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Tuesday, March 1

March 1, 2016

WWTWWT: Today we began discussing Aristotle, possibly the smartest guy who ever lived. He was Plato’s student at the Academy from age 17 until about 37. He wasn’t named Plato’s successor, and so he left, traveling and then taking a job as Alexander the Great’s tutor before returning to Athens and starting his own school (the Lyceum).

Aristotle differed from Plato in several ways, primarily in his rejection of Plato’s Realm of Ideal Forms.  He believed we should trust the evidence of our senses and that it provided the best way of knowing the world around us. He also rejected the idea of a priori knowledge, instead favoring the concept of a posteriori knowledge — gained after an individual is born. At birth, he believed we are all “blank slates,” a term we’ll encounter again later.

The difference between Aristotle and Plato is the difference between the two dominant schools of thought in philosophy: rationalism (Plato; emphasis on reason as the primary way of knowing the world) and empiricism (Aristotle; emphasis on the senses as the primary way of knowing the world).

However, while we classify Aristotle as an empiricist, don’t get confused: he wasn’t just a crude materialist who believed that matter is all that exists. We’ll get into this more Thursday.

We focused on an explanation of Aristotle’s famous Four Causes. To understand something properly, he believed, we have to know four things:

The material cause: what is it made of?

The formal cause: what is its form?

The efficient cause: how is it made?

The final cause: what is its purpose? (Or telos, in Greek)

This wasn’t just a scientific test of categorization. It also had some bearing on Aristotle’s ideas about ethics. We say that something is good when it is performing the job for which it was intended. We say something is bad when it can no longer perform that job. (“That’s my bad eye.”)

Modern science has, in many cases, removed the formal and the final causes from this equation. That might be understandable — knowing the final cause of non-manmade things involves some necessary assumptions — but it can also lead to pretty strange places. We might get there on Thursday.

History: Field trip! We went to Sapling Press and CLP-Main. We will debrief on Thursday – hope you had fun!

Siren: Essentially, no official class, as most of the staff was on the field trip. An FYI: the deadline for April (Fool’s) copy will be a week from Thursday.

Prompt: No official class. Notebooks will be checked, we’ll have a reading, and we’ll do an activity on Thursday.  

Survey: CNF: Today we listened to the humiliation of Mike Daisey. We did it to illustrate a couple of important points, one of which is the public’s perception of what a writer is, and does, and the other being the difficulties of being an activist (which Mike Daisey clearly is, and was) and an artist. One thing often drives the other thing, and the thing doing the driving usually isn’t the art.

I handed back the first essays. A very nice job overall, with these points to consider for next time:

  1. Dialogue is missing from most of these essays. That doesn’t break any laws, but the best essays allow us to hear people talking as part of moments.
  2. It is very, very difficult — at least at this early stage — to make an essay out of a single moment. CNF is comparative by its nature; we want to know whether something like the event you describe has happened before, and how it compares to related or similar moments. This is why we make moment trees: use them!
  3. A good writing tip, generally: pronoun clarity is really important. Imprecise pronouns lead to confusion. Who is “he” — your brother, or your father, both mentioned in the same graf? Does “them” refer to your group of friends, or to a single individual? (It really shouldn’t refer to the latter, political correctness be damned — really.)

Your sense of place essays are due on Thursday. On Friday, we will have a combined class with our guest speaker, Beth Cochran.

Survey: Screenwriting: I was not here, so you watched some Pixar shorts and had time – lots of it – to work on your screenplays, which are due on Thursday. I hope you used your time well… on Thursday, please make sure to print your work ahead of time at Mrs. Grafton’s station. The in-class printer is still out of commission.

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