There was always some time left over. When I was a political science major, I always had time left over. You know, time when you could only fit in one or two classes in your major in your schedule, so the vacancy had to be filled with something. I chose philosophy. I decided that, since I was a poly sci major, and had no need for that philosophy crap, that I would take the easiest classes — which meant restricting any philsophy class that i would take to the 190 level. Easy lifting. No biggie. But then, as what commonly happens, I realized that I had a knack for the stuff. Now, to this day, I wouldn’t be able to tell you if I had a true knack for problems philosophical, or if I had a knack for bullshitting, but either way, I managed to do well. I managed to convince people that I was not only good at this philosophy, but that I actually liked it. I hadn’t considered taking it on as a major until a couple of professors asked me if I was interested in becoming a philosophy major. I had always said that I was ploy sci through and through and that I was just doing philosophy as something of a hobby. That dodge worked — for a while. I was in my last quarter when the recruitment happened. I had slugged my way through two and a half years of political science. I had a wild and raging love affair with the political process. I loved reading the Bill of Rights, I wanted to follow the path of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. At least at that time I wanted to…. I was taking a class, which, because we had fallen so dreadfully behind, that ended up centering on David Hume. I hadn’t really thought about the problem of induction, (as it was never a proble for me or anyone else I knew), but I enjoyed reading and thinking about something that some philosopher found so dreadfully important that was ultimately useless. I enjoyed the class less for it’s philosophic importance, than more for the fact that it made me giggle at the fact that people actually got paid to study and teach all of this stuff that they had convinced themselves was of vital importance. (Reading this stuff was supposed to change my life, I think I had one heard). But, as I had a knack, I was recruited by a professor — who suggested that I should become a philosophy major. I would be glad that I did, he said. Wrong. As of this date, I haven’t really made any use of that damned philosophy degree, other than to get a couple of the obilgatory philosophy questions on Jeopardy!. Sure, I can tell you all about Hume’s Fork or Xeno’s Paradox, or muddle my way through a half explanation of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, but what use does that serve? Can it help me to fix a tire? Can it hurry the Minnesota recount and declare Al Franken the winner? Can it get me a job with a fair wage and a decent health plan? (The answer to that question is no). A couple of nights ago, my neighborhood had a blackout. I was sitting on the sofa with my dog, eating my dinner, and suddenly, all darkness. Luckily my nephew was just outside, and as he is a smoker, he supplied me with a lighter that I used to find my way to some candles. But for a moment, right after the lights went out, I was helpless. I sat peering into the darkness hoping that I would be able to feel my way to the stove where I could turn on one of the burners but suddenly realizing that the ignition is electric. I thought to myself, what if my nephew wasn’t outside? what would I have done then? I would have sat in that dark room panicking until the power was restored. (which would have been a good 40 minutes). That’s what I would have done. Last night, I was listening to “Coast to Coast”. The guest was talking about what we would have to do to survive if technology failed us. We’d have to grow our own food, make our own shoes, even. I thought: my god, I can’t do any of that. I can’t do anything! I have so much education but absolutely no skills to show for it. If tomorrow it all hit the fan, I’d starve to death. Probably while clutching a copy of The Critique of Pure Reason. If my degree of usefulness determined whether I ended up someone’s dinner in a raging blizzard, I’d be the first person eaten in the Donner Party. At least that way I’d been useful. Not too long ago, I was listening to former MTV vj Kennedy on her local radio show. Like myself, she is also a holder of a philosophy degree. She and her co-host were talking about what they would do if civilization as we know it collapsed and mankind was left to fend for itself. She asked, “What can I do?”. She said that at that point she realized that having a degree in philosophy isn’t exactly …. well…. impressive. It doesn’t prepare or even instruct someone as to how to grow seeds or tan leather. Nada. If I recall correctly, Descartes was busy hiding from war while he was busy realizing that he existed. Now, this may be biting the hand that feeds, but I think that we could have all gotten along fairly well if Good Old Rene had actually gone off to fight instead of hiding in his nightgown staring at a piece of wax. I’ll be the first to admit that if I were in a life raft adrift on the ocean I’d likely hike the philosopher overboard in favor of saving the botanist or the EMT. Sure, I could say that it’s the philosophers who build civilizations, and I could point to Plato or Aristotle to show for it. Ok, that excuses them. But how do I excuse myself? Except to claim that my utilitarian value to society is dinner.
Lately, I’ve been paying alot more attention to what I’m saying. I guess it has to do with that brush with Frege not so long ago, when I was started on the business of worrying about to what I was really referring when I looked to to the moonlit sky and proclaimed that I was staring up at Hesperus. My, I would say, Hesperus is certainly bright tonight. By the way, it’s easier to say it’s Venus. Anyway, when you pay attention to what you’re saying, you’re also, consequently, paying attention to what you are thinking, and often asking to yourself not only the meaning of what you say, but also whether you’re saying anything that you know for sure. I could have all my references correct, but is what I’m saying really known to me as fact? What? Ok, let me backtrack and try to make what I’m saying less jumbled. What I mean is that sometimes I’m so caught up in the meanings of what I say, that I’ve lost track of whether what I’m saying is correct at all. There. That said it. Maybe I should get straight on whether I am saying anything that I know before I try to assess whether what I’m saying means. With me so far? As all of my friends and family knows, I watch a tremendous lot of television. I think that the technical term for my TV watching is called “get a life”, but needless to say, I do. Watch. Alot. I think that among philosophy types, it’s the rather “in” thing to proclaim to you’re colleagues that you either don’t own a TV set, or that you don’t have cable. (I only read Truthout and listen to Pacifica, they might say).That way, by saying so, you distinguish your eudaimonic lifestyle from that endless and decidedly unphilosophic television watching of all of the other swine. But, seeing that I disdain philosophic types and all that they stand for, especially those who shop at Trader Joe’s and profess veganess, I freely cop to the fact that I do indeed watch TV. Alot. I think that the reason why so many philosophy types deny that they watch TV is because of the “low” culture of popular society, and the reputation associated with those who either use or participate in it. Popular culture is the sophist to the Socratic individual. If it is anything, popular culture is kryptonite to the philosopher. His philosophical powers are weakened by exposure to all things pop — eventually resulting in complete philosophic collapse. Popular culture, especially TV, makes idiots of us all. (Or at the very least, it churns out a few empiricists). But I say, on this one, the philosophy type is wrong, for the modern age’s greatest philosophical sage is on the air for all to see: Ms. Oprah Winfrey. This is no joke. I’m really quite serious. I know that there is almost a cottage industry of professional Oprah-bashing out there. I’ve participated in a great deal of it myself. But once I actually started watching Oprah instead of listening to what other people told me about the “Oprahdization” of society, I found that there are plenty of lessons in store for even the most Aristotelian-minded philosopher. I was browsing some time ago on Oprah’s website, where there is listed 20 things that Oprah knows for sure. Now, as a philosophy type person, any suggestion made by someone that they know anything with certainty is bound to grab my ear. So I took a look at Oprah’s list. At fist glance, the list can be easily dismissed as pop-psyche, motivational speaker babble. And in reality it is. But, there’s something else at work behind the simple and obvious claims, like, “what you do comes back all the time, no matter what” (by the way, Oprah says that that statement is her creed). I thought when I read Oprah’s creed, well duh, every culture on earth has some sort of idea of karma. I, for instance, ws raised with the “Golden Rule”. Wiccans, I think, believ in a 3-fold law, and so on. But, how do I know that? How is it that Oprah’s bit of advice failed to tell me anything that I didn’t already know? Suddenly, Oprah’s list of 20 became an exercize in seeking the epistemic nature of “duh”. How is it that Oprah can claim that she knows anything for sure? And how is it that, without having seen Oprah’s list before, I know these 20 things, too? John Dewey, the American pragmatist, said that the knowledge that we gain through our experiences must be of practical value. For the pragmatist, all that info is fine and dandy, but real knowledge tells us one simple thing: I can use it to so something. If it works, then it’s good to know. If it does not, then the info is useless. Knowledge, for Dewey, enabled man to master our environment. For Dewey, the test for what counted as knowledge was a test of coherence. Does what I accept as true fit with what else I believe is true? If it fits, then it is true. Oprah’s creed certainly has practical value. If we realize that we may be subject to human or divine retribution, our actions or sentiments (because Oprah believes that beliefs have force as well) are more likely to be kind instead of malevolent. Given similar religious or moral beliefs (and experiences)about how our behaviour can “come back” at us, Oprah’s creed seems to pass the test of coherence. But, as Dewey admits, coherence is a shaky criteria for knoweledge at best. Because all people are different, all people do not share the same set of held “truths”. We all have different beliefs to which a piece of data does or does not cohere. Anything approaching universal knowledge would have to be decided by committee, or at least hopelessly relativistic. But, Oprah tells us that her creed is a truth “no matter what”. It is universal and not subject to relativity. So, I looked another epistomological method to test the truth of Oprah’s claim. I remembered that, some time ago, in my epistemology class, we discussed reliabilism. Now, if I remember correctly, reliabilism has something to do with accepting a belief as true only if it has been formed in a reliable manner or by way of a reliable process. I can’t quite remember the example that we handled in class, but I remember thinking that reliabilism tends to yield alot of beliefs that are, for lack of a better word, “duh” beliefs (like Oprah’s creed). That is, if my eyes never failed me before, that is, I can rely on the accuracy of what they are seeing, and I think that I see a steamroller coming towards me, I can reliably believe that there is, in fact, a steamroller coming towards me. Or something like that. So now I thought, is that the hidden epistemic factor at work with Ms. Winfrey? But, then I thought, it can’t be — Oprah says that she knows these things for sure . Even reliable methods fail from time to time. So then I thought, if Oprah knows these things for sure, what she knows for sure cannot be derived from any outside means. We know that if we hinge our knowledge on what we discover from the world around us, we may come across false information or worse yet, arrive at a false belief. So, Oprah’s stipulation that she knows these 20 things for sure suggests that her basis for knowledge cannot be empirical. So then I thought, if not empirical, then we (or at least she) knows these things for sure without experience. And that led me to the rationalists: When Descartes wrote the Meditations, he asked of what things he can know for certain. Descartes stated that any knowledge he derived from his sense must be discarded until he could be certain that that knowledge was not subject to doubt. Ultimately, he arrived at the truth of his own exixtence. That knowledge, Descartes claimed, was known a priori — without experience. Even if he doubted that he existed, something, Descartes reasoned, must be thinking that it does not exist — so he exists. That fact at least cannot be doubted. But, Oprah makes an even bigger claim. She’s not just stating that she exists, she’s claiming a list of 20 truths that she knows with certainty . Now, I know that Oprah does not rule out the existence of a creator-being that put the world and events in motion. So, I guess that we could say that what is revealed to her as the truth concerning her 20 claims is the product of the Divine Light of Reason. I guess we could say that Oprah knows these things because God revealed them to her as true. This was Descartes’ method of coming to the knowledge that the world outside of himself exists. Ok, that will do, but I think that there’s something more at work, here. I feel that somehow, that explanation is not Oprahly satisfying. When I watch Oprah, I often hear her say that something is a gut feeling or known to us as some sort of intuitive notion of the way that things are or should be. So, that means, or at least suggests, that Oprah’s 20 things are given to us (or her) intuitively. (hurray, GE Moore). (I’m not even going to attempt to explain intuititionism). But, here we find another snag. Oprah’s creed, “what you put out comes back all the time, no matter what”, seems to rely on some sort of empirical varification. How would we know that whatever we put out comes back unless we actually put out something that came back? Is Oprah telling us that her life lessons possess some sort of synthetic a priori quality? Kant suggests that there are some knowledge about the world that possess both a priori and empirical “qualities” (I use the word qualities, simply because I lack the proper vocabulary to express exactly what Kant means). In the case of mathematics, for instance, it is true that 5+7=12 a priori, but we need to see the operation of adding five to seven to varify, if you will that 5+7 does indeed equal twelve. I think that this may be putting us on the right track here. Indeed, what Oprah may be suggesting is that there is an intuitive a priori knowledge. The fact that there are things that we know for sure suggests that there are undoubtable truths that transcend our own experience. They are true “no matter what”. But, there is also alongside that truth, the feeling that we know these things from our guts, that we simply “know” them, but they are not revealed it seems, until we actually begin to interact with others in the world. I’m not sure whether Oprah is correct that we can know one thing, let alone 20 things for sure. But, I also think that when we easily dismiss Oprah and other so-called mind numbing entertainment, or say that we cannot gain from watching them, we are wrong in saying so. It is arrogant, and I think, philosophically dangerous to believe that only those who are endowed with the proper philosophic credentials are credible sources for philosophic theory or discussion. If we want others to think philosophically, we should encourage them to see philosophic questions and answers in everything they see — even on TV. As I wrap this up, I need only think to the slave that Socrates used to demonstrate that even the uneducated possess knowledge that they may not even know that they possess. That’s worth thinking about or at the very least encouraged. And it’s also worth thinking about the idea of intuitive a priori knowledge. I might make a name for myself at last!
the world is going to hell. At least that’s what is happenaing if I believe the countless array of conspiracy theorists that I listen to every day on the radio. (Actually, I only listen to two, and occasionally to Coast to Coast). The globalists are taking over, and we’re all being threatened by genetic tampering and false flag operations carried out by the new world order, so they can manifest their plan for world domination. That’s what I’m supposed to believe. Now, if I believe this, I should feel as if I am obligated to do something about it. That would be the Kantian thing to do, wouldn’t it? But, even if I truly were an egoist– and I’m not saying that I’m not– I’d still be obligated to do something, if not motivated by my own self-interest not to be genetically tampered or new world ordered. I really should be doing a Howard Beale, screaming from the rooftops, or at least out nof my window, about how if we don’t conquer the rising tide of new world orderdom, humanity is lost. But somehow, in the midst of all of this hell-going, I feel like … well, not saying anything important at all. It’s not for fear of being called “kooky” or a conspiracy nut or a foil head. It’s not that at all. I mean, what’s really the worst that could happen? Ok, so the globalsist take over, and they implement a plan of destruction that kills 80% of the human population. Is that really so bad? Now, before anyone accuses me of skipping towards Hitlerville, let me explain: What can a globalist do that nature isn’t going to do already? I mean, if they (whoever “they” are) kill me, well… that was kind of going to happen no matter who is in charge. Like every other human, plant or animal, I’m going to die. I suppose there’s something to do with the methods of killing that “they” might use — firing squads, toxic gasses, starvation (that might take awhile in my case), death camps, weaponized viruses, and the like — but still, any way it happens, all roads lead to Rome, so to speak. The end is the same. And would be the same whether I die peacefully at the ripe old age of 137, or whether it ends suddenly and horrendously at the hands of a minion of the new world order. The point is that no matter what any of us does, we’re … well… you know the rest. I was thinking that maybe I’m just too existentialist to care about the badness of death, so I can’t see any importance in teling people that going to hell is necessarily a bad thing. I know that every man, in addition to being condemned to freedom, is also condemned to die. And really if that’s the worst that can happen to any of us, then knowing and getting acquainted with its inevitability is the best thing to do. If fear is false evidence appearing real, then once we see the truth surrounding our own mortality, we are free to not fear it. So I can say, “Death? No biggie.” I know, I know, I’m starting to sound like that dude in Romeo and Juliet who teases Romeo about love, and Romeo says something about his friend jesting at scars that have never felt wounds (or at least I think that’s how it went, I didn’t pay that much attention to Shakespeare in high school English class. And I’m not really sure how this fits the context of my discussion, anyway ). I’ve seen death, I mean really seen it. I’ve had the distinct “pleasure” of watching a loved one die, and I’ve lost a few others along the way. But that doesn’t change the way that I feel. I still don’t see what all these conspiracy folks are worked up about. I still don’t feel motivated to spread the word to my fellow man. Is that wrong? Now, whether the conspiracies are real or not, and assuming that there is something important about telling them, is telling something important to people a moral obligation? Or, can my choice to not say anything important be a equally good moral judgment? Can I be doing good by not doing anything at all? I’m not so convinced that what I’m doing — thinking and writing about philosophy and all that stuff that ultimately doesn’t change anything, and not saying anything important — is morally wrong. Maybe there’s a hidden moral correctness to all the Britney Spears, Gerard Butler’s, and Mary-Kate Olsen’s out there. Maybe we don’t see it, but they keep us from getting so caught up in all of the important stuff. Maybe they’re here to remind us that we are, above all, mere human beings. Who wants a world full of Kants and Wittgensteins? I certainly don’t. Sometimes we need reminding that we are but people here for only a short time, and that even when all is going to hell, we need to enjoy what we’ve got, which includes the ability to be trivial and frivilous. And that all of our points of view, be they important or not, are perfectly acceptable. So the globalists can have their world, I’m going to listen to “Circus”.
Last summer, I made the mistake of following along with a pal of mine while she attended a summer philosophy class. Philosophy of religion, it was. As an avowed atheist, I thought that it would be fun, not to mention funny to take a class on a subject that I cared not one iota about. I am proud to say that my budding abilities of prognostication did not fail. There is really nothing more unintentionaly amusing than reading the works of Alvin Plantinga. The more I sat through discussions about the problem of evil or whether my brain is functioning properly, I realized that what I spend most of my spare time musing about is not whether God can communicate to me through some sort of God-sensing apparatus located inside of my head, but something else entirely. No, it was a short conversation I had with the professor concerning my declaration that many, if not all so-called “philosophic” arguments are, in fact, mere arguments of semantics. Of course, as a professor, and a philosophy professor at that, the response that I expected. What I got was an objection to my (completely unoriginal) statement that all arguments are semantic. My remark, in its intention, was meant to be one of those off the cuff things that students say more to appear to know more than they know than as a real statement in need of a counterargument. Oops. Now, if there’s one thing that I hate, it’s an argument. And the one thing that I hate more than just any argument is an argument about philosophy with a philosophy professor. (The one with the phd always wins). So, sensing, no — knowing that the odds were not in my favor, I quickly ceded the point to the professor, agreeing that there are at least some truly philosophic arguments, and went back to making fun of Plantinga (which I’ve heard is not a good thing to do). Although outwardly I continued to participate and gave the appearance of a student convinced that there are in fact legitimate philosophic arguments, inside I was steaming. I insisted (inside my head, at least) that I was right. We may try to dress up an argument to make it seem philosophic, I thought, but when we strip it naked, the emperor is a pale, flabby semantic argument (with hair on it’s back, no less). Well, these many months later, I realize that I was wrong… or at least, somewhat wrong. My wrongness was revealed by way of simple observation. Observation one: I once had a disagreement with a fellow student over the merits of positivism. He was trying to convince me that any theory that fails by way of its own principle must be thrown out of our philosophic grab bag. As any philosopher knows, real philosophic theory must be airtight, like Kant. I, of course, insisted that the beauty of positivism is the fact that the verification principle fails to prove the theory right ( but that’s another argument for another day). The thing is, is that each of us was on exactly one side of the argument, and neither was moving from his spot. We weren’t listening to each other, because we had already made up our minds where we stood. I argued that positivism is right, and he argued that I was stupid. And that made me think… So, fast forward to the election of 2008, and Prop. 8. Now, I’ve argued for and against gay marriage (because I am a professional devil’s advocate), but all the while, I realized that I was never actually addressing the question. I’m not sure if anyone has even actually asked the right question. Or if we know what the “right” question is. What I remember arguing most of the time was what the word “marriage” means. You define it one way, and I say it’s another (and my boyfriend says it’s this…). But, no one is even getting close to what we should be asking ourselves. I asked myself why is that so? First, I went along with the old song and dance that the language that we use is defective, so any time we try to communicate (especially philosophically), we end up further away from the question. We get so bogged down in the language itself, so the thought goes, that we’re really asking nothing at all. As Gloria Estefan sang, the words get in the way. So, when we argue over things like gay marriage, we get ourselves caught up in the messiest of all semantic arguments — constitutionally-based semantic arguments. And, like my fellow philosophy student and I, each side of the gay marriage argument holds fast to what it believes is right and sticks to it, no matter what the other side says. But, on the biggest of all political days I made a revelation. It was on the night of November 4, 2008, that I realized exactly what I should have said to that philosophy professor. It wasn’t that I believed that all arguments are semantic, it was that I just don’t care what anyone else thinks. I plain don’t care. I don’t want to know what you think, or believe, or intuit, or got gettierally correct, or dare I say know , I’ll always be convinced that what I think is right. There’s not an argument in the world, philosophic or otherwise, that will convince me that positivism isn’t the 3rd greatest philosophic theory to emerge from the mind of a human being. I actually think that not caring what the other philosopher thought was the motivation for many philosophic theories. I can imagine Kant just not giving a flying fig what Hume thought, or knew empirically. And if you do have a slamdunk debunking philosophically correct argument, I probably won’t care enough to change my mind. More importantly, I will try my absolute hardest to ruin your argument as thoroughly as possible — even if that means quibbling over or intentionally distorting the meaning(s) of every word that you use. And if taking philosophy classes has taught me anything, it’s the bevy of fallacious arguments that we have at our disposal. So, I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter whether all arguments are semantic or philosophic, neither or both. No one cares anyway. dli
I can imagine lots of things. For instance, i can imagine unicorns, or toadstools that taste like blueberries, or planets inhabited by lovable fuzzy creatures that help the Rebellion defeat the dreaded evil Empire, or any odd configurations of fat men in doorways, or unverses where induction is always reliable… I can imagine all sorts of things and questions about life, and the universe, and all who dwell within her. So, why do I bring this up? Because, in the long run, even the most interesting metaphysical or epistemological question solves absolutely nothing. They are mere exercises of the imagination. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling anyone to stop asking or even thinking about metaphysics or epistemology. I only ask that those who do realize that when it comes to the real world ( and please, none of this “real” world versus the REAL world business), when it come to how I live my life and operate amongst the rabble, otherwise known as my fellow imhabitants of earth, ethics is the only philosophy that matters. Here’s how: Let’s say, for the sake of a thought experiment, that I am your friend (if it helps to say this aloud, do so now). I have just come into a large amount of money, which strikes you as more than a little odd, given that I just hit you up for money two days ago. Later, while consuming a large amount of alcohol (which may or may not be morally objectionable itselff), I confess that I not only stole the money, but also took out a little old lady to get it — and I’m not lying. Did I mention that in this thought experiment, you’re an upstanding civic leader, known for your dedication to American, Christian ethics? Anyway, what do you do? Do you ask if my story fits neatly in a coherentist, reliabilist, or whatever system of knowledge concerning whether I’m telling the truth? Do you ask if you’ve been somehow transported to a possible world that, instead of banks, people simple knock off little blue-haired grandmothers to get ready cash? Unless you’re that crazy ( and if those were your thoughts, I’d say that you were), I’d bet that you’d most likely politiely excuse yourself from the conversation (or confession, if you will), and make a mad dash to the nearest phone to turn me in. And why? My confession didn’t strike your epistemic sense or your metaphysical calculus — it hit your moral center. The part of you that told you that stealing money and cold-hearted murder is wrong. But, in the real world, there’s no need to even go that far. I ride the bus ( I have a philosophy degree, of course I don’t have a car). There are people that I’d much rather, well, to put it politely, avoid than talk to. But, I do. Why? Because it’s polite. It’s the right thing to do. It’s what good people do when they’re around other presumably good people. We act civilly, or morally because it enables us to, if not get into heaven, or become a dutiful citizen in the kingdom of ends, or just to avoid getting ourselves beaten to a pulp by anyone that we may offend. We do it beause acting in a moral manner matters. I’m sitting right at this moment in a public library. I smile towards other, I’m quiet, and I’ll hold the door for anyone coming in as I’m going out. And I’ll do it without ever once thinking of the problem of induction. dli