A Philosopher's Blog

Peasent Education

Posted in Philosophy, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on November 1, 2011
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During a recent conversation with a history professor friend of mine the subject of peasant education arose. My friend noted that the current education system seems to have the same basic goal as the peasant education system that arose in Europe. Leaving out some of his nuances, the goal of the peasant education was to train them to be literate and give them the skills needed to operate in the changing economy of the time. This education explicitly avoided teaching them to think for themselves. After all, while competent workers were needed people who might question the established order were certainly not desirable.

Fast forward to today and it certainly seems that certain politicians are working to create this sort of education system (and my friend contends that for most Americans the peasant education has long been here). While the education system has long been a favorite target, recent years has seen a major step up in attacks on education. Education budgets have been cut,  standardized tests have been imposed, educators have been vilified and even higher education is being micro-managed (ironically by the very Republicans who purport to be for small government and freedom). In Florida, Governor Rick Scott recently  said

“If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs,” Scott said. “So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”

He has followed up on this by sending a rather long list of questions to the state universities. These questions tend to focus on matters such as whether or not the universities are meeting the needs of employers and other job related matters.

This, one might suspect, seems to indicate a desire to push a peasant education. That is, to shape higher education so that its primary purpose is to create workers crafted to meet the needs of employers. While there is an emphasis on critical thinking and writing proficiency (after all, as my friend noted, the peasants need to be literate), these also seem to be matters relating to being fit employees rather than a concern for educating people to think for themselves (which has been a hallmark of the liberal education).

It is interesting that the fields that are typically the most subject to attack tend tend to be those that emphasize original thinking and questioning. For example, philosophy has long been bashed as being “impractical” and “useless.” Coincidentally, philosophy is focused on original thinking, questioning dogma and inquiring into matters deeply. Folks who learn too much philosophy (such as Locke, Socrates, King, Wollstonecraft and Jefferson) are often not content to go along with the status quo and have a tendency to be rather concerned about such things as ethics and justice. As another example, science has often come under attack, at least when scientists deal with matters that certain folks regard as unsettling (such as climate change, vaccines and evolution). Of course, I am sure it is just a coincidence that the fields of inquiry that are most concerned with big questions and profound inquiries tend to be the target of charges of being useless and impractical.

It might be objected that I am being rather foolish. After all, the true purpose of a university education is to be trained for a job and Governor Scott is sincerely trying to do what is best for the students and the people of Florida (including the “job creators”).

This objection does have some teeth. After all, most students are, in fact, in school to get the piece of paper that will enable them to get a decent job. By channeling resources into degrees that are mostly likely to lead to jobs and putting a greater emphasis on creating students crafted to fit into jobs these students will have a better chance of being employed (assuming that companies ever get around to doing more hiring).

It could also be said that my perception of the purpose of education is distorted by the fact that I am a philosopher and I have been influenced by troublemakers like Socrates and Locke. If I were a more practical sort of person I would see that true education, at least for the working class people who attend state schools, lies in being properly trained to meet the needs of potential employers.  The other sort of education is, of course, best reserved for the betters of society-those who attend Yale and Harvard (or their lesser cousins).





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  1. WTP said, on November 1, 2011 at 6:16 am

    William McGurn, WSJ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204394804577010080547122646.html

    Alas, much of the debate over the value of a college degree breaks down one of two ways. Either people pit the liberal arts against the sciences—”Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” asks Florida Gov. Rick Scott—or they plump for degrees that are thought to be more practical (e.g., business). Both are probably mistakes.

    If the young people now entering our work force are going to change jobs as often as we think, the key to getting ahead will not be having one particular skill but having the ability to learn new skills. In this regard, the problem is not so much the liberal arts as the fluff that too often passes for it. In other words, though Gov. Scott is right to demand better measures of what Florida citizens are getting for their tax dollars, he’d probably be better off focusing on excellence and transparency than on suggesting specific courses of study.

    As for the “practical” majors, New York University’s Richard Arum and the University of Virginia’s Josipa Roksa tell us they might not be as useful as once thought. In a recent work called “Academically Adrift,” these authors tracked the progress of more than 2,300 undergraduates at two dozen U.S. universities. They found that more than a third of seniors leave campus having shown no improvement in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, or written communications over four years. Worse, the majors and programs often thought most practical—education, business and communications—prove to be the least productive.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2011 at 6:51 am

    The big divide, as I see it, is numeracy. People who are innumerate frighten me, because they simply don’t have an adequate grasp of numbers like $14 Trillion in federal debt, or $100 Trillion in unfunded public pension liabilities.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Again, the root of the problem is government meddling:

    The problem is, “college” isn’t an undifferentiated product. Companies can’t hire enough mechanical engineers, but there’s no bidding war for majors in Fine Arts or Women’s Studies, degrees that cost just as much, but deliver a lot less in terms of employment. In an economically rational market, it would be harder to borrow money to finance fields of study that were unlikely to produce enough income to pay back the loans. But since the federal government subsidizes everything — and makes student loans un-dischargeable in bankruptcy — there’s no incentive for lenders to care, and even less incentive for colleges and universities to care. They get their money up front, after all — just like the people who wrote the subprime loans that fueled the housing crisis.

    Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/screw_CKEwwrXk088RBqt3yMU8fK#ixzz1cSkKhpEg

    • Wtp said, on November 1, 2011 at 10:39 am

      He can’t see the forest because he is one of the trees. And trees is blind.

  4. T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Mike, you make some good points, but I am always surprised by your inability to see the other side’s point of view.

    Let’s say you run LaBossiere and Sons plumbing. [1] You have never been to college, your sons have never been to college, and it is likely their sons will not go to college.

    So–the question is–why should the government take money from you and use it to subsidize an upper middle class kid to study art history for 4 years at State U.? It is fine if the kid wants to do it, but why should you, Mike the plumber, have to pay for it?

    [1] This does not imply you are stupid, however. Far from it. In your spare time you read Plato and write books about critical thinking and fallacies. You, like Socrates, Spinoza, and many other great philosophers, have eschewed the academy for a more authentic experience of life.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 1, 2011 at 4:21 pm

      My anecdotal reply is this: my grandparents did not go to college. My grandfather and grandmother on my dad’s side had to leave school before high school to work because their families were so poor, etc. But my dad and mother were able to go to college, in part with help from the state (that is, everyone). They went on to become school teachers and educated people in return (including people who became plumbers). They also paid back, in taxes, what they had received from the state many times over-thus making it a good investment. I, with the help of state money, got a college degree and became a professor. I have paid back the support I received many times over in taxes and I also educate people who in turn get jobs and pay taxes. People I went to college with and who had state support became doctors, lawyers, business people and so on. These people will end up treating a plumber or his daughter for cancer, hiring the plumber to put in the plumbing in their business, represent the plumber in court, and so on. In short, the plumber gets back a lot from this-unless, of course, you think a plumber can do just fine in a society without all the people who could only afford college with the help of the community.

      More generally, the point you make could be applied to any government spending a person might not like. For example, vegetarians probably chafe at the idea that their tax dollars help subsidize meat, people who are against war probably are not happy that their tax dollars end up funding part of the war machine, people who loath specific politicians are probably pissed that some of their tax dollars might end up paying their salaries, and so on.

      I do find the idea of making the state work like a service bill appealing: you just pay for what you use and what benefits you. This could be done by setting up a web based government: when I pay my taxes I get to assign every dollar to specific programs (after paying for what I use and benefit from, of course).

      • WTP said, on November 1, 2011 at 10:40 pm

        Notice, no math was run in the justifications referenced in this post. If just one person benefits from a policy, well that justifies the policy in its entirety. Mike, this is just fantasy. You pretend, or more accurately, ignore the art history majors, the sociologists, the psychologists, who spend, or more accurately taxpayers spend, millions of dollars on degrees that do not enable them to become productive members of society to the degree that justifies the expense. This is an economic issue.

        I have posted numerous economic questions which you either choose not to address or which you weasel out of by redefining the meaning of words easily understood, in context, by most educated people. You are not capable of understanding the macro nor micro economics of the education issue in play here.

        As for “making the state work like a service bill”, why not just pay the money directly to the entities involved and eliminate the middle man? It’s a rhetorical question, yet I don’t think I’ve ever posed one of these to someone who is not capable of understanding it. Interesting…

        • Ben said, on November 2, 2011 at 9:57 am

          WTP, you claim that the State financing people’s psychology degrees does not ‘enable them to become productive members of society to the degree that justifies the expense.’ I couldn’t disagree more. Mental illness affects a very large number of people worldwide. In Australia (where I’m from) it ranks highly on the national health priority list, alongside cardiovascular disease and diabetes. According to WHO, mental illnesses are massive contributors to the global burden of disease. The economic costs of these illnesses runs into the billions. If ‘this is an economic issue’, as you say, then even from that perspective you are compelled to recant your earlier claim that these degrees do not enable people to become ‘productive members of society’.

          Of course, there is an issue with the very notion of being ‘productive’. If being productive is defined by the act of adding value then that can not always be quantified in monetary terms. A lot of value that is added to society simply cannot be counted for in dollar terms.

          • magus71 said, on November 2, 2011 at 10:51 am

            Of course there’s the damning evidence that psychologists actually make things worse. You don’t show that psychologists actually mitigate any of the problems you list. My own hypthesis is that they (therapists) make things worse through a process called Rumination. Google it, or perhaps you’re familiar.

            Also, some evidence shows that the serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Zoloft etc) being prescribed in large quantities are no more effective than placebo and can increase the chances of suicide. In fact, many times the only noticeable effect of the drug that scientists know the placebo doesn’t have is the negative side effect of Zoloft et al.

            Of course, we should continue to study human psychology, but to make the argument that pschology as it stands now is doing great good is false. It’s my opinion that Sigmund Freud did more to confuse the understanding of human beings than anyone in the last 500 years.

            • Ben said, on November 2, 2011 at 11:11 am

              That only suggests that we should continue to improve our understanding so that we are in a better position to mitigate those problems. Medication may form part of the treatment for mental illness, but there is evidence to suggest that CBT (either in combination or on its own) can also be effective. For some developmental disorders, ABA is of greater value. Psychoanalysis is, as far as I am aware, not used that often in clinical contexts. Determining which drugs are useful in treating mental illness, and their effects on cognition and behaviour, is a current area of research in psychology. So, with regard to WTP’s initial point, it would seem that there is indeed some productive work going on (at least enough to ameliorate his concern that people who pursue these degrees are not becoming productive members of society).

            • WTP said, on November 2, 2011 at 11:48 am

              Well, Ben, I couldn’t disagree with you more. In addition to what Magus says, considerable harm has been done by psychologists looking for justification for their existence. In fact, I would argue that the most significant reason many people go into psychology is that they already have a screw loose in themselves that they need to fix.

              How much damage to productivity and general well being, not to mention damage to mental health, has been done by various shrinkologists by the Multiple Personality Disorder fantasy that was created by “Sybil’s” shrink? Or the recovered memory Rorschach idiocy? Or on a personal level, the Octomom. Of course, I could go on and on. Just don’t have the time.

              Much like economics, the field of psychology suffers significantly from not knowing the limitations of what it really knows and by what is even ultimately knowable. Your post here is a fine example.

            • WTP said, on November 2, 2011 at 11:50 am

              Oh, and I meant to add, A lot of value that is detracted from society simply cannot be counted for in dollar terms. You have your intangibles, I have mine.

            • magus71 said, on November 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm

              Psychology is also a self-licking ice cream cone. It must tell people there is a problem that needs the attention of a professional, because it generates business. Most of life is learning to take the good with the bad and not expect too much from the world. A very, very small percentage of people that see therapists are diagnosed with anything but the most inane illnesses.

              Depression, for most people, is a natural response to a chronically bad situation. I honestly think one of the worst things people can do to themselves is go over and over all the bad things that have happened to them. The best thing to do is just start moving and keeping busy and things heal on their own. But there’s little market in that.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm

              I think psychology can do some good, but our current understanding and methodologies seem to be roughly on par with shamanism. To be fair, the mind is vastly more complex than, for example, the heart or the colon.

            • magus71 said, on November 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm


              I have heard psychology labeled as a modern version of ancient astrology. I think it was Ralph Peters that wrote that.

            • WTP said, on November 2, 2011 at 2:15 pm

              Magus, For the most part, I agree. I do feel, however, that talk therapy has tremendous value to individuals who have the sufficient amount of individuality to resist the attempts by the therapist to take control. Sometimes talking things out with a (supposedly) intelligent being can prove to be very helpful. Along these lines, those with a deep faith and/or belief in God are able to achieve this on their own through prayer and such. This is especially true, I think, with people who are more introverted.

              The main problem with the vast majority of shrinks is the problems that they themselves have which they try to work out through their patients. They just can’t help themselves from getting in the way of people helping themselves.

            • magus71 said, on November 2, 2011 at 2:20 pm

              WTP, good points. Talking is important but i think a talk over a cold beer with some buddies will do more than most professional meetings.

            • dhammett said, on November 2, 2011 at 2:22 pm

              magus: This is my opinion:

              “The best thing to do is just start moving and keeping busy and things heal on their own.” No. Things don’t heal on their own. ^A few/ some/many^ things heal on their own” What’s that condition some/many/few soldiers bring back from Iraq and Afghanistan? Post-traumatic stress syndrome is it? (see Frontline-“Wounded Platoon”) Those guys should just suck it up and everything would be fine. . . Go to the military hospitals and bases and preach that message. But don’t use any psychological techniques. You’ll probably be successful with some but not all. Are the ones you can’t get through to with your “just start moving and keeping busy and things heal on their own” message just a bunch of malingering pansies?

              It sounds easy-peezy to say just move and keep busy and don’t take all those drugs–just “suck it up”–until you’re the one with the leaky aortic valve, or the epileptic seizures, or some creeping cancer, or some psychological condition that doesn’t just heal on its own.

              “Of course, we should continue to study human psychology, but to make the argument that pschology as it stands now is doing great good is false”. Of course we should. A more empathetic view would be to look at it from the point of view of the person who has been successfully treated. But forget that—it would seem the empathy ship has sailed here. So what if psychology salvages the wreckage of one returned soldier’s life (and by association the lives of his mother, father, wife, and children? Is that enough? 50 returned soldiers? 2000 normal citizens? What would it take to prove to you that it’s doing “great good”?

              If one Googles “rumination” one will find that there are two basic kinds–in simple terms, destructive and healthy. Does your hypothesis address one or both of these types of rumination? Would a legitimate therapist encourage unhealthy rumination? And, perhaps of more interest to someone in the military, were some/many/all/most/no military personnel who suffer from PTSD actually habitual ruminators long before they were blown apart in the war?Perhaps we could save a lot of money, if we’d screen out such ruminators before allowing them to wear the uniform.
              “It’s my opinion that Sigmund Freud did more to confuse the understanding of human beings than anyone in the last 500 years.” I’d like to read the thinking behind that opinion. But,to your great credit, you used the clause “It’s my opinion” there. I’d suggest you move that clause to the beginning of your piece. Even better, in my opinion, change the wording to “My opinion is as follows:” That way you wouldn’t need the occasional “my own hypothesis” etc. later.

            • dhammett said, on November 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm


              I take it you’ve observed or visited with or been is sessions with a “vast majority of shrinks” or you’ve read definitive research that has led you down the road to the conclusion that ” they themselves have [problems] which they try to work out through their patients. They just can’t help themselves from getting in the way of people helping themselves.” I’ll give you the fact that everyone has problems (even ‘shrinks’ and people who think they know everything). I just don’t buy the “vast majority” stuff.

              It looks real nice on the computer screen, but I’d sure like to see the proof.

            • Ben said, on November 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm

              WTP and magus71, it is worthwhile to note that most of the criticisms you have here raised have been raised by psychologists themselves. Once again, that only suggests that we should continue to improve our understanding so that we are in a better position to mitigate those problems, not that we should stop seeking an understanding altogether. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. As to the claim that ‘Depression, for most people, is a natural response to a chronically bad situation.’ Psychologists don’t deny that at all. The DSM-IV criteria for depression explicitly seeks to exclude cases where depression is ‘normal’ and not clinically significant. Contrary to WTP, psychology does attempt to identify its limitations – papers published in the field usually devote time to discussing any potential limitations encountered during the course of a study and suggestions for how future research may overcome those limitations. As to the claim that psychology is a modern version of ancient astrology… in my experience this charge comes mostly from those who have never seriously studied psychology or who are under the (false) impression that psychoanalysis is equivalent to the entire discipline of psychology.

            • WTP said, on November 2, 2011 at 10:30 pm

              So we should trust psychologists, since they know so much about psychology, to be the true arbiters of what may or may not be wrong with psychology. “most of the criticisms you have here raised have been raised by psychologists themselves”. Really? Most? Well I feel all better now. I’d be willing to bet these criticisms were raised by others (victims?) before they were raised by shrinks, but I’m biased unlike the shrink community which I’m sure has the capacity to resist and even overcome such biases and reason in a more objective manner. As this takes effort and training (as well as the will to want to think critically) it is not very common for commoners to try to overcome these biases.

              But we can trust them shrinks. Because they’re the good people. Just like the church.

              I believe philosophers feel the same way.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2011 at 2:07 pm

              Philosophers who are doing philosophy right can be trusted, at least in the sense that they present their actual arguments for examination and are open to criticisms and differences of opinion. In a sense, you don’t really even need to trust them-after all, you can look at the arguments yourself rather than simply being told what is supposed to be true.

            • Ben said, on November 2, 2011 at 11:02 pm

              My point, WTP, was that psychology is capable of self-criticism. And better yet, informed self-criticism (unlike the criticism you are here presenting). If you are willing to bet that most of the criticisms were raised by others, victims even, then perhaps you should consider an approach that is more rigorous than idle speculation. That way at least your bet could be taken seriously enough for it to constitute informed criticism.

            • magus71 said, on November 3, 2011 at 12:55 am


              “WTP and magus71, it is worthwhile to note that most of the criticisms you have here raised have been raised by psychologists themselves.”

              I agree, but it seems a minority, like the global warming deniers, whom I also agree with. Science is on no side; one’s hypothesis is either correct or it is not.

            • Ben said, on November 3, 2011 at 1:16 am

              A minority? With respect to which particular issue in psychology are critics in the minority? Most of the tools needed for an informed criticism of psychological theories are within the field itself.

            • magus71 said, on November 3, 2011 at 2:30 am

              Then why record sales of SSRI’s?

              Studies show virtually no difference in improvement after two years between those who received therapy and those who didn’t was negligible. Eysenck, Hans (1952). The Effects of Psychotherapy: An Evaluation. Journal of Consulting Psychology. pp. 16: 319–324.

              Also, it seems it may be the mere passage of time that heals people, not the therapy itself. http://www.antipsychiatry.org/br-thdel.htm

              Yes, psychiatrists in many cases have been the ones to voice these concerns. So now it seems that one of psychology’s primary contributions to the world is declaring: ” The stuff we do doesn’t work.” And if the argument that started this line still carries any weight, that is not very good evidence that psychiatry has done more good than other degrees that get purchased via third party money (ie taxes).

            • WTP said, on November 3, 2011 at 7:09 am

              Ben, it wouldn’t matter. Much like the host here, evidence is of no interest to true believers such as yourself. What standards would we use to measure? What kind of experiment could be done to come to an objective conclusion? Either way, such discussion declines into silly semantic arguments. Been there, done that.

              However, here is a prime example of the danger of shrinkology. As a man from Oz with an interest in these subjects, perhaps you are familiar with the case of Casey Haynes and one Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg? This senseless approach to conflict which members of the shrink profession have perpetuated across most of the Western world has caused immeasurable suffering by children, for many leading to maladjusted adulthood and further violence. All due to the obviously flawed edict that all fighting is wrong, it doesn’t matter who started it, yadda-yadda-yadda. In spite of the obvious common-sense response being far more effective. Ben, can you measure the harm that this policy has done? How? Where would you start? Though it won’t surprise me if you are with Dr. Carr-Gregg here. Because you’re the good people.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm

              Anti-depressants are a serious money maker and there have been arguments to the effect that they are over-prescribed due to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. This is, of course, an empirical matter and subject to investigation.

              That said, there are medications that do seem to work. Anecdotally, I have witnessed people on and off their prescribed medications and they do seem to make a difference. However, I would contend that Americans are over-medicated and most folks would be better off focusing on lifestyle changes (exercise more, get enough sleep, eat a proper diet, focus on making life better, watch less TV, and so on) instead of seeking medication. The folks that do have serious neurological problems do, of course, need much more.

            • Ben said, on November 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm

              On the contrary WTP, I am very interested in evidence-based approaches to treating mental illness. It is because of the evidence (or there lack of) that psychiatric nosology has moved away from the psychoanalytic approach. It is because of evidence showing that SSRIs work that researchers are trying to figure out how they work, and more curiously, why it takes weeks for them to have any effect despite reaching the synapses much earlier than that. Of course you could make the case that there is ‘over-medication’, and that they are being prescribed for even the most trivial of things (e.g. ‘had a bad day? Have a Prozac.’) But why would that be the fault of psychology per se? (especially considering that psychologists – at least here in Australia – cannot prescribe drugs to their patients). As scientsits we can admit that our understanding of ‘what works’ in treating mental illness is far from perfect, but we can also say with confidence that it is well-developed and continues to increase in sophistication. Perhaps that doesn’t satisfy you. You may expect ONE treatment that ‘just works’. But that is niave. No single treatment is perfect for every kind of mental disorder.

        • Ben said, on November 3, 2011 at 7:38 am

          The Eysenck paper you cited is over fifty years old. It was published around the time of DSM-I (we are almost up to DSM-V). The psychotherapies Eysenck reviews fall into one of two categories: psychoanalytic or ‘eclectic’. What exactly constitutes ‘eclectic’ isn’t defined. The category ‘neurotic disorder’ doesn’t exist anymore. Due to the age of the paper, it is probably safe to say that it doesn’t even consider CBT or modern pharmacotherapy or any other therapy that has been developed and refined in the fifty+ years since that paper’s publication. However, even if we accepted the conclusion of the paper on face value, it would only suggest that further investigation is still necessary, not that investigation should stop. I doubt Eysenck would have suggested, on the basis of his review, that research into the clinical applicability and utility of therapy is a waste of time. (Incidentally, a critique of the paper was published two years later in the British Journal of Psychology.)

          In your last paragraph you also seem to confuse psychiatrists with psychologists.

  5. T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Penn Jillette puts the finger on the real problem with liberalism (and with social conservatism, too): “My whole take on libertarianism is that I don’t know what’s best for other people.” 5 star video BTW.

    • magus71 said, on November 2, 2011 at 2:05 am

      David Berlinksi is not a Christian; he’s a secular jew.

      My primary problem with many atheists is that their belief system–just like religion–seems to be a psychological prophylactic as much as anything. And many throw out the ridiculous “God or science” dilemma.

      People believe in all kinds of things they have almost no understanding of and have never seen. Empiricism hardly exists. I have never seen a quasar. I have never seen a black hole. I do not believe in God merely because someone told me God exists ( as I do black holes and quasars; I have no logical model that leads me to believe they exist–only the words of experts), I believe because that is the logical conclusion conclusion I’ve drawn–and the scientific community is deceitful. I know this. I’ve studied several issues in science where it is apparent scientists are fluffing it; they don’t know the answers or the answers don’t fit their previous beliefs and smooth over things knowing that 99% of people don’t know the right questions to ask. David Berlinski knows the right questions.

  6. dhammett said, on November 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    I’m a human being. I am not, at this time, privy to all the knowledge of this universe and anything or everything that may exist beyond. Thus I declare myself an agnostic as I understand that term. If I would take up a belief in God or any other god(s) I would immediately remove myself from under the umbrella of “agnosticism” and find myself among the theists in the realm of pure ^belief^ based on something beyond human understanding. Equally, if I would flatly deny the existence of God or gods, I would again remove myself from the category “agnosticism” and find myself lumped amongst the atheists who ^believe^ with a certainty that no God or gods exist. Of the three positions, theism, agnosticism, and atheism, I’m convinced that agnosticism is the most reasoned position.

    Jillette labels himself a “light atheist”. He says he doesn’t “harbor any possibility of there being a God”. He avers “There never was a God”? He later says he’s open to the possibility that something will happen to convince [him] of God’s existence, but that that will happen is “very, very unlikely”. *# . He sounds more like a “light agnostic” to me. If you have the balls to be an atheist, the gonads to assume that you know everything and are willing to sacrifice everything on that assumption, then go the atheism route. Agnostics keep asking questions. They must wait for someone to provide satisfactory answers. And they have to be able to distinguish between what a genuinely questing human being thinks from ideas provided by someone who’s looking for any excuse to jump one way or the other on the issue.

    I got stuck for a sec. on the 17 year old mathematical genius. Let’s make her 18. She has all kinds of scholarships– but let’s say ,in a different scenario, she gets knocked up–only it’s not by her own choosing. Jillette and I agree. No one should tell her what to do. Does the government have any role in preventing anyone else from telling her what ^not^ to do?

    1/ Yes, the right-wing, without God, would be in a better position. Lest right-wingers think that makes them #1 in his book, he doesn’t go with the idea that “the free market is magic and if we left it alone everyone would better. . .” And he disagrees with Beck “on almost everything”. That’s gotta be good.

    2/ I don’t basically think all people are by any means ‘good’ . Some of those commandments he speaks of are there for a reason. The Seven Deadly Sins. . .They’re recognition of man’s weaknesses. There really are quite a few “assholes” out there. I’m always reminded of a cartoon —“Proctologist’s Nightmare”. A proctologist sits up in a sweat in the middle of the night, apparently scared awake by a nightmare of a world where he’d run out of clients. His wife, sitting beside him on their bed, pats his shoulder and coos “Don’t worry dear. There’ll always be enough assholes” . Fortunately there are many more good people. The assholes have to be controlled; the good people deserve protection from the assholes. Jillette says “I do not expect the worst from people. . .” Nor do I. But I’m realistic enough to know that there are bad, bad people in every sector of society , and that it’s in my best interest to be aware of that fact. It’s also in my best interest to have a government that does its damndest to prevent the bad– rich, middle-class, and poor– from harming the good.

    3/ “not taking anything from the government, not giving anything to the government, and doing nothing wrong”
    Way too bumper-stickerish. Way too Utopian. And it’s a prime reason why we wouldn’t want a magician running our government. This is an example of where political parties, special-interest groups, terror-cells and the like function and, too often succeed. Those who swallow it whole such platitudes whole, are way too malleable. They’re in no way legitimately independent. And given the worst circumstances, they can be downright dangerous.

    *#That sounds a little more like “cynicism lite” than skepticism .It’s not very open-minded. . .

    • T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2011 at 10:49 pm

      “I’m a human being.”

      I’m glad that issue is cleared up 🙂

      “Thus I declare myself an agnostic as I understand that term.”

      Agnosticism is a cop out. Are you agnostic about unicorns as well? That the moon is made of green cheese? Why this one issue?

      • dhammett said, on November 2, 2011 at 8:36 am

        Phrases like “Cop out” and “Fence sitting” aren’t arguments. They have nothing to do with common sense. They’re , they’re . . .

        Read my post. I don’t give a damn about unicorns. What I know of them and green cheese would indicate their existence or non-existence has nothing to do with matters of a “human soul” or an “afterlife” or a “belief system” for that matter. Same goes for the “black holes” and “quasars” Berlinski refers to.. If, at some point, someone can make a sensible link between those things and “matters of the soul”, then the mere mention of them in a discussion of God or gods and belief might be of some relevance.

        I didn’t waste time on the Berlinski interview—-I just don’t want to get into a Dr. Ellis-type discussion on religion. Ellis on beer was bad enough. Suffice it to say, my logical conclusion is that there is no definitive answer one way or another. You can sit on either side of that fence you want to. Sit comfortably. Go with grace.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm

        Agnosticism is a a fairly rational position when it comes to God. After all, there are some rather good arguments for the existence of such a being (Descartes, Aquinas, Anselm and Leibniz come up with some rather good ones) in addition to some very good arguments against such a being. Also, as Kant argued, God’s existence (or non-existence) could be beyond our epistemic capabilities-thus leaving rational agnosticism as a viable view.

        In the case of unicorns and a cheese moon, the evidence is rather conclusive (unicorns became extinct because they smoked too much-they put too much faith in their magic horns).

        • T. J. Babson said, on November 3, 2011 at 6:20 pm

          Mike, why is it rational to be agnostic about one supernatural being rather than another?

          • dhammett said, on November 3, 2011 at 8:40 pm

            Mainly, I can say I’ve never seen a God or gods. I can say that I’ve never seen proof that there is no such thing as a god or Gods. I’m willing to bet that you are in the same position. Chances are the same holds true on your “experiences” with unicorns and moons made of green cheese. So what position makes more sense?
            Make you a deal. When I see a real unicorn, I’ll believe they exist. Same goes for proof that the moon is made of green cheese. Until that time, however, I’ll still have to admit there’s not conclusive proof that they don’t exist (a condition that applies to many things, by the way). So I’ll “sit the fence”. It’s hard on the crotch, but it’s sensible. . . . 🙂

            • T. J. Babson said, on November 4, 2011 at 7:44 am

              dhammett, you are aware, of course, that Buddhists are athesists (or at least non-theists).

              How would your behavior change if tomorrow you woke up and decided you were, after all, an atheist? I’ll bet it would not change your behavior at all.

            • dhammett said, on November 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm

              Strange. Would I wake up and find I’m not an atheist?

              How exactly would the reasoning powers necessary to assess the information necessary to make such a decision function while I’m asleep?

            • magus71 said, on November 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm

              TJ’s making the point that there’s virtually no difference in the mindset or actions of an atheist compared to an agnostic. I agree with that.

              On the other hand, TJ, my behavior changed significantly after I went from becoming a Christian.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2011 at 12:01 pm

              Behavior is sometimes affected by avowed principles, but it is out actions that show our true principles. Some of the best people I have known have been people of faith-but so have some of the worst. The same for the atheists I have known.

            • dhammett said, on November 4, 2011 at 3:24 pm

              Here’s part of an article that might help me clarify my position on this:


              “In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves there is a God, whereas an atheist disbelieves there is a God. In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view THAT HUMAN REASON IS INCAPABLE OF PROVIDING SUFFICIENT RATIONAL GROUNDS to justify knowledge whether God exists or does not. Within agnosticism there are agnostic atheists (who do not believe any deity exists, but do not deny it as a possibility) and agnostic theists (who believe a God exists but do not claim to know that).”

              I believe I’m clearly an agnostic in “the strict sense” .of the second sentence in the previous paragraph
              “Suffice it to say, MY LOGICAL CONCLUSION IS THAT THERE IS NO DEFINITIVE ANSWER one way or another. You can sit on either side of that fence you want to. Sit comfortably. Go with grace.”

              I would hope that that statement in the context of my other statements would make it clear that, if at some point FACTS on the grounds change, I would happily change my mind. I didn’t introduce unicorns and green cheese into this mini-discussion, TJ did. In fact, I tried to get him back to ” matters of a ‘human soul’ or an ‘afterlife’ or a ‘belief system’.” Let me add that in that context I currently see no reason to have any concern about “supernatural beings” other than the One (ones) that became the center of discussion when TJ put up his Jillette interview–the sweeping discussion of atheism, liberianism, liberalsm, etc.

              I would like to add at least one more category of agnostics to those offered in the Wiki article. That category would consist of anyone else who does NOT fall into the following two very clear categories: 1// the true theist (true believer, if you will) who will not accept anything but his “belief” no matter the nature of the proof offered and those hard core atheists who do not believe any deity exists and will never be convinced otherwise even if faced by the one, true, living, God in all His might and glory. #*

              #* This would force the professed theist or the professed atheist to make an absolute, irreversible choice and stand behind his convictions, because, in reality, it seems to me, it’s those two groups who are the real “fence- sitters”— oops!-labeling — if they cannot make such commitments. Jillette, for example, couldn’t waffle and call himself a light atheist. He would be a real atheist. Period. And lthey could eave those of us who are true agnostics—a truly very, very large group I would imagine—, to use meaningful terms like theist and atheist on those who are willing to bear them.

          • T. J. Babson said, on November 4, 2011 at 7:36 am

            OK, at least you are consistent. I go by the maxim “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” So when I hear ghost stories, or people who claim to have spoken with the dead, I require “extraordinary proof” before I will believe those claims.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 4, 2011 at 10:51 am

            Yes. For example, I’m not agnostic about made up gods like the ones I make up for my D&D campaigns. I’m a total atheist about them. 🙂

  7. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 1, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    “[C]ertain politicians are working to create this sort of education system”? A conspiracy professor?

    See: http://sites.google.com/site/wpfreund2/BaitShop.jpg

  8. Peasant Education - Christian Forums said, on November 2, 2011 at 9:28 am

    […] and profound inquiries tend to be the target of charges of being useless and impractical. From A Philosopher's Blog. __________________ "When you cloak a poisonous and potentially dangerous idea with […]

  9. magus71 said, on November 2, 2011 at 1:01 pm


    Do you realize how few people truly want to think for themselves?

    The results of education are primarily culturally driven (peer pressure). American schools have plenty of money compared to most other countries that perform better in scholastics. We have passed the post-modern era, Mike. We are in the era of utter shallowness that some have labelled the pseudo-modern era.

    “Secondly, whereas postmodernism favoured the ironic, the knowing and the playful, with their allusions to knowledge, history and ambivalence, pseudo-modernism’s typical intellectual states are ignorance, fanaticism and anxiety.”

    “The cultural products of pseudo-modernism are also exceptionally banal, as I’ve hinted. The content of pseudo-modern films tends to be solely the acts which beget and which end life. This puerile primitivism of the script stands in stark contrast to the sophistication of contemporary cinema’s technical effects. Much text messaging and emailing is vapid in comparison with what people of all educational levels used to put into letters. A triteness, a shallowness dominates all. The pseudo-modern era, at least so far, is a cultural desert. Although we may grow so used to the new terms that we can adapt them for meaningful artistic expression (and then the pejorative label I have given pseudo-modernism may no longer be appropriate), for now we are confronted by a storm of human activity producing almost nothing of any lasting or even reproducible cultural value – anything which human beings might look at again and appreciate in fifty or two hundred years time.”

    “This pseudo-modern world, so frightening and seemingly uncontrollable, inevitably feeds a desire to return to the infantile playing with toys which also characterises the pseudo-modern cultural world.”

    This is America’s dumbest generation. Now, please turn off Jersey Shore.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      You are preaching to the pope on that one. 🙂

      For the most part our education system conditions people to not think or question in meaningful ways. Students do not, in general, even get exposed to true critical thinking methods until college (which means that people who do not go to college will not have any formal education in these general methods and have to pick it up on their own).

      Even in college, most “learning” is just going through the motions in class and doing enough to get the grade. I suspect that this is largely due to what happens between K-12.

  10. magus71 said, on November 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm


    Let;s kill all the lawyers. ok-Dave can live if he gives me his XBOX….

  11. magus71 said, on November 3, 2011 at 6:59 am

    “Here’s another striking statistic. Every three years the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment tests the educational attainment of 15-year-olds around the world. The latest data on “mathematical literacy” reveal that the gap between the world leaders—the students of Shanghai and Singapore—and their American counterparts is now as big as the gap between U.S. kids and teenagers in Albania and Tunisia.”~Niall Ferguson


    Do you suppose Shanghai spends more cash per student than the US, Mike?

  12. magus71 said, on November 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm


    You should consider this book as part of your curriculum. It essentially analyses the importance of the ancient philosophers and why modern man needs to think about the same things they did. I think it would be a good intro book, though it is a bit old (1988).


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