What: Philosophy Discussion Group
When: 1st Saturday of each month, from 2pm – 5pm
(3 hours, including a break)
Where: Justin & Tammy's house in Richardson [*BYOD&S]
How: Readings discussed in-depth amongst the group. No tests, no lecture… we help teach each other in a spirit of learning.
We will usually be reading from a book one will have to purchase, but sometimes there will be articles provided online.
Meeting Topic & Reading List
This month we'll be talking about three understandings of how language acquisition works. In one corner we have linguistic nativists (represented by Steven Pinker), who think language acquisition is the unfolding of innate biological traits unique to our species. In the second corner we have empiricists (represented by Elman et al) who think language acquisition is a process by which baby scientists use general-purpose intelligence to rapidly internalize the linguistic structure that is present in their environments. And in the third corner, we have Terry Deacon's view, which for lack of a better name might be called symbiotic developmentalism. This view holds that languages are a close analog of species in their own right, and that the speed and robustness with which humans acquire language is largely a testament to the ways in which language has co-evolved to be user-friendly for humans by a process of rapid cultural evolution. You might notice that these three views on language acquisition conveniently match the three themes in our discussion of cognitive science: within-agent processing, agent-environment interaction, and agent-agent interaction.
* Pinker's chapter is here (login as philclub, password is the name of the street we'll be meeting on, single word all lowercase)
* The Deacon chapter is here.
* The Elman et al chapter is here. This was made available back when we were talking about connectionism. The most relevant parts for this month's discussion are the last third, page 88 on. This is probably the hardest and least important of the readings.
10 minute introduction to the material
Depending on attendence, we may split into smaller groups (4 - 8 people)
2 part group discussion of readings with a 10 minute break in between
Reconvene into large group to share highlights of small group discussions
Readings are not neccessarily required, but we ask that you please stay on topic during the discussion.
We are teaching each other in a "spirit of learning": we should be humble (we do not know everything), eager to learn, and willing to challenge each other while being kind and considerate.
There will be people of various backgrounds in philosophy — you do not need to be an expert in philosophy to be in the group (e.g. I'm not; Justin is). If a topic is new to you, here are some good resources, if you are interested:
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
[*BYOD&S] "Bring Your Own Drink & Snack". You might get thirsty or hungry — feel free to bring whatever (non-alcoholic) drinks and snacks you'd like (preferably something shareable with the group).
— A note to those with cat-related allergies: Justin and Tammy have cats — one of whom will be rather happy to mingle with all the nice people who came to see him....
>^. . ^<
In a post on Common Sense Atheism, "How to Do Philosophy Better", Luke Muehlhauser summarizes an essay by Paul Graham. In that essay, Graham proposes the following:
Here's an intriguing possibility. Perhaps we should do what Aristotle meant to do, instead of what he did. The goal he announces in the Metaphysics seems one worth pursuing: to discover the most general truths. That sounds good. But instead of trying to discover them because they're useless, let's try to discover them because they're useful.
— Paul Graham, "How to Do Philosophy"
Given a lot of our common values, I think we can study philosophy in a way that helps us, that is useful to us, rather than as something that is considerably esoteric or futile.