I thought that I wouldn’t put anything up today, but this is like an addiction that I cannot shake. Now that I’m writing I seem to have lost all of my thoughts. Unfortunately, this happens way more often than I’d like. What I’ve been thinking about is the fact …
I HAD AN ethics class. The project at the end of the quarter was to choose and defend a moral theory — the moral theory that best represented our personal ethical point of view.
The aim of the project wasn’t to find (and defend) an ethical theory that struck out fancy — we were supposed to find THE True Moral Theory.
and argue why it is so.
At that time, I chose rule egoism. I picked egoism, because egoism (specifically rule egoism) was as close to how I make my moral decisions as any moral theory could get.
I believed then (and still do) that I cannot make any choice — be it moral, ontological, or epistemic — without seeing it through the prism of my own point of view. No matter where I go, there I am.
Even if I supported divine command theory, I’d still figure in there, somewhere.
But, despite my firm egoistic tendencies, I still had a problem. Rule egoism seemed a bit binding. I realized that I wasn’t always selfish when I decided what to do. Surely my moral decisions were always made through the filter of me-ism, but I wasn’t always a dedicated egoist.
I realized there are times when it’s absolutely not necessary to go Galt.
The problem was that there always were other moral theories creeping in.
Namely, I found myself more often than I had expected, running my moral choices through Kant’s Categorical Imperative.
This was disturbing to me.
I was, after all, an egoist. I had no duty to others, only duty to myself. I was told in the interest of consistency, that one cannot be an egoist and a Kantian simultaneously.
Doing so is about as possible as being both in Paris, France and Paducah, Kentucky at the same time.
And that just ain’t happening.
But somehow it was happening. My true true moral theory had me working two opposing moral theories simultaneously.
How was this possible?
It took some time (and graduating from college) before I realized that I was indeed both — I am a Kantian, but I am also an egoist.
The 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), that the moral value of an act is weighed in that action is performed from duty. We evaluate the moral value of our actions according to two principles, which Kant calls the Categorical Imperative.
Principle 1 of the Categorical Imperativr states that we act only on a maxim that we can at the same time make universal law.
Principle 2 holds that we act in such a way as not to use others as mere means for our own ends.
Kent’s Categorical Imperative is one of those ethical theories that we file under: it looks great on paper.
It doesn’t take a lot of being a Kantian in the real world to figure out that Kant’s ethics, when actually practiced, tend to cause a complication or two. We often find ourselves tweaking the rules, which is exactly what we aren’t supposed to do. The Categorical Imperative, according to Kant, is absolute and inviolable.
Kant’s theory works fantastically with hypothetical ax murderers, but it makes for trouble in the real world. Likewise, egoism also tends to, when we attempt to live as pure egoists, cause it’s fair share of real world complications.
Thomas Hobbes stated that the primary goal of all men is self-preservation. Because we don’t like self-preservation disruptive things like pain or death, we make agreements with others to cooperate with one another to create a peaceful and stable society.
Hobbes called this the social contract.
We enter into the social contract Because we are motivated to do what works best to preserve our own interests.
Ayn Rand, the 20th century philosopher and novelist who developed Objectivism, an egoism based philosophy, wrote that men,
” must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose in life”.
For the egoist, Rand explains, our highest moral duty is when we act according to our own self-interest.
(I realize how many people out there feel about Ayn Rand, and really, I agree with all of you. But, when your trying to figure out the True Moral Theory, sometimes you gotta break eggs. Even if those eggs are shaped like a more-than-slightly misanthropic Russian novelist).
Although Ayn Rand despised Immanuel Kant and his ethics, there’s a word that is common to both ethical theories — duty.
At first glance, it may seem that these are conflicting moral systems. However, even the Kantian will admit that among our moral duties includes duties to self.
Both theories stress the role of making rational moral decisions.
Now, one may ask, how can one be an egoist, yet maintain Kant’s Categorical Imperative? The theories appear to conflict, but in fact, they do not.
At least if you’re willing to do some philosophical yoga.
At this point, I think that it’s important to clear up what we mean when we say “egoist”. Now, The antics of some Rand followers aside, an egoist is not one who is exclusively motivated by unbridled greed. Quite the contrary, an egoist is one who merely evaluates his moral choices according to how they coincide with his rational self-interest. It is possible that when someone thinks of an egoist, what he is thinking of egotism.
And the definition of egotism is:
Egotism is the drive to maintain and enhance favorable views of oneself, and generally features an inflated opinion of one’s personal features and importance. It often includes intellectual, physical, social and other overestimations. Wikipedia
The egotist is motivated purely by an over-inflated sense of self importance. For the egotistically inclined, selfishness is the manifestation of a psychological disposition. By contrast, the egoist practices an ethics of selfishness as a matter of rational, moral judgment.
An egoist isn’t so centered on his own interests that he neglects the needs of others. In fact, he may be motivated to do for others before he satisfies his own physical needs — if he sees that by serving others he ultimately serves his own rational interests.
The thing about egoism is that, egoism, like other consequentialist systems of ethics, judges the moral rightness or wrongness of an act based on outcomes — not what method we use to arrive at the best consequences.
This kind of moral reasoning is what allows us to pull the lever on the train tracks.
We’re kind of free to do whatever works — just as long as the consequences are good.
And if you’re an egoist you need only be concerned with how the consequences affect just one person: YOU.
It might do an egoist some ggood if the egoist adopted a paramount moral principle — something like this: in the pursuit of my own self-interest, I will live according to 1) do not engage in any act or act according to any maxim that I cannot also universalize, and 2) do not use others as a mere means to my own ends.
Of course, this is easily recognized as Kant’s Categorical Imperative.
Believe it or not, it actually works.
BEHOLD THE MORAL THEORY OF KANTIAN EGOISM!
I’ve been a practicing Kantian egoist for some time, and I will say since adopting an egoism lifestyle according to Kant’s principles, I am less likely to get my ass kicked.
For some strange reason, people want to beat up egoists — especially utilitarians.
My duties to self and to others is not limited in the way that Kant’s ethics are often binding in the real world. Egoism allows me to consider consequences, in particular, consequences to myself.
My ethical position recognizes that in the real world, it is difficult to live purely according to one set of moral principles. We often find ourselves operating according to multiple theories, sometimes simultaneously. Very few people are strict utilitarians or unshakable moral relativists. We often find ourselves splitting the difference between moral theories — taking the elements from each that allows us to decide what’s the right thing to do.
Rest assured I’m not “shopping” for moral theories. Kantian egoism is about finding where seeming opposing theories cohere and allows us — me — to make rational moral decisions that benefit others and (more importantly) benefit myself.
My TRUE MORAL THEORY simply finds the workable parts of Kantian ethics and egoism and binds them together into a more real world-ready theory.
So, I declare with absolutely no philosophical trepidation whatsoever, I am a Kantian egoist.
Or an egoist with a Kantian view of the good…
Or an egoist with Kantian tendencies…Or whatever.
Now that I’m thinking about it, this all stinks of intuitionism.
I was reading the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine a couple of days ago. There was an article inside about Cornell West. The author of the article called West a “philosopher”. I was thrown off a little bit by the designation. Here was a nationally, if not internationally known magazine, and on the cover, it identified Cornell West as a philosopher. Now, I know that professionally speaking, he is a professor of religion at Princeton. And I know that, in that case, there is a tremendous amount of philosophy to be had. But, somehow, despite this fact, he doesn’t fit into what I had been taught what a philosopher is. And yes, despite it’s unhipness, I still read Rolling Stone magazine. Although I enjoy Blender much more. By his own description, Cornell West fancies himself a jazzman and a bluesman. He speaks in the language that is understood by all feeling people — much like everybody, no matter what race, gender, or social status, sometimes feels the blues. This made me think about what I’m doing, or at least attempting to do. My project, this blog, is meant to help me (and hopefully others eventually) to undestand philosophy through the medium of popular culture. Like Cornell West’s view on the universality of the blues, I feel that the universality of popular culture is the best medium to use to communicate the themes that affect all of us. We all live in a world affected by television, motion pictures, music, the internet, and plain human interaction. Everyting is influenced by something, and those somethings are the ideas, some of which were thought up by some people called philosophers. As Cornell West calls himself a jazzman, I call my philosophy “zeitgeistology” (or philosogeistology). It’s seeing how the “spirit” of our times affects the old ideas and principles that we hold and have influenced how we think and live. When I hear West or read about him, he suggests that our world, though shaped by ideas, is a world of humans of all stripes, who have to communicate and interact with each other. We can’t divorce ourselves from our views of the world no matter how hard we may try. There are no impartial observers. And that’s just the thing. I ask, when I write, when I think philosophically, how much of myself should I bring into what I think and say? Should all of my term papers be expressed from the point of view of “I”? Is it possible to look at life as an impartial observer? Should I look at life from that point of view? If I should be personal, where do I cross the line from personal to diary entry? And if I do, does that mean I’ve stopped thinking philosophically? I’ve been writing this blog (and my soon to be uncompleted book) for some time now, and time and again I feel that I’m missing something. I feel that there is something that I am not covering. Should I be saying something profound and important? Or should I say something about what is important? It’s difficult, especially in light of the fact that “philosophers” aren’t the most revered people in society to maintain that any of this philosophic thinking matters. There are plenty of accusations of overthinking (something I admit that I do anyway, and started long before I ever stepped foot in a philosophy class), or not being productive — which means, in short, it’s great to do all that thinking, but being a philosopher don’t pay the bills. Unless you’re Oprah, people don’t pay you for your opinions. Maybe it’s a matter of what you call it, but when I tell people that I have a philosophy degree, I get lots of rolled eyes and “boy, that’s a useless degree!”. But here’s the funny thing about all of it. The same people that will tell you that you wasted the state’s money getting a useless degree (and I’ve been told exactly that), will occasionally say a bit of philosophy. The thing is, is that they don’t know that even though they’ll say that all that opinionizing is stupid, in the same conversation, they might say, “what does not kill me makes me stronger”, or explain the drawbacks of inductive reasoning without ever realizing that they just quoted Nietzsche or paraphrased Hume. Even though they won’t admit it (and I’m saying “they” to mean professional philosophers and laymen alike), everyone is a philosopher. It would be difficult for me to make a strong claim that I am a surgeon, despite the fact that I have no medical degree, but I can sure as hell say that I am a philosopher. If I’ve ever sat and thought for more than five minutes on any given topic (helps if they are the “big” topics), I am a philosopher. No degree is necessary. I was listening to a lecture given by the late Alan Watts last week. He was talking about what’s wrong with Western philosophy. He said that the problem with philosophy in the West is that it got away from it’s point, its mission. Philosophy in the West became so theory laden and bogged down in terminology that it forgot its purpose. It forgot the questions that it was meant to solve. Worse yet, Watts claimed, it forgot about the people involved in it. Philosophy had committed a mortal sin — it had become disconnective. It’s that same feeling of disconnectivity that had always bothered me while I was earning my degree. I thought, if I couldn’t connect to it — and I was studying philosophy — how in the hell was any of this was supposed to connect to any of the naysayers out there? We can’t just ignore them. But that’s just what I saw was going on. I kept asking who are we doing this for? What purpose do we, philosophers serve if no one is interested in hearing us speak? If the only people who are interested in philosophy are other philosophers, then we are committing the worst kind of intellectual crime. What we are doing isn’t the pursuit of knowledge, it’s masturbation. It’s alot of workin’ and jerkin’ but ultimately you’re only with yourself. You can’t say that you scored last night if your hot date was your own hand. Likewise, you can’t say that you did anything useful for humanity and the pursuit of knowledge if the only people who see it are just like you. This stuff that we were doing and thinking about was meant to help. The professors kept insisting that learning how to do derivations and stuff ws supposed to make us sharper thinkers. But what good is sharper thinking when everyone wlse out there looks at you and shrugs? The world has neglected the philosopher, and people seem to be getting along just fine. I think that what Alan Watts said is still true. There is something wrong with the entire project. Having recently left the halls of academia, I will tell you that the problem starts there. Allow me to relay a personal story: I had a classmate, who for personal reasons, could not attend class. Since I like to write, I tend to take rather detailed notes ( for which I pat myself on the back). I made arrangements with this student that I would take notes and then hand copies over to that student. I hadn’t spoken to the student in a while so, and maybe this is where I made a mistake, asked the professor if there was any complaint about the quality of my notes ( I would hate it if someone was giving me shitty notes so I asked to see if my notes were ok). The professor did answer my question, that is, there was no complaint, but then added a bit of well… TMI. The professor said that they were disappointed that that student had come along that far without anyone telling them that that should have taken another (different) major. The student wasn’t cut out for philosophy, and should have been persuaded to do something else. Now, my first inclination was to say that it seemed that the professor was suggesting that that student was stupid. And the fact is, is that that student was not. I had had plenty of discussions with that person where we did some pretty heaving thinking — some of it beyond what we were learning — meaning sometimes we were ahead of the lesson. But what really got to me was the idea that anyone would say that you’re not good at thinking. That’s a pretty big statement to make. I thought to myself, who on God’s green earth made it so that a person needed to have a degree to qualify us to be or not to be something?!? Especially in light of the fact that life is something that we all experience. We’ve all asked, in one form or another, ‘why am I here?’ or ‘why do I believe the way that I do?’. When I spoke to my classmate, there was no indication that this person operated subpar. The problem was, they often said, is that the lessons weren’t connecting to anything. There was all that talk, but there was no life in it. I would say to my classmate, I’m sure if you asked my logic professor if I was worthy of being a philosopher, the professor would most assuredly say no. To be honest, I flunked my first logic class, and the last one I took, I barely passed with a D- (yep. No joke. The lowest passing grade above an F). I remember sitting in that first go-around at logic 200, wondering how this connected to anything. I knew that it mattered abstractly and that I should take it seriously, but there was nothing that made me want to study it. It just wasn’t concrete to me. Which brings me to another point. There’s a reason why, if one would listen, as to why people on the outside have a particular disdain for philosophers. There are some people who seem to delight in knowing some things that other people don’t know, or that people don’t understand. There is way too much of this going on in philosophy. Announcing to your class that most people won’t pass the class on the first day of class becomes self-fufilling. I know that it’s meant to weed out the chaff, but it also says to people who may be genuinely interested, ‘Go away. You can’t cut it’. More importantly, it re-inforces the idea that I-know-something-you-don’t-know attitude that people claim that philosophers have. That kind of undermines the whole idea of doing it, doesn’t it? I had asked a professor, once if philosophers were going the way of the alchemist? I said that, in a world of psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, sociologists, doctors of medicine, physicists, and neuroscientists, things that were once speculated upon are now being explained and demonstrated. The terminology has been made readily accessible and easy to understand. It’s put into the common vernacular. No one looks to the philosopher for answers much anymore (there’s an argument to be made that ethics is still a thriving field, but that’s about it. And really, why go to an ethicist when you can call Dr.Laura?). When we want answers about the workings of the human body, we don’t read Descartes, we turn to Dr.Oz, or if we want to know what makes people tick, we watch Dr. Phil, or Dr. Laura, or if we need a professional to tell us why our girlfriend is a total whack-job, we’ll ask Dr. Drew Pinsky. Nobody out there reads Aristotle or Bentham (for answers, anyway). For most folks, so far as philosophy goes, I said, it’s nice to know, but it can’t give you the gold you’re looking for. And I think that’s why Cornell West appeals to people. He’s learned, but he understands that this — all this thinking about life and our place in it — has to appeal to the common folk. Life doesn’t just affect philosophers or the well-educated. He doesn’t hold back because this has to do with all of us. We can’t afford to leave anyone behind. You can’t keep knowledge and truth away from people. It’s immoral to do so. In the Rolling Stone article, the author said that everyday people rallied around West in the street, carrying copies of his book. Now, I’m sure that some of those people wouldn’t be philosophy student material. But, they wanted to know — they wanted to learn. When someone expresses an interest in learning, if they are filled with a curiosity about life, if they want to understand the why we do and think, even if they don’t get all of the heavy lifting (which may, in the long run, be more extraneous than useful) — if they want to learn, you teach them. You don’t lament that no one flushed that student out. Because as Cornell West will tell you, everyone gets the blues. And there is no one who is not entitled to the title philosopher.
No matter how hard I try, I keep coming back to the idea of intent and morality. What is it that really motivates our actions? How are our intentions connected to our actions? Can a morally wrong act be a good thing, or conversely, can something good be wrong? It’s easy to think about intent when we think of classic “thought experiment” cases like murder or genocide. With few exceptions, there are very few people who would be on board for carrying out whole-scale or even small-scale murder. There are those cases where we have some difficulty deciding how to act — for instance, whether we should blast a fat man to kingdom come if he has wedged his body in front of the only exit. We might have some difficulty when we say we must blow him up to save the lives of others. But then, there are those instances when we might think that the morally right thing to do is the worst thing to do. It’s especially difficult when we are not exactly sure of what our own intentions are in the matter. Is there ever a time when a moral wrong is ok? Are there times when our intentions may be bad but they are really good? It’s easy to calculate the moral wrong of something like murder. Even the egoist has to say that it’s wrong, even if it does not directly affect him ( he might have to say something like, I disapprove of murder because it makes the city where I live look bad, and that makes me sad). But what about an act with a little moral ambiguity. Let’s take adultery. Now, first off, we’re pushing the Christians out of the room, they’re no fun in this game. They tent to count everything as a moral wrong. Second, let’s decide which moral theory that we’d like to use first. Personally, I’m quite partial to Kantian ethics, so I’ll start there. Kant’s great moral theory is expressed through his Catagorical Imperative (C.I.). At first glance, it seems that by applying the principles of Kant’s moral theory, sexual impropriety is a no-no. But let’s look a little closer. Let’s look at an example: I’m assuming that many philosophers would not admit to watching, let alone enjoying pornography. There’s not much in the way of deep thinking in your garden variety skin flick (there’s alot of other deep stuff going on, but it ain’t what you’d call thinking). Back in the 1970s, when adult films were coming (no pun intended) into the mainstream, some filmmakers attempted to create “real” cinema. That is, some pornographers had in mind to make movies that a mature adult audience would see at the local cineplex. You’d take out the wife to see a double bill of Barbara Broadcast and Smokey and the Bandit. Or so it was assumed that’s what people would do. One of these “adult” films was The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann directed by Henry Paris (by the way, watchers of so-called “soft-core” films may be aware of the fact that Henry paris is also known as Radley Metzger. As Radley Metzger, he directed the movie Carmen, Baby. I only mention this fact because Carmen, Baby contains a scene that, once you’ve seen it, you will never think of wine bottles the same). Where was I? Oh yes. So, luckily for filmgoers looking to arouse their prurient interests, porn plots are fairly uncomplicated. This film is no exception. It goes like this: man has cheating wife. Man hires private dick (ha, ha) to follow wife. Wife seduces P.I. Detective removes himself from the case because he feels (get this) guilty for betraying his employer’s trust (although he doesn’t admit to the real reason why he quits). When all’s said and done, we learn that it’s all been a set-up. Man and wife actually do this to get their rocks off. As they wish each other a happy anniversary, the curtain falls (literally) on the post-coital couple. Now, let’s throw out the fact that sex is supposed to be inherently dirty and morally wrong. Let’s run it through Kant’s C.I. First, we ask, would we want to universalize the act that the Mann’s did in the movie? Well, they might answer yes. In fact, if we take Kant’s declaration that we must first and foremost act from duty as our dominant principle, Mr. and Mrs. Mann may suggerst that they did act out of duty to each other. If couples did as they do, they might reason, their marriages may actually be better off. Ok. Let’s move on. Second, we ask, did anyone get used as a mere means to their end? We might answer yes, the P.I. did. But wait, let’s look at the private detective. He knew that he was following a married woman. He was hired by her husband. He knew what she was up to, namely sharing her virtue with anyone within a five mile radius of her person. So, when she seduces him, was he really used as a mere means? It seems that the detective wasn’t so much used as the pair decided to use each other. The act was mutually beneficial to both. No one got any more out of the act than the other. When the detective regigns from the job, he does not tell Mr. Mann why he is leaving the case. He merely states that “something came up” (I think that pun was intended). He evades the real reason for his leaving because he felt that what he did was morally suspect. And lastly, no one got hurt! At the end of the movie, everyone is happy. This not only checks out for the Kantian, but for the utilitarian, and (especially) the egoist as well. Ok, the Christians still have a problem with the whole adultery thing. So let’s ditch the porn. I’ve gone through how a seemingly bad act can be good, or at least not as bad as it may seem. But, what about so-called morally good acts? Can they be hiding a hidden evil? For some strange reason, I decided to watch Superman Returns the other day (maybe it has to do with finding Kevin Spacey oddly attractive. Whatever), and watching that made me want to watch the far-superior Superman: the Movie starring the late Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. Why they tried to make that dude in Superman Returns act like Christopher Reeve, I don’t know. I mean really, they didn’t get some chick who looked like Margot Kidder! But then, we all know why they didn’t, don’t we? Anyway, In the movie, Lois is killed during an earthquake, which is caused by a missile detonating in the San Andreas fault. As Superman stands over her dead body, he suddenly screams to the heavens and darts up straight into the sky. He is confronted by the ghost of his father, who seems to know exactly what he is going to do, who reminds his so that it is forbidden to interfere with human history. But Superman won’t have any of this forbidden business. He spins around the earth, making it reverse it’s spin, thus reversing history and allowing him to go back in time, thwart the missile, and save Lois from death ( he did what Anakin Skywalker could only dream of doing for Padme). By the way, can that really cause an earthquake? Superman not only saves Lois, but he saves some kids on the Golden Gate Bridge from tumbling over the side in their bus, he stops up a dam from flodding a community and all sorts of other good stuff. It all sounds good. It sounds altruistic. But is it so? On the surface, Superman’s actions check out pretty much according to every moral theory. But when we check out his true intentions, his actions are suddenly morally suspect. Ok, let’s say that when we ask Superman why he did it, he says that he has a duty to sav humanity. Ok. That sounds just fine. but the Randian in me (and really, I like to keep her bound and gagged at all times) is saying, no. His duty was not to mankind. He’s doing it to get something. Superman is motivated by his want to fufill his own self-interest, not to serve the needs of mankind. When he arrived in Metropolis, it shifted from something to someone — Lois. We might suspect that had Lois lived, he wouldn’t have gotten so riled up over all that destruction. He probably would have saved as many lives as he could, but would not have defied his own father to save any one person in particular. Superman reversed time to save Lois, pure and simple. His motivation towards saving her wasn’t duty — it was that he wanted to do to Lois what he eventually did do to Lois in Superman II (that is, he pulled a private detective on her). Like the Mann’s, Superman may try to sneak duty past us when he explains to us why he saves people. But this is just not so. His goal is to get Lois. If you want to get really dark about things, you can say that the entire state of California served as a mere means to his getting Lois — an act which puts Superman’s morality right along side of a typical character you’d find in your average smut flick (in fact, this would make a terrific plot. Superhero saves lady. Lady feels need to shower with equally hot roommate. Cable guy shows up…). Let’s not forget the fact that the utilitarian can say that Superman’s supposed altruistic act caused more harm than good. By diverting the missile and letting it explode in outer space, Superman shattered the phantom zone, thus releasing General Zod and his equally evil companions to take their revenge against Superman’s father out on the citizens of earth. Superman merely swapped one evil for a greater evil. Instead of Lois dying or just the people of California in danger, Superman endangered the entire planet when Zod and his two cohorts were released from captivity. When all’s said and done, Superman’s acts only have the veneer of good deeds, but deep down, they’re truly evil. Which makes me think that this is why, when I think of what I do in the real world, my decisions are not so cut and dry. I find that, despite my disappointment in admitting as much, I am far too often a Superman. All of my seemingly selfless acts stink of ulterior motives and hidden wants and desires. I used to think that watching movies and TV was nothing more than brain candy, stuff that, instead of being a useful tool to sort out my own thoughts, sucked my thoughts away and made me into a passive participant. Not so. I think, and I think that it’s not just me on this one, when we watch TV or movies or play video games, we can just sit back and consume. Or, we can look with a careful eye, watching the moments and situations that should and can help us to sort out our own lives. Heck, if I can learn in two hours while watching a movie what takes ten weeks sitting in a classroom listening to often boring lectures — which one would anyone rather choose?
I get frustrated at the fact that so many philosophers seem to ignore the obvious. That is, they want things like theories that are consistent or arguments where conclusions logically follow from the premises. They like things like precision. But they ignore the fact that life, and especially life as it is lived by humans, just doesn’t give us the consistent, logically correct conclusions that we’d like to get from life. Life just ain’t that way. but still, they try and try, and push themselves further and further away from what or how people actually think and feel. There. I just said it. Philosophers push themselves away from how people feel. Emotions are somewhat akin to dirty words in philosophy. They’re not supposed to be mentioned among educated company. Emotions are irrational. Emotions live in the realm of wishful thinking and contradictory beliefs. We can’t use them. At least, no philosopher would ever trot out a “I think that because I just feel that it’s right” during an argument. Although sometimes, I secretly begged that one would. But they don’t. They can’t. It wouldn’t be philosophic. Which, by the way, all that clinging to all things orderly and philosophic has always bothered me when I hear philosophers discuss matters of God and religion. It seems that, with all of their finely-tuned arguments that philosophers kinda miss the point. They know what they need to say, but they can’t say it. God is meant to be felt. But our philosophic arguments for believing in God won’t allow us to say that exact reason why any of us ever accepts God, or Jesus, or whatever in the first place. Jesus is a better high than any drug. And not only does God love us, but we love him. And you can’t argue for or against that. I had a constant question that I kept asking in my philosophy of religion class: who was all of that reilgious philosophy written for? I mean, I may knock Alvin Plantinga or Peter van Inwagen or whomever, not just because it’s fun to take shots at people who are more intelligent that I can possibly become, but because I wanted these guys to lay their feelings (yes, feelings) out on the line. I wanted to hear some philosopher say, “look buddy, this is what I believe. And no, wise guy, I don’t have a legitimate reason for doing so. It’s all about what I feel when I’m in church, or when I know that God is with me”. This is the way that most believers speak about their beliefs. They say, look, if you don’t appreciate what I believe, then you can take your non-believing, condemned ass out somewhere and take a hike. I was waiting for the moment when I would read one of these guys say, “you don’t believe, then that’s too bad. I’m dusting off my feet, now”. But nope. All I read was arguments. All of those premises, and inferences, and conclusions, possibility and probability and all those possible worlds… The funny thing is, is that when you get down to the wire, arguing for the existence of God is like explaining to someone who doesn’t like chocolate that chocolate tastes good. You can’t say exactly what makes chocolate good other than saying that you feel the goodness when you put it in your mouth. When you eat chocolate, your mouth goes, “yeah”. If you don’t experience the “yeah” you never will. You can put up the most logically correct argument, and the world will look at you, and philosophers will adore you, and tell you that your proof for the existence of God is elegant and wonderful. But the plain truth is, is that no matter how wonderful, there will always be some asshole (most likely me) that shrugs and says, “nah, I ain’t buying it”. No matter if your argument pushes the existence of God from possible to probable (and if you’re reading the Bible, from probable to certain), so long as any person can say they ain’t convinced, your wonderful, logically correct theory is just another example of overthinking on a rather simple thing. And the lesson is this: No matter what anyone, philosopher or otherwise, will tell you, God is more than the sum of our arguments. We cannot ignore the fact that what we feel, call it faith if you want, is at the heart of our belief in God. There isn’t an argument that any man can construct that can sway, crush, or create faith in the hearts of men. And that is a capital T truth. But then, I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before. I think that I like this one from the Book of Luke: The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “here it is”, or “there it is”, because the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21) ’nuff said.
This may be more for sociologists than for philosophers. I was watching the Dancing with the Stars update on the local TV news a few days ago, when they informed us (because it is vital that we know) that former dancing star and “girl next door”, Holly Madison was getting a show in Las Vegas. The show, if I heard correctly, has some toplessness action in it. I guess that’s why it’s important that we know. Anyway, hearing about former playmates made me think about former Playboy Playmates, which made me think of Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner. Especially so, since Ms. Madison was one of his girlfriends as depicted on the E! reality show The Girls Next Door. I thought to myself that, whenever I listen to the local rock stations (I’m amazed that I live in an area where there rock stations are still around!) and the topic of Hugh Hefner comes up, there’s nothing but all hoots and hollers and ‘boy don’t we envy that guy’ going on. Hugh Hefner is praised because he, despite needing to use the little blue pill, is forever young. Instead of calling the codger a dirty old man, we congradulate him on his scoring 3 hot chicks. We all want to drink from the well of eternal youth, and celebrate those who have beaten the clock and stayed forever young. Or at least forever young acting. Hugh Hefner behaves like a man more than half his age. This is supposed to be a good thing. I don’t think that I takes a philosophy degree (at least I hope that it doesn’t) to realize that there is something so fundamentally wrong with praising old people who act young. We live in a culture where no one ever gets old. At least if you get old, God forbid that you actually look your age. We praise the allmighty Botox, and we celebrate “cougars” and watch women like Janice Dickinson act and compete with women half her age. And we see nothing wrong with any of it. We say that 40 is the new 20, and that you’re only as old as you feel. I guess at some point 80 will be the new 17. We keep trying to find the knack for living indefinitely and sustaining our youth to the point where we ultimately have to give it up ( usually that happens somewhere near death). We want to find the place where, as Wilfred Brimley said in Cocoon, we’ll never get sick, we’ll never get old, and we’ll never die. Life is one neverending nip/tuck. This is so not good. I was looking at a picture of Walt Wittman recently (no really, I was). Here in the picture of old Walt was a guy with a great burly gray beard. He looked like an older man — an older man who would scare the woohoo out of me if he was sitting at the busstop that I needed to stop at to catch the bus. But the point is, he looked like a pretty old guy. I noticed that many of our great thinkers, writers and artists sported that same look. They were older and they looked it. But more importantly, they were regarded, not for how hot they looked, but for what they had to say. Their words and thoughts were what we turned to for WISDOM. And that’s just the thing, isn’t it? In a world where no one ever gets old, who do we turn to for wisdom? I remember when Leonardo DiCapprio was the hot poo. even though he was over 21, he looked like he was about 13. I remember people saying that he may be agood actor, but no one would ever believe him playing the president or any role of substance. He didn’t look old enough, they said. The fact is, is that he didn’t look like he had lived enough years to gain the wisdom that is required for a president or the Pope. We often think that someone is wise if they look the part. You looked the part by looking old. But we don’t look old anymore. Once upon a time, being wise was associated with living a life long enough to acquire information and havng the ability to apply the information that you learned in a manner that was conducive to living a pleasant, dare I say good, life. We used to be impressed with people who read many books (because we often find information in books), and who didn’t spend time caught up in material things. We used to value sitting quietly and thinking. People who think used to be called wise. It’s a little upsetting when you hear someone praising a child who consistently does poorly on state standardized tests as smart because he knows how to upload a video on YouTube. As a matter of fact, Chris Hedges said that nearly 42% of college graduates never read another book after graduating from college. I understand that standardized tests are for shit, but my point is, is that we think a child is smart if they can do something techinical, and neglect the fact that the little knuckledragger may barely know how to read. All that book reading is wasted time, we say. It’s stuff that old people do. In fact, I was listening to a radio show on the topic of Kindle (an electronic books service offered by Google), and someone said just that — old people read books. Meaning that books are passe, relics of an ancient time, irrelevant (One could infer that those who read such relics are also irrelevant). The thing is, is that reading a blog or someone’s MySpace page isn’t reading. And there is no great wisdom to be culled from the world of reality television. And if people aren’t reading, then where are our thinkers going to come from? Who will lead in a world where youth is beyond praised and doing something like reading books is made out to be something that “old people” do? All things old are to be avoided. I mean, I’ve noticed lately this national obsession with the “cougar”. Cougars have replaced MILFs as the femme dejour. They’re not new by far. Mrs. Robinson was a cougar. In the 80s, Cher was a cougar (for a brief time her beau, whose name slips my mind, was semi-famous). And now, we see the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Demi Moore. It’s cool to date guys that sre the same age as your kids. And, if you do it looking like your kids’ slightly older sister, even better. It’s ok to date younger men — but the idea now seems to be that you’re not dating a younger, albeit mature man (he may act older than his age) — but that you’re the one who is 47 and acts and looks like she’s 22! We congradulate women who drop all their baby weight as quickly as possible. We actually take it a step further and congradulate women who don’t look like they’re pregnant! We pressure our famous people to drop the excess poinds after giving birth so they can get back to being sexy. But there’s a connection: looking like you don’t have kids often leads people to act as if they don’t have kids. There used to be something of a badge of honor to look like somebody’s mother or father. Looking like the older members of the family was connected to the idea that you were mature and dare I say, wise. There was a time when parents were expected to pass the knowledge they gained through life experences to their children. How can anyone pass along life lessons learned from life’s experiences if one’s parent is experiencing those life experiences right alongs side of their childern? More and more we hear of parents cruising bars with their kids or dating their kids’ friends ( I need not mention the Hogan family here). These parents neither act or look mature. Why would someone look mature (that is look old) if looking like someone’s mom is a sure fire way to not get dates with younger men. Looking mature used to be associated with words like “distinguished” and “erudite”. We’d assume that the older gentleman with the graying beard and glasses was the wisest guy in the room (we may have been wrong, but the idea is that we didn’t hold it against him that he looked older than everyone else). No offense, but when I look at Brad Pitt, the word “erudite” doesn’t spring to mind ( I say Brad Pitt, not just to pick on the guy, but because there has been some speculation that he has had some “work” done recently). People who looked like the elders were assumed to play the part, giving us wisdom and the knowledge to lead good, productive lives. Not only does no one want to look the part of the elders these days, no one really wants to play the part, either. The elders tell us when we need to shape up and act the way that w should — they shouldn’t tell us how cool it is to bang a trio of hot chicks, or tell us that it’s ok to act like we’re 21 when we’re about three decades past being that age. We are a culture run by children. And children do not know how to properly behave — they are impulsive, and notoriously unable to guide themselves through life without direction. Children are easily swayed and influenced. You can change a child’s mind easily because they do not think critically. My fear is that, if no one is willing to be the elders, to be the guiding force in society, then we are a culture that is lost. We are a nation of lost boys in desperate need of a Wendy to be the big sister to tell us when and how we should behave. Until then, I guess I’ll … oh wait, TMZ is on.
I seem to enjoy doing things that really creep me out. A couple of months ago, I decided to watch The Exorcist. Now, I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times, and there’s really nothing in it that wasn’t there the last time that I watched it. But somehow, that movie ends up unnerving me. That Spider walk is plain creepy. May I take a moment to say here, that it’s not so much the fact that the movie, that is the visuals, that are scary. What’s scary is Mercedes McCambridge’s voice! In that scene where Reagan does the crucifix number, and then whips her head around and says to her mother “do you know whay she did?!?”, I nearly crap my pants every time! So, I was busy creeping myself out, watching “the version you’ve never seen” ( during the daytime, with the lights on, I’ll admit). But I was alone, and that counts for something. Anyway, there’s a scent that is in this version, where Father Karras and Father Merrin have just finished a session with Reagan. They are both exhausted. As Father Karras, who is caught in a crisis of faith himself, rests, he asks Father Merrin a question. He asks, why this little girl? What purpose does possessing and possibly killing her serve? Father Merrin answers — the possession has nothing to do with the girl. The devil wants us to feel that we are unworthy of God’s love. He wants us to feel that we are sinful, vile, and lowly creatures who cannot earn or deserve the grace of God. That’s the way, Father Merrin explains, the devil gets us to turn away from God. That made me think. Now, if the devil wants me to turn away from God, he may cause a situation (say something like a demonic possession) that causes me to lose faith and turn from God. But, I have to remember that my rejection of God was due to my free choice, not because the devil made me do it (so to speak). I will burn in Hell for all eternity because I made the choice to turn from God. I have to be held accountable for the choices that I made and make freely. This is because I have free will. One of the reasons that we are given that there is evil in the world, is because people, like me, have the freedom to choose to do evil deeds. Because God made man with the ability to choose, he cannot interfere with our choices (because if he did intervene that would mean that we didn’t have very much free will). So, I thought, we make ourselves so busy asking what role that God plays in man-caused evil, that we don’t ask what role God plays in Satan-caused evil. If all intelligent beings created by God have free will, does that mean that the devil has free will as well? And if he has free will, is God bound to allow the devil to make choices that may be the source of the world’s evil (or at least a strong influence)? Ok, I know that Satan, as an angel, is what we call a fully actualized being. That means that he is all that he will ever be. He doesn not “grow” in the sense that people mature and find enlightenment or come to know the divine.As something near perfection, once the devil makes a choice, he’s locked into it. Which explains a bit as to why he cannot repent for his misdeeds. But that’s just it. He chose to fall from God. We might assume that he didn’t have to. That is, if you don’t believe that there is such a thing as determinism. So, Let’s say that Satan chose to leave God. There. He made a choice. And God seems to have respected his decision to do so. So, Satan decides that he is so thoroughly disgusted with mankind that he will forever torment God’s creation. He will make our lives so horrible that we will run to God for shelter. These all seem to be career choices that the devil made when he decided to leave the family business. If our actions aren’t determined, then is it ok to say that Satan’s actions aren’t determined, either? But then, if we assert that the devil has free will, we must account for exactly what kind of free will he has. According to the standard free will defense, man’s free will is libertarian — that is, with any choice we make, we are free to do otherwise. So, for example, if someone has a gun to my head and says that he will kill me if I don’t announce in a public place that I molest collies, I don’t have to choose to make the announcement. There is the choice, albeit a very unlikely one that I’d pick, to get shot. There are alternatives that I may take. But, the devil is fully actualized. He doesn’t get the mulligans that I do when I make mistakes or decide to change my mind (for instance, I can decide to repent from my evil ways and accept Jesus as my personal savior. It’s unlikely, but I very well could). Satan, as stated, cannot so as such. But he seems to make choices all the same. Although he free will is not libertarian as it is with people, he seems to have some, limited free will. This free will (if even the freedom to do one thing) is to create evil. So, it may be that we are hanging our coat on the wrong rack. We’re looking to God to explain why he allows evil (as if we are saying that God somehow is a generator of some of this evil), but we might take a look down and say that God “permits” evil because Satan has free will that God is bound to respect. As with any other agent, the lord of all that is unholy is free to do as he sees fit. Unfortunately for us, that means occasionally killing someone’s grandma with colon cancer, or running over the family pet, letting Two and A Half Men run for another season, or putting the desire to set the forest ablaze in the mind of an arsonist for the sole purpose of burning furry little animals to a crisp. To make matters worse, the fact that God is bound by Satanic free will means that (lest we give rise to a massively irregular world) God may, and in fact does, lose souls to the devil’s influence (This is due in two parts: 1) Satan has free will, and b) humans have the free will to follow the devil’s influences). I don’t know if I’m putting forth anything revolutionary (I’m sure that I’m not), and maybe I’m giving the devil a little too much power, but it is worth thinking that the devil’s influence on our actions may be because he has the same free will as we. Besides, it’s really a cheap way to say that we can have evil and God at the same time — resorting to that old, worn-out cliche “the devil made me do it”. I thought that this time I would try to give it some philosophic legitimacy. I don’t think it worked.
I think that I have an OCD. Really. I’m an atheist, but I just can’t seem to stop thinking about God. I guess it may be due to, in some part, the fact that I live in a culture that is, whether it practices it or not, Christian. No matter where I go, there is either a “God bless you”, “have a blessed day”, or someone declaring that they’ve been blessed. So, no matter how hard I try, God and thinking about God is unavoidable. This would be bad, if not for the fact that I have this blog. At least it gives me something to write about. That said, I was thinking some time ago about my philosophy of religion class (that I had almost a year ago). There was, as I recall (then again, I could be making this up for the sake of making a point), there was some talk about the limits (if any) of the powers of God, namely on the topic of God’s omnipotence. The question was, are there things that God can’t see? That is, if we say that God knows all (all events that happen in the past, present and future), how can humans have free will? Well, for one, when I was a Christian, I was steadfastly a determinist. I figured that God, being a all-powerful being, had ultimate knowledge. There is no thing that he does not see. And being that he saw any particular event, it has to happen.The events of our lives are not only seen by God, but also actively planned.I thought that, if God even sees all things generally, he also sees what occurs specifically — including the choices that we make. And since God’s knowledge is eternal, he may have seen what I’m doing right now the instant that he created the universe. So, I figured, there is not such thing as free will for people. But my Christianity didn’t stay with me for long. I soon shrugged it off in favor of the cold, harsh cynicism of atheism. When I started on the path to Hell (i.e. becoming an atheist), I slid from divine determinism to biological determinism. Instead of God commanding my destiny, my choices were determned by my genes. Anatomy is destiny, as they say. This has always been a problem for me — not because I don’t like the idea of everything I do being beyond my control, but because I fancy myself an existentialist. And that’s all free will. I know that, even among non philosophers, the idea of determinism is none too popular. People don’t like the idea that the things that they do are out of their control. That makes sense. I hate the idea myself. But, for the life of me, I can’t figure how a God that sees all events in all times does not in some way determine my fate. Which made me think of something that I heard on the radio a couple of years ago. Out here in So Cal, there’s a radio show that comes on on Sunday mornings called “the Jesus Christ show” (it’s on KFI AM 640, for those who want to know). The show is hosted by the Son of Man himself! The format is that callers call in with questions to Jesus and he answers them. I suppose that all of his answers are the correct ones, given the fact that he’s Jesus. Better than calling Dr. Laura. Anyway, a couple of Christmases ago, a caller asked Jesus about predestination. She wondered how man can have free will in the same universe with a God that sees and knows all. She said that even if we attempt to do otherwise, God can make you do what he has seen you do, and since we humans cannot defy God (I’m thinking that she meant physically), we are subject to God’s will. Therefore, she concluded, we have no free will. Jesus answered that man does in fact have free will. Despite the fact that God is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful, we humans still determine our own choices in life. Jesus said that the caller was mistaken, and gave an example of what is meant when we say that God sees and knows all. He explained it by way of analogy: Jesus said that our free will and God is like “The Newlywed Game”. He said that, during the game, one spouse let’s say the husband, is secluded from his wife while she is asked a series of intimate questions (usually something to do with “whoopee”). The husband returns and is asked the same questions. They get points when their questions match. So let’s say that the wife is asked “what part of your body does your husband like most?”. She answers. “he likes my very shapely rear end”. When the husband returns from seclusion, he is asked the same question. He answers, “well, my wife knows that I totally dig her sweet bum!”. He got the same answer. Jesus told the caller that God’s knowledge is just like that. He said that the fact that the husband answered the same as his wife doesn’t mean that he knew what she was going to say. He said that God gets the answer right despite the fact that he doesn’t know what we’re going to do exactly. But then, all sorts of red, flashing lights went off in my head. The husband guessed the right answer. He really had no clue what she was going to say. A man’s knowledge of what goes on in his wife’s head is limited. But when we speak of God, this is not the case. God knows what we feel in our hearts. He knows about the sins that we merely think about. So, if God knows all the nasty thoughts (well, to be honest — in most cases, desires) that I entertain about rock stars, former high school classmates, and college professors, how can he not know what actions that I will undertake during the course of my lifetime? It seemed to me that the God that radio Jesus was describing was a God who only managed to get the right answers by guessing the right ones. He was right, but only gettierally. Besides, that, I know that, given the law of averages, some guesses are bound to be wrong. If there is even a chance that God might ( God forbid) guess wrong, then what does that mean for a God who among his qualities is perfection? I’d say that that would make him not God, wouldn’t it? Well, some people out there say that what the deal is, is that God sees all possibilities, that is, among the possible thousands of choices that we could have made in any situation, God sees every one of them, which includes the one that we eventually choose. So, say there are five possible worlds, and I’m trying to figure out which pair of shoes to wear. In one world, I put on my black Converse high tops. In another, I choose the white Nikes. In another, I wear high heels. In the fourth, I put on flip-flops, and in the fifth, I go barefoot. God sees all of these. (he sees every possible alternative, even the ones that I’m not aware that I have). All of these includes the choice that I make. I choose, since it’s such a nice day, to go barefoot. Now, that allows me to choose, since God saw everything and not me specifically. But I still have a problem. If God sees possible worlds, who he saw in those other worlds wasn’t me — as I exist in this particular world. He saw someone who looked like me who put on a pair of Converse high tops, but I, in this world, did not. So, God doesn’t know what will happen anywhere, which is really bad for the creator of the universe. Then again, we say that God sees all possibilities. Even if there are a million, God sees them (which leads me to ask, is there a point where we say that all those possibilities of everyone on the earth makes God’s task of seeing all possibilities too big of a task for God?). That means that my array of choices is within God’s knowledge. God is still setting the boundaries of my choices. Even if he sees all choices, my actual choice is there — he still saw it. This means to me that God is not only determining what goes on in my particular universe, but since all of those other people in those other possible universes (who look like me) have choices that are seen by God, he knows what they’re going to do. God not only determines choices here, but in all of those other worlds as well. Wow.
Before I lay into my topic, I want to say that I’ve been cruising the blogisphere lately, and I’ve seen something that others possess that my blog severely lacks, namely pictures. As I have chosen to write about the influence that popular culture has on philosophy, and by extension, on our collective psyches, I realize that a tremendously important element of our popular culture is the visual image — the photograph, the motion picture, the television, YouTube, etc. I realize that my omission is well… disabling in that a blog about pop culture should reflect just that — popular culture. I should have pictures of Gerard Butler or Megan Fox plastered all over my blog. But I do not. It’s the philosopher in me that insists that I need not display flashing lights nor need I show big boobs to garner an audience. Which just serves to prove why Katy Perry is more popular than Alvin Plantinga.