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1166 Discussing Philosophy

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,166 – Discussing Philosophy.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,166. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to ESLPod.com and become a member of ESL Podcast. Why not? You deserve it. When you do, you can download a Learning Guide for this episode that contains, among other wonderful things, a complete transcript of everything I say.

On this episode, we’re going to listen to a very deep discussion between Rene and Francis discussing philosophy. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Rene: Why are you sitting here just staring into space?

Francis: I’m pondering life.

Rene: That sounds profound.

Francis: I’m examining my life from a metaphysical standpoint. I’m not sure I really exist. Maybe my entire life is an illusion and there’s no such thing as reality.

Rene: Okay. Are you sure you’re feeling all right?

Francis: I’m better now that I’ve made some decisions about my epistemological outlook on life. I’m allowing reason and logic to guide me.

Rene: That’s great, but you still seem a little distracted.

Francis: That’s because I’m wrestling with some major questions about ethics and morality. It’s not easy always trying to do the right thing.

Rene: I can understand that, but could you get me . . .

Francis: But then I think that perhaps the only thing that matters in life are esthetics, and I should devote my life to creating beauty.

Rene: That’s a nice idea, but have you given any thought to how you’d pay the rent? You could start by getting me a cup of coffee.

Francis: Ah, I see you’re a realist. Do you want your usual or do you want to hear the specials?

[end of dialogue]

Rene asks Francis, “Why are you sitting here just staring in to space?” “To stare” (stare) means to look at something for a long time. “To stare into space” usually means to “daydream” – to sit in a single spot and think about something. You are looking at something but you’re not really focusing on anything. You are instead thinking about something else. You are thinking perhaps about a problem, or you’re dreaming of something good, perhaps of something bad.

When you think of something and imagine something and you’re not sleeping, we call that “daydreaming.” “Staring into space” is basically the same as daydreaming. It’s thinking, perhaps deeply, about something, not paying attention to what’s going on around you. Francis says, “I’m pondering life.” “To ponder” (ponder) means to think about something very seriously. We might say “to consider something deeply.”

Rene says, “That sounds profound.” Something that is “profound” (profound) is something with a lot of meaning or significance or importance. Another adjective we might use simply is one that I’ve already used, which is “deep.” “To be profound” is “to be deep” – to be serious, to have something very perhaps insightful in your comments or in your thinking. Francis says, “I’m examining my life from a metaphysical standpoint.” A “standpoint” (standpoint) is a perspective, a particular way of thinking about something. It might also be considered a point of view or an outlook.

“Metaphysical” (metaphysical) refers to the efforts to understand the nature of the world, to understand the larger meaning of our existence. “Metaphysics” is considered a “branch” (branch) or type of philosophy. It usually deals with subjects such as being and knowing and existence – “fundamental concepts,” you might say, in philosophy. Aristotle is most famous for his metaphysics. A “metaphysical standpoint,” then, if it means anything, I guess would be contemplating or thinking about your existence and your being.

Francis says, “I’m not really sure I really exist.” “To exist” means to be real, to be actual, not to be imaginary. He says, “Maybe my entire life is an illusion and there’s no such thing as reality.” An “illusion” (illusion) is something that you see but isn’t real. It doesn’t actually exist. “Reality” (reality) is that which really does exist – things that are not imaginary or not fake.

I don’t want to get into long philosophical discussions with you about reality and existence. I’m giving you the general meanings of these terms as they might be used in normal conversation, less than perhaps in a philosophical discussion, even though this dialogue is entitled “Discussing Philosophy.” Rene says, “Okay. Are you sure you’re feeling all right?” She’s asking if perhaps Francis is feeling sick or ill.

Francis says, “I’m better now that I’ve made some decisions about my epistemological outlook on life.” “Epistemological” comes from the term “epistemology” (epistemology). “Epistemology” is another one of those areas of study in philosophy. “Epistemology” has to do with the study of knowledge and how we know things, or how we get to know things. How is it that we know what is true? How is it that we know what we know? Those are questions that epistemology might try to answer. “Epistemological outlook,” then, would be the way that you view how knowledge is acquired, I guess.

Francis says, “I’m allowing reason and logic to guide me.” “Reason” (reason) refers to the mind’s ability to think, to understand, to form conclusions. “Logic” (logic), in general conversation, usually refers to a clear, organized way of thinking about something. Logic is another one of those areas of philosophy. In some ways, logic is the set of tools that philosophers use to understand things. Logic refers to how arguments are constructed, how you put together an argument in order to reach a conclusion.

Francis says he’s going to allow reason and logic to guide him, which seems fair enough, reasonable enough. Rene says, “That’s great, but you still seem a little distracted.” Someone who is “distracted” (distracted) is unable to focus on something, often because he is thinking about something else instead of what perhaps he should be thinking about. Francis responds that he’s distracted because he’s “wrestling with some major questions about ethics and morality.”

The phrasal verb “to wrestle (wrestle) with” something means to debate or to think very seriously about a problem, a problem that you’re finding difficult perhaps to solve or to come to a conclusion about. “I’m wrestling with the choice I have to make about what I’m going to eat for dinner.” I’m not sure. I’m going back and forth. I’m debating. Should I have chicken? Should I have vegetables? I’m wrestling with my decision. Well, not really. I’m going to have chicken and vegetables. But that’s the meaning of the phrasal verb “to wrestle with.”

Francis is “wrestling with some major,” or important, “questions.” These are questions about “ethics” (ethics) and “morality” (morality). These two terms are often used in a similar way in conversational English. I’m no philosopher. I’m not going to try to give you exact definitions. “Morality,” however, I would generally tend to use to describe certain principles of what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes those principles, or laws, or rules, or standards are taken from a religious point of view, sometimes not.

“Ethics” relates to the application of those moral principles to perhaps specific situations, determining whether you should do something or not do something. However, having said that, ethics could also refer to those same moral principles that people use to determine whether something is right or wrong, just or unjust.

In modern American English, my guess is that many people would associate morality with a religious point of view and ethics with, not necessarily an areligious point of view, but one that may not be based on a religious belief system. But that’s a very general way of defining it that not everyone may agree with. This is philosophy, after all. People disagree about things like this.

Francis says, “It’s not always easy trying to do the right thing.” Rene says, “I can understand that but could you get me . . .” And then Francis interrupts her and continues, “But then I think that perhaps the only thing that matters in life,” that’s important in life, “are esthetics and I should devote my life to creating beauty.” Francis says perhaps the only thing important in life, that matters in life, are “esthetics” (esthetics). “Esthetics” refers to the study of beauty, of appreciating beauty in other things and in other people. Francis thinks he should devote his life to creating beauty.

Rene says, “That’s a nice idea, but have you given any thought” – that is, have you thought about – “Have you given any thought to how you’d pay the rent?” meaning if you spend your life creating beauty, will you make enough money to afford to pay your rent? Rene says, “You could start by getting me a cup of coffee.” Now we realize that Francis is actually working at a coffee shop, maybe Starbucks, and Rene is one of his customers who wants a cup of coffee.

Francis says, “Ah, I see you’re a realist.” And then he asks, “Do you want your usual or do you want to hear the specials?” A “realist” (realist) is a person who, I suppose in this case, accepts things as they are, one who uses logic to understand the way the world works. Francis then asks Rene if she wants her “usual,” meaning the coffee drink she usually gets, or if she wants to hear the “specials” – the special drinks that the coffee shop is offering today.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Rene: Why are you sitting here just staring into space?

Francis: I’m pondering life.

Rene: That sounds profound.

Francis: I’m examining my life from a metaphysical standpoint. I’m not sure I really exist. Maybe my entire life is an illusion and there’s no such thing as reality.

Rene: Okay. Are you sure you’re feeling all right?

Francis: I’m better now that I’ve made some decisions about my epistemological outlook on life. I’m allowing reason and logic to guide me.

Rene: That’s great, but you still seem a little distracted.

Francis: That’s because I’m wrestling with some major questions about ethics and morality. It’s not easy always trying to do the right thing.

Rene: I can understand that, but could you get me . . .

Francis: But then I think that perhaps the only thing that matters in life are esthetics, and I should devote my life to creating beauty.

Rene: That’s a nice idea, but have you given any thought to how you’d pay the rent? You could start by getting me a cup of coffee.

Francis: Ah, I see you’re a realist. Do you want your usual or do you want to hear the specials?

[end of dialogue]

Our thanks to our scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse, for this very profound dialogue.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to stare into space – to daydream; to sit still, looking at a spot without really seeing it, and thinking about something else

* Why are my students staring into space while I’m teaching lessons from the textbook?

to ponder – to think about; to deeply consider

* How much time do most people spend pondering the meaning of life?

profound – deep; with a lot of meaning, significance, and importance

* Lorelei shared some profound insights about her relationship with her father.

metaphysical – related to efforts to understand the nature of the world, our presence in it, and the way we understand it

* Plato, Kant, and Nietzsche are among the great metaphysical thinkers in the western world.

standpoint – viewpoint; a point of view; outlook; perspective; a particular way of viewing and thinking about things

* From a financial standpoint, the company is healthy, but employee morale is very low.

to exist – to be alive; to be real; to not be imaginary or fake

* Do ghosts and monsters exist, or are they only in stories?

illusion – something that one sees, and that seems real, but is not actually there

* People who wander in deserts for many days often see illusions of water.

reality – what really exists, not things that are imaginary or fake; things as they actually exist

* Kian dreams of becoming a rock stare, but in reality, he is a tax accountant.

epistemological – related to the study of knowledge, particularly its origin and limits, separating justified and supported beliefs from opinions

* Please write an epistemological analysis of the limits to our knowledge of quantum physics.

outlook – viewpoint; a point of view; standpoint; perspective; a particular way of viewing and thinking about things

* Despite her cancer diagnosis, Rachelle has a positive outlook.

reason – the mind’s ability to think, understand, and form logical judgments

* A good debater appeals to not only emotions, but also reason.

logic – a clear, orderly, and organized way of thinking about something; reaching a judgment or point of view by following specific steps in thinking

* Please explain the logic behind your recommendation of a C- students.

distracted – unable to focus on something, because one is unwillingly thinking about other things

* Employees who have significant problems at home are often distracted at work.

to wrestle – to fight with someone or something, especially to debate an issue or decision and not be able to find a clear answer

* Pedro needs to pick a major, but he is wrestling with the decision and cannot choose between engineering and music.

ethics – moral principles and guidelines for behavior that help one decide what to do based on what is right or fair

* All of our employees must sign a code of ethics, agreeing not to lie, cheat, or steal.

morality – beliefs about how people should behave and what is right or wrong

* Understandings of workplace morality vary significantly among different cultures.

esthetics – beauty, especially one’s understanding and appreciation of it; dealing with principles of beauty and artistic taste

* This new smart phone has some great functionality, but it is ugly. We need to improve the esthetics to attract buyers.

realist – a person who accepts everything as it is, and uses logic to understand his or her surroundings

* Sure, I’d like to win the lottery, but I’m a realist who knows that the probability of that happening is extremely small.

Comprehension Questions
1. What is Francis doing while he is staring into space?
a) He is studying the stars and planets.
b) He is looking for attractive people.
c) He is daydreaming and absorbed in his thoughts.

2. What does Francis mean when he says, “my entire life is an illusion”?
a) He doesn’t think his life is real.
b) He thinks he has wasted his life.
c) He anticipates dying soon.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
reality

The word “reality,” in this podcast, refers to what really exists, not things that are imaginary or fake: “Jesse couldn’t accept the reality of his wife’s pregnancy until he saw her belly begin to grow.” The phrase “reality TV” refers to TV shows that show the lives and behaviors of ordinary people, not actors: “Are you watching that reality TV show where people switch places and live another person’s life for a week?” Finally, the phrase “a reality check” is an opportunity to consider what is really happening in a situation, rather than what one wants or hopes will happen: “I know you dream of marrying Serena, but it’s time for a reality check. She doesn’t want to date you!”

reason

In this podcast, the word “reason” means the mind’s ability to think and understand: “Do you think it would be possible to reach that conclusion through reason alone, without solid evidence?” A “reason” is also an explanation for why something happened: “Bad weather and a workers’ strike were two of the reasons for the delay in the construction project.” The phrase “within reason” means within certain reasonable limits: “I’ll do anything to help you, within reason.” The phrase “no reason” is sometimes used to answer a “why” question when one does not want to provide information: “A: Why did you put on the pink one? B: No reason.” Finally, the phrase “with good reason” means rationally, logically, or reasonably: “They canceled plans to travel during the wet season, with good reason.”

Culture Note
Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is an American “linguist” (a person who studies languages), philosopher, and “activist” (someone who tries to change and improve society) who has written more than 100 books. Born in 1928 in Philadelphia, he studied at the University of Pennsylvania and made many important contributions to the “field” (area of study) of linguistics, most notably his ideas that the grammatical structure of language is biologically “hard-wired” (programmed) into the human brain. He was also a “vocal opponent” (someone who draws a lot of attention in opposition to something) of the Vietnam War, and later the Iraq War, and has been arrested multiple times.

He is one of the “most-cited” (most frequently referenced in research papers) “scholars” (an academic researcher) and his work has influenced many other fields, from political science and mathematics to music theory and psychology. He believes in the importance of educating people so that they can be “well integrated, free and independent in their thinking, and ‘eager’ (wanting strongly to do something) to participate in making life more meaningful and ‘worthwhile’ (with value) for all.”

Chomsky “regularly” (often) “criticizes” (says that something is wrong or bad) U.S. foreign policy. He also defends “free speech” (the right of people to express themselves freely) and believes that “censorship” (actions to prevent others’ thoughts from being shared) is wrong.

Chomsky has received many awards, honors, and “honorary degrees” (degrees given to an individual by a university in recognition of his or her accomplishments, even though the individual has not studied there).

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - a