I THINK THEREFORE I AM (Gonna be your valentine)

IT’S VALENTINE’S DAY – the day to celebrate all things romantic. The day for chocolates and roses, poetry and romance.

Valentine’s Day is a day for LOVE.

…and philosophy.

Not this kind of philosophy

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This kind of philosophy.

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A popular perception of philosophers is of an ineffectual, navel gazing infertility, more inclined to spend the night with Plato’s Republic than out on an actual date with an actual person.

That’s not always, tho.

Another popular perception of philosophers, specifically philosophy professors, is, in movies, that philosophy professors are always pervy. If all I knew about philosophy professors came from movies, I’d swear that philosophers are prone to sleeping with their students.

…and by “sleeping” I mean have sex.

Leaves of Grass, Irrational Man, Lover For A Day…

All movies about philosophy professors.

All maximum pervage.

Movie philosophers live their lives like the lyrics of a Steely Dan album.

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SHE THINKS I’M CRAZY, BUT I’M JUST GROWIN’ OOOOOOOLD

Whether we think of philosophers as hapless neuters or as dirty old (and not so old) men who use their university campus as a eating agency, we often don’t think of real philosopher’s real love lives.

What they do when the lights are turned down.

So, with Valentine’s Day in mind, I think it’s time to take a little time to think about philosophers and love.

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SAID NO ONE EVER

You might think that philosophers wouldn’t be interested in thinking or writing about a subject like love. Love is emotional. Philosophy is rational – logical. Everything love is not.

If you’re thinking philosophers don’t think about love (philosophically), you’d be quite wrong. Philosophers think and write about everything.

EVERYTHING.

If we’re thinking about love philosophically, the first thing we might ask is What is Love?

If you’re Rick Sanchez, the answer to the question “what is love?” is easy

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Of course, if you’re a philosopher, the answer is more complicated than that.

Why is it complicated?

Because philosophical reasons.

Well, if we’re being philosophers about things, to figure out what love is, we can look at love epistemologically. 

We might ask an epistemological question like, how do you know you’re in love?

We can have all kinds of philosophical fun sorting out all the necessary and sufficient conditions to determine what love is and if we are in it.

There are people who actually do this.

If we’re thinking about the ethics of love, we might ask if we are obligated to love others? To love ourselves? What is the value of love? Who should we love?

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Before we look at love epistemologically, ethically, or whateverly, might want to ask what kind of love we’re talking about.

In philosophy, love isn’t just one thing: the ancient Greek philosophers distinguished love between philia (friendship), agape (love for mankind or brotherly love), and eros (erotic or sexual desire).

Plato writes about love in Phaedrus and Symposium. According (but not limited) to Plato, we are torn between the desires of the flesh and the soul. The body, driven by lowly carnal desires, corrupts the soul and gets in the way of finding higher truth.

The objective of love – true love – according to Plato, is to transcend the body. True love gets us to truth.

And truth leads to wisdom.

Philosophers love wisdom.

Aristotle places a heavy emphasis on philia – friendship.

Book VIII of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is devoted to friendship. Aristotle writes,

Moreover, friendship is not only an indispensable, but also a beautiful and noble thing: for we commend those who love their friends, and to have many friends is thought to be a noble thing; and some even think that a good man is the same as a friend.

Religion traditionally emphasizes agape, as agape love is tied to our love of God.

The Aristotelian idea of love: the meeting of one soul inhabiting two bodies, is still a part of our modern idea of love.

Aristotle says,

Lovers delight above all things in the sight of each other, and prefer the gratification of this sense to that of all others, as this sense is more concerned than any other in the being and origin of love. 

So, what about actual philosophers and love?

You can probably guess.

Cue Lady Gaga.

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There’s a perception that philosophers make for lousy romantic partners. That perception isn’t too far from reality. After all, philosophy takes time and energy.

It’s difficult to remember anniversaries and flowers and candy for Valentine’s Day when you’ve dedicated yourself to the full-time pursuit of wisdom.

Here’s a short list of the romantic misadventures of a few (western) philosophers:

Socrates married, but if you’ve read anything about Socrates, you know how he felt about his wife, Xanthippe.*

Xanthippe wasn’t exactly the love of Socrates’ life. Socrates’ true love was a young soldier named Alcibiades.

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And there’s no cruising the Internet without seeing this quote from Socrates:

By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you will be happy. If you get a bad one, you will be a philosopher.

The unmarried philosopher’s club boasts some rather famous members:

Locke, Hume, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Kant never married.

Kant’s life was described as “monastic”.

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Nietzsche and Schopenhauer never married, either.

Kierkegaard’s devotion to philosophy ended his engagement to his muse and great love, Regine Olsen.

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Kierkegaard also never married.

If you ask me, Kierkegaard lost out.

Amazingly, Hegel found a wife.

Speaking of children out of wedlock…

Rousseau, perhaps the poster child for pervy philosophers (He flashed women. Seriously, he did. Look it up), famously abandoned his five children. Although Rousseau married his mistress (who was also the mother of his fifth child), he married her only after he ditched his kids.

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Rousseau’s Maury Povich Father-of-the-Year award might not say much about Rousseau’s romantic inclinations, but it does say he didn’t love his kids.

Not even philia love.

Not even agape.

Heidegger had an affair with Hannah Arendt while she was his student.

Ayn Rand said she loved her husband, Frank O’Connor, for selfish reasons. Rand explained in a 1959 interview with journalist Mike Wallace that her love for O’Connor was in her own interest.

“I take selfish pleasure in it,” Rand said.

We probably know too much about Foucault’s sex life.

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On the bright side of philosophical romance, Sartre had a life-long relationship with de Beauvoir.

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Bertrand Russell not only married (four times!), he also believed that love is important because love leads people to seek knowledge. We seek knowledge to benefit those we love.

Russell wrote,

Although both love and knowledge are necessary, love is in a sense more fundamental, since it will lead intelligent people to seek knowledge, in order to find out how to benefit those whom they love.

Russell wasn’t too keen on our traditionally modest views on sexuality, either.

…which could explain why Russell was described as suffering from “galloping satyriasis”.

Bertrand Russell

PICTURED:  SEX GOD

Well…

Whether you got mad Bertrand Russell romance skills or you’re kicking it Immanuel Kant style this Valentine’s Day, don’t forget that philosophy ain’t just about contemplating your big toe or counting angels on the head of a pin. Philosophers think about love, write about love, and fall in and out of love just like everybody else.

Unless your name is Immanuel Kant.

So, while you’re celebrating tonight with champagne and roses, while your home tonight with the one you  love, getting down with some Hegel and chill, remember to whisper into the ear of your love the romantically philosophical words of Immanuel Kant, “All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds them to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.”

That’s romantic speak for Kant, you see.

Because Immanuel Kant never dated anyone. Ever.

 

 

 

 

*It seems that the common depiction of Socrates’ wife Xanthippe is incorrect. History portrays Xanthippe as a unpleasant shrew, however, Socrates described Xanthippe as a good, caring wife.

 

 

SOURCES:

https://classicalwisdom.com/five-reasons-socrates-terrible-husband/

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/18/bertrand-russell-what-i-believe-love/

https://www.google.com/amp/www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/brilliant-men-always-betray-their-wives/amp/

https://youtu.be/mQVrzWtqgU

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. F.H. Peters [1893]. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. 173, 218.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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BETTER LIVING THROUGH KANTISTRY

ETHICALLY SPEAKING, I’M PRETTY much all over the place.

I would never admit it to anyone, especially not to my old ethics professor, but my ethics often depends on my mood.

And no, I wouldn’t say I’m an emotivist.

Even an emotivist has consistent principles.

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I have more of a whatever happens happens kind of ethics.

Some people say that’s treating ethics like a buffet. You pick and choose only what you want to eat.

I had a professor who called it theory shopping.
Well, if theory shopping is what I’m doing, then color me a shopaholic.

 

For many years I called myself a Kantian Egoist. My first blog was called The Kantian Egoist. I still kind of consider myself a practitioner of Kantian egoism.

…and it doesn’t violate the categorical imperative.

Now, anybody who has ever tried it, knows that adopting a purely Kantian ethics lifestyle is next to impossible. Anyone who wants to keep friends would ever tell an axe murderer that the murderer’s intended victim is hiding in a closet.

Even Rahab lied to protect the Israelites.

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That’s kind of where the egoism comes in.

But there’s a problem with egoism.

To wit: this problem with egoism is this

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She’s not the only egoist-slash-objectivist, but she’s certainly the most famous one. And if I have any goal in life, it is to not be associated with being a devotee of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead.

Besides, being an egoist just makes everybody hate you.

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I’ve tried virtue ethics. I’ve done moral relativism. I dabbled in moral nihilism and at various times called myself a practitioner of hedonism, and of classical, act, and rule utilitarianism.

Still…I just can’t get over my fondness for Kantianism.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not gaga over everything Kant.

There’s not enough bitcoin I could mine to pay me to slog through Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason again.

It’s a book of pure something, but it ain’t reason.

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I may be guilty of a philosophical sin, here, but I prefer Kant’s ethics over his metaphysics.

Yeah, I know. They’re connected.

How could one POSSIBLY be a fan of the categorical imperative without also accepting transcendental idealism as the end-all be-all of philosophical metaphysics????

I know, right?!?!?

You see, I spent exactly 3.7 years as a practicing utilitarian and all I got for it was a mess of bad decisions motivated by the expectation of good consequences.

I did more than a little bit of bad trying to do the greatest good.

The best-laid plans of mice and men, eh?

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Utilitarian ethics is all based on calculating consequences, and I suck at math.

That’s precisely why I like Kantian ethics. It’s so cut and dry. No consequences. No evading my moral responsibilities with a that wasn’t supposed to happen, or it seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Kantian ethics is pretty (somewhat) easy.

Ok. I know what you’re going to say: “The Mindless Philosopher, you said, not more than a few semi-paragraphs ago, that, anybody who has ever tried it, knows that adopting a purely Kantian ethics lifestyle is next to impossible.’

Yes, I did say that.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, the fact that a theory is difficult to practice as a lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean that the theory isn’t easy to practice on paper – aka, the place where all good philosophical theories work best.

Allow me to give an example.

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Because of your all-consuming railroad track fetish, you spend countless, unproductive hours staring at train tracks, waiting for “something” to happen. One day, while observing your favorite pair of diverging rail tracks, you spot on one track, Track A, a group of five people who have been lashed to the rails. On the other track, Track B, your five-year-old child has taken up the family tradition of hanging out on busy railroad tracks for no good reason. A large freight train is racing down the track. Your option is to pull a lever that diverts the train down either Track A) the track with the group of five, or down Track B) the track with your weird kid.
YOU must pull the lever to decide which track (A or B) the freight train takes. Do you save your kid and kill five people, or do you kill your ONE kid and save the five?

This is, of course, the famous (or infamous) Trolley Problem thought experiment. The thought experiment is intended to test utilitarian ethics.

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The utilitarian’s decision, to pull the lever to send the train down Track A or Track B, depends on what the utilitarian believes will bring about the best consequences e.g., the greatest good for the greatest number.

Now, can Kantian ethics solve the Trolley Problem? No, not necessarily. But – the problem with utilitarian ethics is, despite our most calculated calculations, we might arrive at the wrong outcome.

Our initial utilitarian instinct when dealing with the Trolley Problem is to say that our utilitarian duty would require us to sacrifice the one life to save the lives of the five.

The net good of saving five people is greater than the net good of saving one person.

…because five is more than one.

But wait a minute… utilitarian ethics requires us to calculate the right course of action based on expected consequences. Of course, because human knowledge is limited, we can’t know what the consequence of an action will be. Utilitarian ethics is, at best, based on speculation.

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There’s no way we can know that your weird five-year-old child (the one we decided to kill to save the five) would grow up to discover the cure for herpes, saving millions from the pain and embarrassment associated with the disease.

There’s no way we can know that one of the five people we saved was a serial killer, who promptly rewarded your kindness by slaughtering you and the other four people you saved.

…along with a few more people.

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That would not be the greatest good for the greatest number.

Fortunately for us, Kant does not require us to speculate consequences.

Kant’s ethics is based entirely on DUTY.

Consequences be damned, Kant says, we do what we do because it is the right thing to do.

It’s the right thing to do because the categorical imperative tells us so.

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Kant’s Categorical Imperatives are absolute and non-negotiable. They hold for all people, under all circumstances, at all times.

There are four formulations (are there four? I know there’s at least three) of the Categorical Imperative, but the most important (at least the most well-known) is the first formulation:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.   

There’s also the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative:

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never as merely means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

 

That is, don’t use people to get things that benefit only you.

If you just take formulations one and two, it’s virtually impossible to do anything wrong!
And there’s absolutely no need to worry about consequences because you won’t be doing anything bad in the first place!

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You won’t cheat on your spouse or on your taxes because we wouldn’t want to make infidelity or cheating on taxes universal law.

You won’t want to use people to your own advantage because people are not here as mere means to our ends.

…and we wouldn’t want to make using people a universal law.

So many bad decisions would be prevented with the simple question “Would I want everyone to do this?”

If the answer is no, don’t do it.

But…what about that trolley, tho?

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Now, if we’re utilitarian, we’d strain a muscle patting ourselves on the back for our morally correct decision making. After all, we saved the lives of five people. The Kantian, on the other hand, does not engage in such muscle training activity. Namely, because the Kantian realizes that

YOU KILLED SOMEONE.

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Remember: for Kant, the consequence does not matter. What matters is the principle that got you to what you did. If you flip the switch, are you using the one as a mere means to the ends of the other five? Would we want to say it’s ok for everybody to disregard one life because it makes other people feel good? *

You see, just as Kant would not want us to lie to the axe murderer, because lying is a violation of moral principles, we can’t violate our moral principles just because it is expedient for us to do so. Kant tells us that we must respect the lives of all (rational autonomous) beings, and that we cannot, no matter what beneficial consequences might result from our actions, violate the autonomy of a fellow rational being.

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If we believe that it is morally wrong to kill, it is always wrong to kill – no exceptions.

I guess the Kantian would just walk away, or something.

…or ask an egoist to pull the lever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I am aware that there is an argument to be made that Kant would pull the lever. I am not making that argument. Play along.