Thursday, June 29, 2017

Adventure Time – Elements

I was going to write an in-depth analysis of the entire Adventure Time series.  It’s something I wanted to write for a few months now, but with the show ending soon I’ll wait until it concludes to write about the show as a whole.  But I’ll just quickly give a piece of love for the show:  it’s the smartest kid’s show, bar none.  It subtly introduces ideas to children the way a work of art should.
            Elements was a great mini-series and its saddening that it will be the last one and likely the last major plot thread before the show’s conclusion.  The major element of the story that I find interesting is the Borg/Invasion of the Body Snatchers element of the, well, Candy Element.  It’s a great analysis of the question, “would we want a problem free existence if it meant giving up our individuality” and being a broader thought-experiment for one’s preferences in ethics which give descriptive intuitions but provide nothing conclusively normative. 
            A youtuber who reviews and analyzes Adventure Time episodes seems to highlight the confusion many people have and the bias towards classical Utilitarianism.  He states, “maybe they are truly happy in this state.”  Assuming, or rather implying, that the deciding factor of what ought to be is clearly what makes people happy.  Sam Harris makes the same confusion of ethics and the is-ought distinction with health.  Confusing skepticism of what will make us healthy with confusion that we know that we ought to be healthy when the only thing we can point to is the descriptive fact that pain and lack of health is unpleasant while pleasure and vitality desirable.  But this in itself does not conclude that what ought to be is the satisfaction or infinite increase of all pleasure.
            A virtue ethicist and deontologist would argue that the “Borg” Utopia is morally wrong.  Not only is it lacking in certain virtues but it also is forced on Jake and Finn.  A Utilitarian would be fine with this because although philosophers like John Stuart Mill give a broad interpretation of liberty and autonomy he does so only because he believe these are essential for human happiness.  But if humans could be changed into candy-creatures this would no longer be the case.  A Deontologist could still make the argument that it’s wrong but a Utilitarian would have to somehow show it would cause creatures more pain than pleasure.
            The story is great in having us ask what type of life we would truly wish to live and world we wish to live in.  Many times people think they want something but regardless of whether or not what they want should be they often times find the satisfaction of their desires not as satisfying as originally conceived.  Schopenhauer is the greatest writer on this subject.
            The show also examines being stuck in the past and not having problems accepting loss and change.  Seen in Betty not being able to accept Ice King and Finn momentarily clinging to the past of being with young Princess Bubblegum but ultimately accepting his current state of being a friend of hers.  Desiring the past can only be destructive.

On Two Forms of Acceptance and the Unstated Meaning Behind Words

In my paper, Morality and Ethics, I describe how the words morality and ethics should be used to separate distinct concepts that at times become confused.  It seems that this confusion of sentiments can not only happen with words through definitions but entire sentences through interpreted meaning behind the surface.
Take the example of discrimination and acceptance.  If I say the sentence, “Gays should be accepted.”  The most superficial meaning of treating homosexuals with kindness is not ambiguous.  What is however is the why behind acceptance.  Is it because the author believes homosexuals are “just like straight people” or are they saying that homosexuals should be accepted even if they aren’t like “normal people.”  The former is essentially a descriptive account of things while the latter is a normative one.
The first one does nothing with a presumption many people have: that those who are different should be shunned.  It instead says that gays (this is also true of statements regarding different races, religions, etc.) aren’t different and are normal people.  Therefore, they shouldn’t be shunned.  The second and in my mind more moral (moral in the sense of deriving from universal compassion) interpretation is the declaration of “you shouldn’t shun the different or odd.” 
This interpretation is not only more moral but more liberating.  For just as the homosexual community has their proverbial “closet” to step out of, so the so called “freaks” and odd-balls of all shades, stripes and varieties have their own dark corner where they must hide their true selves – aspects of themselves which are debatably more essential to our humanity than mere sexuality.  Censorship of these personality traits, quirks and other aspects of people is more debilitating arguably, both in the sense that it cripples the suffering social “deviant” and society has to be in a sense more closed minded to enforce taboos, social mores and social regulations of “normalcy.”
People often don’t state their fundamental premises when they give a descriptive or normative account.  When someone says “murder is wrong,” or “it is wrong that James killed John,” they typically don’t state why which is arguably more important than a declaration that the majority will agree with.  For if it is true, then it needs to be stated why, both for the sake of truth and so people will use their reasoning either to defend or argue against the proposition.  Otherwise it is just secular “dogma,” as is essentially the whole of social norms and ethical propositions of society. 
These propositions are first enforced and childhood and go on throughout adulthood.  Schools don’t teach children to question premises or find answers.  Only to describe and recite the answers already given in the sciences, religions and culture produced by great minds who had the ability to think for themselves despite societies unwillingness to foster creative and critical thought, and in some cases, makes a deliberate attempt to stamp it out when it the flower blooms amongst the weeds and dandelions.
Everyday language is important if our foundational premises in thought are of any significance.  For it is in our everyday language where the norms and premises of a culture reveal themselves.  Not only in what is said, but in what is omitted.  Wittgenstein said, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”  If this means, “we should not say things we do not have knowledge of,” and if moral fallibilism is correct, then all ought statements should be stricken from the utterances of Man.  But then how would we live our lives?  Also, it is not left unnoticed that the statement of “…one must be silent,” is itself a normative or ought claim – so to claim that one ought not to make ought claims would be a self-contradiction.
Though I cannot definitively argue my position, for this would be to contradict moral fallibilism, it is my view that humans should continue making ethical declarations, but rigorously examine their language and premises.  Both because this may help in creating not only better thinkers but arguably better human beings.

Monday, June 26, 2017

On Morality and Ethics

Six months ago or so I wrote an essay called On Virtue and Character, in which I attempt to distinguish between action and intent.  And although I now find fault with several aspects of the paper, what I don’t find reason to criticize is the attempt to distinguish between moral intention or motive and describing a desirable outcome regardless of the incentive of the actor.  For much like the discussion of free will, I feel discussions of ethics (or morality, or normativity, or actually of all these things) becomes congested by the introduction of misunderstandings through language.  Wittgenstein once said that all the misunderstandings of philosophy were as result of language, and though all may be a tad hyperbolic he certainly was onto something.
Since the philosophy of virtue ethics is directed towards people’s habits and behavior (though they also look at a person’s state of mind upon acting) and Schopenhauer argues that descriptive morality is grounded in compassion I find it as convenient as any other arbitrary division that the former describe whether an action or outcome in the world be preferable and the latter describe how the motives of the acting agent are directed.  Whether we ought to be moral is an entirely different question than both if we are in a given situation or if morality is grounded in compassion or something else. 
The last question seems to me another meaningless division once we lose all normativity associated with the word.  Unless we wish to define morality differently, if we define it as having concern for others, it seems a matter of analytic apriori knowledge that morality is grounded in compassion.  We know that people by-en-large prefer compassion over selfishness or malice, but if we use the word morality to describe it without any normativity then all we are in effect saying when we say, “Jeff was moral when he saved Lisa,” is “Jeff was thinking of Lisa when he saved her; not of any potential reward he might receive or the potential displeasure it may bring to someone else.” 
Let us be clear: it is not saying, “Jeff was right to save Lisa.”  For this is a question of preference of action which I claim should be connoted to ethics and also as a moral, or hmmm, ethical skeptic I would claim we cannot know.  We can know however what Jeff’s motivations were when Jeff jumped into the pool.  And even if we could not, his motivations and whether he ought to do a thing are entirely different conceptually.  One can argue that the two are intrinsically connected, and although in theory this could be the case there is nothing about the two concepts which makes this necessarily true.  Just like in theory all triangles could be blue and all squares polka-dotted.  This does not entail that the nature or definition of a tringle is attached in any way to “blue-ness” nor squares to polka-dots.
To reiterate, the question of a dog’s head being crushed by a giant rotating gear is a question of ethics, not morality.  Unless one would make the argument that there is an acting agent with a will involved (either the gear has a will, or it is being controlled by an agent with a will whether it be a man or God) we must confess knowledge that there is nothing here of morality.  That is to say it is neither moral nor immoral.  Speaking of morality here is akin to Locke’s description of the will being tall or short being just as absurd for him as describing it as “free” or “not free.”  His argument was not that the will was not free, but that freedom is not a thing to be attached to the will.  What is to be attached to the action however is whether or not it is ethical or unethical.  That is to say, whether the dog ought to have his head crushed or not.  One may make the claim that it should, should not, it is contextual based on other factors (which ultimately is what the Utilitarian would argue – the dog could later run into the street and give half a dozen children rabes for example), there is no difference ethically, or that we have no way of knowing.
Though it is in some sense arbitrary which word we use for which concept, just as we could just as well call shapes colors and colors by the names of shapes I do think it is necessary to have two distinct words to separate these two distinct concepts in thought.  Wittgenstein seems to be on to something again when he says we should look to how language is used.  Though I’m sure we could find examples of the words I’ve given be used in the exact opposite way in which I’ve given them, on the whole I would say most usages of moral have to do with the intentions of the acting agent. 
When we think of whether a man is “good” we think of his character or whether he considers others welfare as an end-in-themselves or considers others as only a means to his own goals or satisfactions.  When we think of a person’s conduct, how they habitually act, we think of their lives forming a certain “ethical code” and whether or not this code aligns well with our own.  How we feel people ought to behave whether or not context and circumstance are factored into this calculation or not.  Someone then, could have a completely fine ethical code in the eyes of many, be square-dealing and fair, but do so for reasons that are entirely self-centered and therefore not moral. 
Someone could say that he ought to be moral, but this is in effect saying, “it is ethical to be moral,” or the concept of ought for them has something to do with a person’s motives.  Using the given meanings however to say, “one ought to be ethical,” is to provide no new knowledge or theory outside the original agreed upon definition of words.  It is akin to saying, “a moral person has concern for others,” or, “a triangle has three sides.”  One can argue with the definition of a triangle the same way one can argue semantics over the definition of ethics and morals but what is crucial is there is a difference between argument over the definition of a triangle and argument over what a three-sided thing is. 
One is a question of representation while the other is a question of essence.  To ask, “what do I mean when I say ‘triangle?’” is to inquire what meaning the sound I make with my mouth or letters I type on my keyboard refer to.  To ask, “what is a triangle?” is to ask of the thing’s ontology or status in existence.  It could be triangles are merely a product of a person’s mind, or they really exist; or they really exist and are merely a product of someone’s mind but then whether or not something is real is not contingent on it existing externally to the human mind.
Returning to distinguishing ethics from morals, though it is more difficult to think of situations of the opposite happening in the world they certainly do occur.  A couple may send their child to a gay-conversion clinic where horrible things are done to them.  The parents however, legitimately had the best interest of the child in mind and not only did they not wish him or her harm, they earnestly prayed for their child’s well-being although they arguably had a false notion of what well-being is.  Many would say that their action was not ethical, they should not have done what they did, but that does not change the fact that their intentions were directed towards the child and not themselves in this instance.
Language is as much as logic a key aspect to philosophy.  To ignore the means by which ideas are expressed by our species and attempt to focus only on the “content” divorced from all linguistics is much like Aristotle’s critique of the Platonic forms.  Once you divorce all logical expression from its linguistic vessel you’re left with something that is not imaginable let alone possible to be actualized.  For just as to have “horse-ness” is to mean to have something be a color and a size and a shape and so on, to have a thinking thing have a thought, whether true or false, whether profound or insipid, is to have a language be the “vessel” or means by which that thought is given. 

A mistake in understanding the meaning of a word in a philosophical text is as erroneous as failing to understand the nature of the thought.  Although the former can be easily corrected while the latter requires more thought and is perhaps to never be corrected in some due to limitations not in the understanding of the words but the thoughts behind them.

On Labels and Content

If one were to take only one thing away from the life of Malcolm X, I would hope it would be that human beings can transcend one narrative or mental construction to another.  Malcolm X did this twice.  In his leaving a life of crime, a life of self-centered pleasure, disregard for others and lack of intellectual curiosity, towards a life of moral service and utmost dedication to a higher calling albeit in a narrow-minded fashion.  And again, in leaving the Nation of Islam and becoming a Sunni Muslim; leaving a mentality of labeling of people based on race in the broad and moralizing sense that he did behind, although unfortunately he did seem to retain this mentality in part in believing that Islam to be the tool for racial unity rather than the true source of morality, namely compassion.  That is he still retained some distinction of peoples based on race and religion, in ways more than merely circumstantial.  This is seen in his recommendation of black people “mentally and culturally return to Africa,” as if because someone has a certain skin color or have descendants of a certain place this should dictate how they should dress or who they should be as people.
Malcolm X’s story is one that is allegorical to my message that Christians must transcend Scripture, and people of all faiths must transcend labels and emphasis on descriptive beliefs, and instead focus on the moral message the faith provides.  The ought that we either ought or ought not to follow in living an exemplary life.  What is exemplary I believe only our intuitions can instruct us upon – reason being impotent on such matters.  Or rather, showing us that we are impotent in our knowledge so instead must act in a type of daily faith of “ought.”
If the theme is more important than the details of the message or the message has supremacy over the name of the messenger or prophet, then people should be gladdened that people in the West are increasingly beginning to see the person over the label and prefer morality over dogma.  This conflict will be something that likely always plague the human species, and as a moral skeptic, I cannot claim knowledge that one ought to practice one over the other.  But I know that my intuitions lead me to favor compassion (morality) over idioms and ideologies. 
In my youth, I was what I would call now a “crass Leftist.”  I thought as a Marxist the way some think as Evangelical Christians or some as White or Black Nationalists.  I had not learned to think as a person.  And although I do think there is still wisdom in that outlook, or at least something novel amidst our climate of Neo-Liberalism, I am glad that I have fully developed in the sense of trying to see a person and not a set of beliefs.
There are many other examples of this throughout history, whether it be of going from one frame of mind to another ala Malcolm X, or appearing to always see people rather than ideological opponets in the case of George Orwell.  For although Orwell was a Socialist, he criticized wrongs he perceived by the USSR as frequently as he criticized those of rivaling “camps” or factions.  And in a sense, Orwell and Malcolm can be seen as examples of minimizing all needless labels and ideologies to two distinct ones:  those who see people as people and those who see rather labels, ideologies, races or creeds.
This is not to say of course that stances cannot be token or alliances formed to have a consequence on the world or for any other reason or ought one can ascribe to brotherhood.  But ultimately, same as there is a distinction between acting out of compassion and acting out of courtesy (false or insincere kindness) so there is a distinction between acting out of humanity and acting out of ideology.  While the former is universal and grounded in compassion, the latter is limiting and grounded in the tribal instinct to form ties to ensure that one will go on existing.  Failing to be moral in the strictest sense of one’s motives (though one can still have a moral effect on the world giving certain assumptions of ought) through failing to see the humanity in others and be concerned for them for their own sake.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Restaurant at the End o the Universe

I just finished Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  The second in the Hitchhiker's series.  It's been years since I've read the first but I liked this one even more than I remember liking the first.  It's been years since I've read a novel.  The closest things would be Voltaire's Candide and More's Utopia.  I remember years ago trying to finish Gulliver's Travels and having a hard time of it.  About four years ago; damn time goes fast.

I'll probably continue on with the series since I thoroughly enjoyed this one.  I also bought One Punch Man.  Maybe I'll get to it this summer, maybe it's another in a long stream of books I probably shouldn't have bought.

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.

Friday, June 2, 2017

On Meaning Needing to be Knowable

For Albert Camus’ claim of life being “absurd” to be true, two premises must be the case.  First, that human beings (or some beings that exist) are born with an innate desire to have a known meaning in life.  Secondly, no such meaning existing.  The absurdity coming from the clear discrepancy of being created wanting something which does not exist.  The skeptic could claim that Camus is positing knowledge we lack and can never have.  Claiming that we cannot know if life has meaning or not, and what this potential meaning is that we have no way of knowing.  If whether or not life has meaning was not dependent on our knowing it (or are capable of knowing it) then the skeptics would be correct.  However, it seems to me that for life to have meaning it must be one that can be known, for a meaning that is unknowable is like a solution that is incomprehensible to the beings the solution applies to.
Imagine if you will faster than light travel, reversing time or teleportation, things that are theoretically possible but may never be accomplished by Man.  Though it may never be discovered because of other factors, the same way that a professional athlete does not break a record not from lack of athletic abilities but from other factors which prevented him (his mother’s illness for example) it is also possible that we will never discover these things because of a lacking in human intellect.  If this is the case, then the solution is non-existent.  There is an answer, but not a solution for humans just as there is not a solution to three chimpanzees in a room with all the instruments necessary to perform a open-heart transplant but the knowledge and skill of hand is not.  There is no solution for them because there is no possibility of accomplishing what is needed despite the fact that all the raw materials are present.

If a meaning to exist, it must be one that is knowable by the beings that it applies to.  The question then is, assuming an objective meaning hasn’t been discovered yet, is whether or not it is knowable but has yet to been discovered (like the vaccine of polio was yet to be discovered a hundred years ago) or is incapable of being grasped or conceived regardless of whether or not it exists (like time travel or faster than light travel may be).

Essence Does Not Necessitate Normativity: A New Formula for “Moral Freedom” or Moral Falibilism

“First find out who you want to be, then do what you have to do.”             Epictetus

Existentialists are known for being in some regards moral skeptics through denying a conception of human nature or excellence.  Sartre is perhaps the definitive example of this both in the particulars of his Existentialism and in his famous declaration which has been called the central mantra of Existentialism:  Existence precedes essence.  He believes that although the Enlightenment dismissed rational grounding in belief in God they hold on to what certainty in God gave them[1].  Sartre however dismisses this “universal nature,” and this is what is meant by “existence precedes essence.”  This is arguably a false claim but regardless of its truth it is not a worthwhile one.  That is regardless of whether or not Man has a universal “essence” there is nothing in the description of this essence described by the Stoics, Schopenhauer or various religions (something made in the image of God) that in any way grounds what Man or any one man ought to do.  That is, Sartre believes by denying an essence through denying God[2] he is giving man the “freedom to choose” that grounds Existentialism.  However, there are several unnecessary premises there and good philosophy in my mind is akin to a good steak – there should be very little fat.
            First off, a God or creator is not necessary for Man to have a universal nature, telos, or “good.”  The Stoics’ ethics focus on Man being a rational being who must live “according to Nature” referring to his nature as a rational being who has various needs to live well.  Arguably Aristotle’s ethics is comparable.  Schopenhauer’s ethics involves us denying the “will-to-life” and seeing all sufferers in this bleak existence as brother and sisters, and through this view acting with compassion rather than with selfish intent or malice.  None of these views of our “nature” necessitate a God for the idea to be communicated.  Secondly, a “good” or telos is not necessarily what we ought to do.  Sartre by failing to realize this seems to be left in the Ancient World and fails to understand the leaps made by moral skeptics such as David Hume.  That is, just because I know Vitamin C is good for me, in no way indicates that I ought to consume Vitamin C, because I have no reason to believe that I ought to be happy or healthy.  This is a moral intuition we have, but intuition is not grounds for knowledge.
            In fact there are some ethicists who insist that we must act contrary to our nature.  This is something that someone familiar with the Christian tradition should pick up on easily.  Man is sinful and fallen for the Christian.  And instead of following our base urges and inclinations, it is preferable (for one reason or another depending on the Christian tradition) to turn away from our fallen nature and towards the state of being passed this veil-of-tears and world-of-woes that is the Kingdom of God and union in Christ.  This asceticism and focus on the afterlife is why Nietzsche calls Christianity, but also Buddhism and the writings of Schopenhauer “life-denying” philosophies.  However just as the Christian cannot ground from the will of God why I ought to obey such a will (any selfish inducement of Heaven is not satisfactory and only removes the “moral” element of doing good for the sake of good rather than for a reward) so Nietzsche does not solve the is-ought distinction either and does not rationally ground his Will to Power.  To summarize, Sartre wrongly thinks that to disprove a “telos” or descriptive account of well-being, or any other descriptive account (such as God’s will) is necessary to dismiss the possibility of a concrete morality grounded in reason.  But the is-ought distinction is all that is necessary to dismiss these claims.
I agree with the existentialists insofar as it is our responsibility to make our own choices in life – no one can make our choices for us.  However, I disagree that we necessarily have a responsibility to make our own life choices in the sense that I disagree that we necessarily have a moral obligation to make a choice (any choice) or refer to ourselves as “morally free.”  For to say this is to claim knowledge that we ought to make a choice (any choice) in ought-claims and ought not to be in Bad Faith.  Sartre and the Existentialists describe with presumed accuracy the phenomena of Bad Faith; what they fail to do is to demonstrate why I ought not to live in Bad Faith.  It is inevitable that I make some implicit ought-claims merely from living my life (or killing myself – the ought claim being I ought not to be alive, or ought not to suffer which being alive allows me to do) but what is not clear is that I should make “should” claims.  One can make the claim that to “take on the task” of creating a moral system or making an argument for a pre-existing one is either noble or one will live a more happy, fulfilled existence by doing so – but this is a purely descriptive account.  One still has not demonstrated that one ought to be noble, happy, fulfilled etc.
Since Man is a being that must choose (this is what it means, in part, to be human) he has to choose what his ethics will be – if they will correspond with a description of human nature, utilitarian calculus, personal pleasure, the Categorical Imperative, God’s will, or any other approach he can take.  He must act as if something is true even if he cannot ground it in reason.  And it is my contention that as long as a claim is not contradictory any claim is as good as any other claim.  This is distinct from Kant’s view, who also believes we must act as if morality is true, though we cannot ground it in pure reason.  However, it is also Kant’s view that we can use logic to determine what is moral and what isn’t (lying is always wrong), once again making assumptions since we cannot know anything about metaphysics.  In my future paper, I will argue why Kant is wrong in believing he can determine what is right or wrong using reason.

[1] In the philosophic atheism of the eighteenth century, the notion of God is suppressed, but not, for all that, the idea that essence is prior to existence; something of that idea we still find everywhere, in Diderot, in Voltaire and even in Kant. Man possesses a human nature; that “human nature,” which is the conception of human being, is found in every man; which means that each man is a particular example of a universal conception, the conception of Man.
[2] Dostoyevsky once wrote: 'If God does not exist, everything is permissible.' This is the starting point of existentialism.



If all thing follow from necessity,
If all things which are must be,
Then one might say it’s foolish to be alarmed.
But that doesn’t change the fact,
That Nature has necessarily made a fool of me.

For though it may be foolish to respond,
With anxiety to that which causes us harm,
This is how we all were made.
For some to say there’s no cause of alarm,
Is to add yet another level of dismay.

Although contentment should be our aim,
The passions of illusion necessarily take their hold.
So that we strive for happiness rather than serenity.
Since lasting satisfaction was not a feature of Man’s mold.
Necessarily continuing the cycle of desire, dissatisfaction and misery.

So though all things follow from necessity,
That doesn’t necessarily mean anything to me.
And this too flows from the Laws of Life.
We all act out our roles and play our parts,

And necessarily cling to fantasy and impossibility.