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Tuesday, February 23

February 23, 2016
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WWTWWT: Today we talked more about Plato. Specifically, two of his ideas: the concept of universals and the concept of innate knowledge.

For the first concept, we read a short handout about the Ring of Gyges. It sounds a lot like a certain One Ring (though we don’t know for certain that it inspired LotR). This is based on a passage from Plato’s Republic, and featured a character named Glaucon debating with Socrates about virtue. Glaucon’s position is that we’re only good when someone is watching us — which is to say, when it’s to our benefit. According to Glaucon, if a person had a ring like this one, which could make its wearer invisible, even a “good” person would use it for their own ends eventually. And this is because, in Glaucon’s view, there really isn’t any absolute morality — it’s just a concept man makes up and enforces: sometimes to protect the weak, sometimes arbitrarily.

Socrates (whose words are written by, and probably reflect the views of, Plato), argues against this idea, and in favor of universals — in this case, a universal standard of what is good. He makes the case that even a person who acts in his self-interest by using the ring is doing something bad — because that person eventually becomes a slave to his desires. And that is something, he argues, that we can all agree is bad. (Again, it sounds a lot like LotR.)

Universals are going to be a big deal as we make our way through history in this class. Do they exist, or don’t they? Plato argues that they do because he’s already identified the place where they reside: the realm of Ideal Forms. We recognize “goodness,” he would say, because an ideal version of it exists in this realm.

We also recognize “goodness,” Plato would say, because we’ve already encountered it. More specifically, our souls have encountered it, in this realm of Ideal Forms. This puts Plato on record as 1) believing that we have immortal souls, which precede our bodies and survive their death, and 2) believing that we have innate knowledge that comes from this realm.

This sort of knowledge — knowledge that precedes our existence — is called a priori knowledge. (Knowledge we gain after we’re born would be called a posteriori knowledge.) Everyone we talk about this semester didn’t agree that there is such a thing as a priori knowledge. But Plato believed in it strongly; it’s why one of his best-known sayings was, paraphrased, “Learning is a process of recalling.”

For Thursday: please read the section in your textbook about Plato’s student, Aristotle (pp. 58-63).

History: Today we backtracked a little bit to talk more about the Library of Alexandria, and then addressed some of the points from the reading that you were to discuss in groups last week. We focused on paper vs. parchment, how manuscripts were copied, and then the difference between the use and production of manuscripts in religious institutions compared to universities.

We discussed the field trip, which is one week from today. Please bring in your permission slips by this Thursday. Also remember to have a contingency plan to get home (just in case we miss the busses) and bring a bagged lunch.

A few new notes were added: folio, bifolio, recto and verso. The bifolio bears some resemblance to the diptych structure of the tablets we made earlier this semester, but since we are now talking about folding paper (or parchment) instead of hinging panels, the terminology is different. If you were absent, you’ll want to snag these notes and their respective drawings from a classmate, or copy from the picture.

We went over Assignment 3 (Book History 2.23.16 – Assignment 3, Book of Hours). We are putting together a “Book of Hours” for our class, and at the end of the block you decided to choose the theme “bad decisions.” Per the assignment sheet, please note that your contributions can and should be diverse – you don’t necessarily need to generate new content, either.

The MOST IMPORTANT thing to note for your assignment for Thursday is that you need to have your pages planned out exactly – your eventual copies based off of these pages should look identical (or as identical as possible). You may do a little revision in class, but come prepared – we CANNOT have a repeat of what happened with the papyrus planning assignment. I will leave it at that.

Siren: We talked about what you should do when faced with an interview with someone (and/or about something) you know nothing about. Say you have just a few minutes to prepare. What is your best strategy?

  1. Research as much as possible, even if you only can find out a thing or two.
  2. Use your research to create four or five general questions with specific answers. That is, imagine you are interviewing a particle physicist who just won a major scientific prize. You’re not going to learn particle physics in 15 minutes — even the physicist knows that. But if you ask a general question like, “What has been the greatest challenge you faced in your research?”, the physicist is going to supply some specific information (which you can double-check and expand upon before you write your piece). Superlatives are your friends — the best, the worst, the first, the last, the biggest challenge, the greatest disappointment — because they often prompt the sort of specific information you need, but don’t know enough yet to ask for on your own.
  3. If you have four or five questions, then listen carefully to the answers. It’s likely you will be able to form at least a couple of additional questions based on those answers.

All of this, of course, shouldn’t take the place of more extensive research when you have the time to conduct it: there is no substitute for a set of informed questions in an interview. But in a pinch, this is an effective survival tactic.

We talked graphic design in the second half of class — thanks to everyone for the suggestions!

Daily Prompt: Class reading, as usual – thanks to everyone for sharing, it was a pretty fun batch of stuff today. The rest of the time was yours to work. There will be an activity as usual on Thursday, and four new entries are due next Tuesday.

Survey: CNF: Your quiz on what we’ve covered so far will be Thursday. My mistake on the blog previously. (If you need the relevant documents, they are linked in last Friday’s blog post. Your second essay will also be due Thursday.

Today we read an excerpt from Henry Louis Gates’s memoir Colored People. We read the first few pages, about his hometown of Piedmont, WV. We did this to introduce the idea of a “sense of place” essay — the third type of CNF essay we have seen so far.

Every place in the world, whether it be a country, a state, a city — or merely a hangout spot, a shared bedroom or a basement — has its own set of characteristics, which include a history (its own history, and your own personal history in this place), characters, a geography and a language. A good sense of place essay addresses all four of those points to give us as complete a picture as possible of the place in question.

You wrote moments and details about a place of your choosing. This will be the subject of your next essay, due date TBD.

Survey: Screenwriting: Today we reviewed three act structure and began watching Tootsie. If you were absent, please see me ASAP to make up the viewing. We watched about 45 minutes of the movie and will continue on Wednesday. Please note that on Friday there will be a quiz based on the movie, and you will need to analyze its three act structure, so making up the viewing is not only required but time-sensitive.

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