The Way Things Are

SOMETIMES IT’S EASY to dismiss a kids’ movie. After all, films featuring cute animated talking animals voiced by not-exactly-kid-friendly actors are easy to not take too seriously.

Existential dread isn’t exactly the kind of subject matter suited for a film geared towards the pre-school set.

But every once in awhile a kids movie goes and gets all philosophical on everybody.

Something you wouldn’t expect in a movie about a talking pig.

Aristotle wrote that all beings act according to their nature.

Aristotle calls it our characteristic function.

Aristotle says human characteristic function is the use of reason in accordance with virtue

What is the function of man? For as the goodness and the excellence of a piper or a sculptor, or the practiser of any art, and generally of those who have any function assigned to him by nature? Nay, surely as his several members, eye and hand and foot, plainly have each his own function, so we must suppose that man has some function over and above all these

(Man’s function then being, as we say, a kind of life — that is to say, exercise of his faculties and action of various kinds with reason — the good man’s function is to do this well and beautifully [or nobly]. But the function of anything is done well when it is done in accordance with the proper excellence of that thing.) Nicomachean Ethics, I 7.

Dogs, cats, bumblebees, frogs – According to Aristotle, nature not only designs a purpose for all beings, but also it is unnatural to deviate from that being’s designated purpose.

a_friend_in_need

NOT ONLY IS THIS AN INCREDIBLY TACKY PAINTING, IT IS ALSO UNNATURAL.

A fish’s characteristic function is to swim in water.

A bee’s characteristic function is to pollinate flowers.

A cat’s characteristic function is to be an asshole.

maxresdefault

THE LABEL ON THE BOX SAYS IT ALL

Aristotle states that thing’s characteristic activity (whoops, function), can be performed well or performed poorly.

Not only does a species have an characteristic function, but individuals do as well.

In humans, we can determine one’s characteristic function by observing one’s natural inclination, that is, your characteristic function is what you’re good at:

Mariah Carey’s characteristic function is to sing.

Rembrandt’s was to paint.

Mine is philosophy because frankly, I’m not good at doing anything else.

philosopher-21845648

PRETTY MUCH HOW I ROLL THESE DAYS

Aristotle attempts to define the Good in terms of characteristic function.

And by the capital “G” Good, Aristotle means Eudaimonia.

Loosely translated, eudemonia means “flourishing”.

61892239
Wait – I think I’m straying off topic. I was talking about characteristic function.

If you want to read all about eudemonia read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. You don’t even have to pay for it. It’s all over the internet in print and audiobook. FOR FREE.

Now, I’d like to think that I’m too old for kids’ movies, but truth be told, I’m not. I’d rather watch Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island over The Seventh Seal any day of the week.

For the record, I think Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island is a very philosophical movie.

The reason why, I think, I’d rather watch a kids’ movie is because unlike movies made for adults, where philosophical subtext is often handled with the subtlety of a pillaging berserker wielding a cudgel, kid-oriented entertainment can’t really overwhelm its target audience with deeper meaning.

Because they’re kids.

And most kids don’t know Hegel.

At least l hope most kids don’t know Hegel.

tumblr_oiapd4YHQ51ufqf11o1_500

THIS KID’S LIFE IS RUINED

But kids do know about talking pigs.

This talking pig in particular.

The movie Babe, directed by Chris Noonan, based on the book The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith, and adapted for the screen by George Miller (yes, the guy who wrote Mad Max!) is the story of a pig… named Babe.

babe_poster_intro

BABE

Orphaned as a piglet, adopted by Farmer Hoggett, and raised by Hoggett’s sheep herding dogs, Babe is condemned to the short (and inevitably tragic) life of a pig: to one day become the farmer’s next meal.

Babe, however, wants more for his life than to become Christmas dinner.

Babe wants to herd sheep.

Naturally, Babe’s efforts to redefine his role on the farm meets with opposition from the other farm animals (including his adopted canine family), and Farmer Hoggett, who does not believe that a pig is capable of herding sheep.

The farmer’s cat explains to the would-be sheep pig nature’s rules of life on the farm – that each farm animal has a purpose – and that pigs have no purpose.

download (1)
The cat says this because cats are assholes.

cat-sticking-butt-in-the-air-istock-000046350348

A CAT WILL ALWAYS SHOW YOU EXACTLY WHAT HE IS

It’s their characteristic function.
The small pig is not deterred by the cat or anyone else on the farm. He ignores the naysayers and strives to prove that a pig can indeed herd sheep. Babe follows his heart even though everyone around him, including Farmer Hoggett, doubts that he can defy the laws of nature.

Now, if we were following Aristotle, we might have been on the side of the cat; pigs serve no purpose other than to get fat and feed the farmer and his family.

600px-babe_01

FARMER HOGGETT, ON HIS WAY TO MAKING BABE CHRISTMAS DINNER

Luckily for the piglet (and the audience), Babe isn’t Aristotilean; he refuses to allow nature or the expectations of others to define his place in the world.

That’s downright existential.

Existential.

The late 19th – 20th century philosophy of Existentialism, most notably associated with French philosophers Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus, and the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger (and also associated with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, who is credited with being the first Existentialist philosopher).

According to the dictionary,

“Existentialism is the name given to the branch of philosophy which is concerned with the meaning of human existence – its aims, its significance and overall purpose – and the freedom and creative response to life made by individuals.”

If you’re in the mood to think philosophically, Babe can be a philosophical gateway to thinking about more than a couple of philosophical topics (brush up on your Peter Singer ‘cause you gonna be discussing animal rights). It’s pretty much undeniable that the philosophical undertone of the film’s major theme is essentially existentialist. Babe rejects the idea of purpose assigned by biology and society. He defines his own purpose.

His purpose is to herd sheep.

And more importantly, he’s good at it.

babe-t

BABE, SHOWING THE DUMB SHEEP WHO’S BOSS

The existentialist French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote

Life has no meaning a priori… it is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that we choose.

Babe finds meaning in herding sheep. It’s almost like sheep herding is his characteristic function.

Take that Aristotle!

1kzw44

 

If Babe was a practicing existentialist, he would say that existence preceded his essence.

Sartre says,

What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.

Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.

Babe did have a purpose. One that he determined for himself. Babe proves that he is capable of doing something other than his biological destiny.

All’s well that ends well, right?

Well, not quite.

School Crossing Guard

PHILOSOPHERS ARE LIKE STEPHEN KING NOVELS OR A RELATIONSHIP WITH RICK GRIMES. THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A HAPPY ENDING

Of course, with all things philosophical, there’s a glitch.

Possible glitch.

Existentialists hold that our true essence isn’t assigned to us by society or by our biology and we assign meaning to ourselves – we create our own meaning, purpose, and values in life. This means we are completely responsible for who we become.

Completely responsible.

Sartre writes,

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.

See how Sartre says we’re “condemned to be free”? We’re condemned, Sartre says, because without God or biology to determine the meaning of our lives, we are solely responsible for creating meaning. This can be rather disorienting.

 

Or nauseating….

31116601

OR NAUSEATING… GET IT?

Lucky for us, we’re watching a kid’s movie. Babe is spared the agony of experiencing the existential dread of complete freedom. Babe‘s mind is as unencumbered as a pig satisfied.

He is completely happy and at ease once he becomes what he wants to be.

A pig-dog.

thatll-do-pig

 

SO… we’re full of tears of happiness, cheers, and assumptions of lives lived happily ever after by the time the barn mice tell us we’re reached “The End”.

And we’ve just been given our first big lesson in existentialism.

There was, however, the inevitable follow up, Babe: Pig in the City.

 

 

I’m just going to leave it at that**.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

** Babe: Pig in the City was criticized at the time of it’s initial release for being a darker, less family-friendly film. the film currently holds a 62% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is darker than its predecessor, however, it’s arguable that the film, directed by George Miller, is also a more philosophically developed film. The late film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel both praised the film, with Siskel naming the movie one of the best films of 1998.

 
SOURCES:

http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/arisne1.htm

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. F.H. Peters. 2004 [1893].New York: Barnes and Noble Books.

Mel Thompson. Teach Yourself: Philosophy. 2003. Chicago, IL. Contemporary Books. 184.

Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism is a Humanism.

Sartre. Being and Nothingness. (1943).

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Keep Your Lips Off the Blarney Stone (if you don’t want to piss of kant)

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.

They say that a philosopher is by definition a lover of wisdom.

Because the philosopher loves wisdom, he realizes that to genuinely know something, that something must be true.

That is, the acquisition of wisdom requires some degree of factual accuracy.

Now, when I was in high school, a friend of a friend of a friend claimed that she believed that honesty is the best policy. That is, she claimed in any situation, no matter the consequences, that the best thing to do is to always tell the truth.

 

keep calm and honesty is the best policy

 

Most people who say they believe in always telling the truth think they’re like this:

superman fights for truth

 

But more often than not they’re like this:

so many types of bitches GIF

 

 

I suppose, though, a philosopher would agree that that honesty is the best policy a good idea to live by.

thumbs up GIF

 

 

 

Unfortunately, in the non-philosophical world, those whose personal creed is honesty is the best policy tend to use their insatiable need to be honest in all situations as an excuse to say rude things.

Personally, I haven’t seen anyone guided by a philosophical need to be truthful as much as I’ve seen someone who completely lacks a sense of tact.

 

I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF TACT

I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF TACT

 

Case in point: In a March, 2010 interview with Playboy magazine, well-known douche nozzle musician John Mayer unloaded intimate info about relationships, his preferences in pornography , and masturbation. Mayer confessed that he had tongued Perez Hilton “almost as if I hated fags”, and that, so far as his preference in sexual partners goes, Mayer described his penis as comparable to former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, David Duke.

That is to say, John Mayer’s penis prefers to have sexual intercourse with white women.

 HI. I’M JOHN MAYER’S PENIS. I WAS WONDERING IF YOU HAVE ANY SPARE WOODEN CROSSES?

HI. I’M JOHN MAYER’S PENIS. I WAS WONDERING IF YOU HAVE ANY SPARE WOODEN CROSSES?

 

I’m guessing that John Mayer was probably thinking that honesty is the best policy.

It‘s absolutely no surprise that the reaction to Mayer’s comments was less than admiring of his public display of honesty.

mayer 1

mayer 2

mayer 3

 

 

And videos like this:

 

 

Unfortunately for John Mayer, being honest not only tarnished his reputation (ok, he had a rep for being kind of douchy before that) but Mayer’s comments also offended some of his fan base.

This can be a bad consequence if one’s livelihood necessarily depends on the spending habits of the music-listening public.

NO PERFORMER WANTS THIS TO HAPPEN

NO PERFORMER WANTS THIS TO HAPPEN

 

Now, as philosophers we can appreciate the pursuit of truth – in the interest of achieving
the greater good. We want to know the situation as it truly is. Because, as whistle-blower Chelsea Manning said when asked why she disclosed classified government information:

 

without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

THIS IS CHELSEA MANNING, WHO MADE THE MISTAKE OF BELIEVING AS THOMAS JEFFERSON STATED, “TO GIVE TO EVERY CITIZEN THE INFORMATION HE NEEDS FOR THE TRANSACTION OF HIS OWN BUSINESS…”

THIS IS CHELSEA MANNING, WHO MADE THE MISTAKE OF BELIEVING AS THOMAS JEFFERSON STATED, “TO GIVE TO EVERY CITIZEN THE INFORMATION HE NEEDS FOR THE TRANSACTION OF HIS OWN BUSINESS…”

However, if severe career damage is just as likely an outcome of oversharing truth-telling as achieving the greater good, is honesty really – practically and philosophically speaking -always the best policy?

How honest do we have to be?

 

 

honesty is the best policy

 

 

Wait, I realize that I’m doing something here. I’ve used the words “honesty”, “honest”, “true”, and “truth” interchangeably. This may be a problem for some people. Philosophy is all about using precise language. Unfortunately, our colloquialisms tend to do to the language the opposite of precision.

WE MUST NOT FORGET THAT THESE PEOPLE EXIST

WE MUST NOT FORGET THAT THESE PEOPLE EXIST

 

 

However, I assume that we can all agree that being honest is the same as being truthful.
Ok – let’s say that I make a claim that something is true; or rather, I insist that I am being truthful. I claim that I am currently living in the USA and I am approximately 64 inches tall.

i didn't know they stacked shit that high

 

 

These claims are true, by the way.

I am, in fact, currently in the United States. And I am indeed approximately 64 inches tall.

Both of these claims are demonstrably true.

 

milli-vanilli-dance-o

 

But if I go further and claim that I am an honest person it’s obvious that I am making some ethical claim about myself.

Of course if we’re making ethical claims, answering the question “how honest do we have to be?” is all about moral obligation. Are we morally obligated to be honest and to whom do we owe our moral obligation? The answer depends on who you ask.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) says that our moral obligation is a matter of duty – that is, it is our duty to do good (acts) no matter the consequences to others or ourselves. That means if your wife asks you if the dress she’s wearing makes her look fat, it is your moral duty, according to Kant, to inform your wife not only does she look fat in the dress, but also that no matter what she wears she looks fat.*

Because it’s not the dress.

your fat makes you look fat

Following Kant’s ethics may ruin your relationship with your wife

… but at least you were honest.

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE A DAPPER-LOOKING FELLOW LIKE THIS NEVER GOT MARRIED, ISN’T IT?

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE A DAPPER-LOOKING FELLOW LIKE THIS NEVER GOT MARRIED, ISN’T IT?

 

 

It wouldn’t take much time before you realize that being a Kantian will seriously impair your ability to throw shade

 

shade is

 

 

that's not a read it's just a fact

 

 

 

Ok, let’s put Kant aside for a moment.

According to Aristotle’s virtue ethics practicing virtues such as being honest (telling the truth) makes us a good person.

 

 

golden mean

 

Aristotle writes:

And so the truthful man as observing the mean, is praiseworthy, while the untruthful characters are both blamable, but the boastful more than the ironical

 

Since society can function only if its citizens are virtuous, Aristotle says, it is necessary for everyone to tell the truth.

 

 

ARISTOTLE WOULD CERTAINLY NOT ENDORSE AN ACTIVITY SUCH AS KISSING THE BLARNEY STONE

ARISTOTLE WOULD CERTAINLY NOT ENDORSE AN ACTIVITY SUCH AS KISSING THE BLARNEY STONE

 

Still, if you’re a utilitarian or an egoist it’s perfectly alright to lie to people. An occasional flirtation with dishonesty may do you or everyone else some good. Telling your wife that her dress doesn’t make her ass look fat might not win you points with Kant, but it might keep your marriage happy.
 

do i look fat

 

 

So… is honesty the best policy?

I guess the answer is still “it depends on who you ask”. But then, if the answer is “it depends” that gets us right back to where we started; no closer to figuring out if it is our moral obligation to always tell the truth to everybody at all times.

 

I suppose, though, we can all agree that if your honesty has anything to do with declaring that your penis would join David Duke at a cross burning, your honesty may not be the best policy.

In fact, it may be time to shut the hell up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* One particular reason why Kant argues that we shouldn’t lie has to do with something Kant calls the Contradiction of the Will. According to Kant, before we perform any act we should first ask if we would want that act the be universalized – would we want others to do as we do? So if one is about to tell a lie, one should ask, “would it be morally correct if everyone told lies?”. Kant says that our answer should be no, we don’t want everyone to lie. If we hold that honesty is the morally right thing to do and everyone lies, lying undermines the point of not lying.

SOURCES:

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004 [1893]. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. p. 91

Michael Scherer. “The Geeks Who Leak”. Time. Vol. 181. No. 24. June 24, 2013. p. 24

No Bad Deed Goes Punished

There are many amateur, semi-pro, and professional sports to be watched and played throughout the year, but if I had to lay down some cash to pay to watch one in an actual stadium, I’d spend my really-should-not-be-used-for-recreational-purposes cash to catch a game of professional football.

Wait – let me define my sport here. I meant to say American football.

 

The other kind of football is nice and all, but if I had to plunk down some money I’d pick this:

 

 

 

Over this:

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s face it, American-style football is just danged entertaining.

That’s what keeps people watching.

Well, maybe this has a little bit to do with what keeps people watching…

 

cheerleaders

 

No. Not that.

 

This:

 

 

 

 

 

Superbowl ads.

Whoops. I mean THE BIG GAME ads.

People, in America and abroad, watch football. Well, unless it’s Sunday Night Football and The Walking Dead is on.

That show gets better ratings with the 18-49 year old demographic.

Yes, folks. That’s right.

The ratings for this:

 

 

the walking dead cast

 

 

Beats the ratings for this:

 

football game

 

 

But I digress….

 

If you think about it, there’s a legit reason why American football (hereafter referred to as “football”) is so popular. After all, there just aren’t that many sports with a jingle as catchy as Hank Williams, jr’s “Are You Ready For Some Football?” or where one can base his or her fan loyalty based on the attractiveness/offensiveness of the team mascot and/or the color of the team jersey.

This explains why I hate the Cleveland Browns.

That uniform is fugly.

 

LOOK AT THIS MONSTROCITY OF A UNIFORM. THE MORE I LOOK AT IT THE MORE I HATE THE BROWNS

LOOK AT THIS MONSTROCITY OF A UNIFORM. THE MORE I LOOK AT IT THE MORE I HATE THE BROWNS

 

Now, you may be aware of recent criticism (rightfully so) of League apathy towards serious brain injury suffered by current and former players.

 

NFL-Concussions

 

 

 

brain scans

 

 

 

missed game chart

 
But what you may be even more aware of is the recent spate of legal troubles involving a few high-profile NFL players. In particular, legal troubles involving the illegal use of one’s hands against another human being.

 

To put it another way, a few have been busted for physically abusing someone.

 

Many of us are aware of Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson’s no contest plea on a misdemeanor child abuse charge for whipping his 4 year-old son with a switch.

 

 IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT A SWITCH LOOKS LIKE, THIS IS A SWITCH. A SWITCH IS A THIN LIMB OF A TREE USED TO BEAT THE HELL OUT OF (USUALLY) ONE’S CHILDREN.

IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT A SWITCH LOOKS LIKE, THIS IS A SWITCH. A SWITCH IS A THIN LIMB OF A TREE USED TO BEAT THE HELL OUT OF (USUALLY) ONE’S CHILDREN.

 

 

I’m more than certain that anyone with a TV or an internet connection has either heard of or seen this video:

 

 

http://www.tmz.com/videos/0_ekaflcqq

 

 

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is currently awaiting trial for multiple murders.

 

 

YOU CAN BET THAT NANCY GRACE IS READY TO JUMP ALL OVER THIS TRIAL

YOU CAN BET THAT NANCY GRACE IS READY TO JUMP ALL OVER THIS TRIAL

 

Of course we all remember this guy:

 

THEY DIDN'T FIT

THEY DIDN’T FIT

 

 

Tales of abuse (and even worse) by rich and famous are, by no means, new. Before Chris Brown, fans of John Lennon, Miles Davis, and Ike Turner heard stories of (alleged and actual) domestic abuse. And on the professional sports side, well-known athletes like MMA fighters War Machine and Tito Ortiz, Mike Tyson, Hope Solo, and Rae Carruth have all been accused, charged, and/or convicted of committing acts of violence towards their mates.

 

Rumors (unsubstantiated) that Joe DiMaggio beat Marilyn Monroe have been around for decades.

 

 

BEHIND THE FAÇADE OF THE PERFECT CELEBRITY SUPERCOUPLE, SOME SAY, WAS A PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP

BEHIND THE FAÇADE OF THE PERFECT CELEBRITY SUPERCOUPLE, SOME SAY, WAS A PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP

 

 
Most of the fervor over celebrity abusers is based, in part, on the seemingly light sentences given to (celebrities and) professional athletes for their crimes.

Some think game suspensions aren’t enough punishment.

Let’s not forget that Ray Rice was initially suspended for just two games.

 

WE DON’T WANT TO REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED WITH THIS GUY

WE DON’T WANT TO REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED WITH THIS GUY

 

 

What we want isn’t merely punishment – we want a just punishment. We want a punishment fitting of the crime.

… And when we say fitting of the crime, we want murderers and abusers no matter who they are to be punished. We want a person to receive the punishment the deserve regardless of their occupation, social status or the amount of money in their bank account.

Or what team they play for.

 

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) says that moral rights and wrongs are not subject to opinion. The standard of a right and wrong act is not determined by popular opinion. Kant states that rightness and wrongness are eternal; universal and applicable to all people at all times.

Although Kant argues in favor of stern punishments, Kant states that punishments should also be proportional to the crime.

 

Kant writes:

Punishment… must always be inflicted on him only because he has committed a crime…but what kind and what amount of punishment is it that public justice makes its principle and measure? None other than the principle of equality… accordingly, whatever undeserved evil you inflict on another… you inflict on yourself….But only the law of retribution jus falionis – it being understood… can specify definitively the quality and quantity of punishment (Metaphysics of Morals, 6:331-332)

So, according to Kant, we should not only be willing to punish abusers, but also be willing to treat Ray Rice with the same level of punishment (and presumably the same level of moral disdain) that we treat someone who isn’t famous or a female athlete . We can’t allow favoritism or double standards.

 

Especially if we want moral consistency.

 

…. And we should want moral consistency.

 

double standards

 

 

Ok, for the record, I think Kant is right. People who abuse people, no matter what they do for a living, should be punished. And we should be morally offended when people commit violent acts against other people and animals. But I can’t deny (despite my moral outrage) that I still enjoy this:

 

 

 

 

And this:

 

 

 

 

I still watch The Naked Gun movies and enjoy OJ Simpson’s performance as “Nordberg”.

 

Try as I might to hate every scene OJ Simpson is in, I still find this scene funny.

 

 

 

 

That Nordberg is a pretty funny guy.
And while we’re on that subject, someone riddle me this: how did Nordberg go from looking like this guy:

 

 

peter lupus

 

To looking like this guy:

 

 

the naked gun nordberg

 

 

Someone should call Robert Stack to get on this….

 
Now, when we think about famous actors, musicians or athletes, there’s the tendency to say that their private life is separate from their public life. What a person does behind closed doors should be distinct from what they do publicly – that what a man or woman does in their private lives shouldn’t affect how we think about what they do professionally. They say –
It shouldn’t matter what kind of guy John Lennon was, he was a great musician.

Ray Rice and his fiancée are married now.

Mike Tyson is now the star of a cartoon series

 

SERIOUSLY, THIS IS A REAL TV SHOW

SERIOUSLY, THIS IS A REAL TV SHOW

 

 

Everyone has their demons, we say.

 

Although punishment or proper punishment is a big issue in discussing domestic abuse, it’s not the only issue that should be discussed when dealing with domestic violence and famous people. Anyone who has thought about the role that actors, musicians and professional athletes play in our culture has probably wondered not only if we can separate a person’s private acts from their public persona, but also should we separate a person’s private and public lives?

 

The question we should ask is why do we look up to these people in the first place?

 

You see, some people think we should be consistent in how we act in public and in private.

 

We shouldn’t just admire a person just because they’re attractive or popular or a world-class athlete.

 

It’s about what kind of people we look up to.

 

We should want to look up to people because they’re the right kind of people to look up to.

 

DON’T LET THE GOLD MEDALS FOOL YOU. THIS GUY PROBABLY SMOKES WEED

DON’T LET THE GOLD MEDALS FOOL YOU. THIS GUY PROBABLY SMOKES WEED

 

 

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle writes that the only people worth looking up to are virtuous.

 

ARISTOTLE’S MORAL THEORY IS CALLED VIRTUE ETHICS. IT EMPHASIZES - SURPRISE, SURPSISE - MORAL VIRTUE

ARISTOTLE’S MORAL THEORY IS CALLED VIRTUE ETHICS. IT EMPHASIZES – SURPRISE, SURPSISE – MORAL VIRTUE

 

 

Wait – let me back up for a minute. I have to explain something.

 

According to Aristotle, virtues like courage, temperance, and truthfulness are inborn traits. Virtues are acquired through habit. That is, we acquire virtue by behaving virtuously. That behavior, in turn, becomes habit. One must possess all the virtues (unity of virtues) to be (morally) virtuous.

Aristotle describes moral virtue as:

 

A settled disposition if the mind determining the choice of
actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the
observance of the mean relative us, this being determined by
principle that is, as the prudent man would determine it.

 

Therefore, once our behaviors become habit, our virtuous soul is manifested in how we act.

 

 

spit it out

 
What I’m trying to say is Aristotle said if you act a certain way for a long time eventually that’s the way you will always act.

 

 

download (2)

 

 

Aristotle wrote:

 

The virtues, then, come neither by nature nor against nature, but nature gives us the capacity for acquiring them, and this is developed by training….. But the virtues we acquire by doing the acts, as is the case with the arts too. We learn an art by doing that which we wish to do when we have learned it; we become builders by building, and harpers by harping. And so by doing just acts we become just, and by doing acts of temperance and courage we become temperate and courageous.

 

Here’s a list of Aristotle’s virtues, by the way….

 

Capture virtues

 

man, that’s small….

 

Aristotle wrote that a full realization of one’s virtuousness cannot be possible if our virtuous acts are limited to the public realm. To be truly virtuous, Aristotle argues, we are (also) required to act virtuously in our private life. Private behavior influences public behavior and vice versa. And – since Aristotle states that we realize the full meaning of our existence by functioning within the public sphere, and since virtue is acquired by the repetition of virtuous deeds, and to develop a habit requires consistent behavior in public and in private, the two spheres are necessarily connected; one must be virtuous in public but also in private.

 

 

And since the community is essential for human flourishing, our acts are ultimately connected the public (common) good.

 

A man who cheats on his wife or beats a woman in private cannot be trusted in his public acts. Someone who commits acts of domestic violence isn’t a good person. He (or she) isn’t virtuous. The kind of person who physically assaults another person lacks the kind of moral character of someone we should look up to. Therefore he is unworthy of our praise and should not be held as an example to follow.

 

Aristotle says:

Indeed, if he were not good, he could not be worthy of
honor; for honor is the prize of virtue, and is rendered to the
good as their due.

 

 

THE FACT THAT JOHN LENNON WAS ONE HALF OF THE GREATEST SONGWRITING DUO OF ALL TIME SHOULD NOT NEGATE THE FACT THAT HE TREATED THIS WOMAN LIKE SHIT

THE FACT THAT JOHN LENNON WAS ONE HALF OF THE GREATEST SONGWRITING DUO OF ALL TIME SHOULD NOT NEGATE THE FACT THAT HE TREATED THIS WOMAN LIKE SHIT

 

 

So what are to make of all this, then?
The moral of the story is that the problem with abuse in entertainment and professional sports isn’t just a question of how do we punish those who abuse their wives, girlfriends, strippers, occasionally a fan, or anyone else who ends up on the bad end of a famous person’s fist. We should first be careful who we venerate. What kind of people we hold as an example to follow. That’s what Aristotle tells us all about moral virtue. It isn’t enough that a person sings great songs or who holds the record for most career touchdowns.

 

 I THINK IT WAS ARISTOTLE WHO COINED THE PHRASE “CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF”

I THINK IT WAS ARISTOTLE WHO COINED THE PHRASE “CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF”

 

 

We shouldn’t be concerned with how much a person makes, how many yards run, or how many hit songs they wrote. No one doubts that John Lennon was a great songwriter or that Ray Rice is (was) an exceptional football player. But we should, especially if we are to hold those in high regard, want who we look up to to be good men (people) as well.

 

What should matter to us is kind of character a person has. Is the person we admire a good person? Not just good in the sense that they are polite or file their taxes on time, but capital G-O-O-D in the sense that they embody the kind of qualities that we think makes someone a good person – a morally virtuous person. The kind of person who, just by watching them, makes us want to follow their example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*for more information on head injuries in the NFL read:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sports/concussion-watch/76-of-79-deceased-nfl-players-found-to-have-brain-disease/

and: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/13/sports/football/actuarial-reports-in-nfl-concussion-deal-are-released.html?_r=0

 

Sources:
http://thinkexist.com/quotation/it_is_the_characteristic_of_the_magnanimous_man_/147142.html.
http://deadline.com/2014/11/walking-dead-ratings-top-sunday-night-football-third-week-season-5-1201286783/

https://www.cwu.edu/~warren/Unit1/aristotles_virtues_and_vices.htm

 

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004 [1893]. Trans. F.H. Peters. M.A. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. xvii, 81.

Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 6:331-332

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.

 

 

 

Aristotle, Schmaristotle

I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Harry Nilsson lately.

Not just the song “Without You”.

Even though he died long before I was aware of who he was, I just can’t get enough of his music.

I think it has to do with this documentary I watched on PBS. On the documentary, they said that Harry Nilsson did this movie called  The Point. I haven’t seen the movie but they said it’s philosophical. They said that Harry Nilsson was into philosophical kinds of stuff.

Yeah. I had pretty much figured that out. I get that philosophical feeling every time I hear the song “Coconut”.

Now, I know that If I asked around very few people would say that Harry Nilsson was a (professional) philosopher. But I’d like to think that if Aristotle was a professional singer he’d sound just like Harry Nilsson.

So the next time you think of this guy:

Image

Imagine this guy singing:

Image

Now tell me true, how can you think of Aristotle and not think of Harry Nilsson?

It’s totally the perfect soundtrack for Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

Really. It is.

If you were wondering, the reason why thinking of and listening to Harry Nilsson reminds me of Aristotle is this: Like Harry Nilsson, Aristotle was a bit of a rock star. A philosophical rock star. For centuries, the philosophy of Aristotle was the philosophy.

Not consequently, Aristotle was called THE Philosopher.

Why, you say?

In case you didn’t know, Aristotle invented physics.

I know, big deal. Only nerds are into physics, right?

But Aristotle’s brilliance didn’t end there!

In addition to inventing all that big-brained Einstein stuff, Aristotle is credited with inventing psychology economics, astronomy, biology, and psychology. Aristotle also founded the first philosophical school, The Lyceum (The Academy). Aristotle wrote on subjects ranging from politics to aesthetics. He’s the inventor of virtue ethics and Aristotle’s logic was the standard logic for philosophy (and all higher thinking) until Gottlob Frege.

And Frege didn’t come around until the 20th century!

Did I fail to mention that Aristotle was the only philosopher to get the thumbs up from the early Catholic Church?

He was.

Aristotle’s philosophy was so influential on early Catholic thought, that Scholasticism, a philosophy based on the teachings of the Catholic Church and the philosophy of Aristotle, dominated Western thought from the 11th to the 15th century.

Reason-based philosophy of Aristotle + divine intervention = scholasticism

And like every VH-1 Behind the Music story goes, like every rock star, the good times didn’t last for long. Unfortunately for Aristotle, Scholasticism eventually fell out of favor.

I know what you’re thinking, if Aristotle was THE philosopher, how could a school of thought based in part on his teachings fall out of favor?

The reason why is this: people finally realized that Aristotle was wrong about EVERYTHING.

Ok, maybe not everything.

But still, have you heard of Aristotle’s Four Causes?

No? I thought not. Because Aristotle was wrong!

Just to let you know, the Four Causes are: material, formal, efficient, and final.

Helps to know that, eh? That kind of info has gotta be worth at least the $600 question on Jeopardy!

You can reason that everyone should listen to Harry Nilsson because he was a brilliant songwriter and vocalist and, even though his music is decades old, it’s better than half or the auto-tuned “music” on the pop charts. But why should we study the ancient philosophers like (the often-wrong) Aristotle? What good is studying Aristotelian logic if the whole world’s logic is Russell and Frege?

But what’s downright puzzling to me is why, after so many centuries of being proved wrong, Aristotle and his philosophy are still so popular. I mean, people actually (still) take his writings seriously. There’s not a university philosophy department that doesn’t have at least one class (usually there’s several) devoted to Aristotle. Really.

It’s strange that so much professional philosopher brain space is devoted to studying, teaching, and writing about a philosopher who has a philosophy with the same degree of accuracy as a local TV news weatherman.

Lest you doubt my verisimilitude, here are some more things Aristotle was completely wrong about:

The planets do not float on invisible spheres.
Everything is not either earth, air, fire, or water.
Animals do in fact, laugh.
The average human infant laughs for the first time approximately 90 days after birth, not 40, as Aristotle states.
Women do not need semen to retain body heat.
There is NO SUCH THING as a natural slave.
Semen does not contain little, full-grown people in it.

Trust me, there’s more than that.

But since this is a blog post and not a novel, I’ve kept the list short.
If you think about how wrong Aristotle was about nearly everything he wrote about, it’s amazing that Aristotle’s philosophy, let alone Scholasticism, ever caught on at all.

Especially since Aristotle couldn’t seem to make Scholasticism work himself.

I guess Aristotle isn’t so brilliant after all.

The late Zen Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts says if we had followed the teachings of Heraclitus instead of Aristotle, we’d be better off.

I can’t say that I disagree.

But then again, Alan Watts dropped acid.

Still, despite what I (and apparently Alan Watts) feel about Aristotle, this one thing is unfortunately true: There’s not a college campus with a philosophy department that is not teaching Aristotle. And – oh, wait, I just remembered, there are Neo-scholasticists aren’t there?

Damn. Never mind.

Hey, any of y’all out there wanna hear “Coconut”?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tbgv8PkO9eo

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

I watch a lot of MSNBC.

Yeah, I’m a liberal so I watch MSNBC.

Plus, I got this thing for Rachel Maddow.

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

Too weird… More weird.

My God, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, this.

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

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

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

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

 

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

Apparently they’re everywhere.

I had no idea.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Just read 2 Kings 2:23-24.

 

badass4

 

 

Bears, man. Bears.

 

And now for the philosophy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

slaves in chains

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

But some of them still owned slaves.

I think I kinda know why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Well, not entirely.

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

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

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

This all has me wondering…

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

At least in the philosophical sense?

 

 

NOTE:

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

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

Yikes! That’s worse than Jefferson!

 

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

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

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

 

On The Philosophy of Catfishing

catfish-the-tv-show-logo

I’ve been watching this reality TV show on MTV called Catfish: the TV Show. I haven’t watched anything on MTV in years. I’m hooked on watching this show. And I’m surprised that I’m watching MTV and not complaining that they’re not showing music videos.

The TV show is inspired by the 2010 documentary Catfish. The movie is about the real-life story of filmmaker Nev Schulman and his online relationship with a woman who turned out to be a 40 year-old woman.

She was a catfish.

A few years ago, the important internet question was “Have you been one cupped?” now it’s “have you been catfished?”

I’ve been one cupped. I will never be the same again.

According to Wikipedia a catfish “is a person who creates fake profiles online and pretends to be someone they are not by using someone else’s pictures and information. These “catfish” use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, usually with the intention of getting other people or a person to fall in love with them.”

In short, a catfish is liar.

They lie sometimes about everything

Dr. Phil even had a show about Catfish. He told his viewers how to spot an internet “catfish”.

He says there are five signs you may be dealing with a catfish.

I’ve met three of Dr. Phil’s five signs.

But I’m not a catfish. I don’t lie online.

I just prefer not to tell anyone anything about me.

It’s obvious that the problem with catfish is misrepresentation. If someone misrepresents who they are we have no idea who we are really talking to. This problem is only amplified on the internet.

The internet (especially social networking sites like Facebook) is supposed to make communication easier and to bring people with like interests together. This is what makes the internet not only useful but fun: the ability to find a potential soul mate or (at least) a friend. I may not know anyone in the town where I live who likes Jean Claude Van Damme movies and blueberry pancakes, but I most assuredly will find someone on the internet that does.

But the convenience of fiber optic communication also makes it easy to be deceitful. The absence of physical contact between individuals communicating via computer means anyone can say anything about themselves or their lives leaving us only to assume what people post on the internet is true. A catfish relies on the fact that whomever they are misrepresenting themselves to is either trusting or hasn’t the time or the know-how to investigate every social network follower and/or friend to verify that they are who they claim they are.

Thus proving what they say about what happens when we assume.

When you assume things you end up making yourself one of these.

When you assume things you end up making yourself look like one of these.

We know what Immanuel Kant would say about a catfish. According to the Kantian view, the real harm of a catfish is that a catfish’s lies are damaging to individuals and society. In Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) Kant tells us

Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature

Kant’s ethics forbid all lying in all circumstances. He argues that our actions are morally correct only if we can universalize the act. Honesty (at least a certain amount) and trust are necessary not only for the world to function but for relationships as well. Kant argues that one of our duties to others is an obligation to be honest. If people make a universal habit of being deceitful to others, Kant says we have no reason to trust what anyone says (especially people we meet online). Kant states:

He immediately sees that it could never hold as a universal law and be consistent with itself; rather it must necessarily contradict itself. For the universality of a law which says that anyone who believes himself to be in need could promise what he pleased with the intention of not fulfilling it would make the promise itself and the end to be accomplished by it impossible; no one would believe what was promised to him but would only laugh at any such assertion as vain pretense.*

Kant also states:

…it is nevertheless impossible to will that such a principle should hold everywhere as a law of nature. For a will which resolved this would conflict with itself…

If Kant is correct, the act of lying undermines the purpose of social networking.

However….

The problem with a catfish may not be the lying in itself. Everybody lies to some degree (if you claim that you don’t, congratulations you’re a liar). I think it’s safe to say that the real problem with lying is that when we do not tell the truth to others we are involved with our relationships are inauthentic.

The catfish specializes in inauthentic relationships.

Authenticity is necessary to develop healthy, long-lasting relationships with others. Aristotle tells us that the only way to develop true (authentic) relationships with others is to engage in frequent social intercourse with others. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that close physical proximity is a necessary component for real relationships (Aristotle calls physical interaction a “characteristic of friendship”). Aristotle writes:

Such friendship, moreover, requires long and familiar intercourse. For, as the proverb says, it is impossible for people to know one another till they have consumed the requisite quantity of salt together.

A Kantian may argue that a person is damaged by a catfish’s online deception, but Aristotle may tell us we never had a true relationship (at least in the philosophical sense) to begin with.

This, of course, raises and interesting philosophical question.

Is the anonymity of the internet actually better for relationships?

Namely, given the fact that we do not physically interact with people we “talk” to online, some may argue that since we don’t have physical contact with people over the internet, we are forced to deal (supposedly) with people as is, with who they really are.

Let’s say the only thing that a person is deceitful about (in an internet relationship) is their appearance. An individual uses a photo of someone else (presumably more attractive) when communicating with others on the internet. This individual reasons that s/he uses a fake photo because s/he feels that they must hide their physical appearance in order to successfully communicate with others and that using a fake photo on the internet allows them to avoid the (negative) aesthetic judgments of others.

Some might consider this person a catfish especially if they enter into a “relationship” with another person while representing themselves as the person in the photo.

But is that always a bad thing?

Now, some people create fake profiles out of maliciousness. Some people do it because they are mentally disturbed or narcissistic. But if everything else, sans appearance thoughts, feelings, opinions, even a person’s voice (if they speak to others on the phone) are the real deal?  Philosophers often emphasize character over perceived material worth (that is, unless you’re a materialist). Socrates and Aristotle sought virtuous people; Kant wanted people who possessed good will. And John Stuart Mill argued people should rather be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig. Would a philosopher appreciate internet relationships with good, virtuous, or philosophically oriented people even if a person lied about what they look like (assuming the intention wasn’t malevolent-intended)? Perhaps a utilitarian (and certainly an ethical egoist) would say that a little white lie may be necessary if one’s intention is to develop a relationship that would be beneficial to both parties.

Perhaps for some catfish the lie enables them to get to the truth. The lie makes them honest.

Then is it possible that catfishing be a philosophically good thing?

Watch this clip and decide for yourself.

NOTE:

In the documentary Catfish, the term “catfish” as a reference to people who misrepresent themselves on the internet is explained  as follows: fishermen, exporting cod from the U.S. to markets in Asia noticed that the cod were soggy when they arrived at their destination. When catfish were shipped along with the cod, the cod retained their firmness and vigor. Catfish, the film explains, are people who keep other people from losing their firmness and vitality.

* Kant’s example refers to someone who repeatedly makes promises to others and subsequently breaks them, which is a form of lying. It’s easy to see how lying about one’s life and/or appearance is similar to breaking a promise as lying  and promise breaking are grounded in misrepresentation of one’s intention and requires trust on the part of the other party.

You can find Dr. Phil’s signs you’re possibly dealing with an online catfish at: http://drphil.com/articles/article/720

SOURCES:

1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catfish_(film)

2) Immanuel Kant. 1997 [1785]. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 2nd Edition, Revised. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 38-40.

3) Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 1893. 2004. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. NY: Barnes & Noble Books. 177.