UNTITLED POLITICAL POST (not sure if it’s a rant… yet)

I DON’T MEAN to brag.

Trust me, I absolutely am not bragging when I say this.

My first college degree wasn’t in philosophy.
My first bachelors degree was in political science.

Before I diddled in philosophy, I earned a degree in equally useless political science.

I had deluded myself into thinking I wanted to pursue a career in politics.

Luckily, I got wise and decided to go with philosophy.

The reason why is a long story.

Long and not all that interesting. To anybody besides me, anyway.

I started college as a political science major because I was into politics.

Not so sure about that anymore.

There’s a long and uninteresting story about that, too.





Anyway, unless you’ve been chained to a rock inside Plato’s cave, you may have noticed that people have been paying a lot of attention to politics these days. Fortunately or unfortunately, politics is almost unavoidable.

Actually, it’s more like he is unavoidable.






Whether you live in Topeka, Kansas or Taraz, Kazakhstan, and if you use any variety of media, the New York real estate mogul, former reality TV star-turned president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, has managed to become the weather of all celebrities.

He’s everywhere. He’s unavoidable.

And he’s damn-near as disruptive as a cyclone.

I’m not going Left or Right on that one. Whether you believe Trump is destroying the country or draining the swamp, the guy is plain disruptive.

I can’t watch TV or read a supermarket tabloid without seeing something about the President. I’ve even found myself lamenting the lack of Kardashian stories on TMZ because even TMZ is all about Donald Trump.

So far, with a few exceptions, I’ve managed to avoid writing about President Donald Trump.

Mostly because, at this point in my life, I can do without engaging in pointless political arguments with people I don’t know (probably Russian bots) on the internet.



However, there comes a time in every lover of wisdom’s life when that wisdom lover realizes that it as a dereliction of duty to not say something – especially if the something they’ve avoided talking about is a human tornado.

So, with saying something in mind, I will say this: WE’VE GOT A PROBLEM. AND THAT PROBLEM IS PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP.

Alright… before you prepare yourself to not enjoy yet another SJW anti-Trump think piece, and before anyone says the words cuck, triggered, snowflake, or MAGA, I’m not coming from the political Left or Right on this.

Politically speaking, the problem of Donald Trump has an easy remedy: the 2020 presidential election.





For me, a lover of wisdom, President Donald Trump isn’t a problem politically as much as he is a problem philosophically.

And really, it isn’t just Trump. It’s all politics.
There’s a problem with all politics.
…which is precisely why I can’t avoid the subject any longer.

I have the feeling I’m gonna use some bullet points.


The 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) asked, “Of what can I be certain?” Descartes called all his beliefs into doubt and accepted only those beliefs that were distinctly, clearly, and indubitably true.
If being a philosopher is all about seeking wisdom − philosophers LOVE wisdom − it is also, as Descartes tells us, about finding the truth (as truth is an essential element of wisdom), then living in a country with a presidential administration that has been described as fostering a “post truth” political environment can be philosophically troubling.

Wikipedia describes post-truth politics as:

Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics and post-reality politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of “secondary” importance. While this has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life, but was less notable before the advent of the internet and related social changes.

In the seminal political treatise , the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (428-7B.C.E.-348-7 B.C.E) states that the state will be secure and flourish only if the state is ruled by the most wise – the Philosopher-King.

Plato states,

The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosophers are kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands…

The Philosopher-King is not only a ruler, but also, as his title states, a philosopher.

Philosophers, according to Plato…

The philosopher is in love with truth, that is, not with the changing world of sensation, which is the object of opinion, but with the unchanging reality which is the object of knowledge.

If philosophers are in love with the truth, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find a most wise leader in a president lies on average 5.5 to 9 times a day.



Also – should we really be in the business of making truth relative? Should we hold that what is true for me may not be true for you, as White House Senior Adviser, Kellyanne Conway, suggested when she explained to Meet the Press host, Chuck Todd, that the Trump Administration had “alternative facts” concerning the size of the crowd at the President’s inauguration?

If we can’t agree on what is true, it becomes difficult to agree – something that can have detrimental consequences when passing legislation and creating public policy.

Think climate change.



As the late former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (March 16, 1927 – March 26, 2003), said (attributed), “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”



As any epistemologist will tell you, epistemic certainty* is kind of a big deal.
It is in philosophy, anyway.

Knowledge requires truth.

Before we say that we know something (or make a claim about the world), we must meet certain requirements for knowledge, namely that we believe our claim, and that our claim is true**.

Whether you believe we are capable of epistemic certainty or not, we should be able to have at least a reasonable expectation that our information is consistently reliable. That is to say, we should be able to trust that the information we receive is accurate (or true). Reliable information allows us to know how the world is − the truth gets us to trustworthy conclusions or claims about the world.

If all our beliefs about the world are based on alternative facts, what can we say we truly know?


That question isn’t rhetorical, by the way.



So… in philosophy, there’s a fallacy called the Inconsistency Fallacy. The fallacy happens someone makes an argument that contains contradictory statements − that is to say, the statements are inconsistent with one another.

That’s kind of like saying you’re for states rights while also supporting a federal ban on…whatever.

You don’t have to sport a tricorne hat or attend a Tea Party rally (or attend a Tea Party rally while wearing a tricorne hat) to know that advocating federal supremacy while simultaneously declaring your belief in individual state sovereignty is kind of, well, inconsistent.

Or, like saying you’re a fan of Ayn Rand but you’re also a follower of Jesus…





Not saying that there’s anything like that going on in government.

Well… tonight President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address. I’m fairly certain, without even watching one minute, that the viewers – the people who support the President and the people who do not support the President − will see exactly what each wants to see.

Some folks will see a moment of presidential brilliance.

Others will see good Lord in Heaven, it actually happened someone worse than George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, I’ll be in the darkened corner counting fallacies… trying to not go Left or Right on this.






*I know I just dropped some philosophy jargon on ya. I also know that, when you drop jargon, you gotta define your terminology (that makes it easier for people to know what you’re talking about). When I drop a phrase like epistemic certainty and epistemologist, I’m talking about the field of philosophy called Epistemology. Epistemology, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP):

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits?


** There’s a bunch more to knowledge than my overly truncated explanation of what knowledge is. After all, this is a blog post, and not a scholarly treatise. If you’re interested in reading scholarly treatises on knowledge and epistemology, I refer you to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) article on Epistemology at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/. And if you’ve got a few bucks to spare, I also recommend the textbook Epistemology by Richard Feldman.










ALTHOUGH I’VE BEEN writing this blog for awhile, I haven’t really made a habit of writing about my opinions. I mean, I write philosophical interpretations of movies and TV and music and stuff based on some other philosopher‘s philosophy, but rarely (I think) have I ever said, “Y’all know what I think?” about anything, much less on a topic that may not be (at least at first glance) philosophical.

After all, who wants to hear opinions?

You know what they say about opinions?



And most of them stink…

That was then.

This is post-November 9th 2016.

Now, a big part of, dare I say, the allure of philosophy is that it’s all about thinking.

Thinking about stuff; thinking about anything, everything.

Philosophers do a great deal of it. Thinking. In fact, philosophers are often accused of over thinking.

Unfortunately, I may been doing way too much overthinking these days.

Some of it has to do with this guy


The President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump.

62,979,879 Americans voted for Trump.

I was not one of them.

Since the election of Donald Trump on November 9th, 2016 (or maybe because of the election of Donald Trump), things have been a little weird for those of us who “think” too much.

And I mean weird as in President Trump and his administration have a lot of people thinking and talking about not telling the truth.

Specifically, that the President and his administration have some difficulty saying it.

The truth.

There’s so much non-truth telling going on that the experts are now saying that President Trump and his administration are proof that we living in a “post-truth” world.

Post-truth is defined as:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief

So far as politics goes, appealing to emotions isn’t new. Politicians have appealed to how we feel over what we think for, well… since there have been politicians.

And it’s not as if politicians have suddenly become not truthful.

It’s just that I can’t quite remember when the truth was so… unimportant.

Folks on t.v. and on the internet are conjuring up images of the Newspeak of Orwell’s 1984 and of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; painting images of a world where facts are not objective but are, well, whatever they say that they are.

At least that’s the way the truth goes down in Oceania .


The president doesn’t lie, he’s merely “misspoken”.

That’s not a lie coming from the administration. It’s a “alternative fact”.


Although it seems like it’s a pretty obvious thing to think, there are some people out there who believe that telling the truth isn’t as important as people say it is.

Truth is kind of funny, though.

The funny thing about the truth is that the truth, despite what we may believe, really is important.

You see, those of us who are into over thinking philosophically about things place a high value on truth. Truth is a very important thing to philosophers. Truth gets us to wisdom.

Philosophers love wisdom.

Philosophy literally means love of wisdom.


Truth is an essential part of how we accurately describe reality, how the world really is.

How we know things.

It is easy to come up with two conditions for knowledge: truth and belief. It’s clear that knowledge requires truth. That is, you cannot know something unless it is true. – Richard Feldman, Epistemology.

We know things because our beliefs about things in the world are true.

As Plato said,

And isn’t a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are

Truth may not be a valued commodity in politics, as Machiavelli wrote:

Everyone admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep his word, and to behave with integrity rather than cunning. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have considered keeping their word of little account, and have known to beguile men’s minds by shrewdness and cunning. In the end these princes have overcome those who have relied on keeping their word.

And like Machiavelli suggested, lying may get you far in politics… and sometimes quite far in life.



But there’s a very important reason truth matters.

Not telling the truth (aka lying) isn’t just a matter of disseminating bad information or misspeaking. Not telling the truth is pernicious deception and manipulation that makes us incapable of making correct choices.

If we are indifferent to truth or we don’t know what the truth is – if someone is lying to us and we believe them – we’re unable to navigate in the world. We see reality how it really isn’t.

Imagine that you are planning to take a trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

No need to say why. You got your reasons.

You’ve been told by the ship’s owner that the ship you are sailing on is safe and that there is absolutely no chance of the ship sinking. You believe the ship owner’s assurances (because you have no reason not to) and believe that the ship is sea worthy. You decide to take the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

However, the ship owner is not telling you the truth. He knows that the ship shouldn’t be anywhere near water, let alone sailing upon a whole ocean full of water. He knows the ship will not complete its voyage.



While at sea, the ship begins to take on water and eventually (and inevitably) capsizes, killing all aboard. Including you.

Now, you made a choice based on the word of someone who did not tell you the truth.

And it cost you your life.

Possible death wishes aside, had you known the true state of things (i.e. reality) you probably would have decided to not take the trip.

Truth is important. And not just in dealing with issues of metaphysics.

We must know what the facts are if we want to make the right decision, not just on practical matters but also when we act morally.

Truth is an absolute necessity when assigning moral culpability.



Lying, withholding truth or otherwise not being truthful are generally considered to be immoral acts.

The reason why you shouldn’t maintain your own set of “alternative facts” in the face of objective reality is because when we act, our actions have consequences.


And consequences, unless you’re a deontologist, can be judged morally.

Remember that ship owner I was talking about? Well, because the owner withheld the truth from the ship’s passengers and misrepresented the safety of the vessel, the passengers couldn’t make the correct choice – to take the trip or not.

The ship owner’s deception led to the loss of lives. People died because the ship owner didn’t tell the truth.


Causing other people’s deaths is bad and if people die because of you, your are morally responsible for their deaths.

We really don’t need to go to an extreme of people dying to demonstrate that truth is a good thing – and not just because philosophers say so.

Without the truth, claims are unreliable. Truth cannot be “alternative” or “relative” or “its true for me.” Without the belief that what we’re told is true, we cant place our trust in the individuals (or institutions) that make claims or tell us anything about the way the world is. When we don’t trust people; when we don’t trust institutions (that they run), and the lack of trust undermines the legitimacy of institutions (like government). We need to be mindful that truth is an essential for good government

If you know your Thomas Jefferson and John Locke, government necessarily depends on legitimacy.


Legitimacy relies on the consent of the governed.

Consent is based on trust.

Trust requires truth.

And this is kinda why we have to believe that truth is important.

We need truth to point out those who, by not telling the truth, corrupt government and undermine our ability to trust what others want us to believe.

In the end, we all know that seeking and preserving truth isn’t just about the right now. Presidents come and go; there will always be ship builders who’ll lie about the seaworthiness of their ship.





And that’s the honest truth.








Richard Feldman. Epistemology. 2003. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall. 12.

Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. 1532.

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.











I’m Not Sexy. I Know It… and I’m Not Laughing My F.A.O.

Every year some song gets popular and no one has any idea why.

The Macarena.

The Ketchup Song.


Any song by Nickleback.

Yeah, I know, I just dumped on Nickleback. It’s a very in thing to do.

About a year ago, everybody was into that song by the group L.M.F.A.O.

“I’m Sexy and I Know It”.

Not me, I mean, that’s the name of the song. It’s called “I’m Sexy and I Know It”.

There was no escaping that song. There wasn’t anywhere I could go without hearing that song. Now I know what being stalked feels like.

If “I’m Sexy and I Know It” looked like a person, it would look like this:



I hate that freaking song.

You know, there’s something that happens when you’re harassed by a song you hate. It’s kind of like what happens when you find out you’re going to die. That Elizabeth Kubler-Ross On Death and Dying, stages of grief stuff. First you’re annoyed by the song. Then you hate it. Then you hate the people who made the song. Then you hate every radio station and DJ who plays the song. Then you realize there’s no escaping the song. Then you stop changing the channel when the song comes on.

Then you start to listen.

And then, you start to like it.

That’s what the experts call acceptance.

That’s the final stage.

A funny thing: When you like a song you tend to listen to the lyrics.

If you’re a philosopher this could be especially troubling.

You see, philosophers have a weird habit of analyzing things over analyzing things.

When you’re a philosopher, you can’t just sit and listen to a song, read a book, or watch a movie or TV show. You have to start thinking about what it all means; to see if what you’re reading, watching, or listening to has a hidden philosophical meaning. And if you’re at all philosophically inclined, even if you don’t see it right away, you’ll find a meaning.

Let me show you how it’s done:

First, ask yourself what’s the name of what you’re going to overthink about? This is important. A title might not seem like a big deal to most folks, but for the philosophically-inclined, sometimes a title gives us a big philosophical clue. In this case, the title gives us exactly how to think about the song: I’m sexy and I know it.

I italicized “and I Know it” for a reason.

To say that one is sexy and you know it, you’re saying that you know something. That is, you’re making a claim that you possess some kind of knowledge, which is in this case; you know that you’re sexy.

When you know (or say you know) something, philosophers say that you’re making an epistemic claim.

The branch of philosophy that deals with all sorts of epistemic claims is called  EPISTEMOLOGY.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind?


Ok, nevermind  all that philosophical stuff about justification and justified true beliefs (and let’s not dwell on the necessary and sufficient conditions for being sexy and knowing it as I believe that the following conditions are both necessary and sufficient).

So, how might someone initially formulate the idea that they know that they’re sexy?

Well, from the lyrics we can easily see that being sexy has something to do with working out.

So how else does one guesstimate that one is sexy?


  • rolls with animal print pants “out of control”
  • wears a “big ass ‘fro”
  • looks like Bruce Lee whilst “rocking the club”
  • has tan cheeks
  • causes girls to look at one’s body
  • has passion in one’s pants and is not afraid to show it
  • wears no shoes and no shirt but still gets served
  • works out

And, of course, one wiggles.

So, if one rolls with animal print pants that are out of control, wears a big ass ‘fro, looks like Bruce Lee while rocking the club, has tan cheeks, causes girls to look at your body, has passion in your pants and is not afraid to show it, wears no shirt and no shoes but you still get service, works out, and wiggles, one has met the necessary conditions (what is required to be sexy) and sufficient conditions (what is enough to be sexy), then not only is one sexy, but you know it.


These guys are sexy and they know it.

These guys are sexy and they know it.




That’s it.

That’s pretty much how you do epistemology. Congratulations. You’re an epistemologist.

You’ve just participated in your first over-analysis of a popular song!

Do you feel like a philosopher?

You should.

So now that you know what it takes to be sexy and know it, are you sexy?

I already know my answer.

And if you’re a philosopher with a blog I’m pretty sure you know your answer, too.






If you’re not familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief check them out here:



1) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/

2) “I’m Sexy and I Know It”. lyrics by Kenneth Oliver, George Matthew Robertson, Stefan Gordy, David Jamahl Listenbee, and Erin Beck. Copyright. 2011. Kobalt Publishing Ltd.

Stupid is as unions does

Mitt Romney hates teachers. Ok, that might not be true. I don’t know if Romney personally hates educators. It’s just that I’ve been hearing that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that the President’s jobs plan (that stresses more public sector job growth; including hiring more firefighters, police officers, and teachers) goes against what the American public wants.

Even if Mitt Romney doesn’t hate teachers, there are plenty of people out there that do. Or at least they hate the unions that teachers belong to. It’s not just that people don’t these unions — it’s that teachers unions are inherently bad.

Here’s something you might have heard if you attended the North American Association of Educational Negotiators 38th Annual Conference, March 29, 2006:

“The NEA and AFT have long argued that what is good for America’s teachers is good for America’s children—and by implication, for America itself. As a general statement this is demonstrably false, and the willingness of too many superintendents, school boards, legislators, and governors to act as if it were true has had a pernicious effect on the quality of American schooling.”

The “pernicious effect” of teachers and their unions is often cited as the reason why a growing number of parents have opted to home school their children (in case you were wondering the number of homeschooled American children as of 2009 is 1.5 million). I’ve been on this planet for a few years now, and I like to think that I’m observant enough to know that the problem isn’t just with teachers and their unions. The problem is with education in general. Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913?) wrote:

 “Education, n.  That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.”

The diminutive half of the 60’s folk-pop duo Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Simon, sang:

“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

That’s really what our problem with teachers, teachers unions, and education (in general) is, isn’t it? It’s the fear, that after all the time we spend in school, we will emerge from the academy as fools incapable of rational thought.

Now, if spending one’s days watching television and following the romantic exploits of  the cast of Jersey Shore and Justin Bieber will educate one just as well as spending seven hours a day in a classroom under the tutelage of a member of the NEA, one is left to ponder, exactly what is the purpose of an education, anyway?

Would you believe philosophers have something to say about this?

When philosophers think about education (aka philosophy of education), they sometimes ask questions like this (short list):

  • What does it mean to be “educated”?
  • Who determines educational content?
  • What is the purpose of education?

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates states that not only do children need to be taught in the right manner, but that it is the duty of the state to teach the youth. Socrates (or Plato, if you prefer), argues that the purpose of education is to create the right kind citizens, that is, to create individuals who will be best for the state and to ensure that citizens remain loyal to the city (yes, you are free to think of Huxley’s Brave New World). In Socrates’ ideal city, the right kind of education consisted of gymnastics, music, mathematics, logic, metaphysics, and military training. Ultimately, in Plato’s Republic, an education serves the purpose of social engineering rather than to develop an individual’s talents or abilities. When the state fails to educate children properly, Socrates warns, the result is sophistry  and a lack of wisdom. Worse yet, Socrates says if we are not educated in the right way we develop a love for the beautiful. Like Socrates, Aristotle emphasized education as a means to develop the right kind of person (i.e. a virtuous character) to serve the greater good for society. Aristotle wrote, “the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.”

So, if we understand the ancients correctly, the reason why we need an education is to become wise.

Education –> Knowledge –> Wisdom = Ideal Citizen

Although the purpose of an education according to Plato and Aristotle was ultimately to produce philosopher kings (aka people better than any of us), by the 17th century, philosophers started to think that average folks can be educated, too. John Locke wrote that when we are born — you know this one — our minds are a blank slate (tabula rasa) upon which an education can be impressed.

This means any of us can be educated.

By the time of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant and Thomas Jefferson advocated public education. Jefferson believed that the right on suffrage was inextricably tied to the right to an education. Jefferson wrote:

“. . . whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.”

Once again, as Jefferson states, the purpose of an education is to make people better citizens.

But is this really the reason why we educate people? If we had no say in our government would we feel that an education is useless? I’d guess not. So why do we insist that our children be educated? To maintain the status quo? To produce workers? To produce wise citizens? Or is an education valuable for its own sake? Albert Einstein would say …sort of.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) states that education has two functions:

  1. To educate individual as free individuals. To develop and understand critical thinking skills and to determine Truth for themselves.
  2. To educate individuals to be members of society

The American philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952) argued that the value of an education is pragmatic. That is, an education is good if it has practical value. According to Dewey, knowledge is the result of practical problem solving and application in the real world. In the real world, Dewey states, we can see the implications of what we have learned and what happens when we put our theories into practice. Real world use, Dewey argues, is more useful that simply learning facts. Dewey states that each student is a unique individual who learns at his own pace, and that teachers ought to be a facilitator of knowledge rather than Platonic knowledge dictators (you see, in Plato’s Republic individuality did not matter since the state is more important than the individual). Knowledge, according to Dewey, is the product of active participation and reflection.

It’s no wonder why Dewey’s view on education is so popular.

So what does this all mean?

I think this means that Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Locke (kind of), Jefferson, Einstein, and Dewey are all correct. Education is not only has extrinsic value (education “leads” to higher-paid workers and well-informed voters) but is also inherently valuable for its own sake. Educated brains heal from trauma faster, age slower, and are less likely to develop senile dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Education should not only teach us how to be wise, but should also consider our individuality as well. I also believe that Plato and Jefferson are correct in holding that a properly educated citizen is beneficial to the state — and, as Socrates/Plato argues, that the state has a responsibility to educate its people.

…And that gets us back to Mitt Romney and his teachers union-hating cohorts (ok, I have no independent knowledge that Mitt Romney and/or his cohorts hate unions). When we think about education, specifically, when we think about why we teach and why think learning is important, our arguments shouldn’t get caught up on bothersome unions, but, wait… no, I forgot. I hate unions.



  1. Frederick M. Hess and Martin R. West. “A Better Bargain: Overhauling Teacher Collective Bargaining for the 21st Century”. North American Association of Educational Negotiators 38th Annual Conference. American Enterprise Institute. March 29, 2006. http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/content/quotes-teachers-unions-101
  2. Stats on homeschooled American children: http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=91
  3. “Kodachrome”. Lyrics by Paul Simon. copyright 1973. Universal Music Publishing Group.
  4. Thomas Jefferson quote: http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/winter96/jefferson.html


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?

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.

I Usually Don’t Ask Open-Ended Questions, Because I Usually Have All the Answers

Kant opens the first section of his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals with the statement: “Nothing in the world — indeed nothing even beyond the world — can possibly be conceived which could be called good without qualification except a GOOD WILL“. Kant says that there are qualities that may be good and desirable (intelligence, courage, resoluteness, etc.), but these qualities can be bad if they are not accompanied by a good will. A good will, according to Kant, corrects the influences on the mind. Kant states that the will is good, not because of what effects follow from having a good will, but because the good is intrinsically good or good in itself. For Kant, all moral decisions are emanate from a sense of duty, and our sense of duty contains good will. I know that this question might seem like it has an obvious answer, and I used to think so myself, but what is a bad will? I know that what I just asked is one of those questions that scream out “duh”, like asking someone who steps into the room soaking wet, shaking off an umbrella if it’s raining outside. Or hearing the dude next to you stomach growl, and asking him,”hungry, eh?”. It’s pretty easy when someone’s intent is fairly obvious, like when some dude carrying a pike, covered in blood, wearing an “I H8 Philosophy Professors” T-shirt asks where the philosophy department is. It dosen’t take a stroke of genius to figure out the the guy’s intent is to do some harm — especially when it’s nowhere near April Fool’s Day and it’s not Halloween. There is the bad will that we can see — the murderer, the thief, the starlet intent on launching a music career. But some will is what we might call ambiguous. What do we do when the intent of the will is not so clear? I thought of sticking a personal situation in right here about something that I did that I’m still not sure as to whether my will in this situation was good or bad. (Take your guesses everybody) But since I’ve thought it over, I decided that I would save myself the embarassment ( not to mention any possible bridge burning) and grab an example from my collection of DVDs. About a year ago, I was made familiar with a website called selectsmart. The point of this website is to spend hours taking surveys to figure out what kind of whatever you are. They should call this website hours from your life. So, instead of studying philosophy, I was taking this survey on which horror movie protagonist I’m most like. Much to my delight, I’m like the character Dr. Herbert West from the movie Re-Animator, which just happens to be my favorite horror movie. Talk about serendipity. To those who are not familiar with the Stuart Gordon classic Re-Animator, here’s the plot in a nutshell: a couple of med students at Miskatonic University discover the secret for re-animating dead people. They decide to see if it works by testing it on a cat named Rufus and then on the cadavers in the pathology ward. All hell breaks loose when one of the students beheads a professor, reanimates the professor’s head and body, and eventually lands himself in a fantastic battle royale with the professor’s intestines. Now that I’m done with the plot. In the film, Herbert West discovers the key to reanimation, which, in and of itself, isn’t bad. You might say that someone who makes such a discovery is motivated by good will. If we can cheat death, think of all that land we’d be saving from becoming cemetaries. We could put WalMarts up everywhere! Ok, and a few Trader Joes. And it seems that, at first, Herbert is intent on making genuine medical progress. But, somewhere that same intent loses it’s good-willish patina and takes a turn for the bad. We know that when Herbert kills Dr. Hill, he is motivated by a bad will. He wants to kill Hill because Dr. Hill is in his way. That’s easy. And when the bodies start piling up, including the dean of the university and Dan’s girlfriend Meg, we need not consult the utlitarian calculus to figure out that Herbert’s quest to revive the dead was bad. But there it goes again. We can say that what Herbert West did was inherently bad, but how was it so? At what point did West’s intent turn from good to bad? Since Kant tells us we cannot rely on consequences, we cannot point to the pile of dead bodies as evidence of Herbert’s bad will. But we know that, perhaps on some intuitive level, Herbert’s intent had changed — although it stayed the same. I realize that what I’m saying might sound like a little bit of goobledygook here. And there’s a reason for that. It’s because there are times when someone’s intent may be the same, but somehow the intent may seem to be aimed at doing more harm than good. What makes things worse, is the fact that, in addition to not being able to pin down how a good intent can become bad, we may not be aware that our own will is bad. We may be operating under the supposition (delusion) that our own intentions are good. But how do we know what a bad will is, or when our own will is bad? The question is not so much what constitutes a bad will than how do we know what a bad will is? Perhaps the issue of whether a person’s will is good or bad is as much an epistemic question than an ethical consideration. And that’s where I land my open-ended question. I’d like to know what the answer is, because honestly I have no idea.

Spotting the Golden Egg

* I owe a debt of gratitude to Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit and Professor Davidson’s exclamations of the word “bullshit” in epsitemology class… which started me on this subject in the first place. And to both, I extend my deepest apologies. I was a dedicated political science student. And, as any student of politics knows, what political science is really about is the art of bullshitting. Bullshitting is the politician’s medium. Their finely crafted pieces of tauroscatologic masterpieces have no rival. They are Rembrandts in a room full of kindergarten fingerpainters. Politicians dispense bullshit to the public as freely as co-eds give it up in Cancun during spring break. And I was becomming a master. But then, philosophy happened. I found myself surrounded by people who claimed that philosophy was the real thing — a no bullshit zone. Philosophy wasn’t just opinions and rhetoric, my professors said, but was logically correct, and at times irrefutable. But why did it sound to me like so much of the bullshit that I was hearing in poly sci? Worse yet, I soon discovered that, along with my growing suspicions that all philosophy is bullshit, I found myself growing increasingly disturbed by my feelings towards some of my fellow philosophy students — I began to think that some of them were assholes. As time progressed, I realized that my impressions weren’t mere delusion or some resentment held over from poly sci, some of my fellow students really were assholes — big ones at that. And that led me to think: is it possible that there is a connection between being a bullshitter and being an asshole? Is it possible for us to investigate, not only who the purveyors of bullshit are, but also if there are personality traits that are common to bullshitters, jerks, wiseasses, smartasses, and all other people that we would just as soon toss out of an five story window than to offer a lift out of a crime-ridden neighborhood? My answer was yes. I had noticed that some of my fellow philosophy students had a high opinion of themselves. In and of itself, good self esteem is a good thing, but this high-falutinness was something out of the ordinary. For a time I wasn’t sure if they were actually smarter or if they had been, by way of the professors, convinced that they were smarter than everyone else. I had observed that a fair number of students dispensed a fair amount of bullshit — usually in the form of learned proclaimations that were meant to sound profound and convincing. For the most part, however, their statments did nothing more than sound like something sounding profound and convincing. All I knew for sure was that there was a definite type of personality that I observed among the students that had an over inflated opinion of their own mental capacity. Before I reached any definitve conclusion that they were assholes, I decided that I would ask other people to see if they saw what I thought that I was seeing. After conducting a very unscientific poll, I had reached the conclusion that it wasn’t just me who saw it — philosophy students tended to be assholes. There was a confirmed connection between people who thought highly of themselves and bullshitting. So, by way of induction, I concluded that those who dispensed bullshit tend to hav a high opinion of themselves, and those who tend to have a high opinion of themselves tend to be catagorized as assholes. I had to admit that, until that point, I hadn’t paid much attention to what kind of person lays out bullshit [as I had been fascinated with bullshit (as a product) itself]. I had been blissfully unaware that we are capable of knowing that we are capable of knowing what kind of person is prone to dealing out bullshit. I was ignorant of the fact that we can identify a particular person is a bullshitter by mere observation of certain personality traits. I wondered if there was a methodology to figuring out what kind of person I was dealing with. More importantly, I discovered why such a search would be important. As social beings, we depend on others to be open and honest with us, and that, ultimately forms our philosophis outlook on life. Our interactions with others and how we see others, informs how we classify them — as jerks, or smartasses, or even as good people. We, in turn, act, think, and speak according to how we perceive the personalities of others. If we, through experience, come to feel that the world is run by assholes, we will base our own interactions, thoughts and feelings accordingly. We may exhibit personality traits that make us what others may call “jerkish”, or “crummy to others”. One trait that I knew of with any certainty, was the connection between those who I and others had called assholes and a capacity for bullshitting. I was content that I had, indeed figured out the formula for finding out whether someone I knew was an asshole, and in my eagerness to label virtually everyone I knew an asshole, I realized my zeal had led me to an error: some of those who I had squarely tissed into the asshole camp were clearly not so. There were individuals who were different from the garden-variety assholes that I had encountered in my philosophy classes. Other students (some other philosophy students) seemed to exhibit asshole tendencies, yet something was missing. There was a something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on the they lacked. That moment I realized that there was a difference. Some people, upon further inspection, were not assholes. They were another breed entirely — they were smartasses. Bullshit, although elemental to determining who an asshole or a smartass may or may not be, is not the sole factor for determining if one is so. I will attempt to map out necessary and sufficient conditions for spotting an asshole or a smartass ( as I am not fully committed to the idea that one may be both). I acknowledge that my conditions in themselves may be inadequate, or not correct at all. The heart of this inquiry is to suggest that 1)there is a connection between a habit of bullshitting and the personalities of those who spread it with regularity, and 2) that it may be useful to us to know what the connection is. I feel that, as long as we stop to ponder bullshit, it may be apropos to know exactly from who all this bullshit is coming from. At this point, I realize that the impression may be that my inquiry is not one of serious academic merit, to which, to some extent, I heartily agree. However, in all seriousness, the genesis of my inquiry is only partially in jest. I insist that neither my inquiry, nor this posting is intened to disguise my using the word “asshole” repeatedly as serious philosophic discussion. And, although I realize the outward appearance of the unphilosophicness of the subject matter, I feel that a philosophic approach to this decidedly unphilosophic topic is not only warranted, but in some way overdue. Now that I have established the tenure of my approach to the subject, I must say here that my approach is merely one of inquiry. I posit no heavy philosophic examination of the subject, nor am I insisting that my approach is the right way to go about looking at the topic. Since I am still developing my “theory”, I will forgo technical labels such as “necessary” or “sufficient”, and will simply write out my thoughts as I initially thought them while sitting in my philosophy of language class. Firstly, I wondered if the nature of my query was ontological, episemological, or ethical. I quickly eliminated any ethical sonsideration of the subject on the grounds that no theory (perhaps with the exception of Kantian ethics) directly addressed by any moral theory. It is perfectly reasonable that a utlitarian can be an asshole (or a smartass) while simultaneously performing morally acceptable deeds. An egoist indeed might benefit more if the egoist were an asshole. Having thrown out ethical considerations, I moved on to an ontological or epistemological view on the subject. I figure that the subject can be approached either way, as figuring out whether a person is an asshole or a smartass includes questions involving the nature of one’s personality ( a metaphysical question), and what evidence we need to conclude that an individual is one or the other (epistomological). Which approach works best, however, I will leave to anyone who considers the subject. I feel that, in order to know, we must approach it from both directions. As I said at the outset, my quest was motivated by my fascination with bullshit. I had discovered that both bullshitters and smartasses possessed a capacity for bullshiting. And, true to Frankfurt’s description, assholes and smartasses seemed indifferent to the truth. Bullshitters, Frankfurt explains, are indifferent to the truth. This quality is the “essence of bullshit” (p. 34). Although both are indifferent to the truth, I feel that the motivation for this indifference differs between the asshole and the smartass. Frankfurt writes that the bullshitter carefully crafts his bullshit for the purposes of getting what he wants. He’s “trying to get away with something” (p.23). This aspect of bullshitting is also true of assholes. The asshole is always motivated by his need to get over on other people. Often, the victim of an asshole’s one over describes the experience as feeling like he has been shit on. But unlike Frankfurt’s bullshitter, the asshole cares not at all for what the listener of his bullshit feels. He’s not out to get you to feel anything. He is solely motivated to get what he wants. If you feel any emotional response for his bullshit, well, then good for you. You are all the more a sucker for his BS. Since the asshole has no intention of ever returning any favor, he has to maintain his chicanery as long as he is getting what he wants. His loyalty does not last long. It is worth noting here, that, unlike the bullshitter, whose worst fear is discovery (the fear that we will discover the he has been bullshitting us the whole time), the asshole has no such underlying fear. He is not only indifferent to his own bullshit, he is also indifferent to getting caught in the cat of bullshitting. This is the case because the asshole simply does not care about you. Although the asshole does not care about you, you (meaning other people) is essential for the asshole to be an asshole ( if I were to label a “necessary condition”, other people is a necessary condition for an asshole). The asshole, although he does not care how you feel, definitely wants a response out of you. This motivation, at its face, may seem contradictory. But for the asshole, the sentiment is not so much a contradiction, but a manifestation of the duplicitious nature of the asshole’s personality. In addition to not caring to your emotions, the asshole may appear to not care for his own actions. He may say that he does not care what he has to say of do to get what he wants. But, rest assured his motivation necessarily depends, if not on your emotional reactions, but on what your non-emotional reactions may be. That is, was the asshole successful in getting you to do what he wanted you to do? Like the asshole, the smartass is also motivated by a need to bullshit. His motivation, however, is not dependent on others. The smartass ignores other people. The smartass is not motivated by a need to get over on anyone. There is no such inner motive. The smartass says what he says because his words are pleasing to him, usually in an attempt at being humorous (this explains how a person can be a smartass absent of others. An asshole cannot. Think about it: can a person really be an asshole to himself?). The fact that anyone or no one reacts to what the smartass says is of no consequence to him or his goals. The fact that the smartass speaks at all is his goal. Indiffernece to truth, despite its importance, takes a backseat to the act of speaking itself. The bullshit that the smartass dispenses isn’t said for the sake of getting what he wants; it’s said because the smartass fancies himself a clever and funny person. Usually he is not — which is why he is often mistaken for an asshole.The smartass is, at his heart, self-centered. His aim is self amusement. He does not care if his “humor” is humorous to anyone but himself. Unlike the asshole, whose assholeness necessarily depends on the actions of others, the smartass truly does not care if anyone else cares or even hears his remarks. Because of this fact, the smartass is limited to words. The real thrust of his ability is his verbal capacity for witty and often crude comments. The asshole, on the other hand, faces no such limitations. His assholliness in not limited to language, but also includes his actions as well. As this is still a work in progress, I have not exactly thought out where to go from here. Perhaps some more thought will help to clear up whether I should continue on this topic at all. Oh well.

Epistemology with Oprah!

Lately, I’ve been paying alot more attention to what I’m saying. I guess it has to do with that brush with Frege not so long ago, when I was started on the business of worrying about to what I was really referring when I looked to to the moonlit sky and proclaimed that I was staring up at Hesperus. My, I would say, Hesperus is certainly bright tonight. By the way, it’s easier to say it’s Venus. Anyway, when you pay attention to what you’re saying, you’re also, consequently, paying attention to what you are thinking, and often asking to yourself not only the meaning of what you say, but also whether you’re saying anything that you know for sure. I could have all my references correct, but is what I’m saying really known to me as fact? What? Ok, let me backtrack and try to make what I’m saying less jumbled. What I mean is that sometimes I’m so caught up in the meanings of what I say, that I’ve lost track of whether what I’m saying is correct at all. There. That said it. Maybe I should get straight on whether I am saying anything that I know before I try to assess whether what I’m saying means. With me so far? As all of my friends and family knows, I watch a tremendous lot of television. I think that the technical term for my TV watching is called “get a life”, but needless to say, I do. Watch. Alot. I think that among philosophy types, it’s the rather “in” thing to proclaim to you’re colleagues that you either don’t own a TV set, or that you don’t have cable. (I only read Truthout and listen to Pacifica, they might say).That way, by saying so, you distinguish your eudaimonic lifestyle from that endless and decidedly unphilosophic television watching of all of the other swine. But, seeing that I disdain philosophic types and all that they stand for, especially those who shop at Trader Joe’s and profess veganess, I freely cop to the fact that I do indeed watch TV. Alot. I think that the reason why so many philosophy types deny that they watch TV is because of the “low” culture of popular society, and the reputation associated with those who either use or participate in it. Popular culture is the sophist to the Socratic individual. If it is anything, popular culture is kryptonite to the philosopher. His philosophical powers are weakened by exposure to all things pop — eventually resulting in complete philosophic collapse. Popular culture, especially TV, makes idiots of us all. (Or at the very least, it churns out a few empiricists). But I say, on this one, the philosophy type is wrong, for the modern age’s greatest philosophical sage is on the air for all to see: Ms. Oprah Winfrey. This is no joke. I’m really quite serious. I know that there is almost a cottage industry of professional Oprah-bashing out there. I’ve participated in a great deal of it myself. But once I actually started watching Oprah instead of listening to what other people told me about the “Oprahdization” of society, I found that there are plenty of lessons in store for even the most Aristotelian-minded philosopher. I was browsing some time ago on Oprah’s website, where there is listed 20 things that Oprah knows for sure. Now, as a philosophy type person, any suggestion made by someone that they know anything with certainty is bound to grab my ear. So I took a look at Oprah’s list. At fist glance, the list can be easily dismissed as pop-psyche, motivational speaker babble. And in reality it is. But, there’s something else at work behind the simple and obvious claims, like, “what you do comes back all the time, no matter what” (by the way, Oprah says that that statement is her creed). I thought when I read Oprah’s creed, well duh, every culture on earth has some sort of idea of karma. I, for instance, ws raised with the “Golden Rule”. Wiccans, I think, believ in a 3-fold law, and so on. But, how do I know that? How is it that Oprah’s bit of advice failed to tell me anything that I didn’t already know? Suddenly, Oprah’s list of 20 became an exercize in seeking the epistemic nature of “duh”. How is it that Oprah can claim that she knows anything for sure? And how is it that, without having seen Oprah’s list before, I know these 20 things, too? John Dewey, the American pragmatist, said that the knowledge that we gain through our experiences must be of practical value. For the pragmatist, all that info is fine and dandy, but real knowledge tells us one simple thing: I can use it to so something. If it works, then it’s good to know. If it does not, then the info is useless. Knowledge, for Dewey, enabled man to master our environment. For Dewey, the test for what counted as knowledge was a test of coherence. Does what I accept as true fit with what else I believe is true? If it fits, then it is true. Oprah’s creed certainly has practical value. If we realize that we may be subject to human or divine retribution, our actions or sentiments (because Oprah believes that beliefs have force as well) are more likely to be kind instead of malevolent. Given similar religious or moral beliefs (and experiences)about how our behaviour can “come back” at us, Oprah’s creed seems to pass the test of coherence. But, as Dewey admits, coherence is a shaky criteria for knoweledge at best. Because all people are different, all people do not share the same set of held “truths”. We all have different beliefs to which a piece of data does or does not cohere. Anything approaching universal knowledge would have to be decided by committee, or at least hopelessly relativistic. But, Oprah tells us that her creed is a truth “no matter what”. It is universal and not subject to relativity. So, I looked another epistomological method to test the truth of Oprah’s claim. I remembered that, some time ago, in my epistemology class, we discussed reliabilism. Now, if I remember correctly, reliabilism has something to do with accepting a belief as true only if it has been formed in a reliable manner or by way of a reliable process. I can’t quite remember the example that we handled in class, but I remember thinking that reliabilism tends to yield alot of beliefs that are, for lack of a better word, “duh” beliefs (like Oprah’s creed). That is, if my eyes never failed me before, that is, I can rely on the accuracy of what they are seeing, and I think that I see a steamroller coming towards me, I can reliably believe that there is, in fact, a steamroller coming towards me. Or something like that. So now I thought, is that the hidden epistemic factor at work with Ms. Winfrey? But, then I thought, it can’t be — Oprah says that she knows these things for sure . Even reliable methods fail from time to time. So then I thought, if Oprah knows these things for sure, what she knows for sure cannot be derived from any outside means. We know that if we hinge our knowledge on what we discover from the world around us, we may come across false information or worse yet, arrive at a false belief. So, Oprah’s stipulation that she knows these 20 things for sure suggests that her basis for knowledge cannot be empirical. So then I thought, if not empirical, then we (or at least she) knows these things for sure without experience. And that led me to the rationalists: When Descartes wrote the Meditations, he asked of what things he can know for certain. Descartes stated that any knowledge he derived from his sense must be discarded until he could be certain that that knowledge was not subject to doubt. Ultimately, he arrived at the truth of his own exixtence. That knowledge, Descartes claimed, was known a priori — without experience. Even if he doubted that he existed, something, Descartes reasoned, must be thinking that it does not exist — so he exists. That fact at least cannot be doubted. But, Oprah makes an even bigger claim. She’s not just stating that she exists, she’s claiming a list of 20 truths that she knows with certainty . Now, I know that Oprah does not rule out the existence of a creator-being that put the world and events in motion. So, I guess that we could say that what is revealed to her as the truth concerning her 20 claims is the product of the Divine Light of Reason. I guess we could say that Oprah knows these things because God revealed them to her as true. This was Descartes’ method of coming to the knowledge that the world outside of himself exists. Ok, that will do, but I think that there’s something more at work, here. I feel that somehow, that explanation is not Oprahly satisfying. When I watch Oprah, I often hear her say that something is a gut feeling or known to us as some sort of intuitive notion of the way that things are or should be. So, that means, or at least suggests, that Oprah’s 20 things are given to us (or her) intuitively. (hurray, GE Moore). (I’m not even going to attempt to explain intuititionism). But, here we find another snag. Oprah’s creed, “what you put out comes back all the time, no matter what”, seems to rely on some sort of empirical varification. How would we know that whatever we put out comes back unless we actually put out something that came back? Is Oprah telling us that her life lessons possess some sort of synthetic a priori quality? Kant suggests that there are some knowledge about the world that possess both a priori and empirical “qualities” (I use the word qualities, simply because I lack the proper vocabulary to express exactly what Kant means). In the case of mathematics, for instance, it is true that 5+7=12 a priori, but we need to see the operation of adding five to seven to varify, if you will that 5+7 does indeed equal twelve. I think that this may be putting us on the right track here. Indeed, what Oprah may be suggesting is that there is an intuitive a priori knowledge. The fact that there are things that we know for sure suggests that there are undoubtable truths that transcend our own experience. They are true “no matter what”. But, there is also alongside that truth, the feeling that we know these things from our guts, that we simply “know” them, but they are not revealed it seems, until we actually begin to interact with others in the world. I’m not sure whether Oprah is correct that we can know one thing, let alone 20 things for sure. But, I also think that when we easily dismiss Oprah and other so-called mind numbing entertainment, or say that we cannot gain from watching them, we are wrong in saying so. It is arrogant, and I think, philosophically dangerous to believe that only those who are endowed with the proper philosophic credentials are credible sources for philosophic theory or discussion. If we want others to think philosophically, we should encourage them to see philosophic questions and answers in everything they see — even on TV. As I wrap this up, I need only think to the slave that Socrates used to demonstrate that even the uneducated possess knowledge that they may not even know that they possess. That’s worth thinking about or at the very least encouraged. And it’s also worth thinking about the idea of intuitive a priori knowledge. I might make a name for myself at last!