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Conceptual Precis X: Existentialism

By Danielle Womble



Existentialism began as a 19th and 20th century philosophical movement centered on deriving meaning from one’s own life and actions. Existentialism was practiced by philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and more notably German philosopher Karl Jaspers, and also Heidegger and Camus who identified themselves as existentialists. Existentialism began as a response to the despair following the Great Depression and World War II.


The philosophical concept states that a person must take full responsibility for their own actions and that authenticity is necessary to grasp human existence.  In the existentialist eyes, each individual is responsibility for giving one’s own life meaning and there is no need for laws, rules, or traditions. Life choices, emotions, actions, and thoughts are what define a person.


I do believe that existentialism is important in finding meaning in our lives, but that other influences and factors also play important roles in defining our character. I think that a person needs to realize that the actions they perform are purposeful and not without meaning, because if we don’t we are posed with the question, “What’s the point?”


Kirt McCracken said that he previously practiced existentialism prior to starting a family, but that it inevitably leads to existential nihilism. I can see how existentialism can lead to a nihilist point of view. What if someone could not accept a certain reason or meaning for actions or events? The concept is full of doom and gloom. Amy O’laughlin-Woodward pointed out that it is kind of like being an atheist, because personal meaning cannot be found by a leap of faith, but only from within you. She said also that it makes people become shallow and selfish when they only take into consideration their own actions. She makes a good point in identifying atheism and existentialism, but with a narrow scope of focus. I think existentialism encompasses a much broader range of ideas.

December 3rd, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Conceptual Precis IX: Double Consciousness

By Danielle Womble


The concept of double consciousness was created and introduced by W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the most influential black intellects of his time period, in his book The Souls of Black Folk (1903). The concept was initially thought to have negative consequences by depriving African-Americans of their true selves, but later studies of the concept have yielded evidence of positive consequences as well. The concept of African-American dual identity has played a crucial part in how African-Americans are able to function in society.


Double consciousness is the concept that African-Americans have two levels of thought. In one level they see themselves as human beings and on a second level they see themselves as white people see them. The concept suggests that African-Americans are alien or second class citizens in America because of the difference in skin color and culture. Du Bois believed that this way of thinking was harmful and hindered the aspirations and dreams of African-Americans trying to live in a majority ruled white society.


I believe that the concept of double consciousness exists not only for African-Americans, but for every person. When some characteristic of ours is different from another person, we tend to use that characteristic as a defining tool to compare ourselves to other people. This happens with skin color, hair type, clothing, and material objects. Not only do we see ourselves through our own eyes, but we imagine ourselves as others would perceive us. I think that the concept can have both positive and negative affects, but it depends on how a person deals with these perceptions.


Amy O’Laughlin-Woodward thought that double consciousness, “Is critical in the development of a persons’ identity. If we can’t see ourselves through another perspective, we are doomed to have a closed mind.” I guess you could say that without different perspectives we would be closed minded, but I think that our reactions to situations and ideas is rooted in our belief systems. Kirt McCracken said the concept was, “Influential in building the path of equality for African Americans and also for the civil rights movement.”  History allows us to transcend barriers and to progress toward the future while learning from the past. Ideas from intellectual people provide a cornerstone for people to make great changes in society and also in their individual lives.

November 29th, 2009 at 11:12 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Conceptual Precis VIII: Golden Rule

By Danielle Womble


In the philosophical tradition the Golden Rule has been an important moral that has been thought of as the base of all ethics. Jesus admonishes, “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.” in western tradition, but the rule has been applied as far back as Confucius and also through famous Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle.


The Golden Rule demands the consideration of other people’s feelings and wishes as though they were our own. It asks us to ask us the question, “How would you feel if it happened to you?” Cultures and traditions do not bind the Golden Rule; it is universal and timeless.


I truly believe in practicing the Golden rule; it is one of the moral principles my parents instilled in me. I don’t think that the idea works all the time, because there will always be people who will act in the manner that they want, but you can’t expect to be treated a certain way without reflecting the manner by your own actions. I especially use the Golden Rule when I meet people for the first time, because first impressions are the foundation upon which relationships are built.


When I asked Brad Womble about his thoughts on the Golden Rule he said, “It makes people stop and think about their actions towards other people. I think it is an important concept.” I agree with him because that was how I was raised and most of the time the rule works. Amy Olaughlin-Woodward said, “The Golden Rule is just the right way to be. It should be universal…one of the best pieces of advice ever.” I also agree that it is great advice, an ideal to live by.


November 23rd, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Conceptual Precis VII: Phenomenalism

By Danielle Womble



In philosophy phenomenalism is related to skepticism and is a radical version of empiricism (knowledge that arises from sense experience). The theory of phenomenalism is linked to great philosophers such as Berkeley and Hume, and also the 19th century German scientist Ernst Mach. Phenomenalism stresses that reality must be based on the knowledge we perceive, on empirical evidence.


Phenomenalism theory suggests that there is no reality beyond the phenomena we perceive, and that things depend upon our perceptions of them. Because everyone’s perception may be different, we cannot be certain of the reality. Reality in a sense is constructed from the mind.


I don’t think I believe in phenomenalism, even though it is an interesting idea. Take for instance Ernst Mach and his work with atoms, that he refuted they existed. Atomism and scientific evidence prove that there are atoms. From a scientific standpoint I have to say, just because we do not perceive something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And also take the example of a smell, we may perceive a smell, but fail to perceive the poisonous chemical in the gas in the scent, but that doesn’t make the poisonous gas not exist because we fail to perceive it.


Amy O’laughlin Woodward said that phenomenalism meant, “Perception is reality. What we perceive is real to us and may be different for every person”.  Brad Womble brought up the idea of other dimensions, and that just because we cannot perceive other dimensions, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Vickey McCloud though phenomenalism pertained to how each individual perceives an event. She gave the example of ghosts saying, “I might perceive and believe in ghosts. See them, hear them or feel them. But other people would say there aren’t ghosts because they cannot perceive them, but they are real to me.” I agree with Vickey because who am I to say that she doesn’t perceive them. I don’t have the authority to make that conclusion, because I do not see through her eyes or her mind.

November 16th, 2009 at 9:59 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink


Conceptual Precis VI: Naturalism

By Danielle Womble



In philosophy, naturalism is the belief that only the natural exists and that the supernatural does not. Naturalism contrasts with idealism and dualism, and is springboard off of empiricism, which emphasizes scientific reasoning. Methodological or scientific naturalism relates to the practice of scientific method, while ontological or metaphysical naturalism stresses that the supernatural does not exist and that reality is discovered through science, observation, and experience.


Naturalism is the belief that reality is based on experience and observations. It strengthens and justifies the scientific method, while dismissing that the divine or supernatural cause existence.


I am hypocritical in believing in both naturalism and also a religion, but I do. It is a very conflicting issue, because on one hand I hold faith as the foundation in believing in God, and on the other hand, scientific reason and the theory of evolution thwart my belief in Christianity.


As an atheist, Brad Womble said “It denies the existence of God.” I think that instead of denying the existence of God, or disproving that there is a God; naturalism just says that reality or knowledge is not created by God. Heather Newman said, “Naturalism is a state of being. To be real.” In art, “real” and “natural” are used interchangeably. To say that really doesn’t say what real or natural are though.

November 8th, 2009 at 10:56 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink


Conceptual Precis V: Scientific Method

By Danielle Womble



The scientific method is a product of the philosophical concepts of rationalism and empiricism. It is the assumption that any knowledge must be supported by confirmation through testing. The work of Galileo and the physicist William Henry, who opted to observe and document rather than speculate, helped to define the scientific method. The philosopher Descartes’ concepts of skepticism were a prelude to the scientific method, noting that empirical methods could lead to truth.


The philosophical meaning of scientific method is still the meaning of the term in modern times it is just more generally used in social and natural sciences for problem solving. It is the method of investigation used to define truth through experimentation and verification of a theoretical hypothesis. Scientists today use scientific method to alienate a specific phenomenon and then experiment and investigate accordingly. Scientific method is based on induction; moving from the general to the specific through investigation.


I feel very close to the scientific method, because I am a lover of science. I study biology, geology, chemistry, and other natural sciences; therefore I use the scientific method frequently and almost on a daily basis.  I am much rather to believe a statement that is proven through investigation and experimentation than one that is based on speculation. Anyone can speculate or give their own opinion based on their perspective, but that doesn’t define truth.


 Mandy Garner, a co-worker at Three Rivers Casino thought scientific method was the forming of a hypothesis followed by experimentation to prove that hypothesis. I believe this to be the simplest meaning of the concept. Kevin Long, also a co-worker at Tree Rivers Casino said that scientific method was the process which determines whether or not a theory can become a law. I do believe that theories and hypotheses can be proven, but only until they can be disproved. I do not think that a hypothesis should be made into law, because there is always a possibility of change, no matter how concrete the support may be.

November 2nd, 2009 at 12:01 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Conceptual Precis IV: Idealism

By Danielle Womble



In the philosophical tradition idealism is the theory that ideas of the mind are what constitute reality. Idealism opposes realism (material objects are real and are subject to perception) and materialism (mind reduces to matter). Many influential philosophical thinkers such as Plato, Leibniz, Kant and Berkeley practiced forms of idealism.


Idealism can take on three different forms. One is that reality is a product of the mind, then second is that we can conceive ideals only that are within our minds, and thirdly is that the universe is an imperfect reflection of the ideals that we possess in our minds. Idealists believe that objects exist only by the virtue of our individual perception of them and that perception is subject to interpretation by the person who perceives it. An idealist is someone who pursues an ideal that is firmly grasped by the mind, but not within reach in the material world. In the modern world idealism is usually associated with people who believe in a good or best situation, outcome or principle.


To me idealism means to believe in something better than what reality really offers. It seems like the concept of a perfect reality that is created by our minds and the only place where it can become reality is in our minds because in the material world, people and things don’t function or perform properly or perfectly all the time. When I plan situations or scenarios I always think in my mind prior to the event, an ideal way that things will pan out, thinking of the best possible outcome. Take for instance the ideal, “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you” it isn’t always a positive reciprocal relationship that occurs between two different people, even if one is treated nicely and with respect. There are no laws enforcing ideals, so they are subject to the implementation of each person. I honestly think that idealism is a precursor to being disappointed.


Patti McCracken believes that idealism is “Looking for the best in things, and the best doesn’t exist.” Maybe the best doesn’t exist, but I think that some ideals are worth trying to live by. Her husband, Kirt McCracken, responded that idealism is “A stupid folly for the naïve.” From a realist point of view he is right. Naïveté is often associated with idealists because they are seen as having or practicing unrealistic notions of how things should be.

October 26th, 2009 at 8:14 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Conceptual Precis III: Ethics

By Danielle Womble




Ethics is one of the five classical fields of philosophical study.  It is also called moral philosophy. From the concept of ethics sprang different forms of ethics to study. Metaethics (the inquiry into the usage of ethics and the foundations of what constitutes right and wrong, good and evil) and normative ethics (principles of right conduct) are two different forms of ethics as disciplines. Many great philosophers have studied and tried to interpret what the concept of ethics is.  Socrates and Plato questioned the nature of goodness as separate and distinct from any object or thing rendered to be good.


The study of ethics is focused on moral principle and behavior.  It studies the nature of good, and what defines good. Ethics is the pursuit of pleasure, with respect for others and also respect for God.  The Stoics believe that ethics pertained to universal harmony and the divine will; which meaning has been adopted in to Judeo-Christian views. Hedonists believe that ethics means the pursuit of maximum pleasure while minimizing pain. Epicureans refute the Hedonist idea of ethics, believing that pursuing happiness and indulging in pleasure can result in negative consequences.


I think that ethics is an internal knowledge of what helps us define what is right and wrong. I believe it is a subconscious device that helps us make the right decisions for ourselves while respecting others and also following the will of God. It is a moral code which we choose to live by. At my job we sign an ethics contract, outlining good behavior and conduct in the work place.  As far as ethics pertains to God, I am torn on some subjects. Cloning is unethical in Christianity, but from a scientific and agricultural point of view cloning can be very informational and beneficial. Stem cell research is unethical in Christianity because it uses cells from unborn children for scientific advancement, but could be beneficial for curing diseases that have plagued human kind for thousands of years.


Brandon Tyler views ethics as moral integrity. I agree with his definition, but I also think that ethics encompasses more than just the moral interpretation of ethics. Brad Womble thinks that ethics is a moral standard that is applied to the decisions we make and are pertinent to the situation. He gave the example of a police officers code of conduct, saying it would be unethical for a police officer to accept a bribe in the line of duty. I thought it was a good parameter to inject that ethics depends on the situation.

October 20th, 2009 at 11:38 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Conceptual Precis II: Mysticism




In the philosophical tradition mysticism is the search for and identification with divinity. It seeks to obtain enlightenment through personal experience and can different for every person experiencing it. Teachings by philosophers such as Plato and Parmenides contained some mysticism. Mysticism also has ties to other philosophical concepts such as ontology, which deals with the nature of reality, and epistemology, which deals with the search for knowledge.


Mysticism emphasizes enlightenment through personal experience. It can either be religious or nonreligious. There are different mediums used by mystics. Some include practicing meditation, contemplation, or prayer. Other outlets used to obtain enlightenment are dances, vision quests, fasts, or dreams.


I feel mysticism is a scary and skeptical concept. I fear the thought of mysticism because I cannot prove if the experiences of enlightenment that people claim are true, therefore I am skeptical of them. Also if I approved in the practice of mysticism, I fear that would be sacrilegious to my Christian views. I am intrigued by the Native American practices of mythology and mysticism. The Pawnee Indians practiced rituals and ceremonies to increase knowledge of the land and to ensure that food would grow so their people would prosper. I am just unsure if I believe that prosperity would be obtained by prayer or rituals or by better land management and harvesting techniques.


The thoughts about mysticism varied widely when I asked people what they thought it was. Joan Moore said, “I think it is a delusion and evil.” I agree with her views, because maybe mysticism is a delusion and no enlightenment or absolute reality can be achieved. Rob Talamas thought, “It is a catch all for spirituality outside of organized religion.”  Mysticism does have a monistic and theistic side to it though. Where one seeks identity of a universal principle and the other seeks unity with God, respectively.

October 20th, 2009 at 11:32 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Conceptual Precis: Phase I: Skepticism



In philosophy, skepticism is the idea that nothing is certain and that true knowledge is outside of our mental capabilities. Skepticism questions whether or not there is truth to any claim. Many different philosophers exhibit skepticism in their belief systems. Pyrrho and fellow Sophist cannot believe anything for certain, which is an extreme use of skepticism. The philosopher Descartes took a more moderate stand on the issue of skepticism where he believed that no truth or knowledge can be obtained until proven.


Skepticism relates to the thought processes of people; whether or not they decide something is true. The existence of God is a common philosophical idea that involves skepticism. To trust in something or someone is almost impossible when a person is a skeptic. The person would question the truth in daily activities or in conversations with other people and would also question their own thoughts and beliefs.


I question my belief in God every day, because I have not proven he exists. I have faith, but no tangible form of proof. I also question the existence of life after death. Mortality is true to me, because I can prove I am here, but I cannot prove the existence of something beyond death. I am a skeptic about speaking the truth. How am I to know for certain that someone is telling me the truth? I could investigate a claim, but it doesn’t always mean I will find an answer.


The unwillingness to believe anything without facts is what skepticism means to Kirt McCracken. From a scientific perspective, I also think that in order to find truth in a claim, you need to prove the claim. But I question whether the answer is really the truth, or if it could be obscured by any number of known or unknown variables. Amy O’Laughlin-Woodward thinks that skepticism means to doubt something or to not believe in a truth entirely. Amy believes in partial truths, but I believe that a partial truth isn’t really a truth. Brad Womble thinks that skepticism is to have doubt in something, someone or in certain ideas such as religion or trust. The specific ideas that Brad ties to skepticism are ideas that I question on a daily basis. Almost all of the thoughts that these three people expressed about skepticism I agree with in some way.

October 6th, 2009 at 9:17 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink