Saturday, June 24, 2017

Language and Mental Illness

Twelve Monkeys is an excellent film as a whole and for analyzing the question, “what is insanity?”  Is it really just opinions which go against the majority or can we determine a theory of mental health that has nothing to do with what’s “normal” or “average?”
First off we have to separate descriptive from normative accounts of psychology.  Many when they talk about mental health assume we ought to be healthy as opposed to insane or diagnosiable with chronic depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder or the like.  Moral Skeptics are less convinced of this proposition but I won’t go far into this because what I’ve written in the past regarding ought claims can easily be transferred to mental health and an accurate perception of reality.
But what of descriptive accounts?  Regardless of whether or not we ought to be healthy a purely descriptive account of our health seems fairly straightforward.  It’s been shown a million and one times that vitamin C has a certain effect on the body.  Certain foods that contain different chemicals, molecules and proteins have certain effects on the body.  A healthy body is one that is functioning according to loose descriptors including but not limited to a certain degree of agility, lack of pain (unless something external is causing it), healthy immune system and so on.  So can the same be said of mental health?  The same way we can say, “lack of pain unless a paino is laying on top of you” can we also say, “emotionally stable and cognitively agile unless your mother has recently died?”  We like to think there is nothing “wrong” or indicative of illness in expressing unwanted emotions in certain contexts – that which outside of said contexts and persisting for long periods of time express need for diagnosis.
There is also the question of attachment to “reality.”  It’s become a trite remark that if you talk to God you’re religious, if God talks to you you’re something else.  And indeed most of the human race holds views that the most well educated and studious in applying reason would call false, if not “crazy.”  It seems that most people have some intuition about this distinction.  Distinguishing the social mores and opinions of the majority with psychosis.  Most Christians claim a belief in Satan for example, but even devout Christians will get, I suspect, a feeling of being in the presence of the mentally disturbed if a man they’re having light conversation with begins discussing Satan controlling all the major industries of the world.  There is, it seems, a distinction between professed belief and actual belief as well as passive belief and active, passionate belief. 
In my view, much of mental health has to do with the human ability to reason.  Many people have false belief either through no incentive to challenge or question the views of the majority, so they continue in ignorance although if they applied their faculties to any hypothetical issue or area of philosophy their answer would seem reasonable at least at first glance.  Though it likely would be erroneous from assuming Realism or any other thing which seems sensible to many but is not founded when one gives a penetrating glance removing all the unquestioned assumptions of the human existence (involving mostly metaphysics and morality).
There are more traits that one could give, but in conclusion, it seems a loose descriptive account of mental health is possible just as a physical account of a knee, heart, or body is.  We can ask questions like, “how long is it healthy to grieve after the passing of a loved one?” but we can also ask the question “how long is it healthy to feel pain after one has been stabbed in the shoulder?”  Pain is part of the body’s natural mechanism to tell the organism something is wrong and have it act accordingly.  There is debatably either an evolutionary reason behind anxiety and depression or these things are just the after-effect of the evolutionary incentives behind heightened creativity the same way there is no evolutionary incentive behind an enlarged cranium being shoved out of the birth canal resulting in higher death rates for both child and mother, but this simply being a consequence of having the larger brain necessary for Man being on top of the food chain the way that our species is.

Much like we can give a purely descriptive account of “virtue,” or “justice,” I believe we can do the same with mental illness with minor complications – the complications having to do with fleshing out the picture, not whether or not we can have a purely descriptive picture once we remove all normativity.

On Lloyd Kaufman or something

Hey guys.  I’m going to start my Kant essay soon, but first I thought I’d write some random bullshit because it’s been a while since I’ve done a meandering pointless introspective piece.
I’ve been watching a lot of interviews with director and Troma president Lloyd Kaufman recently.  He seems like a sweet guy whose half-way intelligent, trying to get the word out about perceived injustices and rationalizes why his mostly mediocre films aren’t commercial successes.  It should be noted that I think most of his points are right – I just don’t think his movies would be hugely successful even if there wasn’t “vassalism” of the “devil worshipping movie cartels.”  I’m not even a third of his age, but I can see myself being something like Lloyd Kaufman when I’m older – except probably not with a huge network of people like he has.

I’ve taken off writing these past few days.  Although part of me enjoyed it another part of me feels I needed to write something, even a bullshit fluff piece like this, to scratch some itch deep inside.  There’s some other small stuff I might churn out before I really work on my Kant essay.  We’ll see.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On Sola Fide

“Belief is like love:  it cannot be compelled; and as any attempt to compel love produces hate, so it is the attempt to compel belief which first produces real unbelief.”           Arthur Schopenhauer

The doctrine of Sola fide which is one of the core identifying tenants of most Protestant denominations is the main source of foolishness and cruelty in the Christian religion.  It is the belief that only through faith in Christ can salvation be attained.  It is as wicked as it is stupid, for it proposes not only the idea that a supposedly omnibenevolent and all powerful God would put anyone in needless agony, but that the most loving and upright man if he did not profess faith in Jesus.
It is a contradiction in reasoning that a God that cares for the universal salvation of his creation (or those of His creation endowed with an immortal soul) above all else would put a single soul in Hell.  If He cares about other things then it is not a contradiction but then he is not omnibenevolent, for there is something He cares for more than the salvation of all.  This is so simple that children prove themselves wiser than their parents in seeing through the contradictions of something which cannot be.  Which is not to say that all that is to be taken on faith (that which is not known) is an error in logic.  There is a difference between belief in a tree which is all red and all green simultaneously (a contradiction in logic and therefore impossible) and belief in a man walking on water; something which violates Man’s knowledge of Natural Law but is still entirely possible because the inductive reasoning of science is both probabilistic and superficial.  That is to say that it is both uncertain and deals only with what is seen rather than metaphysical knowledge strictly speaking.  A belief in a God that is the highest epitome of love that tortures a single soul is akin to the belief in the all-green-red tree, rather than Jesus performing miracles involving loaves and fishes.  It is simply an impossibility.
One of the notes of truth that many secular and well educated people find in religion is that Man is by nature selfish but ought to be otherwise.  Now regardless of whether or not this is the case, it appears assuming that compassion towards others is something to be striven for and inculcated when possible, that the encouragement of compassion and good will is a strength of all faiths.  But the notion of those of differing or no faith suffering simply through lack of acceptance of any creed can only encourage hostility and division amongst people.  The child that is told that God, a being he is told to respect the wisdom and benevolence of, puts those of differing faiths in Hell to suffer never-ending torment is told that people who are unlike him deserve hatred and malice.  It encourages division, hatred and simple-mindedness in humans rather than the desired morals of compassion and forgiveness towards our fellow sufferers which Schopenhauer points out is the basis of morality and the strength of the world’s religion expressed through allegory.
Sola Fide ensures the salvation of not the most worthy of people but rather the most credulous.  It is the main flaw of Christianity that robs it of both fantasy (the desired belief that all can be saved) and real-world utility (encouraging humans to act towards each other with compassion and good will rather than malice).
Though the notion of Sola Fide is the main absurdity of Protestantism, there are others that deserve mention.  The lack of focus on asceticism and self-sacrifice is what has helped to make it “America’s Religion[1].”
If the effects of religions are more valuable than the descriptive claims of the religions then every single one should be drastically altered and much of their filler removed to not distract from the main theme.  The Protestant Reformation is known for rebelling against the Papal authority of the Catholic Church and instead of insisting on teaching only that which exists in Scripture.  The Baptist sect of Protestantism should be respected for furthering the argument for a separation of Church and State in our society.  However, those of sound mind and conscience should further this goal of purification to such a degree that Christianity is freed from Scripture itself and instead the general theme of love, kindness, good works, and focus on other’s as ends in themselves rather than merely means be the main message.  This can be done through stories, but those which have a strictly moral and intentionally collaborated upon for quality in both message and story, rather than the random and often immoral fables that the Bible provides.  That way the message will be both clear and entertaining, and it will be clear that religion is subordinate to morality (compassion) rather than attempting to argue the reverse which mangles both[2].

[1] For, by rejecting celibacy and asceticism in general, together with the saints, who are the representatives of asceticism, Protestantism has become a truncated, or rather decapitated Christianity whose apex is missing.
[2] In its death throes, we see religion clinging to morality, whose mother it would like to pretend to be.  In vain! – genuine morality is dependent on no religion, although religion sanction and thereby sustains it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Language and Normativity

When we use words like morality, good, virtue and just we believe we are getting at ought claims which I argue we cannot ground or establish as certain knowledge.  However, I do think these words can continue to be used in the fashion that Schopenhauer uses them, and to express this I will use the analogy of the Hero.  It is my claim that we cannot ground ought-claims in pure reason.  We cannot know for certain what ought to be or be done if anything.  Heroism, if being a hero requires doing what one ought to do, becomes problematic then.  This problem evaporates however if we take a purely descriptive account of virtue and heroism. 
If a hero is defined instead as merely someone who saves lives, regardless of whether or not a life should be saved, then one can use the word regardless of whether or not we know we ought to save life generally speaking or not.  I use the word “generally” because I acknowledge there are debatable cases where some will claim a genuine hero will not save someone – whether or not Superman should save Lex Luther or Batman save the Joker for example.  This is the exception and not the rule however.  We can slightly alter the definition but it remains that the hero is one who does heroic things, regardless of whether or not he ought to and regardless of the details of what heroism really is.

In essence, we can do what Socrates is known for in much of Plato’s dialogue and inquire upon the true nature of temperance or virtue, we can give descriptive accounts of its origin in humans and give accounts of its use in language; all of which are entirely sufficient in descriptive use and accounts of being with no normativity being introduced.  To summarize, we can say that chocolate is “good” as long as our understanding of good in this context is completely removed from the notion that humans ought to consume chocolate or chocolate ought to exist.  We can give a descriptive accounts of traits we describe as virtuous, their sources, motivations and so on while not arguing that we ought to be virtuous.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Schopenhauer’s Ethics

The moral writings of Schopenhauer are some of the most compelling I have found despite their flaws.  This is in part due to his reasoning but mostly due to his skill with language which is unsurpassed in the cataloging of philosophy which often is deemed dry and incomprehensible by even the most avid scholars and sharpest of minds.  That being said, Schopenhauer commits numerous flaws in his ethics which deserves criticism.
The most glaring criticism one can make of Schopenhauer is he is inconsistent.  He states that his project in ethics is only to give descriptive accounts of human morality, yet in his essay entitled Human Nature he claims that the belief that existence has no “moral significance” is the philosophy of the Anti-Christ[1].  This is either him rebutting Psychological Egoism (a purely descriptive claim) or him saying that morality as conventionally understood, “ought-claims,” exist and can be known.  It seems it is not the former because of the remark of the distinction between “…this significance and the world as it is” referring to what ought to be and the contrast between this truth and the truth of our world[2].  He follows by a recommendation to not evaluate people based on their virtue (for in his view they have little) but instead by their capacity to suffer.  Then empathy and kinship can flow from not only a common but universal fount.  There are clear normative claims here as there are throughout the writings of Schopenhauer. 
One could make the claim that since we must do something (even commit suicide) we have to have some theory or premise of “ought” to act upon even if we cannot ground it in certain knowledge.  However, to make claims of what one believes and to make argument for what one knows through systems of logic are two entirely distinct things.  If Schopenhauer were to claim, “I cannot know if I ought to be compassionate but this is what I believe is right and if you feel likewise then this is what I have found is most conducive to what I find to be right action,” then I would say he is consistent and reasonable.  But to make the bold claim that ethics is not the study of ought-claims and then to have a philosophy riddled with moral accusations of people, strongly inferring that they ought to be kinder, stronger, smarter and so on, is a contradiction that is disappointing to find in a mind keen and knowledgeable beyond doubt[3]
In fact, one finds it hard to reconcile Pessimism, which above all else Schopenhauer is known for, with the view that he is only giving a descriptive account of things with no normative or “ought” claims.  For to be a Pessimist is to take the view there is a stark and potentially irreconcilable chasm between the way the world is and the way it ought to be.
Though I have shown only one example of the contradiction of Schopenhauer I’d like to remain succinct and end this by examining a lack of understanding he has in other views.  In Basis of Morality, Schopenhauer seems to misunderstand the Moral Skeptics which one would think he would be aligned with.  The quote that Schopenhauer provides should not be interpreted as saying that all morality is nothing but human judgment and is therefore false[4].  Though it can be read in this light, instead, they are making the claim that all judgments are known to be simply thus and the merit of said claim we do not know.  This is different than the claim of the Stoics that what is good or ill is not things but instead our perceptions of them[5].
If Pyrrho and his followers are Moral Skeptics then they are not those who claimed that “no true morality exists.”  Instead they claim that moral knowledge is impossible; for to claim knowledge of nothing being inherently “good” or “bad” would be to put forth a positive claim (roughly speaking Moral Nihilism).  That is, either the Pyrrhonians words should be interpreted as being sympathetic to Moral Skepticism or they are not Moral Skeptics and Schopenhauer should not use them as citation for a view they do not hold or represent. 
He states that what one does is determined by what one is but this in no way relates to either normativity (what ought to be) nor how humans judge actions or perceive normativity in descriptive accounts of ethics.  He infers “Natural Ethics” to be grounded upon descriptive ethics because it is his focus to look at the motives of humans in a purely descriptive way.  Schopenhauer as such acknowledges there is no way of discovering the nature of these descriptive ethics save the empirical[6]
From this premise, he then says we must search for that which is of genuine moral worth.  But what is inherently of “moral worth” if we are not dealing with normativity but only the descriptive?  By what measure do we consider an action of moral worth if not by the preferences of humans which Schopenhauer acknowledges has no normative weight?  We have nothing to go off of but human whims (Schopenhauer believes compassion is moral and egoism base and immoral – a descriptive account that aligns with much of humanity but still does not make it correct) and the argument essentially becomes whether we are born feeling this way or feel this way through upbringing and experience.  Either this, or it becomes a debate about the definition of “morality” that has no interest in normativity but instead in descriptive usage.  If this is the case then I would concur with Schopenhauer that “morality” has something to do with compassion, or what is considered “good intentions” (but once again, what determines that such motives are good?) but this is akin to saying that “pleasure” has something to do with pleasant sensations.  Making the claim regarding a word’s definition and language use tells us nothing new.
If we either remove or factor in a completely descriptive understanding into the normative language (e.g. “virtue,” “the good,” “justice,” “fairness” and so on) that he uses then there is much in his moral writings that stand scrutiny.  For regardless of whether we ought to act one way or another Schopenhauer is one of the best writers on the moral intuitions of people.  In this way he is much like the Greek writers that he mocks; unable to say with certainty why we ought to be happy, tranquil, virtuous or anything else but describes with clarity and understanding how we can come about these things in a purely descriptive way.

[1] To say that the world has only a physical and not a moral significance is the greatest and most pernicious of all errors, the fundamental blunder, the real perversity of mind and temper; and, at bottom, it is doubtless the tendency which faith personifies as Anti-Christ.
[2] Yet, however certain we may feel of the moral significance of life and the world, to explain and illustrate it, and to resolve the contradiction between this significance and the world as it is…
[3] The objection will perhaps be raise that Ethics is not concerned with what men actually do, but that it is the science which treats of what their conduct ought to be.  Now this is exactly the position which I deny… The end which I place before Ethical Science is to point out all the varied moral lines of human conduct; to explain them; and to trace them to their ultimate source.
[4] There is nothing either good or bad by nature, but these things are decided by human judgment.
[5] Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.
[6] Consequently there remains no way of discovering the basis of Ethics except the empirical.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My development

As I’m reaching the end of my undergraduate education, I’m tempted to write upon the course my “education” as taken.  Though my professors have been largely wonderful and helpful in the inculcation of knowledge and critical reasoning, I find that the course I have travelled is largely one of my own searching.
I first became interested in philosophy formally my junior year of high school.  I read Plato’s Republic before this period but only in segments and only because I enjoyed dissecting the arguments and asking, “why do you assume this?” or “even if this is so your conclusion doesn’t follow.”  The philosophy itself was unimportant. 
My first major influences in philosophy were Greek Atomists, German Materialists and German Pessimists.  Mainly Epicurus, Marx, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.  Of the four, I would consider Schopenhauer the main thinker I have any remaining affinity for and that’s with some caveats placed upon this agreement.  Obviously the intellect they possess should not be tarnished, however, my skepticism has left me unconvinced by the premises they take as given.
When I wrote in the past, it was largely rushed, scatter-brained, and high-strung prose that boldly declared the absurdity of X or the self-evident nature of Y.  I like to think I’m more measured in my writings now.  This it seems is not as rare as I originally thought.  I still however take pride in the amount I’ve written even though I’d likely dismiss much of the content contained within.

In my youth I was a Materialist, Marxist and Utilitarian.  Now I’m a skeptic both in terms of descriptive and normative claims.  I have political views but I realize now that they only align with my own moral sensibilities which I cannot argue for with certainty or ground in pure reason.  My main philosophies now are Anti-Realism and Moral Fallibilism.  I’m currently dissecting Kant and Schopenhauer’s ethics, as the only concern I have with descriptive claims remaining is the possibility of a language that is purely descriptive and have no normative assessments with it.  This is to purify assessments of “the good” of any ought claims that cannot be verified.  This is because there is much knowledge in these claims, however, when we make assumptions of “ought” we slip without good cause into the ungrounded territory that Hume spoke of but himself was victim to in his own way with his un-founded theory of moral sentiment.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A New Dawn?

I just accumulated my writings of 2016.  It's amazing how much one can write about things they no longer hold to just a year later.  Almost everything I've written before a few months ago I feel is either incorrect or inadequate.  Almost everything before the beginning of last semester.

Keep moving forward.