Hey, y’all.

I’ve noticed there’s been some activity on my blog lately. Namely,  MY BLOG HAS MORE FOLLOWS!!!!

As I know that it is customary to thank people who have chosen to follow you, I’m THANKING EVERY LAST ONE OF YOU WHO HAS DECIDED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG.

Yes, I just yelled at you.


That’s why I used all caps.


Really, thanks a bunch, folks, for taking the time to read my little blog that’s kind of, sorta about philosophy. I hope that you continue to enjoy my stuff.


And for the last time, THANKS.


Y’all are makin’ me feel like a prom queen.


th (1)




yours philosophically,

the mindless philosopher

The Day I Didn’t Exist

I know there will come a day when I will die.

I am mortal. And, like Socrates, I will die.

It’s going to happen to everybody.

Along with taxes and the Kardashians’ domination of popular culture, there’s no avoiding the end.

It’s inevitable.

I don’t need a syllogism to inform me of my eventual end. Anyone with a grandma or a goldfish knows all mortal beings will die.

You know, I don’t think people are even afraid of death. Or even of dying. I think what scares people most about death is the idea that they no longer exist. The idea that the world will be deprived of our presence. Permanently.

That we won’t be here forever.



But You don’t need to actually die to know what that feels like. To know what the world feels like without you in it.

That feeling is just a computer glitch away.

I couldn’t log onto Facebook.

It wasn’t just me. No one could.

Just “error” messages.
I couldn’t update my status, post or “like” anything. I couldn’t like this funny meme:

kevin hart meme pic

These days, to exist in any full sense of the word, EVERYONE knows one must have an online presence. To know anything about or to interact in any meaningful way with the world, one must be on the internet.

I post, therefore I am.

The French philosopher Rene Descartes wanted to determine how can he be sure that he exists. Descartes concludes, since he is able to question his own existence, that he is, at the very least, a thinking being. A being that thinks, Descartes declares, exists. Descartes writes:

And as I observed that in the words I think, hence I am, there is nothing at all which gives me assurance of their truth beyond this, that I see very clearly that in order to think it is necessary to exist…

If existence in the modern world is (necessarily) dependent on one’s ability to post one’s Facebook status, then I, at least for a day, did not exist.

It’s not just John Lennon who knows what it’s like to be dead.


Well, actually, neither do I. I spent the day checking my gmail.


…. and then there’s always tumblr.






Rene Descartes. Discourse On Method. 2004 [1641]. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. p. 25.

Fishers of Supermen

I’ve been doing this philosophy thing for a while, now. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

I’m much better at philosophizing than I am at playing basketball or Scrabble.

I think better than I dance.

I’m better at talking about Hume than I am at gourmet cooking.

I’m pretty good at doing something with minimal money-making potential.


That doesn’t bother me, though. You see, philosophers don’t get into philosophy for it’s money making prospects – they do it because they love it.

We are indeed lovers of wisdom.

That kind of bugs me.

I used to get frustrated in my philosophy classes. I read Plato and Aristotle. I read Descartes. I read Hume and Kant.

And Rousseau.

And Russell.

De Beauvoir. Marx. Locke. Mill.

They’re all dead now.

I would sit and think how distant philosophy seemed from anything contemporary. Nothing related to how the world is now. It seemed that right now didn’t matter as much as back then. How so many philosophers seemed to hold anything popular with a fair amount of contempt.

Ancient philosophers are the only ones who know how to think.

That never worked for me.

I promised myself that when I graduated, I would write the book that I always wanted to read. I thought if there was anyone out there who thought like me, we’d find each other across the internet. We’d prove that philosophical thought didn’t stop with Socrates.

We would become a movement.

We would become a new Vienna Circle.

So I wrote a book.

I started a blog and a Facebook page.

I was to be a fisher of supermen.

It’s been a few years since then. Things are pretty much the same as they were when I started. I’m not the Oprah Winfrey of philosophy.

If I’m to believe one of my former professors, it has to do with the fact that I lack proper philosophical street cred. That is to say, philosophers think that the only people qualified to speak (or at least write) about philosophy have a PhD.

Philosophers can be kind of stingy with their wisdom.

A philosophical velvet rope.

Apparently, breaking into professional philosophy is harder than getting into Studio 54.

Alvin Plantinga is the new Steve Rubell.

The thing is, there are plenty of non-professionals writing and speaking about all sorts of topics in books, on TV, and all over the internet. Some are pretty successful.

Could it be that no one is interested in philosophy?

No. that can’t be it. I refuse to believe that it’s that no one is interested in philosophy. There are still philosophy departments on college campuses and plenty of philosophy blogs out there.

Not as many blogs as the number devoted to celebrity gossip, but they’re out there.

My blog is one of them.

There’s a problem, though.

There’s no new Vienna Circle.

All I’ve accomplished is Vienna solipsism.

One thing I have noticed is that everybody else’s stuff seems to have what my stuff lacks – an opinion.
Their stuff has a point of view.
When I write, I try to be topical. I try to humorous and down-to-earth, but it’s not connecting to my an (any) audience.

I barely have 100 likes on my Facebook page.

There are pages devoted to characters from the movie Jaws that have more likes than my page.

So it can’t be that difficult to get a like or two.

See, I think my problem is that I’ve been playing things too safe. I’m stuck on that old habit of writing that one becomes accustomed to when in college.

That damned impartial writing. My writing is passive when it should be active. I write “One” instead of “I”. I say “One may conclude” instead of “I think that”.

I try to write about philosophy but I’ve been trying to do it impartially. That ultimately is impossible to do.

My writing doesn’t have a voice.

It makes for boring philosophy. A boring blog.

A boring Facebook page.


I know philosophy is grounded in reason and analytical but that shouldn’t exclude taking a position on anything. Kant definitely thought deontological ethics was the way to go. And there was no convincing Ayn Rand that objectivism might not work even while she collected social security.

Bertrand Russell had an ontology, but he also wrote what he thought about damn-near everything else. Russell wrote his opinions on other philosophers and other philosophical schools of thought. He wrote on topics ranging from politics, religion, international affairs, to marriage and sex.

Here I am. Trying to be analytical.

Trying to be impartial.

Trying not to offend anyone.

Because no philosopher ever did that.

Socrates never had to drink hemlock.

On the Unlikely But Probable Existence of Gettier Truths

Generally speaking, it’s good not to lie to people.

Most people aren’t very good at it and if you make a habit out of lying to people you’re likely to end up getting caught in a web of your own lies. Your lies, as the Blue Fairy would say, become as plain as the nose on your face.



Lying isn’t just wrong according to the Bible (which is bad enough as it is) but if you’re a fan of Immanuel Kant the act of lying is a big no-no.

To quote Kant from his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, “lying is no bueno.”

Of course, as with anything else we’re not supposed to do, like premarital sex, serial arson, or liking Nickleback on Facebook, an admonition to not do something has never stopped anyone from doing anything in the real or make-believe world. And rrally, if you watch enough TV you might think that lying is the necessary evil glue that binds fictional universes together.

…or at least habitual lying makes Don Draper sexy.



In fact, when a fictional character lies it often reveals a greater truth. Even if the liar has no idea that’s what they just did.

If you make it your mission to become an observer of fictional liars and fictitious lies, you’ll soon discover that after binge watching three seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead, basic cable’s ratings powerhouse, the show (ostensibly) about zombies, is a veritable Whack-A-Mole Ô of primetime lying. After spending approximately one and a half days of my life watching zombie chow-downs and survivor shenanigans, I compiled this short list of lies (in no particular order):

  • Lori lies to Shane about who is the father of her baby.
  • Morgan lies to himself into thinking that he will be able to shoot his reanimated wife.
  • Shane lies to everybody about what really happened to Otis.
  • Guillermo lies to Rick about his “ferocious” dogs.
  • Shane is lying to himself about his “love” for Lori (it’s so obvious).
  • Daryl lies to that vato dude about what happened to the guy who pissed him off (Nobody pissed him off. It was actually Merle’s severed hand).
  • The governor lies to the people of Woodbury about what really happened to the National Guardsmen.
  • Shane lies to Lori about Rick’s “death” (Wait. That may have not been a lie as much as it was wishful thinking. Or a mistake. Whatever).
  • Randall lies about merely watching the two girls getting gang-raped in front of their father (we all know that Randall is a shifty slime ball who probably fully participated in the girls’ rape).
  • Randall lies to Carl that he is a good guy.
  • Jim lies to Jacqui when she discovers that he’s been bitten by a walker.
  • The Governor lies to the people of Woodbury about what kind of person he really is.
  • Glenn lies to Merle about who is at the prison.
  • The Governor lies about what happened to the helicopter pilot.
  • Maggie (initially) lies to Glenn about her attraction to him.
  • Shane lies to Dale when Dale catches Shane pointing his gut at Rick.
  • Axel lies about why he is in prison.
  • The Governor lies to Andrea about his true intentions after his “truce” with Rick.
  • Tomas lies to Rick when he “accidentally” takes a swipe at Rick’s head (Tomas tells Rick “shit happens”. Rick agrees with Tomas and then cleaves him in the head with a machete).
  • Milton (unsuccessfully) lies to the Governor about not knowing about Andrea’s trip the prison.
  • Milton (unsuccessfully) lies to the Governor about not knowing who burned the walkers in the pit.
  • Andrea lies to Michonne when she denies that she chose sex with the Governor over their friendship.
  • Rick fails to inform the group that they are all infected with the zombie virus (this is a lie of omission, but a lie nonetheless).
  • Shane lies to Rick about “banging” a high school P.E. coach (we all know Shane was lying).
  • Shane lies to Rick about playing nice-nice after their fight  (after they failed to successfully abandon Randall).
  • Shane lies to Rick so he can lure Rick into the woods so he can kill him.
  • Shane lies to Carol about his sympathies for Carol after Sophia’s funeral.
  • Shane lies to Randall to lure him into the woods so he can kill him.

My God, Shane does a lot of lying.

Shane is not as big a liar as Don Draper. But then, what fictional character is?

For those who are inclined to view their television through an ethical lens, Shane Walsh demonstrates why Kant tells us that lying is wrong. Namely, that lying violates the Categorical Imperative. Kant tells us that before we perform any act, that:

I only ask myself: Can I will that my maxim become a universal law? If not, it must be rejected, not because of any disadvantage accruing to myself, or even to others, but because it cannot enter as a principle into a possible enactment of universal law, and reason extorts me from an immediate respect for such legislation.

Kant also says that we cannot treat others as mere means to our ends. Kant writes:

… every rational being exists as a end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will. In his actions, whether they are directed towards himself or toward other rational beings, he must always be regarded at the same time as an end… Man, however, is not a thing, and thus not something to be used merely as a means; he must always be regarded as an end in himself.

You see, Kant tells us that lying (Kant calls “false promises”) is morally wrong because no matter how well-intended our intentions may be, telling lies inevitably leads to some greater moral evil. Kant writes:

Would I be content that my maxim of extricating myself from difficulty by a false promise should hold as a universal law for myself as well as for others? And I could say to myself that everyone may make a false promise… Immediately I see that I could will the lie but not a universal law to lie. For with such a law there would be no promises at all, inasmuch as it would be futile to make a pretense of my intention in regard to future actions to those who would not believe this pretense… Thus my maxim would necessarily destroy itself as soon as it was made a universal law.

In short, Kant says if everybody lies, then no one would believe anyone.

And for all his lies, this is how Shane ends up:

shane walsh as a zombie

Kant would call that retributive justice.

Shane Walsh is an example of what happens when someone lies. Despite the fact the Shane believed his intentions were good, the consequences of Shane’s lies proved that even the best intentioned lie can have disastrous effects. People can get hurt.

And if you are Randall or Otis, people get killed.

… well actually, if you’re Otis, Shane will shoot you in the kneecap, leave you to the zombies, and then lie to everyone about how you really died.



A funny thing about lies.

Even though Kant tells us that all lies are inevitably bad, sometimes when someone lies something weird happens: in the middle of the lie is the truth.

Not just a kind of truth, but THE TRUTH.

The kind of truth-telling lie that reveals how sinister someone truly is.

In the season three (episode three) “Arrow On the Doorpost”,  Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and The Governor (David Morrissey) meet to discuss terms for a treaty following an attack on The Governor’s stronghold in Woodbury.

Wait, this is out of context:

You see, this dude, Merle Dixon, kidnapped two of Rick’s friends, Glenn and Maggie, and so Rick and a few of his people went to Woodbury to rescue them and well, let’s say things went badly enough to require a cease fire between the two survivalist factions.

Ok. So, the meeting between Rick and The Governor pretty much goes nowhere (although Rick agrees to one condition for a peaceful settlement: he agrees hand over one of his men (actually it was a woman) in exchange for peace). But when each man returns to his camp, The Governor and Rick do the exact same thing: they lie.

The Governor tells Andrea wait

Ok, Andrea used to be in Rick’s group, but she was separated from the group when Hershel’s farm (I’m not explaining, just follow along) is overrun by the living dead. Andrea is rescued by Michonne, the nearly-mute, katana-wielding, dreadlocked, badass, who, while she was in Woodbury, got suspicious of The Governor’s motives and skipped town.

Oh yeah, when she returned to Woodbury, she stuck her katana through the skull of  Penny, The Governor’s zombified daughter.

… and she also stabbed out The Governor’s eye.

Folks, if you aren’t watching this TV show, you should be.

Get the plot so far?

Ok. So, The Governor tells Andrea that he and Rick have agreed to let bygones be bygones and as long as Rick’s people stay on their side, things between both groups will be hunky dory. But, when out of earshot of Andrea, The Governor tells his men his real plan that he intends to kill Rick, Michonne, and everyone else in Rick’s group.

We expect The Governor to lie because he’s a bad guy. He does not let the audience down.

But, when Rick returns to his group he tells his fellow survivors that The Governor intends to kill everyone in Rick’s group.

The Governor did not tell Rick this.

But by lying, Rick reveals The Governor’s true intentions.



Rick does lie, but in a strange way, Rick tells something like a Gettier truth: he’s right about The Governor.

But only accidentally so.*


This all makes me wonder: was Rick aware that he was telling his group the truth?

Or was it Rick’s intention to get his people gunned-up to kill The Governor no matter what settlement the two men had reached regarding the attack on Woodbury? Although it would tickle my philosophical soul pink to see it, I’m thinking that a deep, philosophical analysis of Rick Grimes’ motivations isn’t going to be had anytime soon.

Well, not since Andrea died, anyway.

I get the feeling she was the only character who had any idea who Edmund Gettier was.

Oops. Spoiler alert.




* For more information on misapplying the concept of Gettier problems, see my previous post “99 Problems and Gettier Ain’t One”.



Sources: Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1997 [1785]. Second edition. Trans. Lewis White Beck. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. pp. 19, 45-6

Gods, Grandmas, The Present King of France & Other Imaginary Beings

I regularly listen to NPR.

Say what you want about that. I ain’t gonna stop.

A few Saturdays ago, I was listening to a show called Radiolab.

It’s a pretty good show.

The topic that week was language.

They talked about Shakespeare, and how children and hearing-impaired people learn to speak. They even talked about rats and their inability to tie together concepts like “blue” and “to the left”.  Nowhere in the entire hour-long show did I hear the words “philosophy of language”. No Frege. No Russell. No Saul Kripke. No Hillary Putnam. No Ludwig Wittgenstein. Not a peep about the Vienna Circle.

Yes. There is such a thing as philosophy of language.

Philosophers have opinions about everything.




I was a little disappointed. And for some strange reason, I kind of felt left out. After all, what’s the point of taking a philosophy of language class if NPR won’t even discuss the topic?

I guess I should have figured that no one would mention philosophy of language on the show. When most people think of language (if anyone ever thinks of language at all) I thinking that very few people ever think about the fact that philosophers have anything to say about it. And really, I can’t fault the folks at Radiolab for omitting philosophy of language. They want people to listen to the show.

Other disciplines offer us explanations for the way the world works, but sometimes, even in the most disciplined of disciplines, we get confused about what we really mean when we say something or even about what we are thinking about. Philosophers of language aim to clear up our confusion over language and make clear the things we are thinking about.

Remember: we think of our world in terms of language. If we’re confused about concepts (we think about) or meaning (of the words that we speak), our beliefs about the world (aka reality) won’t do us much good.

Because those beliefs might be wrong.

Despite what NPR might have us believe, language isn’t just about acquisition or how many words William Shakespeare invented.

By the way, Shakespeare invented a lot of words.

If you’ve ever used the words uncomfortable, unreal, or lonely, you can thank Bill Shakespeare.

Language isn’t merely the proper usage of syntax and grammar. Language is also about meaning. It’s about what we are talking about. It’s about having the proper the correct thoughts about what we are thinking about.

There’s more to a simple phrase like “Clark Kent is Superman” than you might know.

Ok, let’s take the statement “The present king of France is bald”. First, we can see that we’ve made a claim about the king of France. Ok, now what do we mean when we say that the present king of France is bald? Well, we might ask if what we’ve said is true or false.

That’s because everything we say is either true or false*.

So, for the statement “The present king of France is bald” to be true, there must be a king of France, he must be bald, and he must be sitting on the throne right now. If we wanted to say this philosopher-like, we’d say something like this:

There is a X such that: X is the king of France and X is bald. And, for all Y, if Y is the king of France, then Y is identical to X.

The folks at NPR may have neglected to mention it, but language is about definite descriptions, propositions, sense, reference, sense-data, rigid designators, language games, signifieds and signifiers.

Oh man, wait a minute, why am I explaining any of this?

It won’t do you any good when you’re listening to NPR, anyway.

The Philosophy of Ordinary Things

beach at coronado






I snapped this picture a couple of years ago. Nothing extraordinary, really. Just a picture of average-looking waves on a beach.

Since ¾ of the world is covered with water, the sight of waves on a beach is an extremely common thing.

Quite ordinary.

Yet, the view from such an ordinary shore, watching the unspectacular tide rolling in and out, always gets me thinking.

Even looking at a photo taken a couple of years ago gets me in the thinking mood.

In the philosophical mood.

I think of the vastness of the ocean. Of the water. And of all the millions, even billions of file forms populating the depths.

I think of how all those lives play a part in the life of the ocean, and how each of those lives plays a part in my life, and the circle of life on the planet Earth.

Looking at the waves, I think how, of all the possible worlds in the universe, I am here: how I am on this one, covered with water, not too close, yet not to far from our life-giving Sun. how unlikely it was that any life, let alone for my life, to exist.

I see the tranquility of the waves and how peaceful it looks from the shore; how it all looks from a view on the beach.

I think of my part in all of it.

My obligation to others – human and non-human. To the other people standing on the beach, looking out at the ocean, wondering about the life beneath the waves, their place in the universe, and about all those other people standing on the beach thousands of miles away.

All of us wondering what it all means –

If it means anything at all.
I think of this.

While standing on an ordinary beach.

Descartes Would Have Done the Maury Povich Show (Metaphysics vs. METAPHYSICS)

I finally figured out something.

After many years of soul searching and asking other people, I finally figured out why philosophy isn’t popular. Why no one ever mentions the name Immanuel Kant or says the words “virtue ethics”, even when the conversation is about deontology or virtue ethics.

Or why contemporary philosophers like Peter Singer and Slavoj Žižek are relegated to occasional appearances on NPR.

Or why Cornel West is identified as a social critic and not a philosopher. And why, when anyone discusses matters of religion, they turn to guys like Rick Warren and not to philosophers like Peter van Inwagen.

There’s a reason why the only metaphysics ever spoken about is ghost hunting and talking to the dead.

That kind of metaphysics gets its own TV show.



paranormal TV show



What I discovered is this: nobody talks to philosophers or talks philosophy because nobody likes philosophy.

It’s all pie-in-the-sky navel gazing and talking about nothing.







More people follow the life philosophy and ethics of Donald Trump than they follow the life philosophy and ethics of Aristotle.

That’s why this metaphysician


james van praagh



Sells more books than this metaphysician


peter van inwagen



If you told the average person you’re into metaphysics, it’s more likely that they’d think you’re into Sylvia Browne or that you’ve mastered The Secret. There’s a real problem for your field of interest when you mention the word “philosophy” and people think you’re talking about the Laws of Attraction.

If I had to put money on it, I’d bet the reason why small “m” metaphysics is more popular than capital “M” metaphysics (that is, philosophical metaphysics) has to do with the fact that when you practice small m metaphysics, you’re supposed to get things.

Practitioners of The Secret call these things “abundance”.

Mike Dooley, who is featured in The Secret, says “Thoughts become things”. According to Dooley, it’s not just that what we think influences how we perceive reality, what we think actually affects the world around us. That is to say, our thoughts can become real things in the real world. We can actualize our desires for a good job, a good home, stable, and substantive relationships with our significant others. And, we can manifest abundance.

That means lots of money.

You see, if you practice small “m” metaphysics, it can make you very rich.

I wouldn’t claim that Rhonda Byrne is infinitely more knowledgeable than Socrates or Immanuel Kant, or that James van Praagh’s Talking to Heaven is a better philosophical guide than Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. it’s just that subscribing to one philosophy is potentially more financial rewarding than the other.

It’s as simple as that.

Think of it: small “m” metaphysics tells us that we can attract things like money and happiness simply by thinking about it. On the other hand, Aristotle’s brand of happiness, eudemonia, or “flourishing”, doesn’t even require that a person be emotionally happy.

According to Aristotle, even a dead man can be happy.

In fact, according to John Stuart Mill, we should prefer to be a dissatisfied Socrates than want to be a satisfied pig.

If how our lives end is any indication of how fulfilling one’s life is (financially or otherwise), one can make an argument that being a philosopher positively sucks.

  • Socrates was condemned to death and forced to drink hemlock.
  • Isocrates starved to death.
  • Hypatia was killed by a mob of Christians.
  • Seneca was ordered to cut his own throat.
  • Descartes died from the common cold.
  • Richard Montague was beaten to death.
  • Jacques Derrida died of pancreatic cancer.
  • Leibniz died of arthritis and gout (I had no idea either one of those conditions was fatal)
  • Camus died in a car accident.
  • Foucault died from complications from AIDS.

…. It’s been rumored that Nietzsche died of syphilis.

I’d bet that none of those philosophers were blessed with “abundance”, either.

Deepak Chopra is worth an estimated 80 million dollars.

And, unlike Descartes, Deepak Chopra was on the Oprah Winfrey Show.




Captain Kirk Makes Scrambled Eggs! (On Star Trek, Nozick’s Experience Machine, and the Worst Star Trek Subplot EVER)

I was watching Star Trek: Generations awhile ago. It’s not a great movie. It pretty much follows the every-other-movie Star Trek rule. That is to say, it’s an odd-numbered Star Trek movie.

The odd-numbered are the ones that suck.

The every-odd-numbered Star Trek movie rule goes like this: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan  (number 2 in the film series) = great movie. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier  (number 5 in the film series) = steaming pile.

The problem with Star Trek: Generations has mainly to do with the plot. It just doesn’t make sense. I haven’t made a formal count, but I’d guess there’s about 89 equally baffling subplots going on in the movie. There are plots involving Data and his emotion chip, the ample-bosomed, Klingon Duras sisters and their plan to destroy the Enterprise, the usually-entertaining Malcolm Mc Dowell and his quest to get back to something called the Nexus, and a not-so-successful meeting of Enterprise captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard.

There’s also some mumbo-jumbo about Guinan (played by Whoopi Goldberg) and her relationship with Malcolm Mc Dowell (his character, that is), an opening flashback scene that introduces us to Sulu’s daughter and Kirk’s replacement, the inept Captain Harriman, the crash and explosion of the Enterprise in which the entire Enterprise crew is killed, and some GAWD-AWFUL attempted humor in the holodeck that takes place on the deck of a pirate galleon.

Whoever thought it would be funny to see a Klingon walk the plank was wrong. It’s not.

Now, any honest Star Trek fan will tell you that they’ve not been entirely impressed with every TV show or movie plot line. As much as I was forced to hold back bile while watching the Enterprise crew’s pirate ship shenanigans, if I wanted to be honest, my vote for the worst of the subplots – the worst subplot in any Star Trek movie – has to be the Nexus.

The Nexus is the biggest WTF plot line in Star Trek history.

Although strangely enough, it’s one of the most philosophical.

If you’re not acquainted with the Nexus, the Nexus is a kind of alternate world where you can manifest your ideal reality. Once you’ve entered the Nexus, you can spend an eternity in your ideal world. For Captain Jean-Luc Picard, ideal reality looks like a Charles Dickens novel; equipped with English-accented children (never mind that Picard is supposed to be French) in proper period attire. According to Captain Kirk, ideal reality is riding horses, chopping wood, and making eggs for his unseen girlfriend.


captain kirk makes eggs


I mean, the audience doesn’t get to see Kirk’s girlfriend. But we’re told that she’s in the bedroom upstairs.

We’re told her name is Antonia.

Who TF is Antonia?

As a Star Trek fan, I gotta say that this Antonia thing is upsetting. Not as upsetting as the new Carol Marcus’ British accent, but upsetting. I mean, every Star Trek fan knows that in an ideal world, Kirk would chose to be with his old love Carol Marcus*.

Maybe even chose to be with Edith Keeler.






Or maybe, since Star Trek is supposed to be philosophical, Kirk or Picard might have chosen a world that included having a little chat with Robert Nozick. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I get the feeling that the film’s writers were trying to squeeze in some experience machine talk to the audience. The Nexus is Robert Nozick’s experience machine.

Robert Nozick’s thought experiment was an argument against hedonism.

Hedonism, according to the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), is the moral theory grounded on the principle that pleasure is the greatest good. Bentham wrote:

“Nature has placed mankind the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure… They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think… By utility is meant that property in any object, good or happiness… to prevent the happening of mischief, pain , evil, or unhappiness…”

Nozick argued that Bentham’s emphasis on pleasure as the greatest good presents us with a problem. Namely, that if we value pleasure for pleasure’s sake, any pleasurable experience will do; we won’t bother to ask if pleasure is what’s really good for us. That is to say, some pleasurable experiences do us more harm than good.

This is precisely what Nozick’s experience machine shows us.

Nozick describes the experience machine as follows:

“Suppose there was an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired… you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank with electrodes attached to your brain.”

If you’re feeling that this is the idea behind The Matrix and/or Total Recall, give yourself five bonus points.

You have seen this one before.





Although Nozick knows that some people would not hesitate to climb into the experience machine, he tells us that the wrong choice would be to climb inside. You see, Nozick says that there is more to life than mere pleasure. We should value the quality of our life experiences, not just the quantity of the pleasurable ones. Nozick argues that only is life worth more than pleasure, Nozick also says that the artificial experiences we live in the experience machine lacks authenticity. Nozick says:

“We want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them… we learn that something matters to us in addition to experience.”

In the movie, Picard realizes that he can’t stay in the Nexus. He feels the urge to leave his ideal world, even though the Nexus’ “reality” is exactly the life that Picard wants. Picard knows that the Nexus isn’t real – that life inside the Nexus is, in reality, a denial of life. Picard eventually convinces Kirk to leave the Nexus (Kirk is also aware that life inside the Nexus isn’t “real”), and the two men rush to save the Enterprise from – well, you see, this is where the plot of the movie gets really convoluted.






Anyway, long story short. Kirk dies.

But here’s the thing: even though Kirk dies, it was better that he left the Nexus. According to Nozick, Kirk’s life in the Nexus was kind of living death. Since Kirk wasn’t actually chopping wood, riding his horse or making eggs for his girlfriend, he wasn’t really experiencing anything. We’re tempted to say that Kirk’s authentic death outside of the Nexus was qualitatively better than any thing he had experienced inside his artificial reality.

I guess unless you’re Thomas Nagel. You’d probably think Kirk’s death was pretty messed up.

But then, Nagel said any death is pretty messed up.

Ok, we get it. Nozick wants us to value authenticity over pleasure and we shouldn’t want to hook up to the experience machine. Nozick’s argument works fine if all we want to do inside the experience machine is to avoid the real world or to fulfill our desire to get tag-teamed by Megan Fox and Mila Kunis.

Or if you’re Kirk, shagging a couple of Orion slave girls.

But, if the quality of our experiences matters in the real world, why wouldn’t the quality of our artificial experiences matter as well?

If we choose to take private philosophy lessons from Socrates or to sit on a meeting of the Vienna Circle or choose to spend our time in the experience machine in deep philosophical contemplation, would we say that we wasted our lives away doing nothing of real value? If the circumstances of our lives prevent us from doing what we want to do, why should we reject an offer to spend time in the experience machine?

Would Nozick say that a person who is physically incapacitated shouldn’t want to experience climbing a mountain or taking a long walk along a beach? Would it be wrong if a woman living in a nation that oppresses women uses an experience machine to have a kind of life she is not permitted to have at home?

Is there ever a circumstance when good, albeit simulated, experiences are preferable to one’s shitty, all-too real existence?

I don’t know what Nozick would say about that, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for jumping into the experience machine if it meant you didn’t have to watch Star Trek V.




* It would also seem correct that Kirk’s ideal world would have included, along with Carol Marcus, Kirk and Marcus’ son David. Kirk did not meet his son until David was an adult (in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Unfortunately, David Marcus was murdered by Klingons in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It seems quite reasonable that a man would want to spend an ideal eternity with his long-lost son.




Robert Nozick. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. 1974. NY: Basic Books.

Jeremy Bentham. “The Utilitarian Calculus”. Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 2007. 5th edition. Ed. Louis J. Poijman. Belmont CA: Wadsworth. p. 143.

Living the Good Life: On the Pursuit of Happiness, Fame, Fortune, and the Philosophical Necessity of Twerking

Miley Cyrus.

There. I said it.

Nowadays, if someone even whispers the word “twerking”, she’s the first (and often only) name that comes to mind.


I guess it’s up to you whether you want to tack a “fortunately” or “unfortunately” on that fact. For the record, when I think about twerking I think about this:

I’m not going to say anything about whether it is a good career move to officially shed one’s child star image by shaking one’s rear end in public places, but what I will say is that I can’t watch more than five minutes of TMZ Live without hearing the words “Miley”, and “Cyrus”, and “twerking”.

I’ve heard the word Syria on TV fewer times than I’ve heard the word “twerking” all month.

I gotta say that as much as I enjoy watching people twerk, I’m not a Miley Cyrus fan.

Luckily, for everything one can grow to dislike as much as one hates paper cuts or tequila-induced hangovers, there’s a philosophical something hidden in it somewhere.

They say that all of Miley Cyrus’ twerking antics isn’t about being inappropriate, but is about her want to reclaim the childhood that she lost while she was the star of the Disney series Hannah Montana®. It seems that Miley Cyrus has decided, now that she has the opportunity, to act the manner she wasn’t permitted to act when she was at the age when young people typically behave in a manner that we would call “acting out”.

In Miley Cyrus’ case, her “acting out” includes smoking weed and hanging out with “Molly”.





It seems that what’s really at the heart of Miley Cyrus’ behavior is that Miley, like so many of us, is trying to live the good life – the kind of life that makes one happy.

And when you talk about stuff like the good life and happiness, you’re talking philosophy.

Philosophers, from Socrates to Mill, have written about what kind of life constitutes the good life. Socrates wrote (actually, Plato wrote) that the good life is a life of philosophical contemplation. For Aristotle, the good life meant that one lives virtuously. John Stuart Mill says that once we’ve acquired a preference for higher pleasures (instead of lower pleasures) we are well on our way to living not only a good life, but a happy life. Mill writes that lower pleasures (e.g. sexual promiscuity, intemperance, gluttonous consumption of food and twerking) are merely physically satisfying and can’t make us happy. Indulging in mere physical pleasures, Mill writes:

“a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do no regard anything as happiness which does not include their contemplation.”

Mill says that we should want to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig.
Unfortunately, though Socrates tells us that the best life is a life spent in philosophical contemplation, that’s not what society tells us is the good life. Two thousand years ago you could hire a philosopher (or a sophist, if you went that way) to teach you how to think. These days, the media not only tells us what the cultural zeitgeist is, the media tells us what to think about it.

The media tells us not only what’s important, what we should care about, but more importantly, what makes a good life. If you pay attention to the media long enough, you’ll soon be convinced that nothing matters more than being young, rich, famous, and beautiful.

And if you watch TMZ you’ll spend your day wondering what Lindsay Lohan is doing right now.

lindsay lohan tmz

What the media tells us is no matter how good we think our lives are, there are people out there (i.e. famous people) whose lives are marvelously better than ours. Not only are their lives better than ours, we should want to live the lives they lead. Their lives are the good life. After all, what could be more essential to living the good life than smoking salvia or twerking?

What can be more essential to living the good life than being famous?

So, when we watch the real-life downward-spiraling life of a Hollywood starlet or watch a fictional character whose life is nothing but a meaningless, black void, as long as they are either rich, famous, of good-looking, we can believe that their lives, despite all appearances, is good. Sure, a guy like Don Draper is a morally bankrupt, miserable, S.O.B., who lies not only to himself but to everyone else, but the fact that Don is moderately well-off and looks swell in a Brooks Brothers suit tells us that we need not worry about his philosophical well-being.

A guy like Don Draper is certain to live a good life and be happy.

I guess it has to do with pulling off a debonair look while smoking a cigarette.

don draper smoking


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily condemning Miley Cyrus, TMZ  or any other celebrity.

Well, maybe I am condemning TMZ.

Any philosopher, well, most, will tell you that the right amount of physical pleasure is a good thing. A proper philosophical soul knows how to satisfy our higher and lower pleasures. And really, when’s the last time you heard of a philosopher drowning in his own vomit?

Our problem is that when we look at the media, they tell us that a good – THE good life is a life devoted to lower pleasures. According to our culture, the life of celebrity is the quickest way to living a lower pleasure-filled life. He might not have known it when he said it, but Andy Warhol hit the nail when he said that everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes.

As long as there’s reality television, everybody’s got a chance of getting famous on TV.

No doubt that being rich and famous is a good gig, but there are far too many examples of how fame and fortune has good reversing effect on people’s lives.

I mean, have you ever heard of the 27 club?

It’s not entirely wrong to appreciate the fact that the contemplative lifestyle requires longevity. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Gram Parsons, and Amy Winehouse all lived the culturally-approved good life, but they all died before their 28th birthday.
Aristotle lived to be 62.
Leibniz lived to 70.
Sartre died at 76.
Ayn Rand unfortunately lived to the ripe old age of 77.
Immanuel Kant lived to 80.
Heidegger died at 87.
Bertrand Russell nearly made it to the century mark. He died at age 97.

Noam Chomsky is 85 years old and counting…

Listen: A philosopher may be a dissatisfied Socrates, but living past the age of twenty seven might give us enough time to realize that satisfied piggery isn’t the best life to lead. Having fun is alright. We have an inalienable right to be happy (The Declaration of Independence says so), but we also should want to do more than have a good time or feel that knowing intimate details about the Kimye baby is more important than knowing details about the Chelsea Manning case. We should know that twerking or even reclaiming one’s lost childhood isn’t a bad thing, so long as we realize that some of the things we believe will make us happy or make our lives “good” are merely distractions; things that keep us from pursuing the kind of life that will make us truly happy – the philosophical life.

… But then again, it’s hard to argue that partying with Molly won’t make your life good, too.


John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism. 2005 [1861]. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. pp. 12.