I’m Not Saying It Was the Ship Owner but It Was the Ship Owner

The world is a pretty weird place.

In a world governed by natural laws and physics, some things defy logical explanation.

A two-headed anything.

Ball lightning.

Sister Wives. 



This is a two-headed calf:


2 headed calf




This is Sister Wives.





Seriously, can someone explain the appeal of this show to me.


Ordinary events on planet Earth may seem strange enough to the casual observer, but when things get really weird, earthlings often look to the sky for explanations (and maybe for a little bit of comfort) for everyday weirdness of life here on planet Earth.

Some people look to the heavens for God.

Some people look for aliens.







Lots of folks are into aliens.

Lots of ’em.

Maybe too many.






Whether we’re talking about flying saucers,



images flying saucer



Mysterious lights,










Or alien abductions,



alien abduction



We’re talking about these guys.








Whether you believe we’ve been visited by benevolent E.T.s, evil reptilians infiltrating world governments, malevolent xenomorphs, or in little green men…



marvin the martian



Or even your own first-hand account of an encounter with anal-probing, intergalactic sex perverts,






We’re hooked on tales of human encounters with alien visitors.


images oh wait it's aliens



Did you know that half of all Americans believe life exists on other planets?

And a quarter of all Americans believe that Earth has been visited by extraterrestrials.







I’m a philosopher.


Philosophers, by nature, are supposed to be into philosophy.


We’re not supposed to be into aliens.


We look to the sky only when we’re contemplating the meaning of life and the universe.

We definitely don’t look to the sky for something like this:



images grey alien



I have to admit, I’m not too familiar of any alien philosophers other than the great Vulcan philosopher Surak.







If you look around (especially on the internet) there’s plenty of evidence that Earth has indeed been visited by aliens. From first-hand encounters to film footage of aliens. Stories of the alien spacecraft crash at Roswell, crop circles, cattle mutilations, unexplained phenomena, and ancient texts and monuments it’s fairly reasonable to conclude that some of the things that cannot be explained can be explained if we consider the possibility that the explanation is that Earth has been visited by extraterrestrial life.




but it was aliens



The possibility that Earth has not only been visited, but that aliens have played and continue to play an active role in human events, explains the popularity of shows like Art Bell’s Coast To Coast, films like E.T., the Star Trek franchise, the Predator series, and the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens.







The search for extraterrestrial life is the reason behind SETI. It’s the reason why NASA wants to send a manned mission to Mars.

And it’s the reason why I know when exploring a space colony that has suddenly and inexplicably lost contact with Earth to stay clear of anything that looks even remotely like this:



images facehugger




Besides, if aliens aren’t real how does anyone explain this?




images alien autopsy



Stroll the aisles of any bookstore (if you can find an actual bookstore) and you’ll find books full of testimonials of alien sightings, contacts, and abductions. Really, you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own home to find material about aliens. A Google search of the word “alien” will yield enough web stuff to keep a person busy for days.


Stories of alien contact, like the account of Travis Walton, who claims he was abducted by aliens in November, 1975, are compelling if not convincing testimony that claims of alien encounters.



images travis walton




With the exception of a few obvious hoaxes, we must admit that evidence gives us reason at least to question whether we are alone in the universe and wonder if any intelligent life has indeed visited Earth.




images but if not aliens



Ok, I know what the assholes experts will say sure, there’s a lot of “evidence” for believing in the existence of non-earthling beings, but when it comes to down to reliable evidence, most evidence of alien visitations is un-definitive at best and downright suspect at worst. Evidence is either purely anecdotal or the worst shaky-cam footage since Cloverfield.









Weird stories of cow mutilations and anal probing may make for entertaining television, but for many these accounts remain subject to skepticism.


What we want is proof.







And if you’re a philosopher, our beliefs not only demand proof; they demand justification.

You see, even if I find someone’s evidence of an alien sighting, encounter or abduction convincing, I may still have no business believing what they say. I don’t just have to take into account the fact that I believe their claim, I have to think about what reasons (i.e. justification) I have for believing the claim.


As a philosopher I must demand more evidence better evidence.

Certainly more evidence than some stories and bad camera work.

As a philosopher, I’m not allowed to simply say,




i don't know. therefore aliens



According to the English philosopher William Clifford (1845-1879) I am accountable not only for my beliefs but also for my justification of my beliefs.




This is William Clifford.







In his famous (well, famous of you’re a philosopher) essay a “Ethics of Belief”, William Clifford states:

To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

Clifford states that our beliefs are important because what we believe influences our actions. In Clifford’s essay, a ship owner believes that his ship is seaworthy when in reality it is not. The ship sets sail into stormy waters and is lost at sea. Everyone on board dies.







Worse yet, all the ship’s cargo is lost.



The problem, Clifford says, is that ship owner, despite his belief that his ship was capable of completing the voyage, had based his belief on bad evidence.* The ship owner has no epistemological right to believe that his ship was seaworthy. His belief wasn’t justified.


Ok, I know I’m truncating the hell out of Clifford’s essay, which is why you should read it.



reading is fundamental



In the case of Clifford’s ship owner, a belief based on insufficient evidence cost lives. We can clearly see the detrimental effect our beliefs have on our actions and potentially on the lives of others, but what about a belief in aliens? Is believing in the existence of extraterrestrial life even if the evidence for believing in such is insufficient necessarily harmful to anyone?



it was aliens




Surely, believing in aliens would not influence any sane person anyone to send a sea un-worthy ship into stormy weather (unless I assumed that aliens would rescue the crew and cargo). If I believe that aliens exist, even based on the flimsiest of evidence, who does my belief hurt? Am I allowed to believe some things despite the fact that my evidence may be lacking?



because aliens



The short answer is no. Even our trivial beliefs matter. Clifford says that it’s wrong to hold any belief based on insufficient evidence.

Morally wrong.


Because even a seemingly insignificant belief can influence the way we act.


Perhaps even in possibly dangerous ways.







Lets say that there is someone who believes that not only do aliens exist and have invaded Earth, but that aliens have successfully infiltrated the world’s governments and alien-human hybrids are hell-bent on destroying humanity. The person who believes this has based his beliefs on photographs like this:



images blurry alien photo



And like this:



face on mars



These pictures, he argues, are evidence of an full-scale alien invasion of Earth. Based on his evidence he has decided to wage a one-man war against the alien invaders.

Now, let me say this each of those photos can be used to make a compelling argument for the existence of alien life. But can these photos provide enough sufficient evidence to support the belief in alien life on Earth?

Remember, “evidence” of anything can be found on the internet.


Don’t forget that the internet is where photoshop lives.


Given the fact that his “evidence” consists of nothing more than blurry photographs or testimony supplied by a questionable (and often unverifiable) sources.







Because your undeniable evidence may be just another example of




images photoshop



Let’s face it folks, most “evidence” of terrestrial alien activity would not stand up to even the most basic epistemic scrutiny, let alone the kind of epistemological evidential proof that a philosopher requires. The kind of evidential proof that Clifford says everyone should require.


And if the evidence is insufficient, we cannot subscribe to a belief.

There is no good reason to believe what we believe.



not even aliens can explain this BS



We might not be aware of how beliefs negatively influence how we act.


If someone who believes the Earth has been overrun by malevolent, otherworldly beings acts violently against those he believes are the interspecies enemies of mankind, most of us would agree that his actions would not be the right (morally correct) thing to do.



it's the aliens



We can’t just say that the evidence seems true or that we have faith that our belief is true despite evidence that contradicts our beliefs.







Perhaps if that individual had questioned the veracity of his beliefs he would not have acted so violently.





When we believe based on insufficient evidence we are deprived of truth, of how things truly are. And when we do not see things as they are, we can’t make correct moral decisions. This may seem a trivial concern, but it really means a lot. And not just to philosophers.

Beliefs grounded on a sturdy foundation are more likely to be true than false. Acting on true beliefs tends to deliver better results for us and for other people.







You see, the point really isn’t whether we believe in aliens. Or invisible pink unicorns. Or clairvoyance. Or whatever. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t believe that there is life on other planets. Chances are there is. What we should be aware of is that the consequences of holding some beliefs isn’t entirely harmless. Our beliefs influence what we do and when we act, our actions are subject to ethical evaluation.


But then….



who needs facts when you have opinion








*If you’re interested in reading Clifford’s full essay, “Ethics of Belief” (who isn‘t?), you can access it on the web just about anywhere. Seriously, all you need to do is type “William Clifford” into any search engine and “Ethics of Belief” is certain to pop up. But if you don’t want to do the search, click on the link here:





* While I was cruising the internet procrastinating researching this post, I came across this article. It seems that I may be too eager to dismiss belief in the supernatural and otherworldly things. Check it out for yourself and decide if the article is convincing.











99 Problems and Gettier Ain’t One

Have you ever been right about something and had no idea that you were?

You didn’t know that you knew?

You might have said you made a lucky guess or blessed by divine intervention or divine insight or you had a “gut feeling”.

You might have even said you had an intuition.

Unless that philosopher is Immanuel Kant. He would tell you an intuition is something completely different.*

and now for something completely different


If you asked another philosopher (besides Kant), he might suggest that what you had experienced a Gettier example.

Sometimes they’re called Gettier problems.

that’s when you’re right about something but you’re only accidentally right about it — that’s a Gettier problem.

I once made a T-shirt. It said this:




I thought it was funny at the time.
If you’re wondering why I’ve bothered to ask if anyone has ever been accidentally right about something it’s because yes, philosophers think about this stuff.

And if you’re curious to know the name of the philosopher that started philsophers thinking about this stuff, his name is Edmund Gettier.

Remember: his name is Edmund Gettier


edmund gettier


Gettier’s motivation was that he wanted to know if our truth claims are justified – oh wait, I just used some jargon.

And as my expository writing professor once said, never introduce jargon without explaining your terms.

Or did the MLA Handbook say that?

Ok, first. A “truth claim” is a statement we make about the world (or some state of affairs in the world). For instance, if I say that it is raining outside, or I claim that chewing gum does lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight, or that I know why the caged bird sings, or I know the way to San Jose, I am making a claim about something (or some state of affairs) in the world. Gettier’s point, or mission, if you will, was to determine how we are justified in saying we know something or that we know that our claim is true.

You see, Gettier knew, as we all do, that we live in a world where people make lucky guesses or are just accidentally right. Gettier wanted to figure out how we deal with (epistemologically speaking) lucky guesses, coincidences, or when our truth claims just happen to be true.

It’s possible that our truth claims (or as every other person who’s not a philosophcer calls them, “beliefs”) are both true and justified, but we can’t really say that we know that to be the case.

Ok, let me put it this way: Some of our beliefs are justified and true, but they do not count as “knowledge”. That is to say, we can’t say that we know (or absolutely certain that) this or that statement is true. In his essay, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” (1963), Gettier asks how can our beliefs be true and justified but not knowledge?

Philosophers say for a truth claim to qualify as knowledge it must meet three criteria:

1. X (the truth claim) must be true
2. I believe X is true
3. I am entitled (or justified) in believing that X is true

Is this making sense so far?

If it doesn’t I’m explaining it correctly.

Ok, let’s use an example:
You’re driving in your car. You turn on the radio.

Ten bonus points if you know what song I just quoted.

You glance out of your window and you see a field full of white, billowy creatures you assume are sheep. You think you see sheep because they’re white, they’re fluffy, and they appear to be grazing in a field – which is exactly what you’d expect sheep to be doing in a field.




But, if you were in the field, you’d see that you weren’t looking at sheep at all. You were actually looking at a pack of unusually large and very hairy bichon frise dogs.

So you’re wrong. You didn’t see sheep. You can’t say you know there are sheep in the field.

But, behind a barn in the field there was an actual flock of sheep. You didn’t see the real sheep, but your were accidentally correct in saying there are sheep in the field.

Just by dumb luck or coincidence you made a true statement.

Do you kinda get it, now?

So if I say that I believe that it is raining outside and I want to say I am justified in believing that it is, using the three criteria, this is how I determine justification:

I look outside my window.
I see that the ground outdoors is wet.
I see that there is precipitation falling from the sky.
I smell rain and I hear rain falling against the window and on my roof and I notice that the water stain on my is ceiling bigger than it was before it started raining.
And I recall that the local Accuweather  forecast predicted rain.

Based on science (the weather forecast) and my own observation, I conclude that:

1. It is true that it is raining
2. I believe that it is raining
3. I am justified in believing that it is raining

Simple enough, right?

Well, no. because sometimes, as anyone who has ever panicked because I thought that I they saw a hooded man lurking in the closet when it was just a pile of clothes and a hat can tell you, sometimes we aren’t accidentally right. We should want to rely on more than lucky guesses or accidental truths for knowledge. If we rely on dumb luck we can’t say that we actually know — we lack real knowledge.

It might not seem all that important but justification matters.

If I think that my (otherwise indoor) cat has escaped and is outside roaming about the neighborhood, I want to know, before I start to look for him, if I am justified in believing that my cat has escaped from my house. So, I ask myself how do I know my cat is outdoors?

I decide to make checklist:

I don’t see my cat in the house.
I saw something (I’m assuming an animal) approximately the size and color of my cat outside darting through the bushes next to my neighbor’s parked car
May cat is not responding when I call his name
(actually, my cat never responds to his name. if anyone has any tips for teaching a cat to respond to his name, please let me know).
My cat has escaped from the house several times and each time he’s escaped I found him in the bushes.





So far, so good. I have enough evidence to believe that my cat is outside in my neighbor’s bushes.

But there’s a problem.

Saw this coming, right?

My cat is outdoors but he’s not in the bushes like I believed. I didn’t see my cat at all. What I saw dart into the bushes wasn’t my cat but a small, cat-sized chupacabra. My cat is actually hiding from the goat sucker underneath my neighbor’s car which is parked next to the bushes. According to Edmund Gettier I didn’t really know that my cat was outside– it was a lucky guess that I was right.

If this is the case, I’m free to say I know my cat is outdoors.

But, often times my cat isn’t outdoors at all. He’s napping under my bed.

If this is the case I was not entitled to believe my cat was outdoors; I did not possess knowledge.

This might not seem all that important but it really is. When we think about our beliefs about major issues like climate change, or claims about enemy combatants or that a “rogue” state possesses weapons of mass destruction, or even our beliefs about the extent of our own knowledge, we want to make sure that we are justified in believing that global temperatures are rising or that a nation possesses a potentially threatening nuclear or chemical arsenal or even that we know that we exist. We want to truly know. We want to make sure that our beliefs aren’t mere lucky guesses, but firmly based on – OH MY GOD, THERE’S A FREAKING CHUPACABRA IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD!!!!



* If you’re curious about Kant’s definition of an intuition, check out sec.1 (A21/B36) of the Transcendental Aesthetic in Kant’s Critique of Pure reason. I can’t tell you which translation of Kant’s Critique is best or that you’ll enjoy reading it (you probably won‘t), but if you can explain to me (in 2 paragraphs or less) what they hell Kant is writing about let me know. Seriously, let me know. Email your answer to miskatoniccoed@gmail.com.

Remember: 2 paragraphs or less.



Richard Feldman. Epistemology. 2003. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Edmund Gettier “Is Justfied True Belief Knowledge?” 1963.

I don’t think Alex Comfort ever mentioned an epistemic position…?

When I want to be honest about what I do; when someone asks me exactly what doing philosophy is all about, I tell that person that I’m in the business of opinions. Well reasoned opinions, mind you, but opinions nonetheless.

However, one opinion you’ll rarely, if ever see is my opinion on religion.

On the subject of god worship, I tend to think to each his own. A person is free to worship whatever or whoever (whomever?) they choose. I say, you can worship Allah, Jehovah, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, invisible pink unicorns, the devil, a head of lettuce, or the cat next door, so long as your god of choice doesn’t want to interfere with my business, I could care less what you believe in.

I know that some people disagree with me on this.

I know that as laid back as my attitude is about religion, there are folks out there who take the business of worshipping a deity as seriously as I am apathetic towards the topic. I’m talking about the kind of people who are willing to blow up you, your mom, your neighbor’s dog, or anyone within several square blocks if you say you don’t believe exactly as they do.

With this in mind, I often fail to understand why philosophers would want to get involved with religion.

But they do.


I remember I once told a professor of mine that I thought that philosophers shouldn’t get involved with religion. You see, I argued that the average Joe or Jane wouldn’t be inclined to visit their local philosopher of religion if they were stuck in a crisis of faith. A person who is struggling with the question whether to believe or not believe in God isn’t likely to be swayed by logically correct arguments or a theodicy that claims to solve the problem of evil. What the average Joe wants, I said, is to have a reassurance of faith — and faith, a belief or trust without logical proof,  is exactly what philosophers claim philosophy is not about. I said that philosophers should abandon philosophy of religion and leave the God debate to the pastors, priests, and theologians.

My professor told me I was in no epistemic position to make that kind of judgment.

I guess he was right.

Robert Audi, William Lane Craig, John Hick, Anthony Kenny, William Alston, Paul Draper, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, J.P. Moreland, and Peter van Inwagen are a just a few philosophers who have decided to throw their hats into the ring they call philosophy of religion. Wait, you say. You say that you heard somewhere that philosophers are all godless reason worshippers who cram their Randian rational self-interest down the throats of defenseless college students and claim that we should be reading atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris instead of studying the blessed eternally true Word of Jesus Christ.

Actually that’s a fairly true statement about philosophers.

Epistemologists, anyway (rimshot).

Really, there are many philosophers that not only worship a supreme deity, but argue that believing in the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, perfectly good being makes philosophical sense. Believe it or not, there are philosophers out there, right now, that argue that God exists. There are other philosophers who argue that even if we can’t prove that God does (or does not) exist, we are perfectly rational for believing that God is as real as you and me.

If you think I’m lying to you watch this:

You know something? Even though I’ve seen and read a few philosophers of religion, I think that philosopher are missing something. Sure, philosophy brought the world Warranted Christian Belief, the Kalaam Cosmological Argument and divine command theory (that’s an ethical theory, in case you didn’t know), but I’m still convinced that philosophers are missing the point. There’s a reason why more people read Rick Warren than William Lane Craig — and it’s not because Rick Warren is sexier.

The reason why we turn to the church when we want to contemplate God is because churches, unlike the hard, logical arguments of philosophers, offer believers emotional comfort. Philosophy isn’t about comforting people and it certainly isn’t about emotions. Philosophers don’t really like it when you tell them that you believe on faith or that you feel that your belief in God is right. Be honest, if you wanted to feel God’s presence, would you rather watch this:

or this?


Plantinga seems like a swell enough fellow, but you don’t have to be in any epistemic position to know which one you’d choose.

Am I right?

By the way, what the frak is an “epistemic position” anyway?



It’s Fun To Do Bad Things

The great sage Oprah Winfrey says that the #6 thing that she knows for sure is “what you believe has more power thsn what you dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe”. One morning, while I was eating my bowl of peanut butter crunch, I watched the local news cover a story about a little boy who, along with his little kid buddy, stole his grandmother’s car and went for a joyride. Eventually, the pair was stopped by the local fuzz. When the boy was questioned as to what possessed him to take his grandma’s car, he simply stated, “It’s fun to do bad things”. It amazed me that a seven year old kid had already come to the revelation that it iis, indeed fun to do bad things. This is what this kid believes. If you ask a psychiatrist, they’ll try to convince you that, by the time that a child reaches the age of seven, a professional mind shrinker can tell which children are destined for a life of crime. That’s what they say. I usually take such forecasts with a grain of salt. But in the case of that kid, I wholeheartedly believed that that kid was going to end up in the poke much sooner than later. After I stopped laughing about a seven year old child declaring that doing bad things is “fun”, I thought, ‘wait a minute. This kid stated a belief. He said that he believes that it is fun to do bad things!’. Obviously, most people would find something wrong about what the kid said. But why? Then I thought about Oprah’s #6 thing she knows for sure. It strikes us as wrong because we believe, although we do not often expressly say so, that what we believe has to do with who we are. Who we are, in turn, affects how we act. In short, what we believe affects how we act. When we say that we believe any thing (a proposition, an idea, etc), we often ask why do we believe one thing as opposed to another. What we are looking for when we ask this question of ourselves is a reason why we would accept a particular belief as true. We want justification for our beliefs. If our beliefs are justified, we are entitled to hold them. We think that our justified beliefs are true or more than likely to be true than not. This is essentially what Oprah is saying when she says that a belief “has more power” than a wish or hope. We often wish or hope for things that we know are based on shoddy evidence. Wishes and hopes often are unrealistic. (I was going to give an example concerning a wish and why I became a philosophy major, but I don’t think that to reveal it here would be appropriate. But trust me, it was very unrealistic). Beliefs carry an idea of truth, or that they represent some thing in the real world. If we look at the matter psychologically, we know the axiom that we become what we believe (unless you’re Andy Warhol, and you believe that we become what other people think that we are). So, if what we believe (by way of justification) is true (or more likely to be true — perhaps necessarily so), then what we believe has power. So say, that I believe that it is fun to do bad things. What’s the problem with believing that? I say that I am not a philosopher, not interested in philosophy (it’s a bunch of bullshit anyway), and that whether or not I hold justified beliefs is of no consequence. In the real world, I say, none of that philosophy crap really matters. So there. If I say to the epistemologist that I don’t care about justifying my beliefs, can he still “get” me on what I believe? Am I still committing a wrong in believing that it’s fun to do bad things? Unfortunately he can. The thing is, is that when we consider our beliefs, actions, etc, from a philosophical point of view, we rarely look at it from one side. That is to say, our beliefs in God and the afterlife are rarely strictly ontological issues. Our belief or lack of a belief in a supreme deity affects our moral choices as well. Likewise, our beliefs and whether we are justified in believing them not only carry an epistemic burden, but also a moral burden as well. What we believe affects how we act, and how we act is a question of morality. If we look at Oprah’s statement, “what you believe has more power…”, and we think about what we think of when we use words like “power”, it’s easy to see that words like “power” have moral implications. If we are going to endow something with force, it must not only be epistemically accounted for, but morally justified as well. Our actions carry force. When we act, we affect not just ourselves, but others. A child who goes for a joyride in his grandmother’s car affected (and potentially affected) the lives of all of those who were involved: the children, the grandmother, the police who chased the duo, anybody on the street who may have been hit during the chase, and so on. When those childern took the car, they were not only acting physically, but morally. A better example of how this works is William Clifford’s story of the shipowner who reasoned that his ship was seaworthy despite the fact that his ship was old, needed repairs, and had always made it back home. The shipowner believed that his ship was safe in the face of evidence that it was not. As expected, the ship sank, and people were killed. The shipowner was not only unjustified epistemically, he had committed a moral wrong for believing that his ship was seaworthy when it was not. The shipowner, according to Clifford, had no justification for believing that the ship would sail without incident. He had based his wrong belief on inadequate evidence (namely that his ship needed repairs and was old…). If asked, he could offer us no good reason why he believed his ship could make the journey. So, Clifford says, the act of believing in a wrong belief is wrong. This is, because what we believe leads to action. Clifford says, “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”. I think that what Clifford says is true. If the way or what I believe is connected to how I act, then is I believe in things that are wrong, I am certain to act accordingly. My neighbor sometimes stands on her driveway and stares down the neighborhood. If I were the paranoid type, I could believe that my neighbor is stalking me. But, other than the fact that I see my neighbor standing on her driveway, do I have evidence for believing that she is indeed stalking me? No. Not really. Besides the fact that she can make an equal claim about my always staring at her (after all, how would I know that she’s always looking at my house if I’m not also staring at hers?), I have no compelling evidence that she’s maddogging me and what I do. What I found more amazing is the fact that Hollywood is filled with Clifford-esque situations! I was watching the movie Jaws last Saturday. I know that Beetlejuice said that The Exorcist gets funnier with each viewing, but my choice is definitely Jaws. That whole Quint telling the story about the USS Indianapolis being torpedoed and the survivors getting eaten by sharks is just plain funny. Don’t get me wrong, it is a horrific story, but the whole Jack Sparrow delivery takes any of the tragedy out of it. (If you want to see a pretty funny riff on that scene, I suggest checking out the Fox comedy Get A Life, starring Chris Elliott. In an episode, he gets stuck in a homemade submarine with his dad in a bathtub, and launches into Robert Shaw’s monologue. It’s freaking hillarious.) Anyway. Chief Brody, based on the fact that a local swimmer has been chomped by something bigger than a goldfish, wants to close the local beach. He has adequate evidence for believing that there is a killer shark patrolling the waters off of Amity Island. Namely, the death of Chrissy, the local girl, and the very much in public eating of Alex Kintner by said shark. The mayor wants to say that the girl was killed in a boating accident. The mayor also believes that the shark that is caught by some fishermen is the shark that killed the boy (but he refuses to agree to an autopsy of the shark). Chief Brody, Quint, and that dude that Richard Dreyfuss played — I think it was Matt something, decide to kill the shark. That’s a little besides the point, but the point is, is that Chief Brody believed that there was a great white shark that had made the waters off of Amity Island it’s feeding ground. He was right. He had adequate evidence for believing so. And, we know that, so far as the moral highground goes, Brody definintely has it. Sticking with the nautical theme, the same goes for the crew of the USS Caine in the film The Caine Mutiny. Captain Queeg, played by Humprey Bogart, is clearly out of his mind. The executive officers decide, after a series of increasingly disturbing events, to find a way to relieve Queeg of his command. After Queeg nearly loses the Caine in a storm, the officers decide to forcefully take command of the vessel. Even though they faced courtmartial, they knew that their belief — that Queeg was batshit insane — was right. They had more than enough evidence for believing that Queeg was mentally unstable. Additionally, they had a moral duty to take the ship from Queeg. If they allowed Queeg to keep command of his ship, the lives of the crew were in danger. This movie has a really cool ending. They totally diss Fred Mac Murray. This dude throws a drink in his face and all of the guys walk out like he was a dishonored Klingon. They should have kicked his ass! Ok, that’s great — if we’re right. But being right isn’t always the case. Our beliefs are flat wrong more often than we’d like to admit.Unfortunately, like when we’re right, we also act on our beliefs when we’re wrong. In George A Romero’s Day of the Dead, the character Rhodes, after having spent what we can presume to be years in an underground bunker, is more than a little mad. He begins to suspect that the scientists are acting against the interests of Rhodes and his men. Does he really have any evidence to believe this? No, he does not. Rhodes becomes so wrapped-up in his paranoia, that he kills several of the scientists and facilitates the breech of the facility by a horde of flesh-eating zombies. As a result of Rhodes’ wrong beliefs, many people die. By the way, stay CLEAR of the re-make of Day of the Dead. Awful! In the Cohen bros. flick, Burn After Reading, Linda Litzke (played by Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (played by Brad Pitt), believe that the disk found in the ladies’ dressing room of Hardbodies gym, contains top secret information. Chad reasons that the fact that there are department heads’ names and dates that it obviously means that the information is classified (it’s not. It’s the notes for a book that is being written by Osborne Cox, played by John Malkovich). The “evidence” they have for believing that the disk has secret info is scant — it’s Chad’s assumption (problem 1). Believing that the disk has information that may be of some interest to other parties, they attempt to pass it along to the Russians. This makes matters worse. The fact that they’re wrong eventually leads to the death of one of the pair. I’m not going to say which one, but it’s the one who starred in other films such as Legends of the Fall and Interview With the Vampire. This is what Clifford was getting at when he condemned our holding beliefs on insufficient evidence. In the worst-case scenerio, people get killed. When those people die, they die because we failed to believe what is true. Their deaths are on us because we failed epistemically and morally. And so, we bear a doubly heavy burden. So, what does this mean about Oprah’s advice, “what you believe has more power than what you dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe”? What it means, is that it is true that our beliefs have a moral obligation that we owe to others. If we believe the wrong things, even if doing it is fun, we are responsible for others who may be hurt or affected by our actions. Lastly, the reason why we must believe only what we are morally entitled to believe is obvious when we look at those who do wrong and believe that it is good to do so. Those are the people that we should not aspire to be. We should, when we look at them, remind ourselves that those individuals are not… well, they’re not good people. A person who believes that it is fun to do bad things will more than likely end up on the bad side of life. And that’s not much fun in the long run, is it?

My Name Doesn’t Have An "S" In It

Every year, I read George Orwell’s 1984. Not because it’s a good book (although it is), but for the fact that I am paranoid as hell about everything and everyone. Which brings me to “Room 101”. In the book, there’s this thing called Room 101. Inside Room 101 is your worst fear, what really scares you. For our protagonist, Winston Smith, it was a rat-filled cage to the head (which was, if I remember correctly, what they did to some guy in that Missing In Action movie). Anyway, while contemplating how Winston Smith totally sold-out Julia, I started thinking about what would be in my Room 101. It didn’t take me long to figure it out. I thought, almost immediately, about something that I saw when I was a kid. It was a TV commercial. Back around 1982, the gore/slasher flick was king. Since drive-ins were still around, there was plenty od screen space for movies with nubile, oversexed teens, played by people who were so obviously over the age of 37, to be sliced and diced for the transgression of wantin’ to get it on in the woods. The commercial that traumatized me was the advertisement for the movie The Beast Within. I’m not going to go into details about the ad, except to say that it scared the beejezus out of me. To be totally honest, all these years later, I still haven’t seen the movie — even though you can easily score it in the 5 buck bin at just about any DVD store. I’m not sure if it’s philosophically correct to say so, but that commercial really scared the shit out of me. So, if I were 8 years old (hell, even now) my Room 101 would be that same commercial played on a loop. That commercial, on a loop, on a hi-def TV. The funny thing is, is that I had developed, over the ensuing years, not just an irrational fear of TV commercials for horror flicks, but a fear of TV commercials in general. I knew then and now, that my fear was irrational. It was, not just because my fear was generated at a time when I wasn’t fully capable of reasonable thought, but primarily beacuse having a fear of a TV commercial served no purpose. The other day, it was sunny out, so I decided to be a good, energy-conserving Californian, and hang my laundry out to dry. I was hanging up my Morrissey tee when a bee buzzed me. Naturally I freaked out. I have what any reasonable person might call an insane fear of bees. More to the point, I have an insane fear of being stung by Africanized Killer Bees (blame Mutual of Omaha for that one). I decided that the best course of action would not be to simply let the bee fly off, but to start shouting and waving my hands about in a frenzied semifore that, I suppose signaled to the bee the words (translated into bee language) “go away”. I hoped that the bee would be so stunned by the sight of a five foot tall human shouting and waving her hands in the air for no discernable reason, that it would freak out and leave. Which it did — but before I had even commenced to my anti-bee dance. Once I had stopped my impersonation of Chicken Little, and was safely locked behind a sliding glass door, I, regaining my sense of composure and reason, asked myself, ‘why the hell was I so afraid of that bee?’. My fear of a creature that is less than an inch long is like my fear of that movie commercial — completely and totally irrational. I have no good reason to be afraid of that or any single bee. It was epistemology all over again. And amazingly enough, a question that had been on my mind in that class came to mind again: is it possible to rationally hold irrational beliefs? Meaning, can we justify holding a belief that is a tad on the unreasonable side? In particular, can we reasonably hold an irrational belief if that belief, however irrational, enables us to make rational choices? Usually the answer is not only is it not possible to generate rational beliefs from irrational beliefs, but a straight-up no. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure that the no’s have it. For the record, in addition to bees, I’m also afraid of clowns, inflated balloons, crickets (or any hopping insect generally), and touching other people’s electronic equipment (computers, laptops, digital cameras, anything that has batteries or plugs in). Really. I have a phobia about touching other people’s electronic stuff. I have absolutely no idea where that one came from. Now, my other fears may serve no purpose (being afraid of clowns or balloons), but being afraid of bees may serve a purpose. A person may have a good reason to fear bees, as in the case of a person with a bee allergy. Their life may depend on their fear. So, if I had a bee allergy, my thoughts (or beliefs if we’re being technical) may include: I am allergic to bees. Bees sting. Bee stings cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to them. I should not get stung by bees, and so on. Those are completely legitimate reasons for fearing bees. One who is allergic and believes these things is thought of as reasonable. Ok,so say I am not allergic to bees, which I am not. But my beliefs go something like this: Bees have stingers. Stingers will pierce your skin. That hurts. I am a total wuss when it comes to pain. I don’t want pain, etc. My life may not depend on it, but my wussoutedness when it comes to pain I believe gives me reason to fear bees just the same. Even if someone says that getting stung by a bee in nothing compared with the pain of something like childbirth. Apples and oranges, people. Nonetheless, avoidance of pain is not irrational. But someone might say my clothesline dancing was. But that brings in something that we haven’t until this point considered: the difference between irrational beliefs and irrational acts. The belief, according to the philosopher, to be justifiably true must not be based on emotion. That is, our beliefs ( those that are justifiable, anyway) are the product of a reasonable thought process. Emotions, as Mr. Spock will tell you, are not reasonable. But, I will say that what I do is, to some degree, emotionally driven. For example, I conclude, after some thought, that I will take a philosophy of language class. I have a whole host of reasons for doing so. Let’s say that some go along the lines of: taking this class is beneficial for a person studying philosophy, blah, blah, blah. I haven’t dragged in the fact that I find the whole pursuit useless, and on top of that, the professor is a little longwinded and boring. Pushing emotions aside, I take the class. Now, I take the class, which was the result of reasoned argumentation. The enthusiasm with which I participate in the class, however, is determined by other factors — many of which are emotional. I have plenty of “rational”reasons for taking the class, but I do it half-assed because I just can’t stand the class itself. What I am experiencing is a conflict between my reason and my emotion. This leads me to a question — which is actually irrational, the emotion or the belief that is inextricably tied to that emotion? How do our emotions interplay with our beliefs? Is an irrational belief such as a phobia only understandable as a psychological phenomena or can they be accounted for philosophically? It seems that, no matter how hard I try, my beliefs about clowns, bees, or movie trailers are bound to emotions. These emotions influence my beliefs and my actions that re based on those beliefs. I ask here, which takes precedence — my emotion, my belief, or my action that is influenced by one or most likely both — what I am asking, is which one is the irrational one? Try as I might to prevent such a thing from happening, my emotions (however irrational they may be) inform my beliefs and influence the decisions that I make, even the decisions that I claim are rendered in a rational manner. Our biggest problem is that we have difficulty defining words like “irrationality” and “rationality”. We are, in our everyday discourse, not always entirely sure if we are using our words in the same way that others are using them. We may imbue our words (and meanings) with poetic or religious sensibility. We are often ambiguious or vague with our language or we may be misusing our words (as in the case when we use words that we believe are synonymous, but are not). Our words often have colloquial or social contexts when we use them. When I say that I am “rational”, I am suggesting some sort of justification for why I believe as I do. This may not be the case for others, and is not alway the case for myself. As of this moment, I say that my thoughts are reasonable. But there is a problem here. All of my assertions are primed on one BIG assumption: I am rational. This presupposes that my beliefs are rational, as would be required to undertake any account of my rationality. So, what I am saying is that I am rationally holding rational beliefs, based on the idea that I had to be rational in order to hold my beliefs in the first place. That is, i have to be ina reasonable frame of mind to conjure reasonable beliefs. This is all, unfortunately, some rotten sort of question-begging. Sorry, but it seems that it is, alas, unavoidable. So let’s just forget all about it, shall we? So, to say that I have an irrational belief implies that there is some sort of irrationality in my ability to process my beliefs ( you may call this emotion, if you like). But, if I am being strict about the role emotion should play in my belief processes, then I would say that that irrationality is more likely to give me false beliefs, and that there is, therfore, no chance that I would ever get a rational belief from an irrational one. This leads me, once again, to asking, am I right on my terminology? Is the problem that I’m not thinking straight semantically? It is important to figure out what we are saying or what we mean (or “mean”) when we say that we believe anything. The justification of our beliefs depends on the clarity of our language ( that is, to paraphrase Orwell, if we don’t have our words straight, we can’t have our thoughts straight, since how we think is necessarily in words). Being clear is vitally important. So, maybe my problem isn’t so much epistemic as it is semantic. The problem is that I am dealing with an extraordinarily muddled language that forces me to think in ways that aren’t correct (worse than that, ways that can’t get correct). I’m not so smug to deny that I’m saying anything new here, but in philosophy, we deal with a very (often annoyingly) specific, technical nomenclature. Unfortunately, we live in a world where those same very specific, technical words are jointly used by ordinary people, who use words like “belief” and “thought” and “idea” interchangably. In the ordinary world, we use philosophical words like “argument”, “valid”, or “intuition” in ways that are nowhere near as precise as the philosopher demands. And as my words are imprecise, moreso are my emotions — which tend to be tossed aside by the philosopher completely. I can think (or at least attempt to think) my thoughts as clearly and succinctly in my head, but as soon as I attempt to articulate them, I lose something… clarity, meaning. And, something is added — what I FEEL. It is strange that, given that we philosophers hate emotions so, that it is our emotions that have the clarity and purity that often our rational thoughts and or words do not. My emotions are immediate and so strong, that oftentimes, they do not need words. I ran from the bee because I had to. That, perhaps, is its own justification. But, I must remind myself that the clarity of an emotion is not always so clear, and as the philosopher reminds me, my emotions can lead me to many false beliefs, including the belief that clowns are malevolent beings sent up from the deep trenches of hell to frighten the ever-loving poop out of people. So, as I look at my irrational beliefs, I ask, what have I? Where do I go from here? If I fear that my language fails me, then I must turn to my sentiments. But, my sentiments are often irrational and wrong. Which gets me right bact to where I started. Hmmm.

The Creepiest Song…Ever!

“I gave a girl a ride in my wagon” opens one of the most creepiest songs ever written in the history of the pop era. For those who don’t know, that statement is the opening line from the 1975 diddy “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns. Clocking in at a mellow two minutes, fifty-nine seconds, the adventure of a young man, a loose hitchhiker, and their, well, let’s say (alleged) “encounter”, was (as it is said) a typical portrait of the free-lovin’ easy-goin’ days of the ’70s. Whatever. The song goes a little like this: Boy drives shaggin’ wagon, boy picks up hot hitchhiking chick, hot hitchhiking chick immediately and inexplicably loses consciousness, when she awakens, she is struck by the overwhelming desire to take the shaggin’ waggon’s captain “by the hand” and do him. After their moments of love, boy drops the hitchhiker off somewhere south of BFE, and never sees her again. At least until the paternity suit ( I added that). What I find truly interesting about the song is in the chorus. Free-wheelin’ Sammy makes the statement, “she’s gonna love me in my chevy van (and that’s alright with me)”. Hold on, I think, let’s back this one up. “She’s gonna love me in my chevy van”?!? One, that’s a pretty big statement to make, and two, I thought, that sounds like a mighty big EPISTEMIC claim. She’s “gonna” love you? Well, how exactly does he know she will? Maybe he just picked up Susan Atkins? But, Sammy makes the claim that she’s “gonna” love him. Two minutes and fifty-nine seconds worth of claiming. And once again I ask how does he know for sure? I’m almost certain that his explanation will fall along the lines of something like this: ‘Well, whenever I picked up hitchhikers before, they always give it up to me. So I assumed that this chick would be no different. Hey, at least I didn’t charge her for gas money!’ Leaving the comment about gas money aside, what Sammy’s answer is, is straight up induction. We do this kind of thinking all the time. Based on past experiences, we make assumptions about how a present (or future) situation will be. Hume’s famous example was stating that the sun will come up tomorrow. We say this because we have observed in the past that the sun comes up every morning, so we assume that tomorrow will be no different. We say the sun will come up tomorrow. And most of the time this kind of thinking works. You can assume, based on prior experience, that a hitchhiker will have sex with you. But there’s the glitch: This works until we run into a situation where our line of reasoning is wrong and the present or the future doesn’t resemble the past (and this folks, is the problem of induction!). So, let’s say that Sammy wants to make the claim that his sleeping? passed out? riding companion will in fact share her love with him. How does he know that she will? How can Sammy say that he is justified in believing that she will? Enter epistemology 101: knowledge as justified true belief. We know that Sammy believes that the hitchhiker will make love to him (it sounds so silly using the term “make love”, doesn’t it?), but we get the sense that Sammy wants more than to merely believe that claim; he wants to be justified in doing so. To say that we truly “know” something means more than to say that we believe either this or that claim. We would want to say that we also have proper reasons for believing what we believe, or justification. Justification is important because (epistemically speaking) justification makes it more likely that our beliefs are true (or at least more likely to be true). I think that it goes without saying why we want true beliefs. But, in a nutshell, true (or TRUE, or True — depending on how much you want to emphasize the concept) are our foundations for knowledge. If we had no true beliefs, then well… you don’t want to know. All I can say is that there would be no American Idol (and nobody would like that). This, justified true belief, that is, is the traditional view of knowledge. It’s this: 1) s believes p 2) p is true 3) s has good reason (justification) to believe p. 1,2 &3 are necessary conditions for knowledge. Which means if we ain’t got all three, we don’t know. So, how can Sammy go from merely believing that his hitchhiking sleeping beauty is going to sex him up to saying that he knows that she will? Well, by employing a method for justification of course! Let’s look at two of my faves coherentism and reliabilism. According to coherentism, a belief is true if it coheres (or is consistent with) our other held beliefs (what we already believe to be true). So for example, Sammy sees the hitchhiker on the side of the road. His system of held beliefs may include the following: — I drive a sweet chevy van — Hippy chicks esp. hitchhiking ones, are easy — Chicks dig dudes with sweet chevy vans — Chicks who sleep with moonlight dancing off of their hair, wake up and take you by the hand will want to have sex with you, seriously. Sammy’s belief, “she’s gonna love me in my chevy van” which is to say, ‘I believe that this chick will have sex with me’ seems to cohere with his other beliefs (in fact, you could say that Sammy hit the jackpot). But there’s a problem here. The truth of Sammy’s belief relies on Sammy’s other beliefs. Sammy may be wrong. He may have an entire system of false beliefs. In that case, even if his belief was true (in virtue if his other beliefs), he is not justified in making the claim that his belief is true. So what’s Sammy to do? He can use another means of justification. Let’s try reliabilism. The reliabilist (is that right?) says, sure the coherentist has his thoughts to rely on, but that’s the problem in itself. We need something more. If you got whacked on the head so hard that everything you saw had dancing elves around it, no matter whether the dancing elves fit consistently into every belief you had about the world, your “true” statements would not be true (by virtue of the fact that there are no dancing elves). So, the reliabilist says, we need more. Justification, he says, is determined by the reliability of the process by which we form our beliefs. So, instead of relying on other beliefs, the reliabilist uses memory, good reasoning, introspection, etc. to arrive at beilefs that are true or more likely to be true. We can’t justify our beliefs by mere guesses, or by our emotions or what we want to be true. So, if Sammy was of sound mind and body (i.e. he hadn’t smoked too much of the “reefer”), then given the reliability of his belief-forming processes, Sammy is likely to produce true beliefs. And justified in claiming the likelihood of his beliefs being true. All said and done, I think that Sammy did smoke too much of the locoweed, drove nowhere picked up nobody, and made the whole thing up. Just proving that there’s a reason why they call it dope.

On One of Life’s Least Interesting Subjects Or, the Problem of the Hiddeness of God

Has anyone really seen God? I’m not talking about seeing the face of the Virgin Mary on the side of aluminum siding, or hearing a voice in your head tell you to wait before stepping into the crosswalk moments before a car speeds through the intersection , nor am I talking about any sort of metaphorical experience ( a “closer to God” sort of moment), but has anyone really felt like God had revealed himself to us? As a steadfast empiricist, I would (for the sake of consistency) have to say that neither I or anyone else has seen God, and that fact counts as evidence against the existence of one such being identified as the “Creator”. But, does the fact that you cannot see God mean that we are justified in saying that he does not exist? The fact that we cannot see or feel God in a strict, material sense leads many of us to say that we cannot — with any definitive proof — claim that God exists. Are we justified in believing in something that we cannot offer proof that it exists? Would we believe in any other claim about ourselves or the physical world if the proof of its truth continually and consistently eluded us? We wouldn’t put faith in any “truth” about the physical world is we said that the proof of it’s truth was hidden. For instance, say I tell you that I could create physical matter from mere thought. I think of a ball, I say, and one appears. Well, the first thing that you might ask, is to prove my claim. But I then tell you that I can’t quite explain or even prove that I can. The fact that you saw a ball when you walked into my living room is my proof. (ok, bad analogy, but the idea is, is that if I said that I can do something, you’d be inclined to ask for proof). I can’t get by saying that the process is hidden. Or worse yet, I can’t say that it’s not actually me but an elf that does it, and I can’t tell you where he is right now. He’s hiding, I say. Well, that’s the way that some feel about God. His hiding from us complicates that whole believing in him thing. We might, if we were funny enough, say that God seems to us like a bit of a prankster. That is, he always seems to be hiding when we need him most. Who among us hasn’t looked to the heavens and asked the Creator to strike either ourselves ir someone else down at a moment of pain or distress? But, empirical or unfunny, borderline blasphemous comments aside, we really do want to believe that we are under the watchful eye of a benevolent creator who loves us and wants us to know that he is present in our lives. But how are we to know that he is there? Biblical accounts aside, we often find ourselves calling out to a God that is not present (at least physically) in our lives. God, for the most part, and on many occasions, remains enigmatic to us, something that is hidden from our view. Ok. But is that really a problem? I was in my philosophy of religion class one afternoon, barely paying attention, when this subject came up. I think the professor was saying something along the lines of he wouldn’t put faith in a marriage if he had never seen the woman he was married to ( I don’t know, some guys would call that kind of marriage heaven). I think that the idea was, if you never see your wife, then you’re not really married. You can’t even say that you know that she positively exists. But, as so many of our examples (or “thought experiments” for the uninitiated), his example was dealing with physical objects. So, of course if I make a claim about some object in the physical world, we’d eventually have to pony up some evidence that it exists. Or else we’d assume that your “wife” is as likely to be a balding, overweight self-employed guy living on the East Shore of New Jersey, as she is likely to exist at all. But, God, if this is new to anyone, is not a physical object. Rules concerning HIS existence operate, by nature, outside of the rules concerning the physical world. Even Hume admits to that. I remember saying in class that I felt, and still do, that philosophers do not belong in the business of religion. My professor said that, given my lack of knowledge in the subject, that I was in no position to make that judgement. But, his phd aside, I still holdfast to my claim. I feel that, in matters of God and our belief (or lack of) in his existence, we should, indeed, must from time to time shrug off our philosophic coats, and try to understand God as he wants us to come to know him — by faith. Whether we “see” God is a matter best handled by the heart and not by the intellect. Any evidence we offer, whether we are engaged in fierce philosophic debate or quiet contemplation, is, at best, anecdotal. Our evidence is and will always remain the Virgin in the sheeting, or the feeling of love we feel when we are in church, or the voice in our head telling us to stay on the curb for another half second. Our evidence that God exists is based on what we personally see, or hear, or feel — what we’ve heard and what we believe to be true. And evidence of this type, as we know, cannot be verified no matter what well-formed argument that we construct. Which is why I maintained then and now that the philosopher, so long as he maintains that he can offer proof for the existence of God via an argument, will never find the proof that he wants to find. Arguments are constructed for a standard of proof that is dictated by men. And of course we know that God is notorious for not adhering to the standards of man. The plain truth is, is that, despite all of the best defenses and logically correct arguments, we can neither reason ourselves into finding God, nor can we demand that God reveal himself to ease our doubts. If we want to find God, we must remember the lessons that we were taught in Sunday school. We must remind ourselves that God is found in all creation. He tells us that we, human beings, are reflections of Him ( we are proof of God, the Father’s existence just as we are proof of the existence of our own parents, even after their deaths. The fact that a parent may be dead does not serve as a negation of the proof of their existence — especially if you are alive and well and saying to me that you indeed have parents). God tells us that to find him, all we need to do is call upon him. We may recall that God does not “prove” himself to us though spectacular displays ( i.e. God does not do parlor tricks), but through the fact of existence itself. A believer claims that his own existence justifies a belief in God. The atheist counters that no evidence short of an appearance by God himself, gives proof that miracles or other so-called evidence draws back the curtain to reveal a hidden God. But then, by holding each position, we land right back at the position where we started: each camp entrenched on either side, claiming that the other is “epistemically challenged”. However (or unfortunately, if you look at it another way) our lack of definite evidence leaves us to rely on what we know — faith. Perhaps it is faith that allows those who see God to see him. Those who do not have faith simply will not see. We know, as sinners, that it is us who must prove ourselves to God, and that our failure to see him is a sign of our separation from God rather than proof of God’s hiding from us. So, we ask, is the hiddeness of God a problem? My answer is no. A believe has no problem finding God. And, if you ask him how he knows how a God that hides from him exists, he will tell you that the point of his faith is not to see God, but to seek God. Those who do not see God merely refuse to see in the face of overwhelming evidence of the existence of an almighty Creator. All we are left to do, the believer may say, is say that those who want philosophic proof may find themselves forever lost in a torrential sea of probability and valid but unsound arguments. What we must do, he may tell us, is to deal with those who do not see as graciously as possible and that we should not hold their epistemic defectiveness against them. Eventually, our believer friend may say, the lost may simply quiet themselves and stop demanding answers. When they learn to be quiet, the answers — better yet — the proof may come. Which, by the way, is a better way of answering the question than any argument involving possible worlds or a derivation.

Group Solipsism

Oprah’s # 2 thing that she knows for sure: You define your own life, don’t let other people write your script. I used to think that this idea was existentialist, and at it’s face (excuse me, prima facie) it appears to be so. Telling a person to “define your own life” is straight out of the existentialist handbook. (By the way, there actually is one: The Ultimate Guide To Navelgazing and Self-Overexamination. I think it’s available on Amazon or something like that. Maybe not). Existentialist philosophy says that the meaning and purpose of life is defined by the individual. We have no innate nature that determines what or perhaps more importantly, who we become- which fits perfectly with the last half of the statement, ” don’t let other people write your script”. Existentialism, like Oprah, is all about how we relate to the world. Oprah’s #1 thing she knows for sure ” what you put out comes back all the time, no matter what”, certainly addresses the fact that we operate in a world with others, for and with whom our actions will be held in to account. And, like Heidegger, Oprah believes that the way that we live authentically is manifested in the way that we deal with the situations that we are “thrown” ( to use Heidegger’s term) into. The way that we act in a given situation, both believe, is reflective of who we truly are. So far, the philosophy of Ms. Winfrey seems to tell us nothing that we haven’t heard before. It may come out of the mouth of Deepak Chopra or Dr. Phil ( and you can absolutely trust that either of them has read Heidegger or Sartre, among others), but on it’s face, Oprah is giving us early 20th century French philosophy.And this totally falls in line with any other talk/advice show host that has taken a whack at the self-improvement tree of knowledge. And that’s what I thought while I started watching Oprah’s “best life ever”. I thought that she was purely, albeit a little mixed up, chatting the existentialist rag — until I thought a little harder about what she was saying. The first lightbulb ( I suppose Oprah would call it an “a-ha” moment) went off while I was watching Oprah’s show about weight. All the time she was speaking, she was singularly focused on herself. Nothing new, afterall it was Oprah. I know that existentialism, by its design, focuses attention, perhaps too much attention, on the self. After all, it’s all about figuring out how you, the individual, relates to the world. But then, I really started to pay attention: it wasn’t just ordinary self-centeredness; there was something else at work in what she was saying. The something else was revealed when Oprah said that we need to put ourselves back on out to-do list. It seems that we haven’t been self-centered enough. we’ve been spending too much time doing nice things for other people, and that is wrong. We need to reclaim the focus of our attention. We need to be at the top of the list. So, I thought, I’m at the center of the universe, and no one is going to define my life for me. I thought that defining something, especially when one is defining a life, is an act of invention or creation. It clicked: I create my life. I CREATE MY LIFE. It was if there were a flash of light and the sky suddenly parted. All my definitions are self-created. And, it seems, no one else can write the definitions for me. I am more than mastering my own life, if I follow Oprah, I am creating my own reality. I thought, this is amazing. Oprah is saying so much more to us than pop-psych clap trap that you can get any afternoon listening to Dr. Laura. Oprah is laying down some serious metaphysics. So, once more I thought about Oprah’s #2 thing she knows for sure: “You define your own life, don’t let other people write your script” I thought, that I would, break the statement in half and look at the two parts of Oprah’s #2 statement separately. I thought, what if the second half of the statement ” don’t let other people write your script” wasn’t just encouraging existentialist authenticity, but instead a statement about the states of other people’s minds? What do I know about other people’s minds, I thought. The answer: nothing. I can’t even be sure if other minds exist. Maybe this is what is motivating what Oprah is saying to us, I thought. I don’t know what intentions others have for me, so I cannot allow them to set my agenda. And if I cannot be sure of the existence of other minds, I surely cannot allow them to determine what is the best course for my life. I must be in control of what goes on in my own life because I only know what I think is good for myself. Likewise, I must be in control because I can only know myself so far as I know that I exist. So then, I looked at the first half: ” You define your own life”. I was reminded of something that I had heard that drifted along the same lines. Not to long ago, a Bush Administration staffer announced that the Bush Administration created it’s own reality. Meaning, that if the president said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, then by golly, they did, even if your “reality” contradicted theirs. (this may be a slight distortion of the real meaning of that statement, but this distortion fits the point that I am trying to make, so bear with me). Well, I think that I wouldn’t be wrong if I assumed that, as far as Ms. Oprah defines it, that “define” and “create” are similar in this context. I define who and what I am. If everyone else thinks that I am a dork, so long as I do not share the same sentiment, I am not. I must remember that I refuse to let anyone else define my life — all evidence to the contrary. If I take Oprah’s advice (to the extreme), so long as my “life” is defined by me, then that life — at least my sentiments and beliefs about that life — is true, meaning that life is my authentic or “real” life. And, being the empiricist that I am, my beliefs about the world are my basis for what I hold is true about the world. If I see the bullet to the heart kill the fisherman, than I believe that the bullet to the heart killed the fisherman. And it is true, because I cannot let others define it for me, because I cannot be sure of their intentions for me. I am the only mind that I can know, or at the very least, I am the only mind that I can trust. So, if my mind is the only mind that I can trust, and that mind is the mind that defines, or creates my life , and my life (or beliefs about) is a reflection of an overall “reality”, then I define reality. Wow. But it’s not just that, it goes further. If everyone who follows Oprah’s advise will also define their own lives, the result is the creation millions of separate “realities” — each for every Oprah viewer. If this is the case, then Oprah isn’t advocating existentialism, but group solipsism! Each of us exists in a self-defined universe of one. As crazy as it may seem, I believe that this is what Oprah is truly getting to. We not only create our own perspective on what we believe is real or true, we create our own universe — a separate entity wherein we reside, creating and changing its own separate reality as we see fit. ( so, if I say that someone is on a different world than I am, this statement may be more than mere metaphor, but a statement of fact. Stew on that for awhile). I know that there are some non-adventurous philosophers who would say that Oprah and her ilk are damaging the philosophic enterprise by allowing people like me to take what she says and distort the bejeezus out of it. I will not disagree. On the othre hand, I would also assume that there is some posmodernist who welcomes the destroyers and distorters of philosophy and welcome the opportunity of finding a new way of beating a dead horse. As disfond as I am about fence-riding, I think that there is room here to split the difference. I think that it is, at least, worth the effort to look at what our popular culture is doing to the theories that philosophers hold so near and dear to their hearts. We must remember that philosophic ideas are out there, and that it would do philosophers a little good to roll around with those who may be more clever at peddling distorted philosophical theories than they are at peddling the correct ones. But for now it seems, the media reigns, Oprah is more popular than Swinburne, and so we stand on the precipice of a new view: Oprarian philosophy. I’m not sure where Oprarian philosophy will get us, but I’m sure if it gets us to somewhere where we don’t want to go, we can simply choose to redefine it, our lives and the whole universe, and start over again. Maybe by then, some talk show host will have succesfully distorted Kant.