Back to School!


Another summer slowly unwinds. That means it’s back to school for another academic year.

If you’re an entering freshman, or signed up for your first discussion or Socratic seminar, I encourage you to check out my Mastering the Human Event tutorial for lots of insider advice and tips to help you on to success.

Also, I’ll have some brand new material posted for you shortly. I’m teaching a couple of philosophy courses this semester and that means the blog will become and even richer site for resources to help students. Look for my Writing Resource List and How to Choose Your Professor Cheat Sheet this week!

In the meantime, I hope your lecture courses are more engaging than this one:



New Digs – Relaunch coming soon!

Mountain-sunrise-676pxThe new home for is under construction! We’ve got a few boxes to unpack, pictures to set up, and small items to rearrange before we relaunch. But it’s been a BUSY summer with new plans and new content developed and ready to share before everyone’s attention turns to the new school year.

Two Views of Space

First image: the Earth, the “pale blue dot” taken by the Voyager I spacecraft from 3.7 billion miles away (a distance equivalent to a point between the orbits of Neptune and Pluto).


Source: Scientific American, 19 Jun 2013

Second image: the “Pillars of Creation” (a portion of the Eagle Nebula 7,000 light-years away) taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.


Source: ABC News, 6 Jan 2015

Before I upload my next post on Galileo, sometimes wrongly credited as the inventor of the telescope, I wanted to whet your appetite for thinking about the profound change in not only our knowledge of the universe since the time of Galileo, but our view of ourselves in light of that knowledge, a view which has been opened up by image-making instruments.

Does one affect you more profoundly than the other: the one that looks back at us from afar, or the one that looks out from our position within the universe?

When you look attentively at each image, what do you feel and think?

Wonder? Fear? Delight? Dread? Gratitude? Indifference? Hope? Doom? Pride? Humility?

Be sure to have a listen to Sagan’s famous description of the pale blue dot I linked to above.


Francis Bacon

francis-baconI have used extracts from Bacon’s Novum Organum that focus on his well-known “four idols.” This is an excellent text for introducing the significant cultural change in the West to a period that historians designate as modernity. Important features of modernity are present in the text, but it also straddles the preceding era. Do your background research at carefully curated sites like the Stanford Encyclopedia.

The Obvious

The four idols. Know the differences between them and be able to describe them in your own words.

Why “idols?” What is an idol?

This is a text within a text within a text. The selection is from the Novum Organum, or New Organon, which is Part II and the most complete portion of The Great Instauration. Look up words you don’t know so that you can use and refer to them correctly.

The form of the text is aphoristic. This should matter.

The Not-so-Obvious

The “Baconian method” of induction is present, but must be pieced together from several of the aphorisms.

Bacon is an empiricist, but not a naive one. The human intellect is not a tabula rasa. We see through a glass darkly. So if the student wants to investigate and know Nature “out there” he must account for a human nature that is defective, including and especially his own.

Natural philosophy is another name for ‘science’, but it is not reducible to the empirical sciences. It recognizes and wrestles with its philosophical foundations in logic, metaphysics, and epistemology.

AckbarThe Traps

The Baconian method is a scientific method. Beware essentializing Bacon’s inductive method as “the” scientific method.

Then-and-Now thinking. If Bacon’s doctrine of the idols is accurate, it isn’t limited to the errors of his own time. The careful Baconian scientist is not triumphant – “oh those silly benighted rubes in the Dark Ages” – but epistemologically humble. The Baconian scientist is not immune to the errors described by the idols.

Forgetting the context. Read the title page carefully. What’s the subtitle? What is the overall project of Bacon’s work? What’s going on in late 16th and early 17th century England and Europe?

Books and the New Year

In anticipation of a year rich with reading and thinking, and the distinct joys of both, I want to share with you a beautiful short film from 2011, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore,” created by some wonderful folks in the northwest corner of Louisiana.

Enjoy the details of the animation and the message of the story. Be sure to pause at 10:15 to read Mr Lessmore’s entry. I’ll be back soon with our next entry on core texts.

h/t Ben Myers.

Nietzsche and the New Year

A gem for every new year, secular or religious, and this year is no exception. The Gay Science, 276 (trans. Kaufmann):

For the new year. — I still live, I still think: I still have to live, for I still have to think. Sum, ergo cogito: cogito, ergo sum. Today everybody permits himself the expression of his wish and his dearest thought: hence I, too, shall say what it is that I wish from myself today, and what was the first thought to run across my heart this year — what thought shall be for me the reason, warranty, and sweetness of my life henceforth. I want to learn to see more and more as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all and all and on the whole: someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.

It has been a year of looking away and not accusing, and for that I am a step further toward that most difficult but inestimable life of being “only a Yes-sayer.” And for that reason I look back with gratitude and satisfaction on 2014, and wish you, dear reader, a most prosperous, peaceful, joyous, yes-saying new year.