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Tuesday, April 26

April 26, 2016

WWTWWT:  Today we talked about the responses to prompt #88. Total Lack of Recall. Takeaways: This whole identity problem is a result of the abandonment of Aristotle. Aristotle would have said that since the mind and body work together, a person’s identity is not solely determined by his thoughts/memories. If you lose your memory, for example, that doesn’t change the fact that physically, you are still the same person. (FWIW, a lot of people today would argue the same thing, whether they know Aristotle or not.) But since the mind-body question was re-opened during the Renaissance, it has made this dilemma a common one.

Then we talked about three of the four British empiricists of the 16th through the 18h centuries. We defined empiricism as the belief that sensory data is the best way to know the world.

The first was (Sir) Francis Bacon, the British scientist and philosopher, whose catchphrase was “Knowledge is power,” and who is credited with developing the scientific method we still use to conduct experiments.

With Bacon came a new era in philosophy. No longer was knowledge valuable just for its own sake, because it would make us virtuous to pursue it. Now knowledge was oriented to two ends: the prediction and control of the world around us.

This has obviously led to lots of lots of scientific discoveries that have made life longer and more pleasant. Whether we’re talking about preventative treatment of a serious medical condition or being able to forecast destructive weather patterns, prediction and control of our environment is something we now take for granted.

However, this focus on prediction and control of nature has had some other effects as well. It:

  1. reduced the importance of Aristotle’s formal and final causes. To predict and control nature, you only really need to know what something’s made of (material cause) and how it was made (efficient cause). You definitely don’t need to know the final cause of what you’re studying — since that would suggest that things in nature were created with a purpose, i.e., by a creator.
  2. made God, as suggested in the point above, less important. Man finally had the science and the technology to predict and control his environment. Knowledge was power — and with that power came less reliance on a Supreme Power.
  3. sometimes led to overconfidence, or hubris. Knowledge is power — except, of course, when it’s wrong.

Bacon was a scientist, and Nicolo Machiavelli, whom we talked about last week, was interested in politics. But both of them, if you think about it, were interested in the prediction and control of nature. For Bacon, it was capital-N Nature; for Machiavelli, it was human nature. In both cases, however, the focus was on man doing it for himself — and not worrying much about the consequences in the hereafter.

Then we talked about Hobbes and Locke, and the differences between them.

Here’s how we summarized these two British empiricists:

  1. Hobbes was such a strict empiricist that he was actually a materialist — that is, he thought that everything in the world was a physical substance, even thought. That’s one way to solve the mind-body problem; saying that they are essentially just the same thing. However, materialism also leads to a couple of inescapable conclusions:
  2. There’s really no room for God in this view.
  3. Free will becomes unlikely, when you insist that human beings are just “flesh-and-blood machines” who operate according to scientific laws.
  4. Hobbes believed that man in his natural state was pretty lousy, a guy who would stab you in the back to get what you had — unless we came up with a strong, perhaps even repressive, government to rule us. That’s the “Leviathan” of his famous book. Without such a government, he famously said, it would be “war of all against all.”

This is why we can describe Lord of the Flies as a book that is essentially Hobbesian in its outlook. Ralph’s “government” was weak because it didn’t account for man’s true, flawed nature. Jack’s “government” was effective (although tyrannical) because it did.

Hobbes, who lived through the English Civil War, saw plenty of chaos, and he saw what life under a dictatorship (Oliver Cromwell’s) would be like. He concluded that even though the latter is cruel and repressive, people still prefer it to anarchy because it (theoretically) keeps them safe. Chaos, he thought — “the war of all against all” — is the worst possible outcome, and people will do anything to avoid it.

  1. Locke, by contrast, believed that man is born capable of reason. And for this reason, he doesn’t need a powerful, repressive government to keep him in line. (That’s one reason his ideas were appealing to America’s Founding Fathers.)
  2. Locke also believed that everyone is born with the same blank slate (“tabula rasa”) mentally. (He shared this view with Aristotle, who also argued against innate knowledge.)
  3. And Locke believed that we can only know things from our own experience.
  4. For the reasons stated in #4 and #5, Locke was a big proponent of educating everyone. This was a revolutionary idea at a time when education was largely confined to the elites. It went right along with the Renaissance-era focus on man and how he could better himself. (That idea found its way to America, as well.)
  5. Locke was an empiricist, of course, because of his insistence that experience (which we could say comes from our senses) is the only true source of knowledge. He claimed that man has reason, of course, and can use it to develop new ideas — but according to Locke, without any sensory data, we have nothing to reason about.

That wraps up a very short summary of the ideas of two very famous British empiricists. For Thursday, please read the short section on George Berkeley, the fourth British (actually, Irish) empiricist on our list – his views were probably the weirdest of all.

After Berkeley, we’re going to take a look at some of the French/continental rationalists. Also for Thursday: please read the section on Rene Descartes, who is the most famous example of the latter.

Book History: Today those of you that were here did test prints and refined your blocks. I expect everyone to be done with the block (not the styrofoam, though) on Thursday. You will have a little more time in class to work.

Siren: Talked about how we’d cover Prince’s death (which happened right about the time we were touring The Beaver County Times last Thursday). Through a combination of social media (Twitter, first and foremost), wire service reports (from the Associated Press) and our own research and reporting (could we speak to someone from Pittsburgh who has a Prince connection? How about saxophonist Eric Leeds?), we came up with a game plan for coverage. Good job — that’s how to localize a national story.

Speaking of the BCT, here’s a link to the podcast Mr. Tady was talking about last week.

May stories are due Thursday by the end of the block. Let’s shoot for two apiece and try to use the extras for June. Team up with someone (probably one of the people interviewing multiple people) if you don’t have two pieces of your own.

Also: start thinking about your five best clips. I want to assemble these before the end of the year for every staff member.

Prompt: Notebooks were checked.  

Survey: Screenwriting (ALL): Today you continued to work on Screenwriting 4.26.16 – Story Dev Proj Part 3. It was collected at the end of the hour. Tomorrow you will be presenting your loglines; be ready. You can continue refining your loglines through class tomorrow, if you need to (so the loglines you present might be slightly different from those you handed in today).

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