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Thursday, April 3

April 3, 2014

WWTWWT: Today we talked about several things. We began with this image of Pittsburgh icon Mr. Rogers:

as an illustration that you can’t always believe received wisdom.

1. We pointed out that the terms “Middle Ages,” “Medieval Period” and “Dark Ages” are often used interchangeably. There’s a long history to this that involved Petrarch, which we didn’t get into. However, to call the whole period “The Dark Ages” is misleading, and suggests that it was nothing but famine, barbarism and chaos from about 476 AD (the approximate fall of the Roman Empire) to the 14th century, or thereabouts. It really wasn’t, and that conception neglects the very real cultural work of people like Thomas Aquinas.

2.  We reviewed the concept of universals, which Plato believed existed in the Realm of Ideal Forms (such as the ideal “red” or the ideal “good”). Aristotle believed that universals existed, but he thought they existed only in individual objects. An apple has redness; so does a fire truck. Both objects have a universally-recognizable “redness,” however.

3. This view of universals was challenged by William of Ockham, a British Franciscan friar who took issue with lots of things that Aristotle (and Aquinas) believed. His main objection (and the objection of his teacher, John Duns Scotus) was that Aquinas’s worldview made God and his workings TOO understandable to man. Remember, Aquinas — like his model, Aristotle — believed that we can trust the evidence of our sense. Aquinas also believed that this knowledge could provide evidence of God’s existence and his works.

Ockham disagreed. God is too great to be understood that easily, he believed. Therefore, we have only our faith. Therefore, he believed there were no such things as universals — that would be giving man too much credit. He believed that we use words like “red” to explain what we see in both an apple and a fire truck, for example. But he didn’t believe that quality of “redness” existed anywhere but in our minds — as a device to enable us to communicate.

In fact, here’s what he said on the subject of universals:

“I do hold this, that no universal, unless perhaps it is universal by a voluntary agreement, is something existing outside the soul in any way, but all that which is of its nature universally predicable of many is in the mind either subjectively or objectively, and that no universal is of the essence or quiddity of any given substance.”

Ockham believed what he believed because he felt that was what it meant to be a good Christian. However, his insistence that universals did not exist would have far-reaching implications, implications that extend into the present day. Essentially, Ockham’s idea cut the legs out from under Christianity, because it limited the defense of Christianity to faith alone, instead of science. And it would also have a negative effect on science (or anything that depends on cause-effect relationships — more on this soon).

*Ockham is probably best-known for developing the idea of “Ockham’s Razor,” which says, in essence, that the more complicated something is, the more likely there is to be a mistake. So when developing a theory, we should keep things as simple as possible.

For Tuesday: Please read pages 100-107 in your textbook.

Adaptation: Today we finished watching Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and listened to a short radio piece on Corman, the director:

We’ll be watching another version of LSoH next week, and next Friday, April 11, we are going to see the musical here at LP. Don’t forget!

Siren: Practiced writing leads with nut grafs. I gave you a handout with that information, as well as some other stuff (active vs. passive verbs, the Fog Index, etc.). Please read the page about the three types of story structure (inverted pyramid, martini glass, kabob) for Tuesday.

Film Studies: Today I gave back the notes/analysis that you did on Tuesday for the first 13 minutes of Jurassic Park. About half the class made some interesting observations that were followed up with interpretation. The other half just made observations… but didn’t go far enough. Look at the notes on your paper to see which category you fall into.

We continued watching the film, and will finish it on Tuesday. Make sure that you’re paying attention to the visuals/shots/editing/etc.

8th Grade: Responses to “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.” We’ll read your stories next week.

Survey: CNF: You got a partner and interviewed one another. Then I had you share the most interesting thing you learned about your partner.


1. Don’t ask questions that require a “yes” or “no” answer — or that’s what you’ll get.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions if you don’t understand something, or if you suspect there’s something more interesting and related that you haven’t gotten yet.

3. Ask superlative questions — favorites, bests, worsts — especially if they’re tied to information you already have. If you’re interviewing a chef, it’d make sense to ask their favorite dish, and their worst experience in the kitchen, for example.

Remember: If I didn’t talk to you yet about your last two essays, bring them in tomorrow!

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