THE ETHICS OF DEAD PIGEONS

THERE ARE FEW things, I imagine, as positively dumb as a 24-hour Facebook ban.

I mean, you can pretty much get slapped with a can’t post, can’t comment for just about any stupid thing, and it’s not like I posted bare ass or unclothed man peen.

I actually did that. I posted a link with a barely visible thumbnail pic of John Lennon’s naked weenie.

Wait. I mean the thumbnail pic itself was barely visible, not…his… uh…

By the way, I wrote about that 24-hour ban, too.

I thought (mistakenly) that I was being careful about what I was posting and commenting, but as one’s best laid plans don’t always get you laid like you planned, I found myself once again violating Facebook’s confusion-inducing COMMUNITY STANDARDS.

Seriously, does anyone really know what TF Facebook’s “community standards” are?

IT’S NEVER FUN WHEN YOU SEE ONE OF THESE IN YOUR NOTIFICATIONS

And, like I said in a previous post, Facebook’s community standards are a well-intentioned, but misguided attempt at moral policing.

I KNOW THIS COMMENT LOOKS BAD, BUT THERE’S A LITTLE MORE TO THE STORY

I mean, certainly Facebook’s intentions are good. Suggesting that we kill people and leave the corpses for others to see is a problematic statement. It’s reasonable to think that a social media site that ignores a comment like that would be failing in its moral duty to its users.

…assuming we think a social networking site has any moral obligations to its users.

But here’s the thing. J wasn’t talking about harming people. I was talking about birds.

I wanted to kill

dirty.

disgusting.

nasty.

birds.

Pigeons, specifically.

Parrots and parakeets are fine, but pigeons can straight-up go F themselves.

This is the meme I violated community standards commenting on:

You see — dear God, I can’t believe I’m saying this — sometimes morality isn’t so cut and dry. Sometimes morality needs a little bit of context.

Now, for the record, I’m a fan of deontology. This guy’s deontological ethics, to be exact.

IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)

And, because I’m an ethical kantian, I’m not concerned with the consequences of our actions. What matters to me when evaluating an act is the motivation behind an act.

For Kant, the proper ethical motivation is not consequences — we act from duty.

BY THE WAY, HAVE YOU SEEN THE MAN IN THIS PORTRAIT IDENTIFIED AS IMMANUEL KANT? WELL, IT’S NOT. IT’S ACTUALLY FRIEDRICH HEINRICH JACOBI. IT’S EASY TO SEE WHY JACOBI’S PORTRAIT IS PREFERABLE TO KANT.

This is why, according to Kant, we must tell the ax murderer the location of his hiding intended victim. Our ethical duty (or obligation) is to not lie…

Ok, I’m gonna interrupt my post right here to say that Kant explains why we are more morally obligated to not lie to the ax murderer than to not facilitate a murder (and other imperatives)in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. If you haven’t already read it I suggest thumbing through it at least once.

And here’s where I think the problem is.

Facebook seems to be guided by a utilitarian ethical principle. That is, they feel that it is their moral obligation to provide a safe space for social interaction for the greatest number of people. Providing that safe space can, from time to time, result in a bit of over-policing and the occasional (and unnecessary) 24-hour bans. However, as long as the company’s intention is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number, they can provide at least some justification for an hyper-reactive algorithm. My comment simply pinged the algorithm.

My comment, regardless of the intended target, was a threat, and threats pose a danger to he greater Facebook community.

Now, I know that being a utilitarian isn’t only about meaning well; you’ve got to produce results. Utilitarianism is all about consequences. Facebook wants to create a safe space for social interaction (for the greatest number of people), but are they?

I honesty have no idea if they are or not.

According to utilitarianism, we are obligated to consider the effect of (consequences) of our actions on, well, pretty much everybody. “Everybody” may or may not include non-human animals, like pigeons. If “everybody” extends to non-human animals, my kill ’em and let God sort ’em out-inspred comment may have violated Facebook’s community standards and the 24-hour ban was justified. However, as an ethical kantian, I’m not required to extend my moral obligations to animals lacking the capacity for autonomous decision making and rational thought.

Therefore, a mere threat against pigeons is neither a moral outrage nor is it worthy of a 24-hour ban.

After all, I didn’t threaten a person.

DAMN, I HATE THESE THINGS

Although… I’m not sure leaving the corpses to warn other pigeons is morally kantian, either.

Well… in the end did I deserve a 24-hour Facebook ban? I dunno. Probably. I did make a threat, and even though it was directed at a bunch of lousy pigeons in a meme, I — ugh — violated community standards.

If there’s any lesson to be learned from all of this, it’s that, as a member of a community, I have moral obligations to others, including (and perhaps most importantly) to help nurture an environment where participants feel (yes, feel) safe. And really, I shouldn’t be calling for the mass slaughter of pigeons, anyway.

What I should be worried about is Facebook finally catching all that German poop porn that I posted nine years ago.

That stuff is gonna get me permanently banned.

Night of the Living STANS

IF I’VE LEARNED anything from my years spent interacting with folks online, it’s this: all fandoms are awful.

I’m not joking. Most are pretty bad.

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JUST SAY THE WORDS “RUNNING ZOMBIES” IN A ROOM FULL OF GEORGE A. ROMERO FANS AND WAIT…

Take a look around the interwebs and you’ll see there’s a good reason why they invented the phrase TOXIC FANDOM.

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NOT CALLING OUT RICK AND MORTY FANS EXCLUSIVELY (or this young man in the photo in particular), BUT THAT WHOLE MC DONALD’S MULAN DIPPING SAUCE THING WAS NOT THE FANDOM’S FINEST MOMENT…. Wubba Lubba Dub Dub

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all fandoms are bad (although I just did).
Communing with others who share mutual interests is a good thing. More than half of
my Facebook friends are people I’ve “met” in Star Trek fan groups.
Yes. I’m still on Facebook.
Actually, Star Trek fans are pretty toxic, too.

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JUST SAY THE NAME MICHAEL BURNHAM IN A STAR TREK FAN GROUP AND WAIT…

Trekkies, Little Monsters, Swifties, the KISS Army, the Beyhive, Beliebers — just a few
monikers of popular fandoms. 

 

Question: Are Game of Thrones fans called anything? What about The Walking Dead

fans? What are they called?

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THERE’S GOTTA BE A NAME FOR SOMEONE WHO DOES THIS TO THEIR CAT

Some fandoms’ fans are so devoted they’ve shot past being mere fans;

they’re STANS.

A“stan”, according to Urban Dictionary, is:

crazed and or obsessed fan. The term comes from the song Stan by eminem. The term Stan is used to describe a fan who goes to great lengths to obsess over a celebrity.
These people are fans:
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THIS guy is a stan.
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I’m going to assume that most fans (and even most stans) are harmless, but there are
devoted fans out there.
Almost anything or anyone that’s popular has a fandom. Almost anything or anyone with
one notable exception: PHILOSOPHERS.
In all my years of mindless philosophizing  I have never once heard of or seen a
philosophy fandom.
I mean, Rule 34 of the internet says for every conceivable idea, there’s a porn of it.  I’m
pretty sure that there’s a fandom corollary — for every thing in pop culture, there’s a
fandom of it. Sounds like a reasonable to assume, right?
…and it’s not like philosophy has never been popular. I mean, Socrates had his fans

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ANY GROUP OF FOLLOWERS WHO’D SHOW UP TO WATCH A GUY KILL HIMSELF ARE A PRETTY DEVOTED BUNCH

Glaucon probably was a stan, tho.

 

I mean, think about it for a minute. Philosophy (well… Western philosophy, anyway) has

been around since at least the 6th century BCE, and is the mother of ALL disciplines, but

has there ever once been a PhilosophyCon? Do philosophy fans have clever fandom-

based nicknames? Socrateers, Aristotoholics, Hegelites…?

Is there philosophy cosplay?

Wait — there is philosophy cosplay. But it usually looks like this:

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NOT KNOCKING THESE GUYS. THIS IS PRETTY GOOD PHILOSOPHY COSPLAY

What happens when you put a couple of devoted Kant fans in a room? Do they disagree?

Do Kantian disagreements ever turn violent? Probably not.

Oh wait, they have*

I guess at least Immanuel Kant has stans.

So… at least Immanuel Kant has a toxic fandom.

In Russia, anyway.

 

Ok…. Russian Kantian gun fighting stans aside, maybe the reason why philosophy

fandoms aren’t like Rick and Morty or Selena Gomez fans is because philosophy fans

aren’t like Rick and  Morty or Selena Gomez fans. Philosophy fans, kantian Russians

aside, aren’t very enthusiastic people. They may feel passionate about philosophy, but

they aren’t very passionate about philosophers. And even when they’re passionate about

philosophy,  philosophy fans are pretty subdued about it.

 

Russian Kant stans aside.

 

That Slavoj Žižek-Jordan Peterson debate was hyped to hell and back and it pretty much

just looked like this: 

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TWO BROS JUST CHATTIN’

Ok… I’m pretty convinced Mark Hamill has been doing Žižek cosplay for a few years…
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Well… there is ONE thing Rick and Morty and philosophy fans have in common: but to
understand you gotta have a high I.Q.

Sorry kid.

You see, Tay Sway can shake if off
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Most of the “popular” philosophers are…we… dead. Aristotle has been dead since 322
BCE!!!
He’s not shaking much of anything.
…and shaking is what gets you fans.
Not every philosopher has the natural charisma of cigarette smoking Albert Camus.

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ALBERT CAMUS, THE ZAC EFRON OF PHILOSOPHY

So what should philosophers do  if we want fandoms?

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THIS MIGHT HELP

For starters, philosophy seems to be doing a pretty good job sneaking philosophy into
pop culture with movies like The Matrix and tv shows like The Good Place.  Lots of people
out there play Bioshock.
That’s a video game.
… and with the new Bill and Ted flick in production, maybe we’ll see the return of
Socrates, to introduce a whole new generation of youths to the teachings of the ancient
gadfly of Athens.

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ALL WE ARE IS DUST IN THE WIND, DUDE

After all, we got all those Rick and Morty fans out there with their high I.Q.s  (and all
those Star Trek fans who fancy themselves philosophical),  isn’t it time philosophers
cultivate their own potentially toxic fanbase?
Kantian Russian firearm enthusiasts aside.
I say, it’s time for philosophers to claim their place in the pantheon of (potentially toxic)
fandoms. It’s time to stop wasting time yelling “Pickle Rick!” in public places and put our
high I.Q.s to some good use! Why let those nerdy Trekkers claim all the philosophy??? It’s
time philosophers get shakin’! It’s time for Diogenes cosplayin’ and PhilosophyCon. It’s
time for a tv show about a band of gun-totin’, philosophy-quotin’, kickass lovers of
wisdom and a Chris Hardwick aftershow.
Did you know Chris Hardwick majored in philosophy in college?
He did, you know.
BENTHAMHEADS UNITE!!!!
It’s time to start dressing up our pets like our favorite French existentialist philosopher.
Why should The Walking Dead fans be the only fans who get to do this?

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SERIOUSLY, WHO DOES THIS TO THEIR PET????

O Captain, My — OH MY GOD!!!

THERE’S A PROBLEM with nostalgia.

It’s not a big problem. It’s not a problem like global warming or lost socks in the clothes dryer. But a problem.

The problem with nostalgia is this: Looking back, things often look better than it actually was.

It’s the nostalgia trap.

Sometimes, we reminisce about simpler times that never really happened.

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THE ONLY SIMPLER TIMES I KNOW

Other times, we find out we’ve fallen into the nostalgia trap while re-watching a favorite movie.

Looking back, sometimes movies look better than they actually were.

…especially movies you first watched when you’re fifteen years old.

In particular, if that movie is called Dead Poet’s Society.

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Carpe Diem. That’s 20th century speak for YOLO

Now, I know I’m treading into potentially hostile waters. I’ve seen the DPS fandom — they’re CRAZY devoted.

You know what else is crazy? DPS slashfic. I mean, I get the Anderperry stuff, but I never once ever shipped Charlie Dalton and Knox Overstreet.

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EVERYBODY’S BI IF YOU WATCH A MOVIE ENOUGH TIMES

Did I mention that I’m totally on board with this ship?

Knarlie?…. Chox?

ANYWAY….

When I was a fifteen year old kid (o, so many years ago), I didn’t really make it a habit of thinking too deeply about anything, much less thinking about things philosophically.

Back when I was fifteen, all I thought about was…

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But, now that I’m a wee bit older (older than fifteen, anyway) and taken a few philosophy classes, I realize I HAVE ALL SORTS OF PROBLEMS WITH THIS MOVIE!!!

Dead Poet’s Society is a moral mess.

Particularly on the subject of assigning moral culpability. There’s a lot of finger pointing going on in this movie.

The things you realize when a movie is 30 years old… OH MY GOD, DEAD POET’S SOCIETY IS 30 YEARS OLD. It’s old enough to run for Congress!

But, before we point fingers at anybody, we gotta define our terminology.

So…what’s culpability?

Once again, we turn to Wikipedia to explain things:

Culpability, or being culpable, is a measure of the degree to which an agent, such as a person, can be held morally or legally responsible for action and inaction. It has been noted that the word, culpability, “ordinarily has normative force, for in nonlegal English, a person is culpable only if he is justly to blame for his conduct”.Culpability therefore marks the dividing line between moral evil, like murder, for which someone may be held legally responsible and a randomly occurring event, like earthquakes, for which no human can be held responsible.

Ok… For starters, I want to say I’m talking only about moral culpability, not legal culpability. I’m not talking about sending anyone to prison.

Well, except for maybe this creepy mouthbreather right here.

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But I’ll get to that later.

ANYWAY….

Before we get a call from God demanding we let girls into Welton, let’s all stand on our desks and ready our barbaric yawps to dive into the moral mess that is Dead Poet’s Society.

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CASE ONE: WHO (really) IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF NEIL PERRY?

Every fan of Dead Poet’s Society knows that the death of Neil Perry is the most tragic near-the-end-of a-movie in film history (but only if you’re fifteen years old and haven’t watched Requiem For A Dream yet). Neil’s death by suicide is blamed on the unorthodox teachings of his English teacher, John Keating. Neil’s father claims that Keating’s carpe diem-based philosophy influenced his son to act recklessly. The recklessness? ACTING.

Neil Perry wants to be an actor.

Neil’s father wants him to be a doctor.

OBVIOUS DISAGREEMENT.

John Keating is dismissed from his post as English teacher at Welton Academy —

Wait — did I mention that this takes place at an all-boys prep school in 1959?

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GENTLEMEN, WHAT ARE THE FOUR PILLARS?

So… John Keating is fired from his position as an English teacher at Welton Academy after the school’s administration and Neil Perry’s parents hold Keating (and his teachings) responsible for the boy’s death.

According to Welton’s head administrator, Mr. Nolan, and Mr. and Mrs. Perry, John Keating’s encouraged Neil (and his other students) to be non-conformists and to defy authority by way of their membership in the Dead Poet’s Society. In Neil Perry’s case, Keating is accused of encouraging Neil to pursue a career in acting rather than attending medical school as his parents want him to.

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DING DING! BAD DECISION ALERT

The whole situation goes to seed when Neil’s father discovers his son has secretly taken the part of Puck in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Neil’s father threatens to withdraw Neil from Welton and enroll him in military school (so Neil will go to Harvatd to be a doctor).

Papa Perry tells his son that he is through with that “acting business”.

Feeling trapped by his father and unable to pursue his life dream, Neil commits suicide.*

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…leading to the most tragic moment in cinema history (at least to me when I was fifteen and hadn’t yet seen Requiem For A Dream), when Charlie tells Todd…

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So… Keating loses his job (and presumably his career in academia) because Welton and Neil Perry’s parents and the folks at Welton hold him morally culpable for Neli’s death. If not for Keating’s teachings (and the Dead Poet’s Society), Neil would not have killed himself.

But let’s think about it… is Keating really morally responsible for Neil’s death?

Well, that depends on who you ask.

STEP ONE: ASK A KANTIAN

If we ask a Kantian (god knows we wouldn’t want to ask Kant himself), the Kantian would tell us that Keating is not responsible, morally or otherwise, for the death of Neil Perry. The reason why Keating is not has to do with rationality.

Immanuel Kant, like his contemporary Enlightenment philosophers, believed that human progress, intellectual and philosophical, is the result of man’s rationality.

According to Kant, rationality is a prerequisite for morality.

For Kant, we must be rational to be moral.

That’s what the Categorical Imperative is all about.

Kant tells us that we are bound by moral duties, not only to others, but to ourselves. We cannot violate the categorical imperative, even if the only person we violate the categorical imperative for is ourselves.

Yes, Kant not only says we are capable of using ourselves as mere means to our own ends, he also tells us that’s something we can’t do. Suicide, according to Kant, does exactly that. Kant says we can’t commit suicide because committing killing ourselves treats us as mere means to our ends.

…and it’s not a rational thing to do.

Kant on suicide:

Firstly, under the head of necessary duty to oneself: He who contemplates suicide should ask himself whether his action can be consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. If he destroys himself in order to escape from painful circumstances, he uses a person merely as a mean to maintain a tolerable condition up to the end of life. But a man is not a thing, that is to say, something which can be used merely as means, but must in all his actions be always considered as an end in himself. I cannot, therefore, dispose in any way of a man in my own person so as to mutilate him, to damage or kill him. (It belongs to ethics proper to define this principle more precisely, so as to avoid all misunderstanding, e.g., as to the amputation of the limbs in order to preserve myself, as to exposing my life to danger with a view to preserve it, etc. This question is therefore omitted here.)

Neil bears the moral blame for Neil’s suicide because he violated the Categorical Imperative — on himself.

SO, if we’re assigning moral blame (from the Kantian view), we’d say that the moral responsibility for Neil Perry’s death is all on Neil, not John Keating. If we assume that Neil Perry is a rational (moral) actor (there’s no reason why we shouldn’t), we can also assume that Neil alone is responsible for what he does, including the act of suicide.

Of course, I’m assuming that Neil Perry never heard of Arthur Schopenhauer. For all I know, Neil was a fan.

If Neil was a Schopenhaurerian (is that even a word?) then it’s all on Neil. 100%

Schopenhauer on suicide:

They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice… that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.

Wow. That got dark for a moment.

But that’s Schopenhauer for you.

ANYWAY…

So, according to the Kantian, John Keating is in the clear.

Right?

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Ok… if John Keating is cleared of moral culpability by the Kantian, what if we ask a utilitarian?

STEP TWO: ASK THE UTILITARIAN

If the Kantian tells us the John Keating isn’t morally culpable for the death of Neil Perry, we might assume that a utilitarian would also tell us that Keating is not responsible (morally) for Neil’s death.

However, if we assumed that we might be wrong.

So, who would the utilitarian tell us is morally responsible for Neil Perry’s death?

You guessed it.

DEAD POET'S SOCIETY Robin Williams in the 1989 Warner film

THE CAPTAIN HIMSELF

The Kantian’s moral principle is grounded in the Categorical Imperative…

I just want to say, for the record, there’s no reason to capitalize the “C” and “I” in the words “Categorical Imperative”. It’s not like we’re talking about God or anything. It’s a stylistic choice. I capitalize it because it’s a nice thing to do for Kant.

As I stated, the Kantian’s moral principle is grounded in the Categorical Imperative. The utilitarian, on the other hand, is guided by the Greatest Happiness Principle. 

So what’s that?

Greatest Happiness Principle, as articulated by John Stuart Mill in Utilitarianism (1863), is:

The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.

Or, as we often say, an act is morally permissible if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number. 

Doing the right thing is all about what act produces the best consequences for the largest group of people

Sounds simple, right?

I mean, all we have to do is aim to make everybody happy.

John Keating teaches his students to think for themselves and make their lives extraordinary. He urges his students to carpe diem — seize the day — all with the aim to produce the best consequences for his boys.

But there’s a problem with utilitarianism.

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You see, an act is good, according to utilitarianism,  only if the act produces good consequences. Here’s the thing: sometimes, despite our best intentions, bad consequences happen. Even if we don’t intend bad results from our actions, the utilitarian says we’re still morally accountable for them.

If we look at what happens in Dead Poet’s Society, it’s pretty plain to see that Keating’s teachings don’t produce good consequences for everybody.

Let’s see all the bad things that happen when you teach kids to carpe some diems:

  • Neil Perry, motivated by the spirit of  carpe diem, auditions for and lands the part of Puck in a community production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Neil knows his father does not want him to be an actor. Neil’s father finds out and threatens to enroll Neil in military school, dashing his dreams of becoming an actor. As a consequence, Neil commits suicide.
  • Also motivated by the carpe diem spirit, Charlie Dalton publishes an anonymous letter on behalf of the Dead Poet’s Society demanding that girls be admitted to Welton Academy. This act not only reveals the existence of the Dead Poet’s Society to the school’s administration, resulting in Dalton’s major ass whipping, courtesy of head administrator, Mr. Nolan.

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  • It’s almost guaranteed that the reputation of Welton Academy was damaged in the aftermath of Neil Perry’s suicide.
  • Neil Perry’s parents are now childless.
  • John Keating is now jobless.
  • Welton has to purchase another set of English books to replace the texts that are now missing the J. Evans Pritchard introduction to understanding poetry (this seems trivial but textbooks costs money, people).
  • Charlie (whoops, Nuwanda) Dalton is expelled from school for punching Richard Cameron IN THE FACE in defense of John Keating.

And then there’s this final act of group defiance:

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ALL THESE DUDES GOT KICKED TF OUT OF SCHOOL

Now, that wasn’t good for anybody, was it?

Alright. We’ve talked about John Keating and moral culpability. Depending on what moral view you have, Keating may or may not be morally responsible for Neil Perry’s suicide. When it comes to Kantian/utilitarian ethical debates, we can go all day.

Never mind that. We might have a bigger problem…

Remember that nouthbreather I mentioned earlier?

STEP THREE: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KNOX

If you’ve watched Dead Poet’s Society and you’re a fifteen year old girl (shit, even if you’re a guy and you’re not fifteen), you might have swooned over the story of love-struck Knox Overstreet and his quest to win the heart of the object of his affection, Chris Noel.

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LOOKS HARMLESS… LOOKS HARMLESS

The question of moral culpability and John Keating dealt with the question of if or how a person is responsible for the actions of another person.

The question of moral culpability and Knox Overstreet is at what point are we morally culpable for our own actions?

I mean, after all, they’re just kids.

Problem is, even though they’re just kids, Knox Overstreet is RAPEY AS FUCK.

Remember this scene?

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THIS KID HAS GOT #ME TOO WRITTEN ALL OVER HIM

Yeah… only one person in this scene was conscious when this happened.

Now, I’m no lawyer, but I do know that consent is legally required before initiating sexual activity — AND YES, KISSING IS SEXUAL ACTIVITY.

Besides, you can’t consent to anything, even a “harmless” kiss, if you’re not conscious.

Alright, I know. Knox didn’t actually “do” anything. It was just a harmless kiss.  The things is, even if Knox kissed Chris in an “innocent” non-sexual way, he did not have her consent to kiss her. Chris was well with her rights to report Knox to the authorities.

…and press charges.

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IT REALLY ISN’T THO.

Ok, I’m gonna call a time out here. It’s time to define some terms.

Wikipedia (yes, Wikipedia) defines sexual assault as:

…an act in which a person intentionally sexually touches another person without that person’s consent, or coerces or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will.

Alright. Let’s assume, for the sake of the example, that Knox Overstreet’s “innocent” kiss qualifies as non-consensual sexual contact.

When Knox kissed Chris she was unconscious and unable to give consent — AND she had previously expressed her disinterest in a romantic relationship with Knox.

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So, as far as he knew at the time, Knox was kissing someone who, if she were awake, would have likely rejected him.

That sounds kinda wrong to me.

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ANYBODY ELSE GET THE FEELING THIS KID WOULD SHOOT HIS LAWYER IN THE COURTROOM DURING HIS TRIAL?

BUT — even though it’s wrong (possibly illegal) to kiss, however innocently, an unconscious person, as I asked before, is Knox morally culpable for what he did?

Is a child**, like Knox Overstreet, rational enough to be held morally accountable for his actions?

Immanuel Kant tells us that society’s laws are intrinsically tied to the moral law. Illegal acts are just illegal, they’re morally wrong. Kant also tells us that rationality is requited for moral agency. But how do we determine if a person is rational? More importantly, how much rationality is required for moral culpability? Is it required at all?

Well, if we look at the U.S. legal system (I’m looking at the U.S. legal system because, a) that’s where I live, and b) the U.S. is where Dead Poet’s Society takes place), children as young as 13 are subject to adult prison sentences. That’s because the U.S. legal system assumes a child as young as 13 is rational enough to know the difference between right and wrong.

If a child possesses a basic moral understanding (they can understand the difference between right and wrong), then they ought to be legally accountable for their actions, including possibly being charged as an adult.

Can kinda implies ought.

So… if a 13 year old is subject to legal culpability for committing a crime, then a child the same age as Knox Overstreet (Knox is 17… I think) definitely can be held legally accountable for what he does.

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SORRY, KNOX. YOU’RE GOING TO THE CLINK

Ok. I know. sending a child to prison at 13 years old may seem a bit extreme to pantywaist liberals some. But, remember we’re talking about legal culpability here.

What about moral culpability?

That’s what we were talking about, right?

Well… we might have go back to rationality…

You see, according to science, the teensters don’t think straight. They don’t because they can’t.  

Teenage brains literally prevent teenagers from thinking rationally.

Although adolescents can be charged and incarcerated as adults, neuroscience holds that adolescent brains are different from adult brains. Because a teenager’s brain is not fully developed, they do not possess the capacity to reflect on their actions in the same way adults do; they do not think before they act. Because an adolescent lacks fully developed reasoning skills, an adolescent’s actions are spontaneous (impulsive). Teenagers, like Knox Overstreet, live in a perpetual state of carpe diem.

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OR COSBY DIEM IF YOU’RE KNOX OVERSTREET

 

It’s not unreasonable to argue that a being that is less rational cannot be held morally culpable for what they do.

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IF I WERE CHET DANBURY, YOU KNOW WHAT I’D DO IF KNOX OVERSTREET KISSED ALL OVER MY GIRLFRIEND? I’D GET MY BUDDIES AND TAKE HIM OUT BACK AND PUNCH HIM TILL HE POOPS HIMSELF. THEN I’D CALL IT EVEN…did i fail to mention i actually like the character Knox Overstreet?

SOOOOOO… IF we use the rationality argument to assign moral culpability, we might conclude that Knox Overstreet is not entirely morally culpable for his actions.

BUT WAIT A MINUTE — if Knox can use the rationality (or lack thereof) argument to avoid moral culpability for his actions, doesn’t that mean that Neil Perry is equally not morally culpable for taking his own life?

Maybe. Maybe not. That’s the problem philosophers gotta deal with when we ask questions about moral culpability.

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We ask questions about moral culpability even if the question ultimately is unanswerable.

But since we’re already playing the blame game, isn’t this all really Charlie Dalton’s fault?

STEP FOUR: BLAME NUWANDA

As a fifteen year old Dead Poet’s Society enthusiast, I was smitten by Charlie Dalton.

I think everyone was.

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Charlie Dalton was a natural-born iconoclast. He was the defiant, saxophone-playing poet who took to Mr. Keating’s carpe diem philosophy with the same enthusiasm that legions of DPS fangirls and boys swooned over the golden haired Dead Poet.

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YES YOU ARE, NUWANDA. YES YOU ARE.

Unfortunately, the reason why we love Nuwanda is the exact reason why everything bad that happens in Dead Poet’s Society is all his fault. But why is it all Charlie’s fault, you say?

Remember this scene?

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Yeaaaahhhhh…..

You see, Charlie Dalton was the Dead Poet who placed the anonymous editorial in the school paper petitioning for girls to be admitted to Welton Academy.

That led to some bad consequences…

  • If not for Charlie’s article, Mr. Nolan and the school’s administration would not have known of the Dead Poet’s Society.
  • If the administration didn’t knew about the existence The Dead Poet’s Society, they might not have tied the club to John Keating
  • And if they hadn’t tied the existence of the club to John Keating, Keating might not have lost his job at Welton and his students might not have risked expulsion by standing on their desks with that “O Captain, My Captain” thing.

Pretty sure Neil would still be dead, though.

Hey, wait a minute! Wasn’t it Neil who found Keating’s old yearbook and reconvened the Dead Poet’s Society?

So it’s actually all Neil’s fault.

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YEP. IT’S ALL NEIL’S FAULT

But, Neil’s just a seventeen year-old kid. And teenagers aren’t always morally culpable for what they do.

Here we go again. That damn moral culpability.

ANYWAY….

I’ll just say Meeks is responsible for it all.

 

 

 

 

*For the record, Neil’s suicide was not the right thing to do.

** A child is legally defined as individuals under the age of eighteen.

 

 

 

SOURCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culpability

Immanuel Kant. [1785]. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/arthur_schopenhauer_104802?fbclid=IwAR2cHlLHLxsGJJr-QEWxS7Krddafmek_BQXAPE363jHgLkIZDmm5IP5W1ag#targetText=Arthur%20Schopenhauer%20Quotes&targetText=They%20tell%20us%20that%20suicide,his%20own%20life%20and%20person

John Stuart Mill. [1863]. Utilitarianism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_assault#Groping

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/child_law_practice/vol-34/august-2015/understanding-the-adolescent-brain-and-legal-culpability/

THE (UN)ETHICS OF TV LAW

IN ALL HONESTY cutting the cord kinda sucks.

When you got cable tv, you inevitably end up with a bunch of channels you don’t watch. And it costs too much money.

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The only good thing about cable tv is good reception.

I don’t have cable tv anymore.

Now I have an antenna.

Watching television with an antenna is almost as bad as cable tv.

That is to say, you still get stuck with a bunch of channels you don’t want to watch.

Only the reception is worse.

….which leads me to why I’ve been watching a lot of Start TV.

For those of you who have no idea what StartTV is (and I suspect there’s more than a few of you who don’t) StartTV is an over-the-air television network specializing in women-centered programming.

I swear I am not making a pitch, here.

Anyway, if you enjoy wasting spending your potentially productive waking hours binge watching old episodes of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Ghost Whisperer, and Touched By An Angel, then Start TV is the network for you!

Seriously, I should be getting paid to plug this network.

I might want to say that spending most of my otherwise productive hours of the day binge watching Start TV is a waste of time, but I can’t say my time is entirely wasted.

After all, Start TV airs reruns of The Good Wife.  Two episodes a night. Seven days a week.

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All I can say, is thank God for procedural dramas.

I’m not going to get into the weeds describing the show (you can check it out for yourselves), but i will say that I like The Good Wife more that I like Law and Order (and Law and Order is EVERYTHING) and after all these years I still hate Jeffrey Grant.

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YOU CAN SERIOUSLY GO FUCK ALL OF YOURSELF FOR WHAT YOU DID, JEFFREY GRANT

 

If offered a jaunt inside Nozick’s experience machine, all I’d say is,

Me.

Will Gardner.

and a plate of nachos.

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SERIOUSLY, BOTH ISN’T AN OPTION???

Although I’m unashamedly a devotee of the Will Gardner Worship Society,

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I KNOW i’M NOT THE ONLY PERSON WHO SHIPPED HARD FOR WILL AND DIANE

watching The Good Wife, I can’t help but be reminded of my first tv lawyer crush — my not-as-obsessed-with-as-I-am-with-Will-Gardner-but-kinda-a-lot-for-a-fictional-character crush on New York District Attorney John James “Jack” McCoy of NBC’s long-running legal drama Law and Order.

You just heard the dun-dun didn’t you?

Now, you may ask, why was Jack McCoy my first tv lawyer crush? Go ahead and ask.

I won’t mind.

After all, Jack McCoy doesn’t cut an imposing figure like Perry Mason or have the swagger of a Will Gardner or look as good in a custom-made ensemble like the guys on Suits.

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LOOK AT THOSE DASHING ENSEMBLES

But, what Jack McCoy has — something that Perry Mason, Will Gardner, and the dudes from Suits don’t have… is KANTIAN PHILOSOPHY.

I think Matlock does, tho.

But that’s another story…….

You see, if there’s any trait that ties tv lawyers together, it’s their collective lack of morality. Or rather, their collective lack of good morality.

It’s not unfair to declare that tv lawyers are a ethically deficient bunch.

In a sea full of moral reprobates, Jack McCoy stands out, not just because he’s a (fairly) morally upstanding guy (comparatively), but because McCoy’s morality is (probably) grounded in the Ethics of the most moral of moral philosophers, 18th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant.

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LOOKS KANTIAN, DOESN’T HE?

Listen: Anybody who knows me knows I claim to be an ethical Kantian. And anybody who knows me knows that i have a soft spot for Kantian characters.

Yeah, i know. Ayn Rand would hate me.

That’s kinda a good thing, tho.

So, lets chat a bit about why Immanuel Kant is so fantastic and how Jack McCoy is the most Kantian(esque) lawyer on tv, shall we?

If you don’t already know (and I don’t blame you if you don’t), Immanuel Kant tells us all ethics is based in duty. Our actions (motivated by duty) are grounded in our obligations to respect the autonomy of other persons and our respect for the (moral) law. According to Kant, our moral duties are universal and absolute (categorical imperatives, if you will), that we are bound to follow, no matter the consequences. Kant says about our moral duty:

an action done from duty has its moral worth, not in the purpose that is to be attained by it, but in the maxim according to which the action is determined.

According to Kant, our actions are morally good if we are acting according to our moral duties — aka following the Categorical Imperative, aka adhering to universal and absolute moral law.

Jack McCoy does this…most of the time.

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If you read your Immanuel Kant (again, I don’t blame you if you haven’t) You’d probably get the feeling that the second formulation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative sounds a tad like biblical principle of The Golden Rule.

The Second Formulation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative:

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

The Golden Rule states Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

It’s nor surprising that McCoy is (almost) Kantian. Not only was Jack McCoy raised Catholic, he was also educated by the Jesuits!

you see, that’s where the biblical principles come in…..whatever.

Ok…I know what you Law and Order fans are saying. There were plenty of times when Jack McCoy would bend the law, threaten even innocent people. and outright lie to get convictions. McCoy has been found in contempt of court on not one, but several occasions.

To that, I say touche and you are correct, my fellow Law and Order fan.

We can blame that on Jack’s lapsed Catholicism…..

Hey, even Kant says you gotta turn over he innocent guy to the ax murderer.

However, Jack Mc Coy’s actions are motivated by his respect for doing what is right (whoops, I mean what is RIGHT because I’m talking about what is ethically right, here) and his respect for the law.  McCoy’s unrelenting pursuit to convict the guilty — including his own colleagues — earned him the nickname “hang ’em high” McCoy.

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When defense attorney Danielle Melnick passes along information that leads to the deaths of witnesses against her client, McCoy does not hesitate to prosecute Melnick for violating special administrative measures — despite Melnick’s attempt to appeal to her (otherwise) good legal record and her friendship with McCoy. McCoy is not persuaded McCoy to overlook her participation in several murders.

It’s also worth noting that Jack McCoy prosecuted more police officers than any other district attorney while in office.

No one else but a Kantian like Jack McCoy would do that.

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Ok, I know that’s ADA Barba and not a cop.

 

Well, probably Matlock would.

but that’s another story……

 

 

 

 

SOURCES: Immanuel Kant. [1785]. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.

 

THE PHILOSOPHY OF A POSTING PIC (OF A DEAD MAN’S NAKED WIENER)

I GOT BANNED ON FACEBOOK. 

I suspect that everyone who is still on Facebook has been at least once.

But, with all the crap floating around on Facebook, it’s still pretty shocking to see one of these pop up in my notifications.

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Community standards?!?!? Facebook has community standards???

To be honest, it was only a 24-hour ban, but having a whole twenty-four hour period not being able to like, post, or comment made me think about a few things:

Namely, that interacting with actual people is overrated.

Secondly, I thought about why I was banned. Why Facebook would ban me for violating Facebook’s COMMUNITY STANDARDS?

What is a COMMUNITY STANDARD anyway????

I’ll get back to that question later.

The reason for my ban, it seems, was this: I violated Facebook’s COMMUNITY STANDARDS because I posted a picture.

A. picture. Of a naked person. Actually, of naked people.

Two people. Two famous naked people.

This picture:

two virgins

Didn’t have the black bars, tho…

For those who don’t know what that photo is (and I suspect there’s more than a few of you who don’t), the community standard-violating photo is from the album cover of Two Virgins,  recorded by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, released in 1968.

The sixties may have been the decade of free love, but in 1968 the album cover caused quite a stir.

It still would. And does.

Posting the cover on Facebook earns you one of these:

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And a 24-hour ban.

In 1968, critics called the album cover vulgar. Copies of Two Virgins were confiscated on the grounds that an image of full-frontal male and female nudity is obscene.

Lennon’s record label, EMI, didn’t like the cover, either. The album was released, wrapped in a plain paper bag.

If you buy the album Two Virgins, it looks like this:

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Definitely no naked wiener in sight.

When Two Virgins was released fifty years ago, Lennon and Ono defended the nude album cover, explaining that the image of the nude pair is art (whoops. It’s ART). They argued there is nothing salacious or vulgar about the cover. According to John and Yoko,

Art = not obscenity.

The intent of the album art was to depict Lennon and Ono as two innocents — virgins — “lost in a world gone mad”. Lennon explained:

[the album cover] “just seemed natural for us. We’re all naked really.”

Now, naked dong may be innocent art according to John Lennon, but according to Facebook, you can’t post peen on Facebook for this reason: dick pics are bad.

Art or no art, unclothed genitals are obscene.

Pictures, album cover or otherwise, of naked naughty bits are obscene because pee pee and hoo hoo are harmful to the COMMUNITY.

I realize I’m being rather childish, here. I’ve referred to the genitalia as “dong”, “peen”, pee pee”, “wiener”, and “hoo hoo”, instead of using the actual medical terminology. I also realize using childish words in place of the biologically correct nomenclature is ridiculous — nearly as ridiculous as censoring any part of human body.

So, what about those COMMUNITY STANDARDS?

First, when we talk about the “COMMUNITY” we’re talking about the general public.

So…community standards are:

Community standards are local norms bounding acceptable conduct, possibly going beyond legal minimum requirements in relation to either limits on acceptable conduct itself or the manner in which the community will enforce acceptable conduct. (Wikipedia)

The purpose for setting standards of conduct for the community is ultimately in the interest of the common good.

Or so they say…

You see, it is in the community’s interest to censor images like the cover of Two Virgins because images of exposed private areas are pornographic.

If you don’t know, the definition of pornography is:

1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement

2: material (such as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement

3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction. (Merriam-Webster)

The purpose of pornography is to arouse one’s prurient interest.**

Prurient interest is:

a term that is used for a morbid interest in sex, nudity and obscene or pornographic matters.

In June 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Miller v California created the Miller Test.

The Miller Test established the criteria for obscenity (and pornography). If a work is pornographic, we must determine:

  1. whether the average person, applying contemporary “community standards“, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;

  2. whether the work depicts or describes, in an offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions, as specifically defined by applicable state law.

  3. whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literaryartisticpolitical, or scientific value.[14]

So… If (particular or on some cases, peculiar) images of the sexual organs have no purpose other than to excite us sexually, we can classify the image as obscene or pornographic.

And, as the Miller Test tells us, if a work is pornographic, it has no redeeming social value.

Things without redeeming social value are bad.

Pornography is bad because it puts bad (prurient) thoughts on our heads.

Bad thoughts make for bad people.

Bad people are bad leaders.

And bad leaders are detrimental to the common good.

In Republic, Socrates argues that a good society depends on the morality of its citizens. If the people are exposed to things that are bad, they will become bad people. Therefore, says Socrates, we must be certain that the people, especially children, are exposed only to things that will make them good people.

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THIS IS TRUE. ESPECIALLY MODERN ART

This is especially true, Socrates says, of the arts. Socrates has no problem with censoring art that he (or society) considers to be bad.

Especially if your names are Hesiod or Homer………

homer-sucks

We know that artists can have a powerful influence on society. As a member of The Beatles and the author of songs (like) “All You Need Is Love”, “Imagine”, and “Give Peace A Chance”, John Lennon was called the “voice of his generation”. In 1966, Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” comment sparked public outrage.

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OBVIOUSLY FANS OF SOCRATES

The Beatles — Lennon in particular — challenged the conventional social norms and morality of the older generation. John Lennon, like Socrates centuries before him, was the gadfly who rattled authority enough to make his way onto President Richard Nixon’s shit list.

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Nixon felt, because of Lennon’s influence on popular culture, that the former Beatle’s politics threatened the social order.

Or at least Lennon threatened Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign…

Nixon wanted Lennon deported.

Now, if we’re thinking like Socrates, artists like John Lennon, the kind of artists who publicly display their boy parts, defy the city’s gods, and undermine the authority of the city’s leaders (aka, corrupt the young), are the type of people who should be censored.

After all, we must think of the children.

But wait a minute, you say. This is supposed to be all about the Two Virgins album cover, not about President Nixon’s personal vendetta against the politics of John Lennon.

If you said that, you’d be right.

So let’s get back to that, shall we?

Lennon and Ono maintained that their album cover was art, not pornographic. Unlike pornography, which has no redeeming value, the intent of the image was to convey the idea of innocence, not to arouse prurient interest.

The image on the album cover doesn’t meet our traditional notions of pornographic portraiture — there are no erections, no penetration, no sexuality graphic poses… The couple is merely standing still, posed no different than any clothed couple would pose while having their photograph taken.

We can say that the album cover was wrapped in plain brown paper to protect the children, but really, what kid in 1968 stormed their local record store to buy a copy of Two Virgins?

The message that the couple wanted us to hear is that the image of the two nude figures ought to be seen, and that we are all (metaphorically naked) innocents thrown into an often hostile that we cannot understand.

To censor the image would be to deprive people of the TRUTH.

And, as any philosopher will tell you, truth is a stepping stone on the path to wisdom.

In fact, it’s quite philosophical to argue that censorship actually damages society.

When works are censored according to what others deem obscene or offensive, the act of legislating (on the behalf of others) infringes on autonomy.

Depriving people of the ability to use their own rational judgement to decide what they do and do not want to see, deprives them of the capacity of the self-legislation required to make moral decisions.

Rational, autonomous decision making is essential for moral accountability, says Immanuel Kant.

BTW: IMMANUEL KANT IS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING.

EVERYTHING.

SO…

In the end, I decided not to challenge my 24-hour Facebook ban. I know I could have laid down a smooth Kantian argument about rationality and the deleterious effect of moral paternalism, but I didn’t. I figured that the time it would take to challenge a Facebook ban would cost me seconds of my life I would not get back.

I mean, come on. It’s Facebook.

Still, when I think about the reason for the ban — that I had violated “community standards” — I’m still left wondering, what is really so bad about a man’s naked penis or a woman’s nipples? Does pubic hair have the power to destroy society?

Is there an inherent soul-corrupting quality located inside human genitals?

If so, does science know about this???

 

 

 

 

 

** This isn’t the purpose of pornography according to me. It is, however, the purpose of pornography according to the U.S. Supreme Court and moralizers everywhere.

 

 

 

SOURCES:

https: //en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_standards

https://thelawdictionary.org/prurient-interest/

https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/413/15.html

I AM THE MINDLESS PHILOSOPHER

YEARS AGO, I WROTE a book.

It’s a philosophy book. Or rather, it’s a book about philosophy.

…kinda sorta about philosophy.

I mean, I use the word “philosophy”. And I quote Nietzsche.

That’s all you need for a philosophy book, right?

Now, when I was a philosophy student, I used to lament (sometimes – ok, a lot of times − out loud) the fact that most of the philosophy texts I was reading – the books every philosophy student is required to read – THE GREAT PHILOSOPHICAL TEXTS BY THE GREATEST PHILOSOPHICAL MINDS – were… well…boring.

Positively dull.

If earning a philosophy degree taught me anything, I learned that reading Immanuel Kant is the perfect cure for insomnia.

Reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason = snoozefest.

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KANT’S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON CAN ALSO BE USED AS A PILLOW OR AS A MAKESHIFT  BLUDGEONING DEVICE TO BE USED AGAINST WOULD-BE AXE MURDERERS

It’s not just mind-numbing boringness that philosophy has to overcome; people just don’t like philosophy or philosophers.

Americans are notoriously anti-intellectual. The average stereotypical American doesn’t trust a guy who’s a smarty pants. And really, who can blame them?

Smarty pants people invented the atomic bomb.

They also created reality tv.

If it wasn’t for that smart guy Dr. Phil, none of us would have any idea what “cash me ousside” means.

and if you don’t know, god bless you.

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THANKS, DR. PHIL

To be fair, Dr. Phil isn’t a philosopher. He’s a psychologist.

William James was a psychologist. And a philosopher.

William James was one of the fathers of Pragmatism.

Dr. Phil is pragmatic.

Therefore, I think, Dr. Phil IS a philosopher.

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CAN’T BE ANY WORSE THAN NICOMACHEAN ETHICS

Anyway… generally speaking, there’s always been a certain amount of negativity directed towards philosophers and philosophy.

Popular culture depicts philosophers as mopey navel gazers.

If society is correct, philosophers are only good at contemplating things that, in the long run, aren’t useful.

Schopenhauer was mopey.

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THE MAN EXUDES MISERY, DOESN’T HE?

Wittgenstein realized logical positivism was a dumb idea – even though he was the person who invented it.

Here’s the thing: even though people think philosophers are good only for thinking about things that no normal person cares about, there’s always been a place for the philosopher in society.

No one wants to admit it; the lovers of wisdom are an essential part of the way things are.

Just think about our popular culture for a minute.

You personally might not give two poops about philosophy, but if you exist right now, your “life” is the product of a long list of philosophers including (but definitely not limited to) Hegel, Nietzsche, Leo Strauss, John Stuart Mill, Plato, and Ayn Rand.

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LEO STRAUSS: THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PHILOSOPHER YOU’VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF, AND LIKELY WON’T GOOGLE, EVEN AFTER READING THIS BLOG POST

You won’t find a critically praised tv show or movie, a failed economic theory, a celebrity-slash-deep thinker, or a dumb politician who hasn’t quoted, misquoted, paraphrased, borrowed or stolen an idea from a philosopher.

Don’t believe me?

You’d think with all the philosophy everywhere, that we would, as a society, be a little more positive about philosophers and philosophy.

Nope.

and I’ll tell you why…

Are you listening? Here’s the reason why:

PHILOSOPHERS ARE NOT FUN.

Seriously, philosophy types are not a very fun lot to be around.

At the risk of being ad hominem-y, take a good look at the nearest philosopher. LOOK.

Look at him. Or her.

Now, ask yourself – am I looking at a person who looks like they’d be fun to be around for more than five minutes?

Sure, a professional philosopher will insist that they’re fun and funny and all-around interesting people, but do not be fooled. A fun philosopher is fun – for a philosopher.

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I’E USED MY POWERS OF PHILOSOPHICAL SPECULATION TO DETERMINE THAT MOST PHILOSOPHERS ARE UNFUN — EXCEPT FOR DIOGENES. DIOGENES SEEMS LIKE A FUN GUY

The reason why philosophers are un-fun has to do with the natural disposition of philosophers. Philosophers operate under the delusion that every conversation must adhere to a set of absolute bullshit rules on how conversations are supposed to go.

NO AD HOMINEMS ALLOWED.

Philosophers use fancy “philosophical” words like invalid, fallacy, and this is complete bullshit, why are you even in my class!?!?! to describe conversations that don’t adhere to The Rules.

Pffft!

As much as I love the love of wisdom, I got tired of not having fun.

not-fun

I mean, sometimes rules are great. Rules come in handy. Philosophy is a rigorous intellectual pursuit and strict rules are needed to produce coherent theories and arguments.

Makin’ rules is what made Immanuel Kant the greatest Kantian philosopher of all time.

But, every once in a while, even when doing philosophy, you gotta let one rip.
and not just figuratively.

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I had a philosophy professor who told a story about a conversation they had with another philosophy professor on a plane. My professor said that the conversation got so deep in arguing over theory that another passenger sitting nearby asked them to stop talking.

The professors weren’t using vulgar language. They weren’t looking at pornography. They weren’t defecating on the food cart or having an overly enthusiastic debate to settle whether Negan or The Governor was the baddest bad guy on The Walking Dead.

They were discussing philosophy.

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FOR THE RECORD, THE BADDEST BAD GUY WAS GARETH. GARETH ATE PEOPLE!!!

In the ears and minds of a pair of philosophy professors, a discussion about philosophy is something suitable to engage in around an airplane full of strangers. However, for the other passengers, being stuck in the fuselage of a jet aircraft (involuntarily) listening to a couple of philosophy enthusiasts talk about whatever it is that overthinkers talk about, had made an otherwise somewhat entertaining plane trip intolerable. UNFUN.

PHILOSOPHERS MAKE THINGS UNFUN.

Think about it: think of all the fun times you’ve ever had. Were there party hats? Yes. Mixed drinks? Probably. Strippers dressed as firemen? Undoubtedly. Was a philosopher involved? Absolutely not.

No fun time ever involves philosophers.

…except for maybe Diogenes.

In his 1748 treatise An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, the Scottish philosopher, David Hume (1711-1776), wrote, “Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.” Hume understood the necessity of philosophy, but he also knew that there’s more to life than philosophy. Namely, Hume knew that life is to be enjoyed – to have fun.

In his last days, Hume told jokes, played cards, hung out with his friends.

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ANY GUY WHO WEARS A JACKET THIS FLASHY PROBABLY KNOWS HOW TO HAVE A FUN TIME

And that’s what brings me to this. This blog.

Serious philosophers take philosophy things way too seriously.

There’s nothing worse than telling a good philosophy joke to a philosophy pro and getting nothing but a blank stare because the mofo takes philosophy too seriously to see the humor.

 

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IS THIS THING ON?????

 

Some people study philosophy for the sake of understanding the theory. Some people get their jollies discussing theories.

This is not that kind of blog.

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I think a part of enjoying anything you love is to be willing to take a bit of the piss out of it.

So, what would a philosophy blog written by someone who avoids deep theoretical philosophical discussions… someone who thinks skimming is sometimes just as good as actually reading an actual book… someone who thinks the answer for any philosophical question can be found in an episode of Star Trek look like?

You’re looking at it.

This blog is my philosophical mission. I call it mindless philosophy.

I AM THE MINDLESS PHILOSOPHER.

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I am a philosopher; but, amidst all my philosophy, I am still a man.

I’ve said, from the moment I decided to start a blog, the first aim of The Mindless Philosopher is to have fun. I love philosophical discussions, but, truth be told, The Mindless Philosopher is not above name calling, writing pedantic blog posts of somewhat-deep philosophical analysis based on a misinterpretation, emotion-based arguments or the tried and true ad hominem attack.

 

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IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, “YOU’RE A FUCKING MORON!” ALWAYS WORKS

 

Yeah, I know it’s not PHILOSOPHY, but PHILOSOPHY isn’t entirely the point of my blog. I’m not a professional philosopher, I don’t have tenure and I’m not getting paid to do this. I’m just a schmo who got an undergrad degree in philosophy and decided to use it as an excuse to watch way too much tv.

And write a blog about it.

Listen:

You know what’s got a lot of philosophy in it?

TV shows got philosophy. So do movies.
And music
And books

And former reality tv show hosts who become president of the United States.

 

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CAN’T BE ANY WORSE THAN PRINCIPIA ETHICA

Sure, taking philosophy out of academia and applying it to your favorite tv show can be a daunting task. It’s messy. Theories sometimes don’t work, and sometimes you have to stretch a theory to fit.

Sometimes you discover that your brilliant philosophical analysis of the brave protagonist has been an exercise in how to misapply a philosophical theory.

In the end, I guess if I had to explain why I do this – why an amateur deep thinker (like me) would dare to venture into the world of philosophy − I truly think that anybody can be a philosopher. You don’t need to attend university or have a PhD to ponder life’s big questions. If we’re talking about the human condition, it makes sense to bring philosophy out of the academy and into the real world.

Because that’s where the people are.

 

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LOOK AT ALL THESE NOT-PHILOSOPHER PEOPLE WAITING TO LEARN PHILOSOPHY!

 

Thinking philosophically doesn’t require that anyone read the complete works of Bertrand Russell or understand the Hegelian dialectic. You don’t need to know who Slavoj Žižek is or that he’s called the Elvis of philosophy to do philosophy.

Anybody can do philosophy. Anybody should do philosophy.

You see, we can use philosophy to understand things.

 

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AT LEAST TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE HELL THIS IS ALL ABOUT

 

If a philosophy degree is an interesting path to poverty, I might as well have some fun with it.

…and do a little bit of mindless philosophy along the way.

 

SURE, YOU CAN…. BUT SHOULD YOU?

EVERY-SO-OFTEN the internet gets inexplicably fixated on a celebrity.

Betty White. George Takei. Chuck Norris. Rick Astley…

Lately, for reasons only the internet understands, the internet’s celebrity fixation is on Jeff Goldblum.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I think I understand why Jeff Goldblum is the current internet thing. He’s the same perfect mix of weird and oddly attractive that made cats the internet’s spirit animal.

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WEIRD AND ODDLY ATTRACTIVE

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WEIRD AND ODDLY ATTRACTIVE

Watch enough cable TV and you’re bound to spend a weekend binge watching your favorite (or in the case of Twilight, my least favorite) film franchise.

They’re all there in heavy rotation: Star Wars. The Harry Potter flicks. The Twilight saga. Fifty Shades of Whatever. The Jurassic Park films.

Cable TV operates on repeat, not shuffle.

I’m never not going to be a Star Wars fan, but if I had to watch a film series that is not Star Wars, I’d choose Jurassic Park.

Why? Because Freaking dinosaurs, that’s why.

Did I mention that Jeff Goldblum is in the Jurassic Park movies?

It’s all connected, folks.

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YOUR DAY IS NOW 1000% BETTER THAN IT WAS BEFORE YOU SAW THIS PICTURE. YOU’RE WELCOME

The Jurassic Park film series, based on the 1990 book Jurassic Park (written by Michael Crichton), is a modern version of Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, the 1818 novel written by Mary Shelley (1797–1851). Shelley’s novel is a retelling of the story of Prometheus, the Greek hero whose relentless quest for pursuit for (scientific) knowledge ends in tragedy.

In a nutshell, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young doctor whose quest to harness the power of creation ultimately leads to his own destruction.

In a nutshell, Jurassic Park is pretty much the same cautionary tale.

Except with dinosaurs.

Freaking dinosaurs.

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FREAKING DINOSAURS, MAN

These days, all one needs to do is mention the name “Frankenstein” to conjure images of the mad scientist who defies the laws of God and nature and is ultimately destroyed by his own creation.

Or, if you’re in a Jurassic Park flick, the mad scientist’s creation ultimately destroys the city of San Diego… and an amusement park.

…but I digress.

The motion picture adaptation of Jurassic Park was released in 1993 and was followed by its sequels The Lost World: Jurassic Park II, Jurassic Park III, and Jurassic World.

…because destroying San Diego wasn’t enough; they HAD to build an amusement park.

In the original (and arguably most philosophical) film, Jurassic Park, billionaire entrepreneur John Hammond creates JURASSIC PARK, the ultimate amusement park experience, where guests literally can walk with the dinosaurs. In addition to providing totally immersive entertainment, courtesy of the resurrected pre-historic beasts, Hammond boasts that park provides the best amenities for guests, including gourmet ice cream.

“We spared no expense”, Hammond declares.

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THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR JELLO

While Hammond marvels at his creation, one of the park’s guests, mathematician (and chaos theorist) Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by current internet darling Jeff Goldblum), asks the question that is central to the theme of the film.

It happens during this exchange between Dr. Malcolm and John Hammond:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now
Dr. Ian Malcolm: you’re selling it, you wanna sell it. Well…
John Hammond: I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before…
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Did you spot it?

If you didn’t, it might be because it was more of a statement than a question.

Here it is: Dr. Malcolm tells John Hammond “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Dr. Malcolm said the words “could” and “should”.

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…and when you say words like “could” and “should”, philosopher’s ears perk up.

because words like “could” and “should” are words philosophers use when they’re doing ethics.

What’s ethics?

Ethics is:

…a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct… Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime. As a field of intellectual enquiry, moral philosophy also is related to the fields of moral psychology, descriptive ethics, and value theory. (definition courtesy of Wikipedia)

At the heart of the story of Jurassic Park is a morality tale.

Dr. Malcolm’s challenge to John Hammond is moral – should we do something because we can do it?

Or, if you’re the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), you’d say Ought Implies Can.*

Ought Implies Can (OIC), the ethical principle attributed to Immanuel Kant, states that people have a moral obligation to perform an act only if it is possible for him carry out the act.

For instance, if I borrow money from my uncle (with the intention of paying him back), and I have the means to pay him back, I am morally obligated to pay my uncle the money I borrowed from him.

  • I ought to pay my uncle because I promised to pay him back (We are morally obligated to keep our promises).
  • I ought to pay my uncle because we are morally obligated to pay off our debts.
  • I ought to pay my uncle because I have the means to (can) pay him back.

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DON’T LET IT COME TO THIS

In the film (and book) Jurassic Park, human scientists discover the means of creating living dinosaurs from long-extinct dinosaur DNA − CAN

Hammond and his scientists conclude if man possesses the ability – if people can recreate extinct animals using modern technology, then we OUGHT to bring them back. Jurassic Park flips Kant’s moral principle − Can Implies Ought.

That is, the film Jurassic Park asks Kant’s question backwards: We can, ought we?

John Hammond believes that the technological ability to create long-extinct dinosaurs implies (perhaps even demands) that the dinosaurs be recreated at Jurassic Park.

If we can do it, shouldn’t we do it?

Not just for the entertainment, but also for the scientific knowledge we would gain through the observation of dinosaurs?

After all, can recreating dead dinosaurs be any worse than blasting a Tesla into outer space?

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YEP. THERE’S A TESLA IN SPACE

Of course, Dr. Malcolm’s challenge to John Hammond isn’t deontological – it’s utilitarian.

For those who might have forgotten, utilitarianism is:

the doctrine that an action is right insofar as it promotes happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct. (definition courtesy of Bing)

What Malcolm is asking is what is the value of bringing back the dinosaurs?

Malcolm tells Hammond that the dinosaurs had their chance and they failed – the dinosaurs went extinct.

Recreating an extinct species in an environment in which they do not belong, Malcolm believes, can only bring about bad results.

Is the enjoyment from walking with dinosaurs worth the risk to human life?

Given what happens in the film the answer seems no.

You see, no matter how careful you may think you are, carnivorous prehistoric beasts will eat things, including people.

Let’s not forget that a T-Rex ate San Diego.

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ADMIT IT. YOU LIKED THE T-REX UNTIL IT ATE THAT DOG, RIGHT?

Rampaging dinosaurs are responsible for several dozen human deaths throughout the film series.

The millions of dollars in possible property damage (not to mention the cost of insurance) would make recreating potentially man-eating dinosaurs a cost-prohibitive venture.

But, if a utilitarian can argue why we shouldn’t do something, rest assured that a utilitarian will also argue exactly why we should do something as dumb as lab engineering a ferocious dinosaur like the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

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SCIENTISTS RECREATE LONG-EXTINCT, CARNIVOROUS SPECIES USING THE DNA OF ANOTHER SPECIES THAT CAN CHANGE GENDER… WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG????



We can imagine the (well meaning) utilitarian saying that the dinosaurs posed no significant danger to humans at all. Many of the dinosaurs are not inherently dangerous to people and dogs. Any fatalities associated with the dinosaurs were due mostly to human error, sabotage or just people doing dumb shit. We can remedy that. So long as people obey the rules and don’t do anything sinister or stupid (and with better genetic manipulation of dinosaur DNA), the utilitarian reasons we can create visitor-friendly dinosaurs without major loss of life.

Scientists benefit from the ability to study real-life dinosaurs and park guests can enjoy unparalleled world- class entertainment.
…including some bomb-ass ice cream.

That’s because Jurassic Park SPARES NO EXPENSE.

So… so long as Jurassic Park implements better safety measures (and perhaps including a better background check for employees), we should be good to go, right?

 

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NOPE. NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT, SAN DIEGO

 

According to utilitarianism so long as everybody’s happy an act is morally permissible.

More than that, it’s morally obligatory.

Therefore, we ought to create dinosaurs.

You know that’s not the right answer, don’t you?

Dr. Malcolm says to John Hammond, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Malcolm isn’t just concerned with the utilitarian consequences of Hammond’s scientists’ actions, he’s also bothered by Hammond’s defiance of nature.

We see Dr. Malcolm’s (nature-based) uneasiness with resurrecting dinosaurs in this conversation with one of Hammond’s scientists:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: John, the kind of control you’re attempting simply is… it’s not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh… well, there it is.
Dr. Wu: You’re implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will… breed?
Dr. Ian Malcolm: No. I’m, I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way.

Malcolm frames his concern as a question of defying nature, but the question: just because we can do something, should we do it? is also a biblical question.

Got something to do with who defying the will of God.

if we’re being specific, the question, Who gets to play God?

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In the Old testament, Adam and Eve are cast from the Garden of Eden for taking from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.

Coz there are things that man ain’t supposed to know.

… and things people ain’t supposed to do.

In the Bible, the story of Adam and Eve (and humanity in general) ends tragically.

The punishment for eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is death.

You die if you try to do what God do.

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And that is exactly what leads to the tragic end of Dr. Victor Frankenstein in Shelley’s cautionary tale of the modern Prometheus – Frankenstein tries to play God.

In Shelley’s novel, man (Victor Frankenstein) attempts to harness the power of creation – a power that belongs solely to God. Frankenstein’s monster is his Tower of Babel, a monument of man’s conceit. And like the Tower of Babel, Victor Frankenstein and his monster are destroyed.

Likewise, Dr. Malcolm sees John Hammond’s Jurassic Park as a monument of Hammond’s conceit. According to Malcolm, the (technological) attempt to control nature plants the seeds of our own destruction. Nature finds a way, Malcolm warns, meaning once man attempts to control the power of nature, nature, or God (or Nature’s God, if you’re Thomas Jefferson) inevitably will conquer man.

Jurassic Park, like the Tower of Babel and Victor Frankenstein, are doomed to fail.

What Dr. Malcolm knew (that John Hammond and Victor Frankenstein didn’t know) is just because you can do something, it doesn’t always mean that you ought to do it.

 

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ME TOO, DR. MALCOLM. ME TOO.

 

 

Especially if the thing that you ought not do eats San Diego.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Kant’s Ought Implies Can should not be confused with Hume’s Is-Ought problem. The Is-Ought Fallacy postulates what ought to be based on what is. For example, if nature does not make it, we shouldn’t have it. Well, nature doesn’t make clothes or houses, but very few people would say that we shouldn’t have clothes or houses simply because clothes and houses do not occur naturally.

 

SOURCES:
Jurassic Park. Screenplay by Michael Crichton and David Koepp. Directed by Steven Spielberg. 1993. Amblin Entertainment/Universal Pictures.

https://www.bing.com/search?q=utilitarianism&form=EDNTHT&mkt=en-us&httpsmsn=1&refig=08459d68e48f48cf880067e52649d77a&sp=2&qs=HS&pq=utili&sk=HS1&sc=8-5&cvid=08459d68e48f48cf880067e52649d77a&cc=US&setlang=en-US

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics

I THINK THEREFORE I AM (Gonna be your valentine)

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

Valentine’s Day is a day for LOVE.

…and philosophy.

Not this kind of philosophy

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This kind of philosophy.

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

That’s not always, tho.

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

…and by “sleeping” I mean have sex.

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

All movies about philosophy professors.

All maximum pervage.

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

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

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

What they do when the lights are turned down.

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

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SAID NO ONE EVER

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

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

EVERYTHING.

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

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

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

Why is it complicated?

Because philosophical reasons.

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

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

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

There are people who actually do this.

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

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

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

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

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

And truth leads to wisdom.

Philosophers love wisdom.

Aristotle places a heavy emphasis on philia – friendship.

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

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

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

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

Aristotle says,

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

So, what about actual philosophers and love?

You can probably guess.

Cue Lady Gaga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kant’s life was described as “monastic”.

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Nietzsche and Schopenhauer never married, either.

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

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Kierkegaard also never married.

If you ask me, Kierkegaard lost out.

Amazingly, Hegel found a wife.

Speaking of children out of wedlock…

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

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

Not even philia love.

Not even agape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russell wrote,

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

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

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

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PICTURED:  SEX GOD

Well…

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

Unless your name is Immanuel Kant.

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

That’s romantic speak for Kant, you see.

Because Immanuel Kant never dated anyone. Ever.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

SOURCES:

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/mQVrzWtqgU

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BETTER LIVING THROUGH KANTISTRY

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

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

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

Even an emotivist has consistent principles.

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

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

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

 

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

…and it doesn’t violate the categorical imperative.

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

Even Rahab lied to protect the Israelites.

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That’s kind of where the egoism comes in.

But there’s a problem with egoism.

To wit: this problem with egoism is this

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

Besides, being an egoist just makes everybody hate you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I know. They’re connected.

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

I know, right?!?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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Kantian ethics is pretty (somewhat) easy.

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

Yes, I did say that.

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

Allow me to give an example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…because five is more than one.

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

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

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

…along with a few more people.

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

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

Kant’s ethics is based entirely on DUTY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

If the answer is no, don’t do it.

But…what about that trolley, tho?

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

YOU KILLED SOMEONE.

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

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

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

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

…or ask an egoist to pull the lever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

ON BUNNIES, BAMBI, AND THE ETHICS OF NOT SAYING ANYTHING AT ALL

EVERYBODY’S GOT A story about the movie that traumatized you as a kid.
The movies The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal are sure-fire picks for everybody’s short list.

The Secret of NIMH.

Coraline.

If you want to watch real cinema-induced trauma, watch the movie “The Adventures of Mark Twain”. The movie is rated G, but you’ll soon ask how a movie that disturbing was rated for general audiences.

Traumatic cinema isn’t a new thing. Filmmakers have been making nightmare fuel for tots for decades. By my estimate they’ve been at it since at least 1942.

That was the year Walt Disney Studios released Bambi.

Walt Disney’s Bambi, based on the book Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, was Disney’s fifth animated film. The studio’s four previous films, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo, all have their fair share of scary moments.

Kids turning into jackasses, anyone?

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But Bambi tops all that. Bambi has the one thing that scares the living daylights out of children who are aware of human mortality:

The death of parent.

Somebody shoots Bambi’s mom.

 

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SERIOUSLY, WHAT KIND OF SICK S.O.B. PUTS SOMETHING LIKE THIS IN A KIDS MOVIE???

 

Luckily, that’s not what I’m going to talk about.

I’m going to write about a lighter topic: lies.

Or rather, about a particular kind of lie.

In the movie, Thumper, Bambi’s annoyingly adorable bunny friend, when his mother admonishes him for describing the Prince of the Forest’s walk as not “very good”, repeats his father’s bit of moral advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

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Bad grammar aside, Thumper’s father’s ethic (also called the Thumperian principle, Thumper’s rule or Thumper’s law) sounds like the nice thing to do. But a philosopher’s gotta think: is not saying anything at all the morally right thing to do?

First off, Thumper is right. Bambi’s walk was wobbly.

Bambi, a newborn deer, had the typical gait of a newborn deer – not very good.

Thumper merely offered his honest opinion.

Honest.

Spilled the T, as the kids say these days.
…actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Thumper threw some serious shade.

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Honesty usually isn’t considered a bad thing.

We often say honesty is the best policy, and if we consider being honest the same as telling the truth, we should also value honesty as a stone on the path to wisdom.
Remember, philosophers are all about loving wisdom.

If we say honesty is the best policy, we say it knowing that the truth is often difficult to hear.

 

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YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY TALK ABOUT PEOPLE NOT LIKING THE TRUTH WITHOUT INCLUDING THIS… IT’S THE LAW

 

Although we say that the truth hurts; that we’re offering tough love or “constructive criticism”, we praise straight shooters, people who “tell it like it is” and “call it like they see it”.

Of course, we wouldn’t want people to tell the truth all the time. Even Plato recognized the usefulness and necessity of lies.

To the rulers of the state then, if to any, it belongs of right to use falsehood, to deceive either enemies or their own citizens, for the good of the state: and no one else may meddle with this privilege. − Plato

If I’ve learned anything from watching Jim Carrey movies, I’ve learned that not being able to lie can be just as bad as lying. Should we say that those jeans really do make our wife’s ass look fat? Should we tell our three-year-old that Sparky didn’t go to doggie heaven? Should we tell the truth even if the truth isn’t nice?
Is it better to think it and not say it?

Should we just omit the truth?

There is a line between being tactful and lying. We lie when we withhold the truth. But not telling the truth isn’t an outright lie − it’s not saying anything.

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But isn’t omission a lie?

What is lying by omission?

Lying by omission, otherwise known as exclusionary detailing, is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception

Let’s get back to the original Thumperian principle: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. Thumper isn’t omitting facts or failing to correct a misconception. The matter at hand concerns Thumper’s opinion.

If Thumper followed his father’s admonition, he wouldn’t have lied by omission.

He wouldn’t have been rude, either.

That kinda was Thumper’s mom’s point, wasn’t it?

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Ok. Thumper isn’t a liar. But something’s still bugging me about what Thumper said. Or rather, something’ bugging me about abiding by the Thumperian principle. Sometimes we need to tell some of those not nice truths.

After all, we’re not just talking about not hurting someone’s feelings. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether someone wears a pair of ill-fitting jeans. It’s not just a matter of bad manners.

We’re talking about philosophical integrity.

When we declare a principle like, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all” we’re declaring a philosophical position. We’re saying we believe being nice − being nice; being aware of the feelings of others and respecting others as we want to be respected − is a good thing.

And by good, we mean it’s the morally correct thing to do.

The Bible tells us it’s good to be nice to people. Mathew 7:12 says,

“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

Being nice isn’t just a very Christian thing to do, it’s the Kantian thing to do.
The German philosopher. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), created the Categorical Imperative as a means of establishing a basis of ethics (not based in religion or consequentialism) that would apply to all people, universally.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative states, “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”

Yeah, it sounds a lot like the Golden Rule, but Kantians INSIST that it’s not the same thing.

Another Formula Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the Formulation of Ends, states: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”

In short, according to Kant and the Bible, we’re morally obligated to treat others with respect – an element of which is not lying to people.

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It’s important that we be nice to people, but it is also important that we tell people the truth.

That’s because the truth is illuminating.

Plato demonstrates the illuminating effect of the truth in the Allegory of the Cave.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, from Book VII in The Republic, Socrates describes the story of a group of prisoners trapped inside a cave.

The prisoners are unable to leave the cave because they are chained to a wall and unable to face in any direction other than to face straight ahead. The only images the prisoners see are the shadows projected on the wall in front of them, illuminated by the light from a fire behind them.

The shadowy images on the wall are the only reality the prisoners know.

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The prisoners eventually escape the confines of the cave and are brought into the light of day.

Light of Day… good song, awful movie.

At first, the brilliant light of the sun pains their eyes and they are confused by what they see. The prisoners realized that the world inside the cave isn’t reality at all.

There’s a bit more to Plato’s allegory, however, misinterpreted to its most basic components, Plato’s tale of the chained prisoners demonstrates the effect of truth, and how the truth, even if initially hurts us, is essential for a good (i.e. philosophical) life.

So, what does all this have to say about Thumper?

Well, for starters, Thumper was rude. Additionally, he wasn’t really stating anything that wasn’t obvious to even the most unobservant forest dweller. Thumper’s unsolicited opinion based on his observation of the newborn fawn’s walk doesn’t seem controversial – primarily because it was an opinion.

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But − should we be concerned about the feelings of others? Should we hold opinions to a different standard than we hold the truth? Should we, as Maurice Switzer suggested, “remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it”?

Honestly, I really can’t say exactly what a philosopher should think about what Thumper said. Maybe, just for the sake of preventing meaningless (and all too often pedantic) philosophical arguments, we should follow Thumper’s dad’s advice.

Seriously, where was Thumper’s dad???

 

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I THINK I HAVE AN IDEA…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thumper_(Disney)

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lying_by_omission