptual flexibility, belief perseverance is consistent with the view that human beings act at times in an irrational manner. Philosopher F.C.S. Schiller holds that belief perseverance ‘deserves to rank among the fundamental ‘laws’ of nature.’

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July 13, 2018

Henge

Stonehenge

A henge is neolithic earthwork featuring a ring bank and ditch, with the ditch inside the bank. Earthworks are artificial changes in land level, typically made from piles of artificially placed or sculpted rocks and soil. Earthworks can themselves be archaeological features, or they can show features beneath the surface

Due to the poor defensive utility of an enclosure with an external bank and an internal ditch, henges are not considered to have served a defensive purpose. England’s famed Stonehenge is an atypical henge in that the ditch is outside the main earthwork bank.

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July 6, 2018

Slippery Slope

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

slippery slope argument (SSA), in logic, critical thinking, political rhetoric, and caselaw, is a consequentialist logical device in which a party asserts that a relatively small first step leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant (usually negative) outcome.

The core of the slippery slope argument is that a specific decision under debate is likely to result in unintended consequences. The strength of such an argument depends on the warrant, i.e. whether or not one can demonstrate a process that leads to the significant effect. This type of argument is sometimes used as a form of fear mongering, in which the probable consequences of a given action are exaggerated in an attempt to scare the audience.

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May 8, 2018

Flower Power

Levitate the Pentagon

Flower power was a slogan used during the late 1960s and early 1970s as a symbol of passive resistance and non-violence ideology. It is rooted in the opposition movement to the Vietnam War. The expression was coined by the American beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1965 as a means to transform war protests into peaceful affirmative spectacles.

Hippies embraced the symbolism by dressing in clothing with embroidered flowers and vibrant colors, wearing flowers in their hair, and distributing flowers to the public, becoming known as ‘flower children.’ The term later became generalized as a modern reference to the hippie movement and the so-called counterculture of drugs, psychedelic music, psychedelic art, and social permissiveness.

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April 19, 2018

Falsifiability

The Logic of Scientific Discovery

A statement, hypothesis, or theory has falsifiability or refutability if there is the possibility of showing it to be false. It is falsifiable if it is possible to conceive an empirical observation which could refute it. For example, the universal generalization that All swans are white is falsifiable since it is logically possible to falsify it by observing a single swan that is not white.

The concern with falsifiability gained attention by way of philosopher of science Karl Popper’s scientific epistemology referred to as ‘falsificationism.’ Popper stresses the problem of ‘demarcation’—distinguishing the scientific from the unscientific—and makes falsifiability the demarcation criterion, such that what is unfalsifiable is classified as unscientific, and the practice of declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is pseudoscience.

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March 12, 2018

Precognition

Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab

Precognition (Latin: ‘acquiring knowledge’), also called ‘prescience,’ ‘future vision,’ or ‘future sight’ is an alleged psychic ability to see events in the future.

As with other forms of extrasensory perception (ESP), there is no reliable scientific evidence that precognition is a real ability possessed by anyone and it is widely considered to be pseudoscience. Specifically, precognition appears to violate the principle that an effect cannot occur before its cause.

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February 28, 2018

Bal Tashchit

Judaism and environmentalism

Bal tashchit [bahl tosh-keet] (‘do not destroy’) is a basic ethical principle in Jewish law. Deuteronomy 20:19–20 forbids cutting down fruit trees to assist in a siege.

In early rabbinic law however, the principle is understood to include other forms of senseless damage or waste. For instance, the Babylonian Talmud applies the principle to prevent the wasting of lamp oil, the tearing of clothing, the chopping up of furniture for firewood, or the killing of animals. In contemporary Jewish ethics, advocates often point to bal tashchit as an environmental principle.

December 16, 2017

Gingerbread House

Hansel and Gretel

gingerbread house is a novelty confectionery shaped like a building that is made of cookie dough, cut and baked into appropriate components like walls and roofing. The usual material is crisp ginger biscuit made of gingerbread. Another type of model-making with gingerbread uses a boiled dough that can be molded like clay to form edible statuettes or other decorations. These houses, covered with a variety of candies and icing, are popular Christmas decorations, often built by children with the help of their parents.

Records of honey cakes can be traced to ancient Rome. Food historians ratify that ginger has been seasoning foodstuffs and drinks since antiquity. It is believed gingerbread was first baked in Europe at the end of the 11th century, when returning crusaders brought back the custom of spiced breads from the Middle East. Ginger was not only tasty, it had properties that helped preserve the foodstuffs it was in.

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December 6, 2017

Justice as Fairness

John Rawls

Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical’ is an essay by John Rawls, published in 1985. In it he describes his conception of justice. It comprises two main principles of liberty and equality (with the latter subdivided into ‘Fair Equality of Opportunity’ and the ‘Difference Principle’).

Rawls arranges the principles in ‘lexical priority,’ ordering them from most fundamental and prerequisite to least with the Liberty Principle first, followed by Fair Equality of Opportunity, and concluding with the Difference Principle.

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November 25, 2017

Best of All Possible Worlds

Problem of evil

The phrase ‘the best of all possible worlds‘ was coined by the German polymath Gottfried Leibniz in his 1710 work ‘Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil.’

The claim that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds is the central argument in Leibniz’s attempt to solve the problem of evil (i.e. why would a God that is all-loving, all-seeing, and all-powerful allow evil to exist). Historically, attempts to answer the question have been made using various arguments, for example, by explaining away evil or reconciling evil with good.

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August 18, 2017

Virtue Signalling

Slacktivism

Virtue signalling is the conspicuous expression of moral values done primarily with the intent of enhancing standing within a social group. The concept arose in signalling theory (the study of intraspecies communication), to describe any behavior that could be used to signal virtue—especially piety among the religious.

Since 2015, the term has become more commonly used as a pejorative characterization by commentators to criticize what they regard as the platitudinous, empty, or superficial support of certain political views, and also used within groups to criticize their own members for valuing outward appearance over substantive action. This more recent usage of the term has been criticized for misusing the concept of signalling and encouraging lazy thinking.

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