Suppose Reality Exists

'One way to discover reality is through science. Another way is through philosophy. Both are complementary to one another, not oppositional," says Thom Pham, cofounder of the San Diego Philosophy Reading Group. "We [approach philosophy from] a realist position, taking the presupposition that reality exists instead of doubting everything, like Descartes." On Monday, January 23, the San Diego Philosophy Reading Group will discuss its latest biweekly reading assignment, Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, Book 1b. "This philosophy discussion group is very similar to the Great Books Foundation discussion group," says Pham. "They choose their [reading] selections once a year and have a full calendar, and we choose every six months. We focus more specifically on philosophy, whereas Great Books Foundation focuses more on literature, fictional, short stories, and stuff like that." Pham belongs to both discussion groups.

"Mortimer J. Adler, a realist, started the Great Books Foundation reading-discussion groups all over the United States in 1947, so we're latecomers in a sense." According to greatbooks.org, the foundation is "a nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to promote reading and discussion of outstanding literature by people of all ages."

In regard to spirituality and its role in philosophy, Pham says, "We reject Platonic idealism, the idea that this world is not that real because there is something beyond us that is more real -- that's Plato. In this group we've carved out a niche for our reading selection and have limited certain selections as being beyond our presupposition. We use the word 'spirituality' in a naturalistic sense, meaning that spirituality refers to our conscious mind and our conscious mind is real, we each have one, and we can think about our lives, our friendship, and love as spiritual things, but all in a natural realm." Pham is an atheist, but he says the group never speaks of religion as each person (of approximately five regulars) "comes from a different walk of life."

The 17-page selection from Posterior Analytics, translated by G.R.G. Mure, involves work reminiscent of the general education course Logic 101. "Logic is a method for discovering knowledge," says Pham. "If you need to know anything in the universe, logic is the first tool that anyone who wants to discover the world has to master. Then you can talk about physics, metaphysics, or any branch of science or history.

"The connection between logic and philosophy is that it is philosophy, in a way, that defines method. You chisel your logical hammer to become suitable only for that view [you have]." Before the holidays, the group read work by Henry Veatch, who had "made the contention that modern logic has taken the transcendental turn and that anyone who [follows] this modern logic is bound up into the notion that we cannot discover knowledge from an empirical standpoint. Most modern logicians, according to Veatch, are almost Platonists and Kantians. So, if Veatch is correct, and we're partaking the presupposition that he is, then we should go back to an older form of logic and study the method. Before Christmas we read a 20th-century text on logic, and now we're reading a 4th-century B.C. logic text."

Two types of questions -- interpretative and evaluative -- are posed for each reading selection. The questions for interpretive discussion are sent to the group in advance. In this case, there were 27 (some of which have up to 6 sub questions) e-mailed to group members by cofounder Rich Franklin. Among them: "How does Aristotle resolve the dilemma about how demonstration could produce new knowledge?" and "If epagoge yields intuitive or undemonstrable knowledge, how can it also be a form of dialectical reasoning?"

The group will spend the first portion of its discussion interpreting the text. This, as Pham explains, raises questions like, "What does this word, sentence, or passage mean, in your opinion? We try to help each other come to a common understanding."

After approximately two hours of interpretation, evaluative comments are allowed into the discussion. "This is where the fun beings," says Pham. "One of the chief lessons we learned from Adler is that before you can criticize anything, you need to understand it. [During evaluative questioning] a person can say, 'Now that I understand this, I don't like this idea. Let me give you the reason why.'"

Though disagreements and the resultant debates do occur, logic dictates that everyone must agree in the end, because, according to the group's presupposition, there is only one logical truth. "When we express an opinion, we're claming an exclusionary truth. So when we debate it and someone has a stronger argument, we have to back down our opinion because in logical truth, if one is true, the others are false," says Pham.

Pham insists that even philosophers know how to have fun. "I just injured my back because I was snowboarding. I like road trips and that kind of stuff," he says. In Pham's opinion, philosophy is "in the air," something that has been "predigested" for most people to "absorb through osmosis." Philosophy, according to Pham, contains three parts: "Your view of the universe, which is metaphysics; your view of yourself, which is ethics; and your view of the relationship between the universe and yourself, which is epistemology, or the study of knowledge." -- Barbarella

San Diego Philosophy Reading Group: A Discussion of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, Book 1b Monday, January 23 7 p.m. Living Room Coffeehouse 1417 University Avenue Hillcrest Cost: Free Info: 619-291-5754 or http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sd_philosophy/

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