Philosophy Forum Topic, August 28, 2009:

Open Thread

Say anything. (So long as it’s reasonably polite.)

Discuss my lecture.

Or, if you prefer, discuss the mystery of where ‘cool’ comes from: if it is only cool because the cool people love it, what causes the cool people to love it in the first place? (Are they better at noticing beauty? Or are they merely following some higher trend of cool-ness? Or is it all a trick so that fashion designers can earn more money? Defend your answer!)

Okay, this will not be a long, rambly response. Coolness is, of course, measured and defined contextually. I think what makes something cool is the novelty of it. That is why people are always so fascinated with technological gadgets, and the IPhone (and the likes) is so coveted for. We are constantly on the search for something new to fulfil us, to be the final answer to all our earthly desires. Hence our rabid craze to hop on the bandwagon and be in the inner circle.

Something could have been there all along, like 80’s fashion. It is now seeing a revival and pronounced as cool because top-notch designers like Frida Giannini from Gucci are leading the pack in a re-vamping of the 80’s trend. Who would have thought ripped band t-shirts, acid wash jeans and neon colours would ever see the light of day again? But now, they are the latest fashion and one would be considered fashion-forward for dressing up this way.

Coolness has always been inside of us. It is a state of mind that we can only hope to reach once we are comfortable in our own skins, corny as that might sound. However, I do feel that the trendsetters who declare something as cool are those who have attained that state of contentment and are able to push the boundaries of convention to try out new things. Therefore, they have the authority to say something is cool because to them, it just is, never mind what others think.

To apply Plato’s Theory of Forms, our attempts to be cool is just a feeble imitation of Coolness. We are not being cool because coolness is an ever-changing phenomenon. What makes something cool is exactly because it never stays stagnant, because it changes constantly. Therefore, to truly be cool, we should stick our heads out of the Cave and see for ourselves Coolness for what it really is.

~ Posted by: Joyce at Aug 28, 2009 10:40:40 PM

My goodness. And I promised it wouldn’t be a long, rambly post.

~ Posted by: Joyce at Aug 28, 2009 10:41:04 PM

I had my first tutorial today for PH1101E (Philosophy – Reason and Persuasion). And I must say, it’s quite – if you’ll pardon the cliche – an eye-opener. Or mind-opener, should I say.

It wasn’t the content that we went through. Liling (our tutor, who isn’t very much older than us, and is studying for her Masters in Ethical Philosophy now) didn’t try to explain what Euthyphro (one of Plato’s dialogues) was about because, duh, we’re expected to know that, apparently. What she did instead was teach us a logical method of thinking. Apparently, philosophy is sort of like the uncovering of basic assumptions of the things we think we know, but don’t actually quite know, until we finally know that we don’t know. And what Socrates does is establish people’s arguments, put them together in a logical, coherent trend, and then point out the fallacies or false premises of their arguments. Which is why they call him the gadfly of Athenian society, since that’s apparently what a gadfly does (and yes, I realise I’ve used the word ‘apparently’ thrice so far, but it’s the only word I know that conveys a tinge of sarcasm).

So we were presented with this argument in Euthyphro:

Premise 1: Nothing can be both holy and unholy. (So claimed Euthyphro.)
P2: What the gods love is holy (by the way, ‘holy’ here means unviolated and pure, not you know, the holy that we know); what the gods hate is unholy.
P3: In some cases, some gods may love holiness and some gods may hate holiness.
P4: Given P2 and P3, some things are both holy and unholy.
P5: P4 (which is supported by P2 and P3) contradicts P1. Therefore, either P1, P2, or P3 is false.
P6: Assuming P1 and P3 are true (following Euthyphro’s argument), P2 is false.

I know. It’s crazily logical. And for a completely illogical person like me, who therefore find it tough to follow a LOGICAL (the horror!) line of reasoning, it takes some getting used to. It also doesn’t help that my classmates are the LOGICAL sort and are able to hop on the trend of thought easily. Still, at least they’re nice, and we can all engage in a healthy, friendly discussion.

Hopefully, tomorrow’s NM1101E and EL1101E tutorials will be just as rewarding.

I just borrowed this book on Philosophy (The Everything Philosophy Book, by James Mannion) from the library yesterday (and jl, I didn’t see any Sarah Dessen on the shelves! Guess I’m not the only fan). Some of Plato’s ideas are starting to make sense to me now. Also, I read up about some other philosophers and their ideas.

One of those who appealed to me is Nietzsche, the most famous – or should I say infamous – German philosopher, who is also the most misunderstood. Most people think of a Nazi when they think of Nietzsche. But Nietzsche has never been an advocate of Nazism. It was his sister who was anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi, and who went about promoting her brother’s works, that people tend to associate Nietzsche’s ideas with Nazi propaganda. It also didn’t help that the Nazis seized Nietzsche’s principles and corrupted it, making it suit their quest for absolute power over the state.

You see, Nietzsche had this Superman principle: he believed that we are enslaved by the moralities that society and religion impose upon us, and that we should strive to break out of these confinements and achieve our greatest human potential, thereby rising above the ‘herd’ (as he called unwashed masses). He believed the Superman does not bow to the power of religion or other authority figures, or conform to the throng of humanity. The Superman makes his own ethical decisions based on his own morality, not one imposed by society and religion.

Nietzsche was advocating mastering yourself and achieving your personal potential without allowing yourself to be inhibited by a repressive society. However, the Nazis distorted his principle so as to gain absolute control over Germany. Thus the bad rep for Nietzsche.

Nietzsche’s most famous work is called Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which begins with a fable that sums up his views on the objective of the individual in society. In the fable, a camel morphs into a lion, the lion slays a dragon named ‘Thou Shalt’, and then the lion morphs into a child.

In youth, we are all camels (why camels and not giraffes or hippos, I don’t know). Born into blank slates, we have the weight of the world heaped upon us. We are ‘beasts of burden’, carrying all that society and religion have imposed on our innocent souls, preventing us from achieving our full potential and finding true contentment in our lives. In adulthood, we become lions and venture out into the world. The more crap we face from the diabolical forces of society and religion, the stronger we become. (It was, in fact, Nietzsche who uttered the famous aphorism: That which does not kill us makes us stronger.)

So then the lion is confronted by a dragon named ‘Thou Shalt’, which symbolises all the do’s and don’ts of society and religion that have stifled us in our lifetimes. The lion slays the dragon and is then transformed into an innocent, uncorrupted child. Paradoxically, this childlike state should be the goal of the fully matured adult who has survived the slings and arrows, remained broken but unbowed, and slayed the dragon to emerge the triumphant Superman.

That is Nietzsche’s philosophy in a nutshell. Which kind of makes sense.

Now, don’t start thinking I’m some kind of anarchist or irreverent Atheist (although I do reject the idea of a higher power – but I shall leave it at that, since the topic of religion makes me uneasy). I just think that what Nietzsche said about mastering yourself and not conforming to the ideas imposed upon you so as to achieve your highest potential makes complete sense. His philosophy is one that encourages seizing life by the reins with gusto and being all that you can be.

The problem is, some Nietzsche-philes misinterpret his idea. They think that since Nietzsche said other people may get hurt along the way as you exert your will to power, and you may get hurt by another’s rampaging will, but hey, that’s life, that they are justified in tyrannical means to emerge as the victorious and the powerful. That’s why many people think Nietzsche’s a trouble-maker for coming up with those ideas of his.

I say, you fear what you don’t know.

I’ve just found a new way to SEE my modules. That is, I’ve just found a way to interlink what I’m learning in a few of my modules, so that they complement each other’s arguments.

For instance, in Cultural Studies, we’re learning about the symbolic significance of objects. What is significant about comic books? Their plot. The lessons they claim to impart, the notions they say they purport, despite being criticised for corrupting the youth with their repetitive narrative and stereotypes. Comic books are a medium through which we are told how to behave as social animals. We are taught moral lessons (eg. With great power comes great responsibility) and, in commercial fiction, are led to believe in the ‘norms’ of social custom (eg. a woman needs a man to complete her). We are told what to expect, what to believe, what is right and generally accepted – to the extent that we don’t see anything wrong with that anymore. And that is when the impact of pop culture is most keenly felt.

Which brings us to pop culture, and its pervasiveness. And why are we so susceptible to all these messages? Because of the media. Of course it’s because of the media. It’s become the scapegoat for everything, hasn’t it? Nonetheless, it is still the barrier between us and reality (or whatever reality is, since it is nothing but an imitation of all true Forms, according to Plato). Our perception of reality and society has been distorted even more so now because of how the media has become so easily accessible to us. Because of the gamut of entertainment sources (eg. TV, film, music, literature, etc), we have allowed the cultural zeigeist to take over and cast shadows over our eyes. Are reality TV shows really a reflection – or even a depiction – of reality? What is reality? Isn’t it just one person’s view of the world against another’s? How could you tell what is the absolute reality, anyway, since we invariably go through the same experiences in a different way? Could we all possibly see the same reality? Are we all just seeing shadows on the Cave wall? Are we really to conform to the dictates of the media? Which version of the Truth is right?

So. In the teachings of Plato, we are to cast off our shackles and see the Light. Let us not be deceived by the shadows in the Cave that we think is reality; instead, see the fire that casts those shadows.

Well. That’s what I make of it. I’ve managed to draw a debatable connection amongst four of the five modules I’m taking. The only module I can’t find a link with the others is my Nature of Language module (duh).

And please don’t think I’m actually that impassioned about casting off my shackles and see the Light. I’m happy listening to my American Top 40 and reading my commercial lit, thank you very much. All I was doing was string everything up so that it makes a modicum of sense to me. I can stay in that Cave, for all I care.

Obviously, university education hasn’t done much good for me so far. I’m still a passive little conformist. But really, why wait for rain when there are no clouds, right? Well, not much, anyway.