Philosophy Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas

March 8, 2022
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Philosophy Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas

Philosophy Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas

1) You are the student __________. You just had the strangest dream, if indeed it was a dream. (It was so vivid! Maybe it was a vision, or a visitation?) Here is the scene. You had just finished a paper for your philosophy class. No sooner had you finished the paper than—bang! shazam!—in your dream, or visit, or visitation, Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas appeared before you. And they wanted to talk, in some depth and at some length, about arguments for the existence or reality of God! More precisely, they wanted to talk about their own arguments. They explained their arguments, and then engaged you in discussion.

You are awake now, or at least you sure think you are. The dream, or vision, or visitation is over. But you don’t want to forget it! So, record in your diary a transcript, as best you can recall, of your discussion. What did Anselm and Aquinas say? What did you say? Of course, they explained their arguments, but they also raised critical questions about one another’s arguments, and the three of you reflected together on just what arguments for the existence or reality of God, like Anselm’s and Aquinas’s arguments, are trying to accomplish. (Are they trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists, or are they trying to establish that belief in God is reasonable or well-grounded, or…?)

Although you are sleepy, and truth be told a little stunned by your experience, try hard to recall and capture all the twists and turns of the discussion.

2) You are the philosopher and psychologist William James (born 1842). Like other “pragmatist” philosophers—the rather ugly name of the distinctively American movement of thought to which you belong—you have a bone to pick with the French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, genius though he was. Toward the beginning of his masterpiece Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), Descartes writes:

My reason tells me that as well as withholding assent from propositions [in your terminology, “hypotheses” (William James)] that are obviously false, I should also withhold it from ones that are not completely certain and indubitable.

But Descartes is dead (died 1650), so there is no debating with him. Yet you are a great letter writer, like so many of your generation—so why not write a letter to Descartes? It can’t be sent, of course, but you can write it as if you intend to send it and as if Descartes were alive still to read it. So, write that letter. Explain to Descartes your reasons for disagreeing with the claim of his quoted above. Draw extensively from your own essay “The Will to Believe.” (For example, explain to Descartes the different kinds of “hypotheses” that you distinguish: live vs. dead, etc.) Be sure to give lots of examples in support of your thinking! Also, anticipate and seek to counter the objections that you imagine Descartes would raise.

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3) You are the philosopher Miranda Fricker. After many years of hearing from your friends that you just had to see the movie Gaslight (in particular the 1944 version with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer), you have finally watched it. And yes, you now see why your friends so badly wanted you to see it! The phenomenon of gaslighting, which takes its name from the movie, intersects in interesting ways with the concepts you coined of testimonial and hermeneutical injustice. In brief, gaslighting is another form of epistemic injustice (a wrong someone suffers in her or his capacity as a knower). You’ve decided to write a little article for a popular magazine—maybe The New Yorker?—on how gaslighting is related to testimonial and hermeneutical injustice. Gaslighting seems to you, in fact, to involve both testimonial and hermeneutical injustice, though not quite in the ways that you developed those concepts in your 2007 book on epistemic injustice.

Write the article. Of course, you’ll have to summarize the plot of the movie and explain gaslighting, testimonial injustice, hermeneutical injustice, and the overarching concept of epistemic injustice. Then analyze gaslighting in terms of testimonial and hermeneutical injustice. Give lots of examples, including from the movie.

4) You are Brian Cameron, a young (and dashing) Scotland Yard investigator. Before going into policing, you had considered an academic career in philosophy; Descartes’ Meditations dazzled you upon your first reading it as a twelve-year-old boy. But you have been able to combine your interest in the Meditations with your career as an investigator. You specialize in saving people from gaslighting—in bringing people back from the brink of madness.

A recent case involved a married couple, Gregory Anton (his real name, Sergius Bauer) and Paula Anton (née Alquist). Gregory systematically manipulated and deceived Paula into believing that she was losing things, forgetting things (even her own actions), seeing things, hearing things, and imagining things. Her trust in herself was deeply shaken, which was also made possible by Gregory’s isolating her from society. He manipulated her to the point that she nearly broke down psychologically—she nearly came to disbelieve her own beliefs!—which was his goal. She even came to wonder whether she was living in a dream.

There is the point of connection with Descartes’ Meditations. Inquiring minds want to know! How did you save Paula from madness? How did you persuade her that she was not going mad, that she could trust her senses, and that she was not living in a dream? How did you enable her to pierce through the deceptions of her own evil demon, Sergius Bauer?

Tell your tale in an article for the Daily Telegraph, one of London’s newspapers. Draw connections between Descartes’ Meditations and the case of the Antons. Reveal to the public the power of abductive reasoning to dispel the doubts that Descartes and evil demons like Sergius Bauer would destroy us with!

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