Oh, Carol!

Zombies.

They’re in, you know.

When you’ve gotten to the point you’re using zombies to sell cell phone plans, you know society is in pretty bad shape.

 

 

You don’t have to ask around, but I think it’s entirely safe to say that zombies are probably the least appealing monster in the movie monster kingdom.

It’s not that the zombie’s least appealing status is undeserved. There are plenty of reasons to dislike them. Zombies aren’t at all like well-cultured, romantic, erudite Vampires. They’re not mischievous like your local poltergeist.  They’re not powerful and all biblical like demons. And they’re not beastly manifestations of man’s repressed id like a werewolf.

 

Nope. That’s not a zombie.

 

Zombies are smelly, rotting, people-chomping, mindless bags of flesh.

If a zombie finds you, it will not bid you good morning or offer you its seat on the bus. A zombie will tear you apart and eat you.

Zombies don’t sparkle. They don’t talk to you through the TV. They don’t look like David Naughton. Zombies look like this:

 

The-Walking-Dead2

 

You can’t get rid of a zombie with sunlight. Or by driving a stake through its heart. Or with love. You can’t hire a priest to perform an exorcism.

The only way to get rid of a zombie is to do this:

 

dawn-of-the-dead-head-explosion

 

Even killing a zombie is pretty gross.

It’s a wonder why zombies are so popular these days.

 

Wait a minute. That movie Warm Bodies. They cured zombies with love, didn’t they?

Twilight + dead hipster = Warm Bodies

Twilight + dead hipster = Warm Bodies

 

If you ask me, Warm Bodies movie is the Nightmare on Elm Street 2 of zombie films.

It’s an ok movie, but… I think they aimed for the wrong audience.

But then, we’ve dealt with running zombies, haven’t we?

 

For the last time, zombies do not run!

For the last time, zombies do not run!

 

It is a well-established fact that you have to kill the brain to kill the ghoul. But zombie brain bashing might get a little messy.

Some people might be put off by that. Squeamish types, you know.

However, there is one thing about zombies that isn’t too gross zombies are fantastically ethical monsters.

You can discuss matters of ethics using zombies, that is.

Luckily for us, the AMC television network has made discussing zombies fairly easy.

Yes. I’m talking about The Walking Dead.

 

2ND AMENDMENT. HELL YEAH!

2ND AMENDMENT. HELL YEAH!

 

In the season 4 episode “Indifference”,  Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) kicks fellow zombie apocalypse survivor, Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), out of the group for killing two people who are sick with a deadly strain of the flu. Rick tells Carol that the two might have lived (Carol hadn’t given them a chance to get well), and that Carol had no right to decide who lives and who dies. Carol tells Rick that her justification for killing the two sick people is that she was trying to prevent anyone else from getting sick; that she was protecting the group.

If we look at Carol’s actions through our ethics glasses, we see that Carol’s reasoning is based on the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. John Stuart Mill wrote in Utilitarianism:

The creed which accepts [utility] as the foundation of morals, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

Carol believes that she has done the right thing. And by killing two people, she believes that she will prevent the deaths of the several dozen living people in the camp. Carol argues the two were terminal, and it’s not wrong if you kill someone who is terminally ill. Carol tells Rick that she ended their suffering, and by hastening their deaths, she saved them from a very painful death of drowning in their own blood.

If a couple of people die so that others may live, Carol reasons, so be it. She tells Rick that she “stepped up” and did something when no one else (including Rick) was willing or able to do what had to be done.

DON’T LET THE MILD MANNERED DEMEANOR FOOL YOU. COUGH ONCE AND CAROL WILL PUT A KNIFE THROUGH YOUR BRAIN.

DON’T LET THE MILD MANNERED DEMEANOR FOOL YOU. COUGH ONCE AND CAROL WILL PUT A KNIFE THROUGH YOUR BRAIN.

 

If we judge Carol’s actions based strictly on the Greatest Happiness Principle, Carol appears to have done the right thing.

Of course, there’s a problem.

Vulcan logic might work well for Mr.Spock, but when people in the real world use the Vulcan logic dictate that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (…or the one)”, things don’t always work out well.

The problem with utilitarian ethics is that utilitarian-based decisions are often based on speculation. Our actions are based on what we estimate will be the best outcome. Unfortunately, we know, despite our best guesses, that speculation is sometimes wrong.

How do we determine what “the needs” are, and more importantly, how can we definitively know what is the best solution for satisfying those needs?

The answer is we can’t.

The reason why is simple: we can’t know all things. That is, humans lack the ability to foresee all possible outcomes. So all the utilitarian is really stuck with is good intentions and a hope that things turn out for the best.

So, we can assume that we’re doing the right thing so long as out intentions are good, right? If Carol meant to do the right thing, she’s in the moral clear….. Right?

Nope.

We might think that what matters (when we act) is that our intention is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, but according to utilitarianism, intentions don’t matter. An act is morally permissible if the act actually produces the greatest good for the greatest number. You might be driven by the best of intentions, but if your actions fail to produce real world good outcomes or makes the situation worse, you’ve done something wrong.

Carol did something wrong.

Listen, there’s no denying that Carol’s argument is appealing. She meant well and she did what she thought was the best thing to do. It’d be tough to argue that anyone shouldn’t do what they think is best. And several killings on The Walking Dead  were committed (justified) in the interest of the Greatest Happiness Principle (Otis, Dave, Tony, Randall, Shane, Big Tiny, Tomas, Andrew, and Hershel’s leg). However, Rick concludes Carol’s utilitarian-based argument doesn’t hold.*

Of course, as Rick surely must have been thinking to himself, the problem with Carol’s argument is that her rationalization for killing the infected is based on speculation. Carol perceived the pair as an immediate threat and determined that the only way to deal with the immediate threat was to kill whoever was infected with the flu. Rick counters Carol’s argument, stating that there was a chance, however small, that the two might have recovered from their illness. We know that even the most virulent strain of flu (like the 1918 Spanish influenza upon which The Walking Dead flu is based) is not 100 percent fatal.

 

what ever you do. do. not. cough.

 

Utilitarian ethics tells us that if there is another, equally acceptable or better solution, we are obligated to either consider other options or not act as we had intended. In short, if there was a chance that the pair might not have died, Carol was morally obligated to NOT kill them.

Carol’s miscalculated utilitarian ethics led her to commit an act that ultimately was not only morally wrong, but showed that Carol was liable to act without fully considering other possible outcomes. Carol went for the immediate, not best solution. Carol’s impulsive act made her a threat to the (overall) safety of the group. This is why Rick is perfectly justified when he kicks Carol out of the group.

By removing Carol from the group, Rick did the greatest good for the greatest number.

 

Oops. Carol's bad.

Oops. Carol’s bad.

 

Carol argues that she was trying to save the group, but ultimately her effort did not work. Other people were infected with the flu and died. AND to make matters much worse for Carol, Tyreese, the boyfriend of one of Carol’s victims, has pledged to kill whoever killed his girlfriend.

Carol not only failed to save anyone, but by killing people, she put her own life in double jeopardy if the flu doesn’t kill her, Tyreese will.

 

Carol isn’t a well-intentioned hero. She’s nothing more than a common murderer.

AND

let’s not forget that because of her actions Carol was kicked out of the group and left to fend for herself in a world populated by smelly, rotting, people-chomping, mindless bags of flesh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I speculate that Carol’s reasoning might have been more on the side of rule utilitarianism that simple utilitarianism (or act utilitarianism).  I think Carol might have followed a rule utilitarian position as described by JCC Smart:

“generally, he argues consequences are not relevant at all when we are deciding what to do in a particular case. In general, they are relevant only in deciding what rules are good reasons for acting in a certain way in particular cases”

Carol might have believed that in any circumstance where there is an immediate threat to the group, one must eliminate the threat (the rule). However, as a rule utilitarian, she might have not actually acted on her principle until this particular set of circumstances.

 

 

 

Sources:

John Stuart Mill. “Utilitarianism”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 571

Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 5th edition. Ed. Louis P. Pojman. (Wadsworth) 2007. p. 208.

Everyone’s A Critic (Or, 10 Good Reasons To Hate Philosophy)

I remember when I was a kid, Mr. Blackwell would put out a list of the year’s best and worst dressed celebrities.

Although the more positive thing to do would have been to talk about the best dressed list, the media seemed to anticipate the announcement of Mr. Blackwell’s worst dressed list. They treated Mr. Blackwell’s announcement like a little kid flips his lid opening up his presents on Christmas.

You’d think that Santa Claus had delivered the list.

I don’t remember too much about Mr. Blackwell’s critiques other than his proclamations  were announced in rhyming couplets.

This is Mr. Blackwell

mr blackwell

 

Mr. Blackwell is dead now.

That was Mr. Blackwell.

I guess Joan Rivers does his job these days. I don’t think she uses rhyming couplets, though.

It’d be pretty cool if Kelly Osbourne did.

 

Whether it’s cars, movies, electronic equipment, summer reads, fashion icons, or reality television shows, everyone from the editors of Entertainment Weekly to any guy or gal with a blog has got a top ten list of something. If you spend any significant amount of time doing  or paying attention to anything, you’re bound to think up a list of things about that thing you do or don’t like. You don’t have to read very many lists to see that for some things, the lists are pretty much the same.

I’ve read more than twenty  top ten lists that name Breaking Bad as the best TV show.

Nearly every list of the best music groups say that The Beatles are the greatest band ever*.

If you’re wondering who the greatest president of the United States was, eleven out of ten political scientists will tell you that America’s greatest president was Abraham Lincoln even before he was a vampire hunter.

 

But, just as everyone has a list of music groups, books, or movies, that you love, everyone also has a list of everything and anyone we just cannot stand. Everybody has a list. A THAT list. Although I have yet to hear anyone say it, I know that every philosopher, philosophy fan, and philosophy student has that list of philosophers that they feel less than a positive affinity towards. A philosophy shit list.

Although one might assume that finding a list of hate-inducing philosophers would be a challenging task, picking the list is actually quite easy. After all, it’s easy to come up with a list of philosophers we’re supposed to like: Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Kant… But let’s be honest, some philosophers practically scream out to be hated. For every great philosopher, for every great philosophical idea like the problem of induction, Gettier examples, the naturalistic fallacy, or correspondence theory of truth, there’s a Pascal’s wager or transcendental idealism. Or the homunculus.

That bad idea, by the way, was peddled by Aristotle.

 

Some philosophers were not good people. Other philosophers were/are a-holes. And some philosophers invent theories that are so wacky that you have no other reasonable choice but to hate that philosopher and everything they’ve ever written.

I promise I won’t say a thing about logical positivism or Wittgenstein.

Still, sometimes you come to hate other philosophers merely by looking at them.

I mean, it’s easy to hate a guy that looks like this:

 

ischope001p1

 

Really, the more one reads philosophy, the more one finds philosophers (and theories) worthy of a “worst of” list.

So without further ado, I present my top ten worst philosophers (aka 10 good reasons to hate philosophy):

 

1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

no you kant
Perhaps best known for his works Critique of Practical Reason (1788), Critique of Pure Reason (1781), and the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), the German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, is considered the greatest philosopher since Aristotle. Kant taught at the University at Konigsberg  (East Prussia) where he was a popular and well-regarded professor. Satisfied with neither the rationalist nor the empiricist theories of knowledge, Kant called for a “Copernican revolution” in philosophy an attempt to provide a satisfactory account for knowledge.

This all makes Kant sound like a swell guy but there’s plenty of reasons to hate him and his philosophy.

For starters, philosophers, until Immanuel Kant, weren’t exclusively academics.

Kant was.

Second, not only are Kant’s Transcendental Idealism and synthetic a priori knowledge incredibly (and annoyingly) confusing concepts, but Kant’s ethical opus, the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE, is damned-near impossible to carry out in real life.

In Kant’s first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, Kant instructs that we may never violate any moral rule, no matter what good may come about as a result of violating the rule. So, if your friend comes to your house and says to you that he’s being followed by an axe murderer and he wants to hide in your closet, according to Kant, you’re supposed to tell the axe murderer that your friend is hiding in the closet if the murderer asks you where your friend is hiding.

The reason why you gotta fink out your friend, Kant says, is because it is morally wrong to lie. Kant writes:

Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it… because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to the were admitted.

 

The act of lying undermines our pursuit of truth, Kant says.

You see, Kant says we have an inviolable duty to the axe murderer to tell the truth because if we lie, we are endorsing the act of lying, not just to save lives, but in any situation where the circumstances may work out nicely for ourselves (or anyone else for that matter). What if the axe murderer knows you’re lying, Kant asks. And because he knows you’re lying he sneaks around to the back of your house where your fried is also sneaking out the back way. The murderer kills your friend. Kant says that you’re not only morally on the hook for the lie but for the murder as well.

If you didn’t lie the murderer wouldn’t have doubted you. And if he hadn’t doubted you, he wouldn’t have sneaked around to the back door. If you had pointed to your closet and said “He’s right in there”, sure, you’re violating your friend’s trust and handing him over to a deranged killer, but, at least according to Kant, you did so with a clear moral conscience.

It doesn’t take much contemplation to figure out that this line of thinking is kind of…. wrong.

 

2. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

old fred

The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the most influential (if not most popular) philosophers ever. Besides Socrates, Friedrich Nietzsche has probably contributed more ideas and catchphrases to the popular culture than any other philosopher (eternal recurrence, the ubermensch, master/slave morality, “God is dead”, “What does not kill me makes me stronger”, “there are no facts, only interpretations”…) Nietzsche is considered one of the forerunners of existentialism and credited with founding the philosophy of nihilism.

And is the patron philosopher saint of goth kids everywhere.

That’s pretty much where the problem with Nietzsche starts.

The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is the sole genesis of more philosophical misinterpretation and wrongheaded-ness than any other philosopher in history.  Nietzsche’s misogyny, anti-Semitism, and fervent German nationalism not only inspired the malevolent philosophy of National Socialism, but we can find Nietzsche’s philosophical influence in the Satanic religious teachings of  the late Anton LaVey  to  the mass murderers at Columbine High School.

 

 

3. Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)

Gottlob_Frege

Gottlob Frege is credited with revolutionizing the study of logic, which, until Frege, was dominated by Aristotelian logic. His work, Begriffsschrift (1879) set forward a system of formal logic that overthrew Aristotle’s logic. Frege, (along with Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein) is credited with creating the groundwork of modern philosophy of language. Frege argued that logic, mathematics, and language have continuity, and that we should view language more logically for clarity and to remove confusion (in language).

Anyone who hated symbolic logic or encountered the phrases Venus is Hesperus or Venus is phosphorus has Frege to blame.

And as many philosophy students has complained, Frege’s formal logic operates too much like mathematics which is precisely the subject that many mathophobic philosophy students aim to avoid.

 

4. Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

aristotle bust

Called “The Philosopher”, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote on subjects as diverse as politics, economics, psychology, biology, physics, ethics, logic, and auto repair. Scholasticism, the school of theological thought based in part on the philosophy of Aristotle, was the official doctrine of the early Catholic church, and  Aristotle’s logic was the standard logic until Frege. Aristotle’s philosophy (which includes ideas such as the golden mean, eudemonia, and virtue ethics) is still a foundation of philosophical and political thought. Aristotle’s philosophical works are so extensive and he remains one of the world’s most influential philosophers, it’s amazing to think that it’s possible to dislike the man they called “The Philosopher”.

It is possible.

Aristotle proves that the quantity of one’s writing doesn’t necessarily correlate to the fact that everything that someone writes is correct.

A few examples:

On the subject of slavery Aristotle wrote:

… from birth certain things diverge, some towards being ruled, other towards ruling… Accordingly, those who are as different [from other men] as the soul from the body or man from beast and they are in the state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them are slaves by nature. For them its is better to be ruled with this sort of rule…

 

No, you didn’t read it wrong. Aristotle believed some people are natural slaves.

 

And On the subject of women Aristotle wrote:

Woman is more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears. At the same time, she is more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike. She is, furthermore, more prone to despondency and less hopeful than man, more devoid of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive and of more retentive memory.

 

Pretty much speaks for itself.

 

Aristotle also believed:

  • Deformed children should be put to death.
  • If people married young their children would be weak and female (Aristotle probably believed that was redundant).
  • Animals are mere tools to be used however people see fit.
  • Democracy is bad.
  • The Earth is the center of the universe.
  • Heavenly bodies float on eternal invisible spheres.
  • Some people have no souls (and therefore are fit to be used as slaves)
  • And, of course, Aristotle believed a man’s semen contains fully-developed, miniature people.

 

We expect that even the greatest philosopher may miss the mark, but when Aristotle was wrong, he wasn’t just slightly incorrect or a wee bit off track; the guy was wrong.

WRONG.

 

allistair gets slimed

 

Centuries of Aristotle’s wrong-headed philosophy dominating church doctrine not only held back the progress of science (as it was not in one’s best interest to oppose church doctrine), but Aristotle’s  truly messed up notions involving the intellectual aptitude of women and the (in)ability of average citizens to manage government are still prevalent.

If that isn’t enough, Aristotle’s political philosophy influenced neo-conservatism.

‘Nuff said.

 

5. John Rawls (1921-2002)

rawls

Veil of ignorance. Period.

6. Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

ayn rand

Best known as the author of objectivist masterpieces The Fountainhead (1943), Anthem (1938), and Atlas Shrugged (1957), Ayn Rand is only slightly less regarded by philosophers as a philosopher worth taking seriously. Rand is the founder of Objectivism, the philosophical school of thought grounded on the principle of rational self interest. Rand’s rational self interest is defined as follows:

Man every man is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

 

At first glance Rand’s philosophy makes sense. It’s difficult to argue that we shouldn’t place the achievement of our own happiness first and foremost among our life goals.

And we should wan to be happy.

The problem with Rand is that following her philosophy will turn you into a complete dick.

Anyone who has endured a soon-to-be-former-friend’s Rand-soaked rants about “moochers”, “the virtue of selfishness” or “going Galt”, knows that the mere sight of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged on a friend or prospective mate’s bookshelf spells certain doom for any relationship. The trouble with Ayn Rand is that fans of Rand often espouse Rand’s anti-helping-one’s-fellow-man sentiments, while also failing to realize, like Rand, that helping the less fortunate actually benefits society.  You see, Rand’s fans often fail to see that she wrote fiction.

That’s probably why if you ask any philosopher if he takes Ayn Rand seriously, you’ll be laughed out of the room.

Rand not only calls philosophical god Immanuel Kant “evil”, but Rand proclaimed that the Christian ethic of altruism is dangerous and harmful to society.

Which is pretty odd considering some of Rand’s biggest fans are Christian politicians.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is such a bag of mixed-up ideas that Rand’s influence can be found behind the personal philosophies of former Republican 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, who insisted all his staffers read Atlas Shrugged, and Anton LaVey, the late founder of the Church of Satan.

Rand herself decried social assistance to the poor (because it takes from the rich, who, according to Rand had all earned their money, so no poor person has a right to be helped by it) while receiving social security a social assistance program.

That’s not only mixed up. That’s being a total Dick.

 

7. Ayn Rand

Rand proves that it is possible to so despise a philosopher she’s worth mentioning twice.

 

8. Sir Bertrand Russell (1873-1970)

bertrand russell

 

Regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century and (perhaps) the greatest philosopher ever, Sir Bertrand Russell (along with Gottlob Frege and Ludwig Wittgenstein) played a major role in the development of analytic philosophy. Russell’s works includes writings on logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, epistemology, metaphysics, moral philosophy, politics, economics, religion, and Russell, with Alfred North Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13), which established the logical foundations of mathematics.

Ok. I know, I know, Bertrand Russell is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, quite possibly the greatest philosopher ever. Blah blah blah.

It’s absolutely correct that every philosophy student should know the philosophical importance of Bertrand Russell. But here’s my problem:

First: Russell’s Paradox.

Second: Unlike Leo Strauss, whose approach to writing was to be intentionally obscure, Bertrand Russell is damn-near un-understandable. I have no clue what Russell is writing about.  Read this:

The unity of the sentence is particularly obvious in the case of asymmetrical relations: ‘x precedes y’ and ‘y precedes x’ consist of the same words, arranged by the same relation of temporal succession; there is nothing whatever in their ingredients to distinguish the one from the other. The sentences differ as wholes, but not in their parts, it is this that I mean when I speak of a sentence as a unity.

 

Now, either Bertrand Russell is that brilliant or I’m that dumb.

Because I have no idea what that meant.

That’s why I hate Bertrand Russell.

9. Leo Strauss (1899-1973)

leo strauss

Known as the father of neo-conservatism, the political philosophy of  the late German-American philosopher, Leo Strauss, has created more animus between liberals and conservatives than the epic “tastes great/less filling” debate. In fact, Leo Strauss is probably the most influential modern philosopher no one has ever heard of.

Have you ever heard the name Paul Wolfowitz?

If you haven’t, I’m guessing you’re not an American.

If you are an American and you haven‘t, God help you.

What’s important to know about Paul Wolfowitz is that he was a student of Leo Strauss.  AND he was a Deputy Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. That means Paul Wolfowitz had the ear of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

No big deal, right?

Well, that would be no big deal if Leo Strauss hadn’t spent his entire philosophical career lamenting modern political theory and what he saw as modernity’s liberal, relativistic values, and “the corroding effects of mass culture.” Strauss writes:

Many people today hold the view that the standard in question is in the best case nothing but the ideal adopted by our society or our “civilization” and embodied in its way of life or its institutions. But, according to the same view, all societies have their ideals, cannibal societies no less than civilized ones. If principles are sufficiently justified by the fact that they are accepted by a society, the principles of cannibalism are as defensible or sound as those of civilized life.

 

Strauss explains that moral relativism and “the uninhibited cultivation of individuality” is “bound to lead to disastrous consequences” and nihilism.

It would be no big deal if Strauss hadn’t taught at the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1968,  allowing Strauss to influence a generation of students (they’re called “Straussians”). And it wouldn’t be a big deal that Leo Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz and influenced a generation of Straussians if Strauss hadn’t believed and taught his students that philosophy should be esoteric, and not understood by everybody, and that knowledge is something that is hidden to most people and only understood by a few individuals (namely Strauss and his students).

It wouldn’t be a problem that Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz if Strauss hadn’t taught his students that society should be structured so that the wisest should rise to the top (mind you, Strauss believed that he and his students were the wisest) and that it’s perfectly within a government’s power to lie to and ignore the will of the people.

It wouldn’t be a big deal if Straussians hadn’t been affecting American domestic and foreign policy for the last 12 years*.

It wouldn’t be a problem if Strauss’ followers didn’t go into politics and influence and entire administration to follow Strauss’ wacked-out ideas.

 

10. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

ischope001p1
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (of course he was German!) is best known for his work The World As Will (1818). Schopenhauer, along with (fellow Germans) Georg Hegel and Nietzsche introduced the concept of the will as a force in the world that makes things happen. The world, according to Schopenhauer (and later Nietzsche) is an expression of the will.

Schopenhauer believed that the Eastern philosophical tradition was better at dealing with our philosophical crises than the established European philosophy. Schopenhauer also believed that animals should be treated humanely. He even objected to animals being used for scientific research.

That makes Schopenhauer seem like a pretty cool guy, right?

Well, if you thought that you’d be wrong.

You could say Schopenhauer was the Debbie Downer of philosophy.

Schopenhauer believed that there is no such thing as friendship or happiness and since the will wants its way, we will always be subject to suffering caused by our unfulfilled desires. According to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, even if we get what we want we can never be truly satisfied. Schopenhauer says that ultimately nothing we do matters because death will eventually claim us, thus rendering all of our efforts at anything futile. Schopenhauer writes:

we blow out a soap bubble as long and as large as possible, although we know perfectly well that it will burst.

 

You don’t have to be a philosopher to know it’s kind of hard to like people like this.

Ok, you say, pessimism is forgivable. Many philosophers display more than an inkling of the dourness. But if Schopenhauer’s sunny attitude isn’t enough to turn you off, Arthur Schopenhauer was also a pretty rotten guy.

For starters, his attitude towards women sucked.

Schopenhauer’s attitude towards relationships with women was no different from his view on friendship and happiness. Schopenhauer had many romantic relationships but no permanent.   Worse yet, not only did Schopenhauer write that women are “mental myopic” with “weaker reasoning powers”, he pushed an elderly neighbor down a flight of stairs. When the woman died, Schopenhauer rejoiced that the woman’s death relieved him of his obligation to pay compensation for the injuries she sustained in the fall.

That alone places Schopenhauer second only to Ayn Rand on the dickness scale.

 

philosophy is magic

 

Alright. I know that my list sounds like I’m just bitching about philosophers without any real, substantive criticism of any philosopher of his or her philosophy. If that’s what you’re thinking, that would be an entirely correct assumption. Just as one my dislike The Beatles because of John Lennon’s nasally vocals, our reasons for disliking (or even hating) a particular philosopher, philosophical theory, or philosophical school of thought, may come down to something as trivial as the fact that that particular philosopher invented symbolic logic.

It may be un-philosophical to say so, but it’s ok if you don’t like everything. It’s even ok to really despise a philosopher or two.

As any philosopher will tell you, everybody’s got an opinion, and

haters-gonna-hate-2

 

* Although the critics are nearly unanimous in their praise of The Beatles, I think that it’s highly unlikely that the Beatles would appear at the number on spot on every best musical artists lists. To my knowledge, The Beatles have never occupied the top spot on a list of the 10 greatest hip hop artists. But then, I haven’t seen every top ten hip hop artists list, either.

 

* It’s clear that the Bush Administration’s policies have continued into the Obama Administration. The U.S. is still involved in Iraq, and U.S. troops are still active in Afghanistan. Bush era economic policies, government surveillance, and rendition of “enemy combatants” have also continued into the Obama Administration.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

1) Aristotle. The Politics. 1984. Trans. Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 40-1.

2) Aristotle. “The Inequality of Women”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  p. 525.

3) Bertrand Russell. “Sentence, Syntax, and Parts of Speech”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert Egner and Lester E. Denonn. NY: Touchstone. p. 122.

4) “Reader’s Guide to the Writings and Philosophy of Ayn Rand”. From The Fountainhead. 1952 [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet.

5) Immanuel Kant. “On A Supposed Right to Lie From Benevolent Motives”. 1797. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php?title=360&chap

6) Leo Strauss. Liberalism Ancient and Modern. 1968. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.5

7) Leo Strauss. Natural Right and History. 1950, 1953. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  pp.3, 5.

 

 

 

Cumberbatch? How ’Bout CumberHOT

“Chuck Klosterman wrote that science fiction is philosophy for stupid people. He’s right. But in a room full of philosophy lightweights, the guy who watches Star Trek is a fucking philosophy genius.”  The Mindless Philosopher

I am a fan of science fiction.

If that’s an indication that I’m stupid, I’d be the last person to figure that out.

Like many sci-fi fans, I eagerly awaited the theatrical reboot of the Star Trek franchise. When it was announced that J.J. Abrams would be helming the reboot I nearly soiled my drawers in anticipation.

TMI?

After all, I thought. A Star Trek reboot directed by the guy who did Lost and staring the guy who played Sylar on Heroes could not go wrong.

Apparently my assumption was incorrect.

If you asked the die-hard Trekker crowd, plenty did believe that there was something terribly wrong with a J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek reboot.

Worse than a mining disaster on Praxis wrong.

The “wrong” was that for the first time in Star Trek history, a Star Trek movie based on the original characters created by Gene Roddenberry would not feature the original actors.

This was and is (still) very upsetting to some Star Trek fans.

I don’t see how they could have been angry. William Shatner may be a thoroughly entertaining actor, but there is no way Shatner could pull off playing a young, Starfleet Academy-aged James Kirk.

Not to mention DeForest Kelley and James Doohan are dead.

That alone would complicate getting them to play their original roles.

However, I, unlike many Star Trek purists, enjoyed the 2009 reboot. But then, I liked Star Trek: Nemesis. So there you go.

So when the Star Trek prequel/sequel came out, I bought a fresh pack of Tena and bought a ticket to see the movie.

Ok, I admit it. I’m an action fan. I was raised on Star Wars. There I said it. I said Star Wars.

Those movies had Jedi, and Wookies, and lightsabers, planet battles, the Force and stuff.

This is Han Solo. He is a Corellian badass. Where he goes, action follows.

han solo

This is Surak. He is a Vulcan philosopher. He convinced Vulcans to ditch their emotions.

Surak

Notice the difference between the two?

I do.

I expect a certain amount of excitement in films, especially in science fiction. And honestly, the past few Star Trek films hadn’t been delivering much on the action front. Captain James T. Kirk used to fight the Gorn. The Star Trek: The Next Generation films just had bunch of Captain Jean-Luc Picard talking… and talking… and talking.

Kirk fought enemies like this:

Gorn

Picard fought enemies like this:

malcolm mc dowell

That’s right. Captain Picard fought an old man.

awesome kirk

Of course, the purists hated all the action.

What the purists wanted from the Star Trek reboot was the one thing that set the original Star Trek apart from the standard 1960s science fiction of its day: Star Trek, unlike its predecessors (and most of its descendents), was chock-full of philosophy. Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was a thinking man’s science fiction.

I don’t recall thinking too much while watching the reboot.

That may be (in part) due to the fact that the 2009 Star Trek reboot is a pretty straight forward (actually kind of cliché) sci-fi fare about time travel: an unintentional time rift sends bad guy into past intent on destroying the future. It’s hardly an original plot.

It’s not even an original plot for a Star Trek film.

The last time a time traveling bad guy was in a Star Trek movie, the bad guy looked like this:

borg queen 2

Time travel movies usually don’t require the viewer to do much heavy mental lifting, other than the occasional bitch at the newly rearranged plot line not keeping with established canon.

I’m guessing this is what happened when most die-hard Trekkers watched the Abrams’ reboot.

If that’s what they felt while watching the reboot, they were really missing out.

What they failed to realize is, if you could get past the lens flare, they would have noticed a little bit of philosophy going on.

Listen: If those angry Trekkers hadn’t thrown off their Star Trek philosopher’s hats in angry protest, they would have noticed that any time you discuss time travel you automatically bring in the idea of possible worlds.

And any time you bring up possible worlds, you inevitably address philosophical ideas like free will and determinism.

AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS HEAVY DUTY PHILOSOPHY.

So let’s get down to the philosophy, shall we?

But first, some plot:

In the 2009 reboot, Ambassador Spock and the Romulan bad guy Nero are sucked through a wormhole after Spock attempts (and fails) to prevent the destruction of Romulus by a star gone supernova. When Nero arrives at the other end of the wormhole, he discovers he’s been transported 20-something years into the past. Nero (for reasons that are fairly mystifying and never adequately explained) immediately fires on the USS Kelvin, a Federation starship carrying the parents of the future Captain James T. Kirk.  During the attack, Kirk’s father, Commander George Kirk, is killed an event, as we are told later in the film, that did not happen in the original Star Trek timeline.

I mean, the timeline where Nero doesn’t go back in time through a wormhole created by Ambassador Spock in an attempt to thwart the destruction of Romulus and destroy the planet Vulcan by creating a black hole with red matter and whatever. You get the idea.

An elderly, from-the-future Ambassador Spock informs the young Kirk that in his timeline, Kirk’s father lived long enough to see his son graduate from Starfleet Academy.

Here are a few more things that didn’t happen in Ambassador Spock’s (original) timeline:

  • The planet Vulcan did not receive the Alderaan treatment (i.e. it wasn’t destroyed).
  • Lt. Uhura and Spock are not (and never were) romantically involved.
  • Spock’s mother was not killed during an attack on Vulcan.
  • Kirk did not serve on the USS Enterprise with Captain Christopher Pike.
  • Humans did not know what Romulans looked like until the TOS (the original series) episode “Balance of Terror”.

If we learn anything about the philosophy of time travel (yes, I nabbed that from Donnie Darko) from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, it is that events are not static. The past and future can be changed by a seemingly insignificant and/or random event as a Romulan war bird becoming unstuck in time.

That is to say, events, past and present, are not on an inevitably determined path; events can vary drastically from one timeline to the next. Events in one timeline do not necessarily happen in another timeline. Events are not determined. That explains why it would be totally useless for the Enterprise crew to speculate or base any predictions of events in their time line on information from Ambassador Spock’s timeline.

LUCKY FOR BIFF HE WASN’T IN A STAR TREK MOVIE

LUCKY FOR BIFF HE WASN’T IN A STAR TREK MOVIE

 


But, if determinism is defined as the theory that some or all events and human actions are ordained to happen; that every thing, event or action is the inevitable result of a prior chain of causes, the fact that Nero’s appearance has thrown events a wrench into the timeline suggests determinism is false.

That means all events in the universe are manifestations of free will.

So far, there’s no problem, right?

If you think that, you are as delusional as Chekov after a fall off the deck of the USS Enterprise.

You see, in Star Trek IV, Chekov and Uhura were on the U.S. Naval ship USS Enterprise to get oh, never mind.

Ok. A common complaint with Star Wars fans is about George Lucas’ apparent disregard for continuity. It’s quite a nuisance, but by no means is discontinuity just a Star Wars problem. Star Trek has its fair share of continuity “errors”.

Even philosophical continuity errors.

Remember what I just said about determinism?

That according to the philosophy of Star Trek time travel it’s false, right?

Well …..

In the 2012’s Star Trek Into Darkness (the sequel to the 2009 reboot), the crew of the Enterprise encounters new bad guy, the genetically-altered, super-human, Khan Noonien Singh, a character originally played by Ricardo Montalban in the TOS episode “Space Seed”.

This time, Khan (as he is called) is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.*

ONLY IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY CAN THE SAME CHARACTER GO FROM LOOKING LIKE RICARDO MONTALBAN TO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

ONLY IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY CAN THE SAME CHARACTER GO FROM LOOKING LIKE RICARDO MONTALBAN TO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

 

In the movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, reboot Spock asks Ambassador (original timeline) Spock if he had ever dealt with a man named Khan Noonien Singh.

Because Khan has become a bit of a problem. A homicidal kind of problem.

You can see the determinism problem coming, right?

Just so you know, this is what the German philosopher (and determinist), Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), had to say about determinism and what people do:

… he is connected to universal nature, and submitted to the necessary and immutable laws that she imposes on all beings she contains…Man’s life is a line that nature commands to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant.

Holbach also says:

In short, the actions of man are never free; they are a necessary consequence of his temperament, of the received ideas… by education and by daily experience… Man then, is not s free agent in any one instant of his life.

In the 2009 Star Trek reboot, reboot Spock declares Nero’s appearance in the reboot timeline so altered the course of history, that any event in the original timeline (Ambassador Spock’s timeline) is not applicable to the new timeline. Therefore, one cannot assume continuity between both timelines.

In case you missed it, the dialogue about Nero and predicting the future goes as follows:

Kirk:

You say he’s from the future, knows what’s gonna happen. Then the logical thing is to be unpredictable.

Spock:

You’re assuming Nero knows how events as predicted unfold. The contrary. Nero’s very presence has altered the flow of history beginning with the attack on the USS Kelvin, cumulating in the events of today, thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party.

Uhura:

An alternate reality.

Spock:

Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been if the continuum wasn’t disrupted, our destinies have changed.

Now, either Spock failed to watch the 2009 reboot, or even Spock does not believe that there is no continuity between both (or any possible) timelines.

Because he asks someone to make a prediction. Himself.

That’s right, in Star Trek Into Darkness, reboot Spock asks original timeline Spock for advice in dealing with Khan.

He asks the guy who said that we can’t use alternate timelines to predict events in other timelines.

WARNING: INCONSISTENCIES AHEAD

WARNING: INCONSISTENCIES AHEAD

 

Despite his prior statements, (reboot) Spock assumes that Ambassador Spock has knowledge of and/or knows how to deal with Khan.

Lucky for (reboot) Spock, Ambassador Spock’s advice works.

Of course, we the viewers, are left to assume one thing: whether Khan is played by Ricardo Montalban or Benedict Cumberbatch, Khan Noonien Singh, in any timeline, is the exact same guy.

At least psychologically so.

So psychological determinism is ok.

AT LEAST SPOCK DIDN’T TELL HIMSELF GETTING RID OF KHAN INVOLVED AN ENGINE ROOM, DILITHIUM CRYSTALS, LOTS OF RADIATION, AND THE WORD “REMEMBER”

AT LEAST SPOCK DIDN’T TELL HIMSELF GETTING RID OF KHAN INVOLVED AN ENGINE ROOM, DILITHIUM CRYSTALS, LOTS OF RADIATION, AND THE WORD “REMEMBER”

 


It’s not just Khan that is the same. There’s plenty of continuity between the two timelines.

Enough to tell yourself exactly what Khan will do.

We’re told that Nero’s appearance has thrown events into flux, however, given the predictability of Khan’s actions and psychology in both timelines, it seems that no matter what happens   whatever alternate course of action or possible outcome, some events necessarily happen in every timeline.


Here are a few examples:

  • Despite the fact that the death of Kirk’s father has turned him off from joining Starfleet, Kirk still joins Starfleet.
  • Kirk’s insatiable sexual appetite.
  • Kirk and Spock’s friendship (despite a very bumpy start).
  • Kirk Becomes captain of the Enterprise (assuming command from Captain Pike).
  • Captain Pike is injured and paralyzed.
  • Kirk cheats on the Kobayashi Maru test.
  • Kirk meets and begins a romantic relationship with Dr. Carol Marcus (we may be free to assume that Carol Marcus will eventually give birth to a son, David, who will, in turn, be murdered by Klingons).
  • Harry Mudd (and announcement about Mudd is made over the ship’s intercom in Star Trek Into Darkness)
  • Khan meeting Kirk and the Enterprise crew.
  • Khan’s crew and his willingness to kill to protect his crew.
  • Khan’s grudge against the Federation/Starfleet.
  • A “death” in the Enterprise engine room in an attempt to defeat Khan.
  • The “dead” person coming back to life.

In the Star Trek universe, Kirk must join Starfleet, Kirk must cheat on the Kobayashi Maru, Kirk must meet Spock and they must become friends, Kirk must  become captain of the Enterprise, Kirk must meet Carol Marcus, the Enterprise must encounter Khan, the Enterprise must have a problem with the fuel cells, and someone must “die“ realigning the dilithium crystals.

The similar dialogue between Kirk and Spock’s “death” scenes in the Enterprise engine room in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and in Star Trek Into Darkness not only suggests that some events are necessarily determined to happen in every timeline, but what characters say is determined as well.

 

Spock’s “death”, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

 

spock death the first time

 

Kirk’s “death”, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

kirk's death

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.

So… what are we to think about philosophy and the rebooting of Star Trek?

Well, for starters, the philosophical continuity sucks.

But more importantly, despite the high action, new actors, and lens flare (really, they need to cut that crap out), the new Star Trek fits in quite nicely with its so obvious you’d have to have the vision of a mole to miss it philosophical predecessors.

The philosophical lesson we learn from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, is that no matter what alternate reality they’re in, no matter what happens to Vulcan or what Khan looks like, the lives of the crew of the USS Enterprise are locked in an inexorable series of events.

No matter what they do, all roads will lead to the same point.

Star Trek is a determined universe.

It doesn’t matter how Kirk gets command of the Enterprise, he will always be captain of the Enterprise.

Kirk will always cheat on the Kobayashi Maru. Kirk and Spock will always be friends. Khan will always be defeated.

 

And Star Trek V: The Final Frontier will always suck.

 

 

 

*By the way, it is worth noting that neither Ricardo Montalban nor Benedict Cumberbatch is of Indian descent, as the name Khan Noonien Singh would indicate one’s likely national/ethnic origin to be. But hey, the French captain of the Enterprise-D, Jean-Luc Picard is played by English actor Patrick Stewart who does not speak with a French accent despite the fact that Picard was born and raised IN FRANCE.

 

 

Sources:

Baron d’Holbach. “Are We Cogs In the Universe?”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  p.681-2