Contemplation, Philosopher Style

Aristotle wrote that the contemplative life is the best life so I thought I would do a little philosophy today.

That means I have to think. About something.

The problem is I think I’ve run out of things to think about. I needed some help/ so I asked a couple of people what philosophers think about. I didn’t ask too many people. I got discouraged.

They told me that philosophers think about nothing important. I was told that philosophers think about this:

belly button without the cat

And this:

 

big toe

 

Well…. I guess I’ll start there. With the navel gazing and the big toe. I guess once I get started some things to think about will pop up. Besides, I haven’t seriously contemplated my big toe in awhile.

Now that I’ve started thinking about my body parts, I wonder what deep, philosophical thing John Lennon was trying to think of when he made a nine minute film contemplating his own penis?

Must have been something really deep.

Perhaps it was Sartre’s bad faith? Or Gödel’s Incompleteness? Or even Marx’s materialist dialectic?

I guess we’ll never know.

No, I’m not posting that film.

But I will post this:

 

 

Competitive Philosophy

Why isn’t thinking a sport?

I mean, really. In a lot of ways it’s like every other sport: It’s time consuming. It’s exhausting. You have to train yourself to do it well. You can break a sweat. And if you go on Jeopardy! You can make money doing it.

If you really think about it, thinking is a pretty big deal. Not one of us can live without thinking.

Everybody thinks. I’m thinking as I’m writing this blog post, and I’ll continue thinking after I’ve stopped writing. You’re thinking as you are reading what I‘ve written.

No one would say that there’s no one out there that doesn’t think, right?

No one that’s alive, anyway.

You might not have realized it, but you’ve been thinking all day.

Really. If we starting thinking of thinking as a competitive sport, thinking would be just about the most diplomatic sport there is.

So why not think that thinking can be a sport?

This is the ethics bowl team I (not pictured) competed with a few years ago. Just so you know there are such things as competitive philosophers

This is the ethics bowl team I (not pictured) competed with a few years ago. Just so you know there are such things as competitive philosophers

 

 

The philosophy of head colds

This morning I woke up with a sore throat. I think it might be a pre-summer cold, but then it might be due to the fact that I tend to sleep with my mouth open. Either way, when I woke up, my throat felt like it was on fire.

My morning illness got me thinking about something. I don’t think in the entire time that I studied philosophy that I ever read anything any philosopher had to say about being sick. After all, the first physicians were philosophers — they must have had something to say about it. The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) wrote

what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life.

I had figured that thinking about illness and disease is at least as important as thinking about phenomenalism or Fregean truth-functional statements, so I decided to spend a little time trying to find out what philosophers have to say about the state of ill-health.

I wish I looked this good with a sore throat

 

I already knew that Aristotle (and ancient Greek philosophers in general) wrote about matters of health and medicine — Aristotle wrote about (everything) causes, including his theories of the causes of disease. The ancient Greek Philosopher Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Medicine” (and also for the Hippocratic Oath) established medicine as a discipline separate from philosophy. And the Muslim philosopher Ibn Sina (also known by the Latin name Avicenna) not only wrote extensive treatises on topics ranging from philosophy to medicine, astronomy, logic, and physics, but also Ibn Sina’s The Canon of Medicine (1025) was the standard text used in Medieval universities. The English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) is not only one heck of a political philosopher, but was one of Europe’s most respected physicians… even if he didn’t have a medical degree.

Ok, so what does this mean?

After looking for information about philosophy and medicine for approximately fifteen minutes, I concluded that any one who spends even a minimal amount of time on Google can find the philosophical history of modern medicine. But the history of the study of illness wasn’t really telling me what to think about my sore throat. I was still wondering: what do philosophers have to say about illness and disease?

This is what I found:

When philosophers think about illness, disease, and health, philosophers often ask questions like, “what is health?”, “Are disease-causing entities real?”, and whether a reductionist approach to medicine is correct. While I was reading about ontological and epistemological debates concerning the metaphysical status of “disease-causing entities” I couldn’t help from thinking about what Wittgenstein said about philosophy needing to be about improving our thinking about everyday life. I know that discussing epistemology is all in good fun for philosophers, but is this really helping me get any closer to getting rid of my present malady?

Not really, no.

I think this is why, when we think about illness, disease, suffering, and death, we often look to New Age metaphysicians rather than to philosophical metaphysicians. A philosopher might be good for a debate about “the diminution of complex objects or events to their component parts.”, but if I’m thinking about healing and/or the origin or end of suffering, I might open up a book written by Dr. Wayne Dyer rather than by Aristotle.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that philosophers have missed the mark entirely on matters on medicine (although I will say so about philosophers and philosophy of religion). Philosophers in the field of medical ethics question and debate issues of every day medical and philosophical importance: abortion, euthanasia, organ donations, stem cell research, quality of life, end of life — even the doctor-patient relationship (itself).  I know that when I read Peter Singer’s writings on suffering or on irreversibly brain damaged patients, think about the pros and cons of universal health care, or when I hear the words “death panels”, that someone is making not only a statement about modern medicine, but about medical ethics as well.

All of this still does absolutely nothing for my sore throat.

 

 

Moral questions, ambiguous answers

There’s something funny about morals. Even though we all agree that there is a right and a wrong (at least most of us agree that there is a right and a wrong), no one is really all that sure exactly what right and wrong is. Philosophers have made a good game out of  talking and thinking and thinking some more about matters of morality and ethics, but for all these centuries of talking and thinking even the most learned minds can’t definitively tell us what to do and what not to do.

The lack of a definitive answer has become a problem.

You don’t have to be a student of philosophy to know of or practice a philosophical school of ethics; utilitarianism, deontological ethics, divine command theory, ethical relativism, ethical egoism, and so on. If I had to make a wager, I’d bet that most people are utilitarians. That is, most people, even if they don’t know it, think that our moral choices should have something to do with the common good. I think this is the way that most people are designed; that humans have some sort of innate want to see to it that others are cared for, even if that means that we will do without. Our need to act in the interest of the common good is why we have public schools, welfare, social security, and fire departments. Most people would say these are good things…. most people.

That’s our problem. Even though we’d like to say that utilitarianism is the right moral theory, we can only say that it applies to most people. Followers of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism would certainly object to the utilitarian obligation to increase the happiness of others, and state that the utilitarian Greatest Happiness Principle  is not only morally objectionable but downright evil. Even utilitarians can’t agree on what the common good is. Is every person entitled to free medical care or a minimum wage? Should we tax the rich to pay for the poor? Is that fair? Is it really serving the common good? Is it right to make others suffer to provide for others? What about torture? War? The death penalty?

Ethical relativists, Kantians, and even followers of divine command theory would even agree that facilitating the common good is not always a good thing. Still, every moral theory commands that I do the right thing.

So, what do I do? Should I pursue the common good? Should I pursue my own rational interests as Ayn Rand commands? Should I do only what God tells me to do? I don’t know. But as I see a world full of suffering I realize that cannot spend time thinking about what to do.

And it seems my philosophy hasn’t gotten me any closer to finding an answer.

 

 

Thinkin’ about thinkin’

I’ve been watching too much TV. For someone of my age and level of education, I shouldn’t spend any time, let alone spend an entire day watching 27 DVR’d episodes of Tosh.0. I shouldn’t derive any pleasure whatsoever watching a little girl play with a dead squirrel, the cinnamon challenge or a kid splitting his taint with his skateboard. I’m a philosopher, I tell myself. I’m better than this. I tell myself I’ve been spending so much time on my back watching television – on my sofa, on my bed, even laying prone on my living room floor; that I’m in danger of becoming one of those people that sits so long in one place that I fuse to a piece of furniture and a rescue crew has to extract me from my house using a chainsaw and a forklift.

I’m a philosopher, I tell myself. I’m better than this.

But every night when I watch TV, I’m even more convinced that thinking philosophically isn’t as FUN as my college professors said it would be. Everybody on TV seems to be much happier once they stop doing all that terrible and emotionally upsetting philosophically-oriented thinking. This isn’t just my opinion. Modern science tells us that thinking is a prime cause of stress, and stress, as we all know leads to disease and early death. I’m no medical doctor but I think it’s safe to assume if thinking in general makes one’s life stressful, then thinking philosophically must be a highway straight to joining the choir invisible. Even if Socrates said that the point of philosophy (i.e. thinking) is to prepare us for death, I can say with confidence that I’m not planning on dying any time soon.

Besides, I’m pretty sure that the double rainbows guy didn’t read Plato, Nietzsche or Sartre to ask “What does this mean?” … All that guy did was look at a couple of rainbows.

After approximately fifteen minutes of contemplation, I decided to give up philosophical thinking. Watching reality television is better than contemplating reality. I concluded if I’m going to think about something other than philosophy, I’d think about the least philosophical things imaginable. This is what I thought about:

I’m pretty sure at one point in my life I’ve eaten dog.

Which is better: bikini or hipsters?

My inexplicable attraction to Rachel Maddow.

Painting my toenails pink.

Memory foam pillows aren’t better.

Kris Kardashian’s haircut

Dotting my “i”s with hearts when I write longhand.

Now, I could tell everyone and insist that a new philosophy-free lifestyle is intellectually and emotionally satisfying, but I’d be lying. Any philosophy professor philosopher will tell you, philosophy isn’t merely something that one does to impress other people or a bad habit that can be started or ended on a whim. Thinking philosophically is an innate part of who we are (Aristotle might call this one’s “telos”). I could avoid thinking philosophically no more than Plato would say a dog can stop participating in dogness or Holbach believed that we can violate the general causal principle (yes, I just dropped a couple of 50¢philosophy terms).

So what do I think about thinking philosophically now? Well… I realized that thinking about not thinking (philosophically) made me think that thinking is not overrated. There’s nothing wrong with watching too much TV or philosophically inappropriate with watching 13 ½ hours of Tosh.0.  I’m certain, despite my brief dalliance with not thinking, that I’ll be up to my usual navel gazing philosophical contemplation in no time. Now that I’m thinking about it, not thinking takes a fair amount of thinking, doesn’t it?

So if you don’t mind, I’m going back to do some “thinking” on my living room sofa.

While On A Walk

I HEARD THAT NIETZSCHE said that most (good) philosophy is done while one is on a walk.

That is to say, that getting out into the world does more to stir one’s mind than does sitting in a university, speaking to other people who do no more than echo exactly what we already think or say.

I think that’s true.

Sometimes, however, going out for a walk only results in experiences that only confirm why so many people out there, myself un-excluded, claim that they hate humanity.

ihp-meme-morning

It’s not just a claim. I really do.

I thought that I would try, for god knows for what umpteenth-number time, to rid myself of the practice of seeing things so negatively.

grumpy

I thought that I would try to see the bright side of life, as suggested by the Monty Python song.

I think that there must be some higher force at work somewhere in the galaxy, because every time I attempt to see the worthiness of humanity as a whole, my hopes are dashed and I only end up confirming that people, as the Slipknot song says, equals shit.

Why the relentlessly negative and bad attitude towards people, you ask?

hate-people

To get back to Nietzsche, I was out for a walk. Nothing monumental, just a short jot before it really got (gets?) hot outside. You see, here, where I live in SoCal, there is no such thing as a gradual climb in the temperature. It’s cool one day, and 101 degrees the next. Go figure.

Anyway, I was out for a walk. Just like Nietzsche wants us to.

My walk kind of started off nice, mostly because I literally  hadn’t been out of the house all week. I gazed at the green grass, deeply inhaled the aroma of fresh-cut lawns, and listened to the chirping birds. I was deep in thought of what I had read the night before, a chapter from Kurt Vonnegut’s Man Without A Country. In the book Vonnegut said that he likes talking to people. I don’t. But I, having newly committed myself to sunny up my personality, decided that I would at least try to enjoy the company of others.

At the very least I could get in some thinking about things philosophically.

 

giphy

DEEP PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHTS GOING ON RIGHT HERE

 

So I was out for a walk.

I realized I was enjoying my walk because I wasn’t bothered by anyone else’s company at that time.

…since I was walking alone.

But that’s kind of besides the point.

Now, I know that there are people who, for reasons that only they and their god know, decide that they should shout out things to people walking on the sidewalk or along the road.

I’ve personally never understood this phenomenon.

Well, that’s precisely what happened while I was attempting some Nietzsche-inspired walking.

Usually, if someone says something it’s something incoherent. It’s like the person shouting whatever decided to shout something, but then decides to back down — but only after the words have already left his mouth. It’s almost always a he who does it.

 

1530864-a-caucasian-man-wearing-a-yellow-baseball-cap-and-a-tie-without-a-shirt-is-hanging-out-of-the-car-window-showing-a-v-sign-and-holding-a-soccer-ball

THIS DUDE IS GONNA SAY SOMETHING…I GUARANTEE IT

 

Usually, the words they say aren’t so clear. But his time, it was a loud and clear “fuck you!”

This really left me confused.

Not to mention that it broke my chain of thought.

Now, really. It’s not that the words themselves offended me. They didn’t. I’ve said that particular phrase to other people on more occasions than I care to remind myself. But, usually, at least in the case that I’ve used that particular phrase, the person to whom the comment was directed deserved to have it said to them. I was just walking on the sidewalk.

And when I looked to see who said it, the guy seemed pretty angry, too. He looked really pissed off.

Schopenhauer pissed off.

 

arthur_schopenhauer_33

IMAGINE THIS FACE DRIVING BY SHOUTING “FUCK YOU!” OUT OF THE WINDOW

 

How can I explain what happened to me? I thought, for a moment, that I might have done something to offend the guy in the car. I thought about what I was wearing — just a pair of blue jeans and a black t-shirt. That usually doesn’t get people that worked up. I was wearing a backpack, but there’s nothing on my bag I think would upset anyone. I had taken all of my Leftist political patches off of my bag.

Besides, I don’t think by the looks of this guy that he would have noticed if they were still there.

For a few moments, I really thought about why that guy would have said shouted “Fuck You!” at me.

For a moment I wondered if Nietzsche himself manifested in the flesh and shouted “Fuck You!” at me while I was walking?

I actually attempted to figure out if any of the (limited) list of philosophers I know of ever addressed why people feel the need to shout things to people who aren’t doing anything to them. I couldn’t think of any.

Kant probably did. He wrote about everything.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that there must be some explanation for why this is. Some deep-seeded philosophical need to express one’s ontology by shouting “Fuck You!” at people one doesn’t know.

There is, but I guess that, in the long run, the answer is psychological rather than philosophical.

That means Hume would probably know why.

 

allan_ramsay_-_david_hume_1711_-_1776-_historian_and_philosopher_-_google_art_project-e1458577182775

LOOK AT THIS GUY AND TELL ME HE DIDN’T SHOUT “FUCK YOU!” AT PEOPLE WALKING DOWN THE STREET WHILE HE RODE BY IN HIS CARRIAGE

 

There is some not-so-deep seeded need in some people to yell at people — the more shocking the statement the better. And since you’re in a car, and your intended shockee is walking, you’re long gone before the person ever gets his bearings straight enough for a proper response, whatever that would be.

What would be the proper response? An “ok, thanks buddy” or a “well, good day to you, too”?

I’m guessing that, on this subject at least, philosophers may not have spent any time thinking on why this is so; why people feel compelled to shout things at people walking down the street.

That would mean that at last there is something that philosophers don’t have an opinion about!

 

secundus-philosopher-450x662

ASKING PHILOSOPHERS ABOUT PEOPLE WHO SHOUT “FUCK YOU!” FROM CARS SHUTS UP PHILOSOPHERS BETTER THAN DUCT TAPE

 

So, I guess my queries on the subject are better directed to the headshrinker than to the guy boring his class to death with examples of Gettier problems. Maybe with the proper philosophical insight, we’ll eventually figure out how and why anyone would find the need to shout “Fuck You!” to passersby by way of some epistemic debate or metaphysical claim.

I’m more than certain that some philosopher has some opinion about it.

They can’t leave any subject untarnished by their supposedly expert thoughts about everything.

I never did get those deep thoughts like Nietzsche said I would, though.