A Philosophy Fan Does Not Make A Sexy Rock Wife

There’s a website called Loudwire (I’m assuming it’s a website because it has a Facebook page).

Anyhoo, they’ve got this ongoing series of photographs of the hottest rock wives.

I guess they’re all pretty hot.

Since I make it a habit of reading the comments section of webpage articles I noticed that at least one person has a slightly more expansive ideal of beauty. Someone in the comments section suggested that Sharon Osbourne be included on the hot rock wives list.

This is Sharon Osbourne

This is Sharon Osbourne

 

 

Think about it for a moment.

Got your response yet?

Wait wait a minute. Don’t say it out loud.

Well, someone else responded to the suggestion (to include Sharon Osbourne) that although Sharon Osbourne is badass and married to Ozzy Osbourne (which technically makes her a rock wife), she’s not exactly what you would call “hot”.

Derivation style, the response would look like this:

Philosophy Fan ¹ Sexy Rock Wife

 

I don’t know how Sharon Osbourne would feel about this, but reading the response to the suggestion made me feel kind of sad.

After all, Sharon Osbourne is a smart, capable, and savvy businesswoman. He kicks ass and takes names. And she seems like a funny gal. These are all positive qualities and certainly each quality is hot in its own right. So why Sharon Osbourne isn’t considered “hot”? It can’t be just because of her age. Sharon Osbourne is not that old. Besides, plenty of women of a certain age are considered hot: Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, and Demi Moore to name a few.

Wait, Demi Moore isn’t as old as Helen Mirren is she?

No. she’s not.

Oops. Sorry.

But really, even if we don’t consider Sharon Osbourne’s age, is it just Sharon Osbourne’s looks that keep her from being considered hot?

This brings us to that age-old question what is beauty.

Well, that answer depends on who you ask.

… and if you’re a philosopher.

Most people would say that if someone is considered to be “hot” that one possesses physical beauty; that is, one’s face and body are pleasing to look at.

Someone who looks like this:

 

If you know who this is you probably don't spend too mcu time studying philosophy

If you know who this is you probably don’t spend too much time studying philosophy

But not like this:

susan boyle

 

Whether we’re looking at a statue of the Venus de Milo, the zaftig models of Peter Paul Rubens, Marilyn Monroe, the 1970s Breck Girl, or modern-day supermodels, beauty has always been defined as unblemished, youthful, and feminine.

Beauty, from the ancient philosophers to Leonardo da Vinci placed beauty in symmetry, form, balance, and proportion. Plato said beauty is found in proper measure and size. Aristotle writes:

To be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must not only be present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also be of a definite magnitude. Beauty is a matter of size and order…

St. Thomas Aquinas says “Beauty is the mark of the well-made, whether it be a universe or an object.” and that beautiful things have unity, clarity and proportion. Beauty is the physical reflection of a perfect God.

This seems to be significantly relevant to the estimation of the beauty of a woman.

Susan Faludi writes that an “unblemished exterior becomes proof of a woman’s internal purity, obedience, and restraint.” (204)

For Freud, beauty, like all things, is linked to sex. Our perception of beauty is nothing more than our sexual urges telling us who are suitable to have sex with. Anthropologists and biologists determined that certain (supposedly universal) traits such as a woman’s waist-hip ratio are indicators of fertility, overall health, and cognitive capacity.

Darwin observed beauty’s ornamental value in attracting an ideal mate.

There’s a reason why you find these women attractive. Yes, THAT'S the reason

There’s a reason why you find these women attractive. Yes, THAT’S the reason

Science gives us an explanation for what we think is beautiful, but science can be a bit of a trap as well. If scientific fact informs our cultural standards (this is why according to anthropologists some cultural standards of beauty are universal), then living up to the scientific ideal of beauty can be harmful to one’s philosophical, if not physical health.

Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, writes:

…women both young and old told me about their fear of aging; slim women and heavy ones spoke of the suffering caused by trying to meet the demands of the thin ideal; black, brown, and white women women who looked like fashion models admitted to knowing, from the time they could first consciously think, that the ideal was someone tall, thin, white, and blond, a face without pores, asymmetry, or flaws, someone “wholly” perfect…

Seems like we have a problem, here.

Some people think living up to the cultural/biological standard of beauty is unreasonable.

They think biology isn’t the answer for everything.

Just argue for the infallible truth of reductionism with a philosopher. You’ll see what I mean.

Now, if some feel that our cultural ideal of beauty is unrealistic (or unachievable), this suggests that there is something to beauty other than a manifestation of biological urges or cultural standards.

St. Thomas Aquinas said that the beautiful is what “pleases us upon being seen”.

Well, if you ask any ten people what pleases them upon being seen, you might get ten different answers. What pleases us is often subjective. How many times have we been floored by a spectacular sunset only to hear someone dismiss it as no big deal?

sunsets

Ain’t this a beaut?

If there’s some room for one’s personal tastes, then beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote in Critique of Aesthetic Judgment:

There is no science of the beautiful, but only a critique… For a science of the beautiful we would have to determine scientifically, what is by means of proofs, whether a thing was to be considered beautiful or not; and the judgment upon beauty, consequently, would, if belonging to a science; fail to be a judgment of taste.

So, if we ask should Sharon Osbourne be included on a hot rock wives list we must ask this question: is beauty strictly physical?

Some might say the answer is no. Beauty isn’t exclusive to one’s physicality; whether one is judged “pretty”, “handsome”, or “sexy”.

One can be beautiful without being physically attractive.

(Listen: I am in no way saying that Sharon Osbourne is not a physically attractive woman. In my not-at all-humble opinion she is.)

There’s a reason why we say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that beauty’s only skin deep, and it’s what is on the inside that counts. Yes, to some degree our perception of the beautiful is cultural, even at times exclusively physical, but beauty is also a matter of personal tastes.

That explains how people find this beautiful:

brad pitt

And this beautiful:

goth_black

Beauty is not just a matter of physical fitness but beauty, at least in the philosophical sense, is transcendent; perhaps even a matter of having a good soul. In Symposium Socrates says

A base man is that common lover who loves the body rather than the soul… for as soon as the flower fades, which is what he loved, ‘He takes to the wing and away he flies’… but the lover of a good character remains faithful throughout life, since he has been fused with a lasting thing.

Socrates cautions us not to become enamored only with the physical. Physical beauty fades. We should not merely strive for physical perfection but perfection of the soul. A good soul lasts forever. We should, as Bertrand Russell tells us, appreciate beauty “without appeal to any part of our weaker nature…”

So, it’s not that unusual if one was thinking of beauty beyond one’s physical appearance, that one would think that Sharon Osbourne should very well be included on a hot rock wives list.

That is, assuming Sharon Osbourne has a good soul.

The deal is when we think about beauty philosophically, we shouldn’t focus exclusively on whether a person is physically “hot” but what kind of person we are dealing with.

Is the person a good person?

Are we inspired to be better people when we are around them?

Would we say a person isn’t merely physically beautiful but has a good soul?

If the answer is yes, we might call that person truly beautiful.

At least that’s what a philosopher might tell you.

But then it’s completely expected a philosopher would say so.

Especially since some philosophers look like this:

schopenhauer_1_2

FIN

SOURCES:

1) Mortimer J. Adler. Six Great Ideas. 1981. NY: Touchstone. 112.

2) Susan Faludi. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. 1991. NY: Crown Publishers. 204.

3) Naomi Wolf. The Beauty Myth. 2002. 1991. NY: HarperCollins. 1.

4) D.L. Irick. Mindless Philosopher: How Philosophy Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Popular Culture. 2012. CreateSpace.

5) Symposium. The Great Dialogues of Plato. 1956. 1984. Trans. W.H.D. Rouse. Ed. Eric H. Warmington and Phillip G. Rouse. NY: Signet. 80-1.

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I’m Not Sexy. I Know It… and I’m Not Laughing My F.A.O.

Every year some song gets popular and no one has any idea why.

The Macarena.

The Ketchup Song.

Y.M.C.A.

Any song by Nickleback.

Yeah, I know, I just dumped on Nickleback. It’s a very in thing to do.

About a year ago, everybody was into that song by the group L.M.F.A.O.

“I’m Sexy and I Know It”.

Not me, I mean, that’s the name of the song. It’s called “I’m Sexy and I Know It”.

There was no escaping that song. There wasn’t anywhere I could go without hearing that song. Now I know what being stalked feels like.

If “I’m Sexy and I Know It” looked like a person, it would look like this:

 

creepy_gun_dude

I hate that freaking song.

You know, there’s something that happens when you’re harassed by a song you hate. It’s kind of like what happens when you find out you’re going to die. That Elizabeth Kubler-Ross On Death and Dying, stages of grief stuff. First you’re annoyed by the song. Then you hate it. Then you hate the people who made the song. Then you hate every radio station and DJ who plays the song. Then you realize there’s no escaping the song. Then you stop changing the channel when the song comes on.

Then you start to listen.

And then, you start to like it.

That’s what the experts call acceptance.

That’s the final stage.

A funny thing: When you like a song you tend to listen to the lyrics.

If you’re a philosopher this could be especially troubling.

You see, philosophers have a weird habit of analyzing things over analyzing things.

When you’re a philosopher, you can’t just sit and listen to a song, read a book, or watch a movie or TV show. You have to start thinking about what it all means; to see if what you’re reading, watching, or listening to has a hidden philosophical meaning. And if you’re at all philosophically inclined, even if you don’t see it right away, you’ll find a meaning.

Let me show you how it’s done:

First, ask yourself what’s the name of what you’re going to overthink about? This is important. A title might not seem like a big deal to most folks, but for the philosophically-inclined, sometimes a title gives us a big philosophical clue. In this case, the title gives us exactly how to think about the song: I’m sexy and I know it.

I italicized “and I Know it” for a reason.

To say that one is sexy and you know it, you’re saying that you know something. That is, you’re making a claim that you possess some kind of knowledge, which is in this case; you know that you’re sexy.

When you know (or say you know) something, philosophers say that you’re making an epistemic claim.

The branch of philosophy that deals with all sorts of epistemic claims is called  EPISTEMOLOGY.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind?

 

Ok, nevermind  all that philosophical stuff about justification and justified true beliefs (and let’s not dwell on the necessary and sufficient conditions for being sexy and knowing it as I believe that the following conditions are both necessary and sufficient).

So, how might someone initially formulate the idea that they know that they’re sexy?

Well, from the lyrics we can easily see that being sexy has something to do with working out.

So how else does one guesstimate that one is sexy?

One:

  • rolls with animal print pants “out of control”
  • wears a “big ass ‘fro”
  • looks like Bruce Lee whilst “rocking the club”
  • has tan cheeks
  • causes girls to look at one’s body
  • has passion in one’s pants and is not afraid to show it
  • wears no shoes and no shirt but still gets served
  • works out

And, of course, one wiggles.

So, if one rolls with animal print pants that are out of control, wears a big ass ‘fro, looks like Bruce Lee while rocking the club, has tan cheeks, causes girls to look at your body, has passion in your pants and is not afraid to show it, wears no shirt and no shoes but you still get service, works out, and wiggles, one has met the necessary conditions (what is required to be sexy) and sufficient conditions (what is enough to be sexy), then not only is one sexy, but you know it.

 

These guys are sexy and they know it.

These guys are sexy and they know it.

 

 

Yeah.

That’s it.

That’s pretty much how you do epistemology. Congratulations. You’re an epistemologist.

You’ve just participated in your first over-analysis of a popular song!

Do you feel like a philosopher?

You should.

So now that you know what it takes to be sexy and know it, are you sexy?

I already know my answer.

And if you’re a philosopher with a blog I’m pretty sure you know your answer, too.

 

 

 

 

NOTE:

If you’re not familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief check them out here:

http://www.ekrfoundation.org/five-stages-of-grief/

SOURCES:

1) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/

2) “I’m Sexy and I Know It”. lyrics by Kenneth Oliver, George Matthew Robertson, Stefan Gordy, David Jamahl Listenbee, and Erin Beck. Copyright. 2011. Kobalt Publishing Ltd.

The LAST Philosopher on Earth

Sometimes celebrities say things.

About things that are entirely not about show business.

Occasionally they think they say something smart. Sometimes they don’t. I don’t bother to check anymore. I pretty much react the same way every everyone else does whenever a celebrity says something.

Roll eyes.

Shut up and play yer guitar.

Sometimes I hear so much of what celebrities have to say about things not at all about show business that I sometimes feel like I’m the last real philosopher on earth.

Stephen Baldwin is on Piers Morgan talking about God.

50 Cent is on Oprah talking about the meaning of life.

Angelina Jolie tells me what a good person is.

If it wasn’t for Madonna I wouldn’t know how to vote.

Celebrities are the modern philosophers.

Here’s some celebrity wisdom:

“The only rule is don‘t be boring and dress cute wherever you go. Life is too short to blend in.”  Paris Hilton

“The greater your capacity to love, the greater your capacity to feel the pain.” Jennifer Aniston

“The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.” Eminem

“Sexiness is a state of mind – a comfortable state of being. It’s about loving yourself in your most unlovable moments.” Halle Berry

“We’re all damaged in our own way. Nobody’s perfect. I think we are all somewhat screwy, every single one of us.” Johnny Depp

How many people know this quote

All_You_need_is_love_RGB_small_1

 

More than they know this quote:

PRsll Kant quote

 

 

I didn’t even have to show you a picture of the Beatles for you to know where the first quote came from.

You’re probably hearing the song in your head right now.

This is exactly my point. We know that the Beatles tell us all we need is love but we don’t know that Bertrand Russell said this:

There will still be things that machines cannot do. They will not produce great art of great literature or great philosophy; they will not be able to discover the secret springs of happiness in the human heart; they will know nothing of love and friendship.

Or that Thomas Hobbes said this,

Love is a person’s idea about his/her needs in other person what you are attracted to.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-famous people. And I don’t mind that famous people have opinions or feel the need to share them with the public. Like I said, sometimes celebrities have something smart or wise to say.

It’s hit and miss just like with all of us.

There’s something wrong with a society that believes that being famous means entitles a person to deference that their opinions matter more than anyone else’s. That fame is an automatic qualified to speak about anything badge. I’m not so sure I should be taking sage advice from a person who got famous with a sex tape or whose opinions are deemed worthy of being preached  heard simply because that person is famous.

It’s easy to give a celebrity platform to speak on a TV show or in a magazine than to put some philosopher, thinker, social critic (or scientist or educator for that matter) on a TV show simply because we know who celebrities are. We recognize them without having to be told who they are. Everybody in the world knows who Lady Gaga is.* But how many people know the name Helene Cixous? Or Gregory Kavka? We know no one is going to tune in to see a Slavoj Žižek cultural analysis or watch Noam Chomsky’s criticism of American foreign policy on The Dr. Phil Show, but we’ll tune in to watch Matt Damon tell Charlie Rose why he’s disappointed with the Obama Administration.

At least people won’t be tuning in in the kind of numbers that networks want, anyway.

I’m sure Matt Damon is a smart guy, but was there not ONE political philosopher who’s available to talk about politics?

I mean, I’m a philosopher and I wouldn’t even watch Peter Singer chatting it up on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show.

I might DVR it, though.

 

…. yeah, while the DVR is recording I might try some yoga. I think I’ve become a little cynical.

 

 

NOTE:

* I know that not everyone is the world knows who Lady Gaga is.

If you’re happy and you know it rattle your chains

I watch a lot of MSNBC.

Yeah, I’m a liberal so I watch MSNBC.

Plus, I got this thing for Rachel Maddow.

I won’t explain it here. I don’t want it to get weird.

Too weird… More weird.

My God, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, this.

I watch MSNBC. I even watch on weekends. I suspect that whoever is in charge of weekend programming thinks no one is watching because they air the same shows practically every weekend. They show that Dominick Dunne show about people killing each other. A lot. I think I’ve seen the same one about the poor dude who marries the rich lady from Texas and then poisons her with arsenic-laced pills about a dozen times already.

Besides, Dominick Dunne has been dead for how many years now?

Dominick Dunne died in 2009. I think it's time MSNBC change it's weekend line-up

Dominick Dunne died in 2009. I think it’s time MSNBC change it’s weekend line-up

 

Anyway, in addition to showing the same episodes of that Dominick Dunne show (Really, MSNBC. Airing that show is getting a little creepy) the weekend programming staff seems to be fascinated by shows about sex slaves.

Apparently they’re everywhere.

I had no idea.

Next to illegal drugs and guns, human trafficking (especially for the purpose of prostitution) is big (illegal) international business. It’s estimated nearly 800,000 people, especially women and children, are globally trafficked a year.

I'm not talking about this kind of slave, but real ones.

I’m not talking about this kind of slave, but real ones.

 

You Know, if you think about it, it’s not entirely shocking that modern slavery still exists given the fact that slaves and slavery (of some form or another) have been around since the birth of human civilization.

Slavery is not only a historical fact; it’s been tolerated (historically) in many cultures. Slaves traditionally were conquered people or people who owed money and were sold into slavery to work off debts. Ancient Mesopotamia, India, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and pre-Columbian Americans held slaves. Slavery is even mentioned in the Bible. Despite its prohibitions against such immoral acts such as witchcraft, mixing fabrics, eating shellfish, and making fun of bald men, the Bible does not prohibit slavery. Christian civilizations sometimes lessened slavery and occasionally slaves were liberated,  but neither Christian nor Islam (Mohammed urged that slaves should be treated well) did not end the practice of enslaving people.

By the way, the Bible does tell us how we should treat slaves (Leviticus 25:35-55).

Seriously though, according to the Bible making fun of a bald man may be a bad idea.

Just read 2 Kings 2:23-24.

 

badass4

 

 

Bears, man. Bears.

 

And now for the philosophy.

Like many folks in the ancient world, the Greek philosopher Aristotle does not object to slavery. Aristotle argues that just as nature produces philosophers (the highest men), nature also produces natural slaves. Some are designated from birth to rule while others are destined to be ruled. Aristotle states that in the household (which is the foundation of society) slavery is not only expedient, it’s right. The slave is (and should be) naturally inferior to the master. Slaves should not be Greeks but inferior people but barbarians, (who are natural slaves). In Politics, Aristotle writes:

But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say:

“It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians”;

as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one.

The slave, says Aristotle, is a “living tool” and the master cannot be friends with his slaves (that’s because slaves are not full people like their masters). Aristotle states that slaves should not be educated as a superior person is educated (because they can‘t be, anyway). Slaves should be taught useful arts like cooking, cleaning, and how to care for livestock.

Although the ancient Greek philosophers inspired the philosophy of the Enlightenment, it’s clear that there is no “all men are created equal” according to Aristotle.

(At this point it’s important to note that even though slavery has existed since people figured out that you can force other people to do hard work for you if you beat them, the criteria for who was fit (in Aristotle’s case naturally fit) for slavery is not racial in the same sense that we view race. The racial qualification for servitude (i.e. being African) wasn’t established until the mid-1400s when the enslavement of Africans was justified on the basis that Africans were an inferior race only fit for servitude).

With the pre-Enlightenment ideals of freedom, liberty, and self-determination spread across Europe and the American colonies, some saw enslavement of Africans as contrary to those ideals and by the mid-1800s objections to slavery on the grounds that enslaving one’s fellow humans is morally wrong (namely because lifelong servitude causes suffering) grounded the abolitionist movement. Abolitionists saw slavery as a sham, a denial of human rights; and to force others to forfeit their God-given liberty is contrary to the American belief in Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Slaves were miserable. They weren’t happy and presumably would be happier if they weren’t slaves.

That’s a fairly easy assumption to make about people who lived like this:

slaves in chains

 

The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass addressed how the institution of slavery contradicted the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Douglass wrote:

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham… your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery… are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy

A thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages

 

Douglass wrote “It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation for the existence of slavery.”

Douglass wrote “It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation for the existence of slavery.”

 

The funny thing about slavery (if it’s even possible for anything to be funny about slavery) is that the America’s Founding Fathers, some of whom were certainly slave owners, believed that slavery was wrong. The late historian Howard Zinn writes that in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote that King George III of England suppressed “every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain the execrable commerce”.

However, Zinn adds, Jefferson’s condemnation of the king was excised from the final draft of the Declaration by the Continental Congress.

The funny thing about the funny thing about slavery is although Jefferson believed that slavery is evil he still owned slaves. Jefferson, like his fellow Founders, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, believed slavery was an evil institution that was antithetical to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

But some of them still owned slaves.

I think I kinda know why.

Besides the fact that no one who has the opportunity to say no wants to pick cotton by hand.

I know I’m going to do a bit of stretching here. But play along with me.

We trace our ideals of freedom and liberty (at least as a politically guaranteed right) to the philosophy of John Locke (who, by the way, was heavily invested in the slave trade), but we also trace our idea of democracy to ancient Athens, a society that believed that not only is slavery morally permitted but a part of the natural order. Our idea of democracy isn’t just Lockean but also the ancient Platonic/Aristotelian view of the purpose and function of proper government.

I’m getting to my point. Bear with me. It’s gonna take a sec.

Aristotle (and Plato and Socrates) believed that the aim of government is the good of the whole. And Happiness (capital H) is a part of that good. The good, according to Aristotle, consists in acting virtuously, but also (as Socrates also believed) in performing according to one’s assigned role in society. The good of the community is inextricably tied to everyone doing what he (or she) is supposed to do. Society cannot function if people do not perform according to their characteristic function this is the only way a society can be harmonious. Aristotle writes:

But perhaps the reader thinks that though no one will dispute the statement that happiness is the best thing in the world, yet a still more precise definition of it is needed.

This will best be gained, I think, by asking. What is the function of man? For as the goodness and the excellence of a piper or a sculptor, or the practiser of any art, and generally of those who have any function or business to do, lies in that function, so man’s good would seem to lie in his function., if he has one.

 

So, when everyone is acting according to his/her characteristic function, we are not only acting for the good of the community, we are also Happy. We are unhappy when we don’t perform according to the role assigned to us by nature.

Aristotle says “thus it seems that happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does.”

Ok, Aristotle wants everybody to be happy. And we know that being a slave obviously makes one unhappy, so there’s no way we can justify having slaves, right?

Well, not entirely.

You see, when Aristotle wrote about happiness, he wasn’t exclusively writing about how we feel. He was writing about how we are that is, what kind of people we are. If we are virtuous, we are happy no matter what role we occupy in life. Aristotle calls this kind of Happiness eudemonia.

Aristotle writes that the good things that make us happy (wealth, pleasure, health, etc.) are second to a higher good. According to Aristotle, eudemonia consists in development of a virtuous soul.

And as we all know, Aristotle says when we act according to our characteristic function we are participating in virtuous activity.

This all has me wondering…

If it was believed that Africans were naturally fit for slavery is it possible that, despite the fact that slavery is brutal and is a denial of human freedom, that Jefferson believed that his slaves were happy?

At least in the philosophical sense?

 

 

NOTE:

If anyone objects to my argument, remember this is just a philosophical exercise (or thought experiment, if you will), not an actual treatise on slavery, its philosophical merits (if any), or Thomas Jefferson’s actual view on the emotional/philosophical state of his slaves. I’m more than certain that my ancestors would have thrown over philosophical happiness for freedom.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes, “Again, the enjoyment of bodily pleasures is within the reach of anybody, of a slave no less than the best of men; but no one supposes that a slave can participate in happiness, seeing that he cannot participate in the proper life of man. For indeed happiness does not consist in pastimes of this sort, but in the exercise of virtue, as we have already said.” (pg. 233)  According to Aristotle, since a slave is not a full human being, a slave cannot be happy.

Yikes! That’s worse than Jefferson!

 

SOURCES:
1. Howard Zinn. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. 1999. 1980. NY: Perennial Classics. 72, 182-3.

2. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. 2004 [1893] . NY: Barnes and Noble Books. 10-11, 232, 233.

3. Aristotle. “Politics”. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Pocket Aristotle. 1958, 1942. Ed. Justin D. Kaplan. NY: Pocket Books. 279.

 

When Evil Strikes

On December 14th, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty-year old Adam Lanza, armed with several semi-automatic firearms, shot and killed 26 people (including 20 children) at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first mass shooting in America in 2012.

It wasn’t even the deadliest shooting in American history.

That was the April 16, 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

That guy killed 32 people.

Unfortunately we know that someone someday is going to kill more people than that.

It’s only a matter of time.

Most people were appalled by the senseless murder of so many young and innocent children. I admit I’m a jaded cynic, but like many people, I struggle to find any justification for murdering twenty defenseless children.

Or anyone else for that matter.

Unfortunately, there are some people who claim there is a justification for killing little kids.

… and they seem pretty contented about it.

Anyone who pays any attention to the news or hasn’t been hiding under a rock has certainly heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. This is them:

westboro baptist protest signs

 

While average folks like you and I might wonder why bad things happen to good people especially when bad things happen to little children according to the Westboro Baptist Church, God allows bad things to happen to good people because we deserve it. We’ve turned away from God and in return God has turned away from us.

See for yourself:

 

 

Naturally, when one contemplates the possibility that God has abandoned us one inevitably asks how could an all-powerful, loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?

That is, why does God permit evil?

If you don’t have an answer don’t worry. Epicurus didn’t have an answer, either.

Our dilemma with God and evil is the core question of what philosophers call THE PROBLEM OF EVIL.

holocaust

african famine

9-11

my_lai

We ask, if God is a loving and perfectly good, why does he allow evil and suffering to happen? We assume that if God is capable of preventing evil he would do so.

The theologian Richard Swinburne writes:

God is by definition omnipotent and perfectly good. Yet manifestly there is evil of many diverse kinds. It would appear that an omnipotent being can prevent evil if he tries to do so, and that a perfectly good being will try.

The implication of assuming that an all-powerful, perfectly good God will stop evil from happening is two-fold: if God is capable of preventing evil and he does not, he must be unwilling or incapable to prevent evil. Or, if God is both willing and able to prevent evil, but he does not, we have reason to: 1) believe that God actively participates in evil (God is malevolent), or 2) doubt the existence of God at all. Swinburne adds, “The existence of such evil appears, therefore, to be inconsistent with the existence of God, or at least to render it improbable.”

Even if we say that not every bad thing that happens is (necessarily) evil, we may have a difficult time arguing that every bad thing that happens needs to happen. The prevalence of “pointless” evil (e.g. a fawn that is burned in a forest fire and suffers before it dies a slow, painful death or the murder of children) poses a strong argument against the existence of God. God may have a plan for some evil, but how can an omnipotent, benevolent God allow evil that serves no purpose? One argument used to argue that God does not exist, the Evidential Argument from Evil, goes like this:

1. There are pointless evils

2. If God exists, there are no pointless evils

\ (therefore) God does not exist

Wait a minute. We can surely argue that the fact that evil exists doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to abandon any belief in God.* And it’s obvious that for some people the claim that evil proves that God does not exist won’t be too convincing (there are plenty of people out there who, despite the existence of evil, still believe in God). The argument from evil might convince a few agnostics that God does not exist (or at least that God occasionally likes to mess some people up)  but it’s unlikely that the argument from evil will convince true believers like the members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

*That is, unless you’re with a group of Christopher Hitchens fans. In that case, no one will argue this point.

In fact, if you want to use the problem of evil to fail miserably with a lame argument convince a believer that God doesn’t exist, you should know that there’s already at least one solution for the problem of evil: God not only exists but also allows evil to happen.

Evil, according to this view, is not only a necessary component of this world; it’s a part of God‘s plan. Leibniz suggests that some evil can happen if the purpose of the evil is to bring about a greater good. Leibniz says:

Thus one must understand that God loves virtue supremely and hates vice supremely, and that nevertheless some vice is to be permitted… he must by necessity love all the means without which he could not manifest his glory.

So, if you find yourself on the bad end of a bear attack while camping or your house is destroyed by a tornado, according to Leibniz you’re not the victim of random misfortune, but that your suffering is all a part of God’s plan.

You should feel blessed.

We may be wrong if we blame this guy for every bad thing that happens

We may be wrong if we blame this guy for every bad thing that happens

 

Now, some people may find comfort in the belief that  all things, even acts of evil, are manifestations of the will of God, not everyone agrees that it is God’s will that is always done.

Some people think the idea of attributing our misfortunes to the will of God is a bunch of B.S.

William Rowe writes:

It seems quite unlikely that all the instances of intense suffering occurring daily in our world are intimately related to the occurrence of greater goods or the prevention of evils… that an omnipotent, omniscient being could not have achieved at least some of these goods (or prevented some of those evils) without permitting the instances of intense suffering that are supposedly related to them.

and N.T. Wright writes:

Various writers have suggested, for instance, that God allows evil because it creates the special conditions in which virtue can flourish. But the thought that God decided to permit Auschwitz because some heroes would emerge is hardly a solution to the problem.

Don’t blame God for this. It was all you

Don’t blame God for this. It was all you

 

Ok. So we shouldn’t blame God for evil. Or at least we have no good reason to attribute the presence of evil to God’s grand plan. But if we can’t blame the Almighty for evil

why does evil exist?

Although the argument from evil does not put us totally off believing that God exists, still, the argument from evil is a pretty compelling argument. It would be foolish to dismiss it.

That said, we still haven’t answered the question why does evil exist?

The answer, according to some theologians, not only is evil a necessary component of the world, but if God intervenes every time in our lives something bad happens we are in danger of losing our free will.

Plantinga argues that a world with free creatures is more valuable than (therefore preferable to) a world where beings are not free. To be morally good, we must be able to choose freely, even if that means the choice to do evil. God cannot create a world where his creations are free and determined to do good at the same time. According to this view God  could have (and can) create a world with creatures that do exactly as he wants them to do but He didn’t (and doesn’t) because God thinks it is good that humans have free will (see: Plantinga “The Free Will Defense” in God and the Problem of Evil).

So you see, the world can’t be without evil.

God could have stopped you from drinking but he didn’t out of respect for your free will

God could have stopped you from drinking but he didn’t out of respect for your free will

 

You know, we can say that all the evil in the world is because of the devil, or God’s plan, or even that the world needs evil so we can be free. But you want to know the REAL reason why there is evil in the world?

The answer is, believe it or not, evil exists because our souls need it.

The Bible says:

A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say. (Luke 6:45)

Here’s the deal: The philosopher John Hick (1922-2012) says that evil is necessary to develop (good) souls. So whether we do evil (acts/thoughts, etc.) is a choice. Our choices are a reflection of the kind of person we are. The ability to do evil gives us the opportunity to choose to be better people. Hick writes:

If, then, God’s purpose was to create finite persons embodying the most valuable kind of moral goodness, he would have to create them, not as already perfect beings but rather as imperfect creatures who can the attain to the more valuable kind of goodness through their own free choices as in the course of their personal and social history new responses prompt new insights, opening up new moral possibilities, and providing a milieu in which the most valuable kind of moral nature can be developed.

We have thus far, then, the hypothesis that one is created at an epistemic distance from God in order to come freely to know and love the Maker; and that one is at the same time created as a morally immature and imperfect being in order to attain through freedom the most valuable quality of goodness. The end sought, according to this hypothesis, is the full realization of the human potentialities in a unitary spiritual and moral perfection in the divine kingdom.

 

So…

The Westboro Baptist Church may be wrong in thinking that bad things happen because God hates gays, but they are right in a way whether they truly realize it or not that evil things will happen because whether we like it or not, evil is a necessary part of our world.

It’s only a matter of time before evil strikes us.

NOTE:

Epicurus’ inquiry went something like this:

Is he willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent.

Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

We might want to differentiate between so-called “natural” evils (earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, floods, lightning strikes) and “moral” evils, which are acts performed deliberately by moral agents (humans). Some “pointless” evils may be natural evils.

The infamous atheist Richard Dawkins (oh yeah, he’s a legit scientist, too) says the argument from evil is an argument isn’t as much an argument against God as it is an argument against a good God. (The God Delusion, pg. 108)

SOURCES:

1. Richard Swinburne. “Some Major Strands of Theodicy”. The Evidential Argument From Evil. 1996. Ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 30.

2. Alvin Plantinga. “Epistemic Probability of Evil”. The Evidential Argument From Evil. 1996. Ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 71-2.

3. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. “Theodicy, sections 218-236”. God and the Problem of Evil. 2001.Ed. William Rowe. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. 6, 9.

4. John Hick. “Soul-Making Theodicy”. God and the Problem of Evil. 2001.Ed. William Rowe. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. 271-2.

5. J.T. Wright. Evil and the Justice of God. 2006. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books. 28.

Life Is Brutish, Undead, and Short: On Hobbes’ State of Nature and The Walking Dead

The-Walking-Dead2

Any George A. Romero fan will tell you that zombie movies aren’t just about zombies.

Sure, Romero’s zombies are gross and nasty, and there’s plenty of blood, gore and scares.

Hence the appeal.

Sparkly vampires might get the ‘tween crowds all worked up and kissing their posters of shimmering, brooding, pout-lipped blood-suckers on their walls

Go Team Edward!

– but for some folks (in particular those folks who like a little bit of thinking served alongside their horror) zombies are definitely they way to go.

Wait, are the Twilight films even considered horror? Horrible yes, but are they horror?

Good Lord, I hope not.

If you look (not even so) closely, Romero’s zombies are always about something – civil unrest, consumerism, militarism, bureaucracy, or the war on terror…

and the sorry fact that there will always be some idiot who won’t put down his camera long enough to save his own life.

Of course, Romero’s zombie films aren’t the only place you’ll find zombie symbolism. In Max Brooks’ best-selling novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, the undead represent a global crisis: viral pandemics, environmental disasters, terrorism, economic collapse…

You name the crisis, zombies can be it.

This could be part of the reason why zombies, despite their utter grossness, are a pop culture favorite. And the ratings success of AMC’s The Walking Dead has proved that audiences are more than willing to watch a weekly television show about a world full of cannibalistic revenants. Ostensibly, the show is about a group of survivors in a zombie plague. And that works just fine – undead flesh eaters are fun to watch. But if you look a little bit closer, you’ll see that The Walking Dead, like the zombie films of George A. Romero, is actually about something.

If you ask me, I think The Walking Dead is really about the state of nature.

Although David Hume writes that the state of nature is purely hypothetical (the state of nature never actually existed at any time in human history), and writes, “‘tis utterly impossible for men to remain any considerable time in that savage condition, which precedes society…”, the state of nature is meant to explore the origin of natural law and the social contract.

In political philosophy the state of nature precedes the political community and leads to the social contract. John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Hobbes all wrote about the state of nature.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the “state of nature”, you’ve probably heard the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) famous quote in wrote in Leviathan (1651) that in the state of nature, life is “brutish, nasty, and short.”

This is what Hobbes had to say about the state of nature:

In such condition, there is no place for industry… no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (emphasis added)

Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, writes that the state of nature is the “natural condition of mankind.” Nature, according to Hobbes, has made all men equal “in the faculties of the body, and mind” and even though one person may be quicker or stronger than the other, Hobbes writes “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others…”

In the state of nature, Hobbes states, each man is left to define his own rules. Hobbes says human nature positions people to fight each other and with no authority to intervene or prevent violence human “society” is nothing more than a war of “all against all”. Hobbes writes, since self-preservation is supreme, our benevolence towards others is limited, and people are easily offended and quick to fight. Since each person operates according to their own law, our actions are influenced only by our own interests and we treat others not according to how we want to be treated, but according on how we decide to treat them. Thomas Hobbes says people are left to master others “by force or wiles… all the men he can.”

Hobbes states that the need for self-preservation is so essential that in order to save our own lives people agree to band together for mutual protection and to appoint a ruler to maintain social order. We leave the state of nature (where people possess maximum freedom) and agree to mutually binding rules. This is the social contract.

According to social contract theory, we agree that the law may restrict our freedom in order to preserve or promote freedom. For example, we agree to laws that restrict people from murdering each other in the interest of preserving the public’s right to live in peace without fear of their lives being cut short through act of violence.

Try as they might, these zombies will never enter into the social contract.

Try as they might, these zombies will never enter into the social contract.

Although it is entirely possible that the state of nature never existed, it might under the right circumstances.

– like a zombie apocalypse.

Unlike the hypothetical state of nature, where Hobbes tells us the urge for self-preservation leads us out of the state of nature and into the social contract, during the zombie apocalypse, the zombie plague infects people back into the state of nature. The zombie symbolizes untamed human nature. It is driven only by base drives; the need to consume and devour everything and everyone in its path. A zombie does not think, it does not reason. It has no desire to create or participate in civilization. Zombies do not create art. They will never participate in the social contract. Zombies will kill you without even thinking about it.

That’s because a zombie can’t think about it.

It is an all-out war between the living and the dead.

There is constant fear of violent death. And as young Sophia Peletier learns, life during the zombie apocalypse is indeed “Nasty, brutish and short”.

Alas, poor Sophia. Oh look, her shirt has a rainbow!

Alas, poor Sophia. Oh look, her shirt has a rainbow!

After watching a few episodes of The Walking Dead, it’s fairy easy to figure out that The Walking Dead isn’t merely a zombie TV show, but a morality play wherein the main characters, led by former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, struggle to hold on to what is left of their humanity following the collapse of civilized society. Civilization in The Walking Dead has returned to a state resembling Hobbes’ state of nature. Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, states that he wanted:

[to see] … how living in a world like this twists and turns things around to where morals get twisted and people’s actions that they would think are morally wrong end up being the right thing to do. And just showing how miserable it would be to live in this world.

However, in the world of The Walking Dead, it is not only the dead who threaten the survivors, but the living do as well. The series’ tagline for the third season was “fear the living”. Without law or fear of punishment, no one is trustworthy. The living are as dangerous, if not more threatening than the undead.

Given the state of lawlessness and incivility in Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse, surely Kirkman was channeling Hobbes’ state of nature war of all against all when he created The Walking Dead. It remains to be seen how civilized the civilized enclave of Woodbury will remain in the aftermath of the attack/rescue mission by Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors in which the Governor (of Woodbury) lost and eye and his daughter is re-killed. By all signs, the traumatic events have caused the Governor to let go of his grip on what remained of his humanity.

Does this mean that there is no hope for these characters to emerge from the state of nature?

I wonder how much deeper into the state of nature the characters of The Walking Dead will go?

My guess is that The Governor won’t be reading any John Rawls the second half of season three.

My guess is that The Governor won’t be reading any John Rawls the second half of season three.

SOURCES:

1. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hobbes-moral/
2. Thomas Hobbes Leviathan. 1985 [1651]. NY: Penguin Books. 184
3. David Hume A Treatise of Human Nature. 2000, 2005 [1739]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Bk. 3, Pt. 2, sec. 2)
4. “Making of The Walking Dead”. The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season. Anchor Bay Entertainment. 2011.