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There are many aspects of Christmas that, on reflection, make little sense. We are supposed to be secular-minded, rational and grown up in the way we apprehend the world around us. Richard Dawkins speaks for many when he draws a distinction between the ‘truth’ of scientific discourse and the ‘falsehoods’ perpetuated by religion which, as he tells us in The God Delusion, “teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding” (Dawkins 2006).
For many months now this column has been examining logical/mathematical paradoxes. Strictly speaking, a paradox is a kind of argument. In literary theory, some sentences are also called paradoxes, but the meaning of the term is significantly different.
This August, the OUP Philosophy team honors René Descartes (1596–1650) as their Philosopher of the Month. Called “The Father of Modern Philosophy” by Hegel, Descartes led the seventeenth-century European intellectual revolution which laid down the philosophical foundations for the modern scientific age.
“Tanking,” or deliberately trying to lose an athletic contest to gain a future competitive advantage, such as earning higher draft pick of prospective players, became the talk of the town or at least of many fans, in many US cities saddled with losing teams in such sports as hockey, basketball, and baseball. If actually practiced, however, tanking would exploit spectator, players, and coaches alike.
We used to have to take time off from work --or at least leave work early-- to watch the Olympics on TV. Now we can thank the engineering marvels of DVR and web replay for protecting our love affair with the Games from our evil work schedules. We are, rightly, mesmerized by the combination of talent, discipline, skill, and genetics embodied by the world’s greatest athletes.
A call comes through to the triage desk of a large hospital in the New York City metropolitan area: a pregnant woman with multiple abdominal gunshot wounds is due to arrive in three minutes. Activating a trauma alert, the head nurse on duty, Denise, requests intubation, scans, anesthesia, surgery, and, due to the special circumstances, sonography and labor and delivery. How is it possible to think about so much so quickly?
This August, the OUP Philosophy team honors René Descartes (1596–1650) as their Philosopher of the Month. Called “The Father of Modern Philosophy” by Hegel, Descartes led the seventeenth-century European intellectual revolution which laid down the philosophical foundations for the modern scientific age. His philosophical masterpiece, the Meditations on First Philosophy, appeared in Latin in 1641, and his Principles of Philosophy, a comprehensive statement of his philosophical and scientific theories, also in Latin, in 1644.
Imagine a London merchant deliberating whether to send his ten sons to Oxford or to Cambridge. Leafing through the flyers, he learns that, if he sends the boys to Cambridge, they will make “considerable progress in the sciences as well as in virtue, so that their merit will elevate them to honourable occupations for the rest of their lives” — on the other hand, if he sends them to Oxford, “they will become depraved, they will become rascals, and they will pass from mischief to mischief until the law will have to set them in order, and condemn them to various punishments.”
Suppose you had to explain to someone, who did not already know, what it means to say that time passes. What might you say? Perhaps you would explain that different times are arranged in an ordered series with a direction: Monday precedes Tuesday, Tuesday precedes Wednesday, and so on.
An astronomer, mathematician, philosopher, and active public figure, Hypatia played a leading role in Alexandrian civic affairs. Her public lectures were popular, and her technical contributions to geometry, astronomy, number theory, and philosophy made Hypatia a highly regarded teacher and scholar.
This May, the OUP Philosophy team honors Thomas Hobbes (April 5, 1588 – December 4, 1679) as their Philosopher of the Month. Hobbes is remembered as the author of one of the greatest of books on political philosophy ever written, Leviathan, in which he argued with a precision reached by few other thinkers.
Mass sexual violence against women and girls is a constant in human history. One of these atrocities erupted in August 2014 in ISIS-occupied territory and persists to this day. Mainly targeting women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority, ISIS officially reinstituted sexual slavery.
In Can I Build Another Me? by Shinsuke Yoshitake, a young boy comes up with a master plan to avoid doing his chores: he spends all his pocket money on a robot to take his place. “From now on, you’re going to be the new me! […] But don’t let anyone know. You must behave exactly like me.”
But in order to be exactly like the young boy, the robot needs to know everything about the person he will be imitating. All sorts of questions, exploring everything from the boy’s physical characteristics, to likes and dislikes, via feelings and much more follow. Gradually the robot builds up a fairly comprehensive picture of what the boy is like, but will the master plan to avoid chores succeed or will Mum see through the robot straight away?
This very funny, marvellously philosophical picture book offers so many opportunities for thinking about who we are, why we behave the way we do and how we can and do change over time. It’s reflective and reassuring, creating a space full of laughter to talk about feelings, hopes and friendships. Every page offers lots of opportunities for conversations, at the same time as being full of acute and humurous observations about what it can be like being a child, trying to learn how to navigate your way in the world.
Yoshitake’s illustrations, often reminiscent of comic strips, with multiple panels on each page, are full of fabulous detail offering as much to pore over as the text does. Stylishly designed with just a few colours and a great variety of pace (some pages have lots of sections, others are given over to a single spread), the relatively simplicity of the line drawings allows Yoshitake’s fantastical imagination to flourish.
An empowering, laughter-fuelled, imagination-sparking, reflection-inducing delight, Can I Build Another Me? is meaty and marvellous, silly and serious all at once. A triumph!
We don’t ever really need an excuse for making robots out of junk. Nevertheless, we gratefully took reading Can I Build Another Me? as an opportunity to get creative with old plastic boxes and the glue gun, to create a few mini-me-robots:
Whether they are really just like us or not, they definitely have a sense of personality!
As well as making mini-me-robots, we made keepsake booklets about ourselves, inspired by the questions raised by Yoshitake in his book.
We really enjoyed filling them in, and I suspect they will be great fun to look back on in a year or more, to see how our feelings about ourselves and who we are has changed.
I learned a few things about my own kids as we filled in these booklets. “I can put a whole carrot in my mouth,” wrote M…., whilst J likes DIY and ceilidhs.
Creating a nesting doll set that looks like you – you can get blank nesting doll sets (google “blank wooden Russian doll set” for example, to find lots of offerings) and then paint them to show all the different versions of you there are inside your skin. You could do ones with different facial expressions, for example.
If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me, featuring picture books with a philosophical theme:
American basketball star, Darsh Singh, a turbaned, bearded Sikh, featured this April in a Guardian Weekend piece on cyberbullying. He recalled how his online picture had been circulated with Islamophobic captions. Long before that he’d had to get used to people yelling things like "towelhead”. Since 9/11, Sikhs haven’t just been verbally insulted but have suffered ‘reprisal attacks’.
Buddhist literature is full of statements that sound paradoxical. This has led to the widespread idea that Buddhism, like some other religions, wants to point us in the direction of a reality transcending all intellectual understanding.
Disorientations—major life experiences that make it difficult for individuals to know how to go on—are deeply familiar, in part because they are common. It is rare to have never experienced some form of disorientation in one’s own life, perhaps in response to grief, illness, or other significant events.
By any common definition, Trump’s statements and policies are racist. Yet we are researchers on implicit bias—largely unconscious, mostly automatic social biases that can affect people’s behavior even when they intend to treat others fairly regardless of their social group identity.
One of the most famous, and most widely discussed, paradoxes is the Liar paradox. The Liar sentence is true if and only if it is false, and thus can be neither (unless it can be both). The variants of the Liar that I want to consider in this instalment arise by taking the implicit temporal aspect of the word “is” in the Liar paradox seriously.
Today is Easter Sunday for the majority of the world’s 2.4 billion Christians (most Orthodox Christians will wait until May 1st to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus). After the long penitential season of Lent, Christians are greeting each other with joyful exclamations of “He is risen,” and hearing in glad response, “He is risen indeed, hallelujah!”
The Oxford Philosophy team is excited to see you in San Francisco for the upcoming 2016 American Philosophical Association Pacific Division Meeting. We have some suggestions on sights to see during your time in California as well as our favorite sessions for the conference. We recommend visiting the following sights and attractions while in San Francisco.
For many years, the prevailing view among both cognitive scientists and philosophers has been that the brain is sufficient for cognition, and that once we discover its secrets, we will be able to unravel the mysteries of the mind. Recently however, a growing number of thinkers have begun to challenge this prevailing view that mentality is a purely neural phenomenon.
A self-professed "comprehensive anticipatory design scientist," the inventor Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was undoubtedly a visionary. Fuller's creations often bordered on the realm of science fiction, ranging from the freestanding geodesic dome to the three-wheel Dymaxion car.
Pope Francis is boldly liberalizing Catholic teaching on sexual matters. Or so it is commonly believed. In earlier ages of the Christian Church, both East and West, its canons and its teachings always understood human sexuality as having a very powerful effect upon the human soul.
What do the pamphlets of the English Civil War, imperial theorists of the eighteenth century, Nazi schoolteachers, and a left-wing American artist have in common? Correct! They all see themselves as in dialogue with classical antiquity, drawing on the political thought of ancient Greek writers. Nor are they alone in this; the idea that Western thought is a series of ‘footnotes to Plato’, as Alfred Whitehead suggested in 1929, is a memorable formulation of the extensive role of ancient Greece within modernity.
You go to the museum. Stand in line for half an hour. Pay 20 bucks. And then, you’re there, looking at the exhibited artworks, but you get nothing out of it. You try hard. You read the little annoying labels next to the artworks. Even get the audio-guide. Still nothing. What do you do? Maybe you’re just not into this specific artist. Or maybe you’re not that into paintings in general. Or art.