My Favorite Philosopher Is… Problematic

THERE ARE A FEW things these days that truly worry me: Crepey skin… Opioid-induced constipation…

Am I entitled to financial compensation if my loved one was exposed to mesothelioma-causing asbestos?

There is one thing I thought I never had to worry about: philosophers.

I was wrong.

Recent sex scandals involving the (formerly) respected philosophers Colin McGinn and John Searle, and the trial of Rutger’s University philosophy professor, Anna Stubblefield, who was convicted of the sexual assault of a 29 year old man with severe cerebral palsy, have made me think twice about the profession I’d once thought as scandal free.

Stubblefield’s conviction was overturned, by the way.

Nonetheless, it’s all kind of a black eye to the profession.

You see, pretty much nobody likes philosophers.

Sure, our moms and pops love us plenty, but when it comes to what society thinks of lovers of wisdom, the love is much to be desired.

“I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is far superior”
– Hippolyte Taine (1828 – 1893)

Philosophers got a shout out during the Republican Presidential Debates last year, but not for the reason that anyone would want to brag about.

Former Republican presidential candidate, Florida Representative Marco Rubio, declared that we need more welders and less philosophers.

industrial-welder-7671422

WHO’S TO SAY THIS GUYS DOESN’T READ SCHOPENHAUER IN HIS SPARE TIME/

Rubio’s fellow Republican candidate, Ted Cruz, declared that the Federal Reserve was being run by philosopher-kings.
That kinda sounds like a good thing, but Cruz didn’t mean it that way.

“There is, however, nothing wanting to the idleness of a philosopher but a better name, and that meditation, conversation, and reading should be called “work”.
– Jean de La Bruyere (1645 – 1696)

I’m not saying that welders aren’t a necessity. Lord knows that when I think about the folks who built my apartment, I’m glad that some of them picked up welding instead of Socrates.

But I’m also saying that philosophers can be useful, too.

Speaking of useful…

I thought if I went back to read the old philosophers, I’d find guys (and a few gals) who are not only brilliant, but also free of defect.

Uh…

empowered-to-say-no-the-role-of-a-compliance-officer-2-1024x718

Sure, there’s some great classic philosophy, but going back to read the old philosophers just proves that those old white guys really were a bunch of old. white. guys.

They call it the Enlightenment but really, some of them folks weren’t very enlightened.

All Most Some of history’s greatest philosophers are sexist (dare we say even hovering near misogyny) and slightly more than casually racist.

Rousseau abandoned his kids.

Hegel fathered an illegitimate son with his landlord and was kind of a dick to the kid.

Descartes tortured animals.

Heidegger was a Nazi.

fribourg-1934-martin-heidegger-com-insignia-nazista

NOT TALKING ABOUT METAPHORICAL NAZI, LIKE HEIDEGGER WAS GRAMMAR NAZI, BUT FULL-ON, HITLER SALUTING NAZI

Even my favorite philosopher, the 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume, wrote things that could only be described these days as… problematic.

In 1742, Hume wrote:

“I am apt to suspect that the Negroes, and in general all other species of men to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was any civilized nation of any other complection than white, nor even any individual eminent in action or speculation.”

Hume also said that the Jews of Europe were “noted for fraud”.

But hey, at least Hume was against slavery!

c0088025-1766_david_hume_philosopher_of_science-spl

WHO KNEW HUME AND HEIDEGGER WOULD HAVE SO MUCH IN COMMON?

Ok, we can say that we shouldn’t judge others by our modern standards. And sometimes we shouldn’t. But here’s the thing: we can judge. We should judge.

You know, something about moral relativism.

Actually, there were plenty of people who objected to racism and sexism even back then.

I got so bummed out about philosophers that like a damned idiot I thought that turning to fictional philosophers would help.

Nope.

First off, there’s a real lack of philosophers in movies.

searching-for-lost-things

LOOKING FOR A SOMEWHAT-DECENT PORTRAYAL OF A PHILOSOPHER IN A MOVIE OF A TV SHOW

As opposed to philosophy or movies that are philosophical – there’s plenty of that.

A lot of it bad.

…Although Richard Linklater’s Waking Life is a pretty good philosophical movie.

In the real world, we have highly entertaining philosophers like Slavoj Zizek, but in film (in movies that aren’t strictly biographical – there’s been movies about Socrates, Hypatia of Alexandria, Confucius, Descartes, Wittgenstein, and Hannah Arendt, among others or adapted from philosophical works, like Ayn Rand’s 1949 film adaptation of her novel, The Fountainhead), philosophers are depicted as dull, ineffectual, arrogant, and morally bankrupt.

071717-lead-mem

AYN RAND DIDN’T INVENT PHILOSOPHICAL MORAL BANKRUPTCY. SHE JUST GOT THE MOST POPULAR AT IT

Granted, movie philosophers are smart guys (and it is almost always a guy) but personally, especially morally, the movie philosopher is always royally screwed up.

Wait a minute. That describes a few real philosophers.

Movie philosophers are all thought and no action. All preparation and no H. They’re excellent at navel gazing and pontificating; high on the stink of their capacity for rational thought.

Popular depictions of philosophers (in film) tend to reflect the idea that intellectuals are not to be trusted.

Or at the very least they’re not to be taken seriously.

9836088

Cinematic philosophers add nothing of value to society other than to increase the amount of bullshit and useless opinions.

You’re nodding your head, aren’t you?

giphy

In movies, the goal always is to prove how stupid and wrong philosophy and philosophers are.

And philosophers don’t believe in GOD.

Movie philosophers are often philosophical but not philosophers. Like Yoda.

Yoda is a badass because he’s not a philosopher.

I decided to watch a few movies with philosophers in them to get a look-see at philosophers in film.

… and to affirm my confirmation bias.

“Philosophers say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always so far as one can see, rather naïve, and probably wrong.
– Richard Feynman (1918 -1988)

In Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1, when a “stand-up philosopher” (played by Brooks) gives his occupation, his occupation is corrected to “bullshit artist”.

1p6feb

In The Life of David Gale, Kevin Spacey plays a philosophy professor put to death for murder.

By the way, he’s not guilty of the crime for which he is executed, mind you. He set himself up to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit to prove that the death penalty is wrong.

That’s a pretty underhanded thing to do.

Because movie philosophers do underhanded things.

Oops. Should I have said SPOILER ALERT?

In Woody Allen’s Irrational Man Joaquin Phoenix plays a philosophy professor (long story short) who attempts to murder a student he was flirted with.

Woody Allen is the king of movies with philosophical themes.

He’s also the king of movies about older men having semi-inappropriate relationships with disturbingly much younger women.

Because philosophers have inappropriate relationships with much younger women, especially if they’re students.

the-police-dont-stand-so-close-to-me

PHILOSOPHY PROFESSORS AND STING. NOT GONNA EXPLAIN THE REFERENCE

Somehow its always the philosopher who wants to ball his students…

Speaking of balling students…

In the film Leaves of Grass written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, Edward Norton stars as a Brown University philosophy professor, Bill Kincaid. Kincaid goes back to his hometown in Oklahoma to trade places with his hillbilly marijuana-dealing identical twin brother, Brady (also played by Edward Norton), who is mixed up with the local drug kingpin. In no surprise to the audience, Brady is the smarter twin and is also philosophical – but not like an overeducated intellectual Ivy League college philosophy professor kind of way.

preview

COME ON, WOULD YOU IF EDWARD NORTON WAS YOUR PHILOSOPHY PROFESSOR?

The Alfred Hitchcock film Rope (1948) is about a pair Nietzsche fans that demonstrate what happens when you get Nietzsche all wrong and that nihilism isn’t for everybody… or anybody.

…and then there’s my favorite, God’s Not Dead, the Christian cinema classic from 2014 starring Kevin Sorbo as an atheist philosophy professor. Yes, THAT atheist philosophy professor – the one, who, on the first day of class, challenges students to prove that God exists.

Or rather, confirm that God doesn’t exist.

Philosophy professors, like Sorbo’s Professor Jeffery Radisson, delight in breaking the faith of his Christian students.

godsnotdead2

IT’S AN ESTABLISHED FACT IN PHILOSOPHY CIRCLES THAT SCREAMING ATHEISM IN A STUDENT’S FACE WILL SCREAM THE GOD RIGHT OUT OT THEM

Because he believes that philosophers know everything.

So far as I know, only Hegel thought that. About himself.

God’s Not Dead relies heavily on the popular (mis)conception that all philosophers are godless, God-hating atheists. Sorbo’s philosophy professor is high on his intellectualism. Proving God does not exist is an exercise in confirming his intellectual arrogance.

Obviously the folks who made God’s Not Dead have never heard of Alvin Plantinga.

Or Richard Swinburne.

Or Peter van Inwagen.

Of course the atheist philosophy professor dies in the end.

gnd2bradisson

RADISSON IS AFRAID TO DIE BECAUSE HE KNOWS ALL PHILOSOPHERS GO TO HELL

By the way, in my experience, never once in a philosophy class that wasn’t specifically a philosophy of religion class did any professor even mention arguments for or against the existence of God.

All of these depictions of philosophers are around because we think philosophers, not just the old white sexists and racists of the past, and not just the present-day philosophers accused of sexual impropriety, are problematic.

Philosophy is problematic.

That is something worth worrying about.

Not crepey skin-level worry, but worrying nonetheless.

 

Close up detail of the forearm of an elderly woman

SERIOUSLY, HOW CAN YOU LOOK AT THIS AND NOT BE WORRIED?

 

 

** I’d like to add here that there is at least one awesomely excellent portrayal of a philosopher in popular culture, NYU philosophy degree-havin’, tai chi mastering, rip a man’s throat out with his bare hands-doin’ , bouncer (whoops) cooler, James Dalton, portrayed by the late (always great) Patrick Swayze in Road House.
Road House is a supremely bad movie, but in its awfulness is cinematic gold.
And Dalton’s great piece of philosophical mantra, “Be Nice, Until It’s Time To Not Be Nice”.

** I encourage anyone to watch all the films mentioned in this post. If not to see how philosophers are depicted in cinema, some of the movies actually are entertaining to watch.

 

 

For details on the Anna Stubblefield case: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/opinion/who-is-the-victim-in-the-anna-stubblefield-case.html

 

The Trouble With Melanin

“At the heart of racism is the religious assertion that God made a creative mistake when he brought some people into being” – Friedrich Otto Hertz
HAVE YOU EVER had one of those moments?

One of Those kind of moments.

Maybe you had one in a department store. Or in an elevator. On a sidewalk.

Or in a restaurant.

Or if you’re the President of the United States….
One of those kind of moments when you have to stop and ask yourself

was that racist

It’s pretty easy to spot a racist or an act of racism when a person is dressed like this:

klans men
or if you find one of these burning on your front lawn

cross burning

But, you see, racism is sometimes difficult to figure out.

Is a seemingly racist incident an unintentional micro aggression or a full-on David Duke-style PDR?

Public Display of Racism.
no dogs negroes or mexicans

Quick quiz: Is this a Public Display of Racism?

Is this?

Or this?

Are you thinking the answer is definitely yes

…. or are you thinking that the question is debatable?

A couple of weeks ago, while shopping at the local KMart

Because layaway is wonderful.

I was perusing the home entertainment section when an elderly white woman approached me and asked if I had seen the movie 12 Years A Slave in the DVD section. She explained how she loved the book and wanted to watch the movie to see if it is a good as Solomon Northup’s memoir of his life as a free man wrongfully enslaved.

Asking a fellow customer if they know the location of a product isn’t unusual. I’ve done it plenty of times myself.

I think the reason why she specifically asked me had a little something to do with my complexion.

My complexion, mind you, looks a little like this:
arm
So naturally, in response to the woman’s inquiry, I felt a little like this:

I assumed that the reason why the woman asked me, and not any other person in the home entertainment department (including store employees) if I knew where 12 Years A Slave was, was because of one thing.

One, elephant-sized, melanin-soaked, thing.

A BIG, MELANIN-SOAKED ELEPHANT

A BIG, MELANIN-SOAKED ELEPHANT

Now, here’s the problem: I don’t know if the woman was racist.
I have only what I assume to be true of the woman and her state of mind.

TRY AS I MIGHT, I HAVE NOT MASTERED THE ART OF MINDREADING.

TRY AS I MIGHT, I HAVE NOT MASTERED THE ART OF MINDREADING.

Based on my prima facie assessment of the situation, I made three assumptions about the elderly woman.

The elderly white woman asked me where to find 12 Years A Slave because:

1. She assumed that because of my race, I had not only seen the movie 12 Years A Slave, but I also knew the location of the DVD in the store ( possibly an unintentional microaggression).

In case you’re wondering, a microaggression is:

the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

B. The elderly woman was merely asking the nearest person in the area.

3. The lady was a full-on racist who assumed that I had not only seen the movie 12 Years A Slave, but I also knew the location of the DVD in the store.

You see, despite my epistemic prowess, I don’t know what the lady was thinking. I can only assume to know – and even then, my assumption is just an assumption. Even assuming that the woman’s inquiry was made with the best of intentions doesn’t mean that my perception of racism wasn’t actually racism.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that it was, either.
images redneck
In The Souls of Black Folk , W.E.B. DuBois wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”
no japanese
If you’ve spent any time paying any attention to the media, you’d know that in the 21st century race is still a problem.

THIS IS NOT A PHOTO FROM THE 1950S. IT WAS TAKEN AT A KLAN RALLY IN SOUTH CAROLINA IN JUNE, 2015

THIS IS NOT A PHOTO FROM THE 1950S. IT WAS TAKEN AT A KLAN RALLY IN SOUTH CAROLINA IN JUNE, 2015

That fact might have something to do with this:

THIS IS A LIST OFTHE NUMBER OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

THIS IS A LIST OFTHE NUMBER OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

THIS IS A MAP OFTHE DISTRIBUTION OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

THIS IS A MAP OFTHE DISTRIBUTION OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

It’s obvious that we spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing (and often arguing about) race. And we think we have a grip on exactly what race is.

Wait a minute. I’ve been talking about the term “race”.

The philosopher in me says it’s time I define my terminology.

Generally speaking, race is defined as a set of characteristics that differentiate groups of humans. Race is viewed as an indicator of certain inherited attributes of which traits like skin color physical features, body type, hair color and texture, provide an indicator of supposedly biologically based attributes such as mental capacity, and moral aptitude. The concept of race has evolved over time, but the practice of classifying people is as old as history. Civilizations have always defined and separated themselves according to tribe, language or religious practices. In the Bible, God distinguished the Israelites from the Gentiles. The Greek philosopher Aristotle differentiated the “civilized” Greeks and the Persian “barbarians” and wrote, “This is why the poets say ‘it is fitting for Greeks to rule barbarians’”.

 ARISTOTLE: CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHER AND ANCIENT GREEK RACIST

ARISTOTLE: CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHER AND ANCIENT GREEK RACIST

Our modern concept of race is a relatively new idea. The modern concept can be traced back to the 15th century (a.k.a. the Age of Discovery). European exploration of the New World is significant for two reasons: 1) European expansion led to the colonization of newly acquired territories, and 2) contact between fair-skinned European explorers and the darker complexioned native populations of Asia and Africa led to the development of racial categorization based on physical characteristics

… or phenotypes.
The concept of biological race developed as exploration of the New World and the need for labor required a justification for the enslavement of indigenous peoples and European colonialism. As a result of the enslavement of indigenous Americans and Africans in the New World, the world’s population was divided into three primary races:

the Caucasian race

Albert-Camus

the Mongoloid race

asian man

and the Negroid race

african woman

The white race, according to the race of European colonizers, is superior, while other races (in particular enslaved Africans) are considered inferior.

THOMAS JEFFERSON, THIRD PRESIDENT OT THE UNITED STATES, WROTE AFTER SLAVERY THAT, “WHEN FREED, HE [NEGROES] IS TO BE REMOVED BEYOND THE REACH OF MIXTURE”  SO, IF JEFFERSON HAD HIS WAY, THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN THE 23RD CENTURY

THOMAS JEFFERSON, THIRD PRESIDENT OT THE UNITED STATES, WROTE AFTER SLAVERY THAT, “WHEN FREED, HE [NEGROES] IS TO BE REMOVED BEYOND THE REACH OF MIXTURE”
SO, IF JEFFERSON HAD HIS WAY, THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN THE 23RD CENTURY

The 2008 election and the 2012 re-election of President Barack Obama was supposed to have ushered in an era of American “post-racialism”; the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a society where individuals are judged not by race, but by the content of their character.

Race, in this era of post-racialism, is supposedly not an issue.

Or so we’d like to think.

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY THIS IS EVEN REMOTELY RACIST

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY THIS IS EVEN REMOTELY RACIST

Let’s face it, we think in stereotypes. Thinking of serial killers conjures up images of white guys. Looking of terrorists? Sorry, Arabs. When your neighbor says someone tagged his retaining wall, we think Mexican tagging crew.

That might just be a Californian thing.

You say someone just knocked over car a liquor store (probably to get money to buy crack)? Yep, it probably was a black dude.

None of us likes to be stereotyped, but the justification for stereotyping (or its cousin, racial profiling) is often stated as, given one’s racial and/or ethnic background one is predisposed to certain behavior can provide us with handy shortcut for figuring out what kind of people we’re dealing with and how those people are likely to behave. After all, when we look at other people, race is one of those things we notice.

 THERE’S A REASON WHY SOME PEOPLE DON’T WANT THIS GUY TO BE THE NEW JAMES BOND. YES, THAT REASON

THERE’S A REASON WHY SOME PEOPLE DON’T WANT THIS GUY TO BE THE NEW JAMES BOND. YES, THAT REASON

Race is never a pleasant subject to talk about. It’s one of those subjects that doesn’t usually pop up in a philosophy class (unless the class is specifically about race). I suspect that the reason why race isn’t discussed much in philosophy has to do with the fact that philosophy is dominated by white men. That’s no lie. I was once pressed to name five African-American philosophers. I came up with Cornel West, Ken Taylor and Angela Davis, but after conjuring up three names, I was tapped out of black philosophers.

I was shocked by my lack of knowledge about non-white male philosophers. I thought, “Hey, I’m not just some dude on the street, I actually studied philosophy, and I should be able to name five black philosophers!” Yet I had no idea of the names of more than three philosophers who share my skin tone.

THIS GUY IS THE BEGINNING AND END OF MY BLACK PHILOSOPHERS LIST (p.s. THE GUY IN THE PICTURE IS PHILOSOPHER KEN TAYLOR)

THIS GUY IS THE BEGINNING AND END OF MY BLACK PHILOSOPHERS LIST (p.s. THE GUY IN THE PICTURE IS PHILOSOPHER KEN TAYLOR)

The subject tends to stir up emotions. A lot of historical baggage. We want clear-headed conversations. Naturally, my inclination would be to turn to what philosophers have to say about the subject of race. They’ve actually had plenty to say, just not all of it good.

It should surprise no one that philosophers are partially to blame not only for our inaccurate conceptions of race, but also more than a little bit responsible for racism.

Wanna know how?

LOOK AT THIS PHILOSOPHER CLOSELY. HE HAS A LOT TO DO WITH WHY RACISM EXISTS

LOOK AT THIS PHILOSOPHER CLOSELY. HE HAS A LOT TO DO WITH WHY RACISM EXISTS

Given Aristotle’s sentiments towards non-Greek peoples, we are tempted to assume that modern (keep in mind that “modern” philosophy starts in the 17th century) philosophers would have been immune from the ancient view of classifying people as superior and inferior based solely on the assumed characteristics (of inferiority and superiority) associated with one’s geographical location.

Our assumption, however, would be wrong.

Enlightenment philosophers not only championed reason and science but also the belief that only certain groups of people are capable of rational thought. The Enlightenment belief that only certain people possess the capacity to reason provided the scientific basis for race and racism. Enlightenment thinkers developed the notion that the so-called superior, “civilized” races of Europe were successful because other, inferior races, specifically the African race, lack the capacity for rational thought.

In Immanuel Kant’s essay, “On the Different Races of Man” (1775), Kant attempts to establish a scientific basis for the classification of the races and divides humans into four distinct races:

1. Northern Europe (very blond) of damp cold
2. America (copper red) of dry cold
3. Black (Senegambia) of dry heat
4. Indians (olive-yellow) of dry heat

Based on his observations of the different races, Kant declared the natural moral and intellectual superiority of the white race and stated that superiority or inferiority of the world’s other races depends on its proximity to whiteness. Naturally, the dark skin of the African race, sets it in opposition to the white race.

Therefore, black = inferior.

don't listen to negroes
Kant observes, blacks are “passionate” and “talkative” and lack the capacity for reason. Because blacks cannot reason, Kant argues, they cannot be educated but can only be trained to serve as slaves. Kant agrees with Hume, who also argued that blacks lack the capacity to reason, that since blacks lack the capacity for rational thought, blacks also lack the capacity for talent, as talent necessarily depends on the capacity for reason. Kant writes:

The yellow Indians do have meager talent. The Negroes are far
below them, and at the lowest point are part of the American
people.

So, if observation of behavior leads to stereotyping, we are likely to think that Asians are better at math but make for bad drivers, white people are genetically prone to bad dancing, have a penchant for fair trade coffee, as I am genetically predisposed to having many children and speaking loudly in public places. In addition to stereotyping, as Immanuel Kant and his fellow philosophers demonstrate, we tend to think of our “group” as superior while emphasizing the supposed “inferior” qualities of other groups. It is, then, no surprise to us that Kant declares:

The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the
trifling. Mr. Hume challenges anyone to cite a single example in
which a Negro has shown talents, and asserts that among the
hundreds of thousands of blacks who are transported elsewhere
from their countries, although many of them have even been set
free, still not a single one was every found who presented anything
great in art or science or any other praiseworthy quality, even
though among the whites some continually rise aloft from the lowest
rabble, and through superior gifts earn respect in the world. So
fundamental is the difference between these two races of man, and
it appears to be as great in regard to mental capacities as in colour.

Well, while we’re at it, why don’t we take a look at what David Hume had to say about black people:

I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to whites.
there scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor
any individual eminent either in action or speculation.

ALTHOUGH HUME CONSIDERED THE “BARBARIAN” ANCIENT GERMAN RACE INFERIOR TO OTHER EUROPEANS (LIKE SCOTSMEN, LIKE HUME), HUME STATED THAT THE ANCIENT GERMANS “HAVE STILL SOMETHING EMINENT ABOUT THEM, IN THEIR VALOUR, FORM OF GOVERNMENT, OR SOME OTHER PARTICULAR”

ALTHOUGH HUME CONSIDERED THE “BARBARIAN” ANCIENT GERMAN RACE INFERIOR TO OTHER EUROPEANS (LIKE SCOTSMEN, LIKE HUME), HUME STATED THAT THE ANCIENT GERMANS “HAVE STILL SOMETHING EMINENT ABOUT THEM, IN THEIR VALOUR, FORM OF GOVERNMENT, OR SOME OTHER PARTICULAR”

Let’s take a moment to read what other great minds and “enlightened” philosophers had to say about black people:

Thomas Jefferson:

…in memory they are equal to the white; in reason much inferior,
as I think one could scarcely be capable of tracing and
comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in
imagination they are dull, tasteless and anomalous… never
yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level
of plain narration.

Montesquieu:

It is hardly to be believed that God, who is a wise being, should
place a soul, especially a good soul, in such a black ugly body…
The negroes prefer a glass necklace to that gold which polite
nations so highly value. Can there be a greater proof of their
wanting common sense?

Alexis de Tocqueville:

I do not think that blacks will ever mingle sufficiently completely
with the white to form a single people with them. The introduction
of this foreign race is anyhow is the one great plague on America.

Voltaire:

If their understanding is not of a different nature from ours… it is
at least inferior. They are not capable of any great application or
association of ideas, and seem formed neither for the advantages
nor the abuses of our philosophy.

President Gerald Ford Administration cabinet member, Earl Butz, said to singer Pat Boone:

Pat, the only thing coloreds are looking for in life are a tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit.

Well, seriously, who isn’t looking for that?

PROOF IT’S NOT JUST BLACK FOLKS WHO ENJOY A NICE PLACE TO SHIT

PROOF IT’S NOT JUST BLACK FOLKS WHO ENJOY A NICE PLACE TO SHIT

Unfortunately for Hume, Jefferson, Montesquieu, Voltaire and Kant, (not to mention the Social Darwinists), and the aptly-named Mr. Earl Butz, a close examination of race reveals: A) philosophers don’t know everything, and second: there is no biological basis for race.

Most scientists agree that race is not a matter of biology, but is a social construct.*

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates contends, all humans can trace their origins to 50,000 years ago to Ethiopia in Africa. Unfortunately for Immanuel Kant, one’s physical appearance (or even supposed inherited genetic qualities) is not a reliable method of judging a person’s character, moral aptitude, or intellectual capacity.

We can’t assume based on one’s perceived race that this person is inferior

prince mugshot

Or assume based on perceived race that this person is superior

bill gates mugshot

But here’s the thing: it’s not entirely our fault that we stereotype groups of people. Scientists theorize that our tendency for stereotyping is the result of a biologically engrained need to classify people and objects and to form tribal connections with other, like humans. To successfully operate and adapt to our environment, humans make associations between objects and actions (not too unlike Hume’s view on cause and effect). We associate objects and actions – for instance, lemons and sour, bees and sting, or black neighbors with higher crime rates. If we observe a group of people and a particular behavior, we are likely to assume that all of the members of that group also behave in a similar manner.

stereotypes_are_awesome

Funny thing, race is. Despite the fact that plenty (if not all) of us know that race is a social construct, when we inquire about someone’s race, we’re still looking for some indication of who a person is. And when someone doesn’t act according to our notions of how that race should act, we’re often perplexed. We observe that such and such or so and so doesn’t “act black” or that a particular person acts like an “Oreo”, Uncle Tom, “Twinkie”, “banana” or “wigger”.

white person with dreadlocks

There’s a nasty little idea floating around that people who do not act according to how their race should act aren’t acting authentically.

THIS IS PROBABLY NOT WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU THINK OF WHAT A “TYPICAL” ASIAN MAN SHOULD LOOK LIKE

THIS IS PROBABLY NOT WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU THINK OF WHAT A “TYPICAL” ASIAN MAN SHOULD LOOK LIKE

But as any scientist will tell you, the fact that one is biologically a particular “color” or race does not infer that one’s behavior or cultural race conforms to our perception or expectations of how an individual of that race or color should act. The philosopher Robert Gooding-Williams distinguishes being racially (or biologically) black and being a black person. A racial personhood, according to Robert Gooding-Williams, is one’s racial identity – how we choose to identify ourselves.** 
rachel dolezal ebony cover

It’s worth noting that on the 2010 U.S. census form, individuals were given a choice of fifteen racial categories: American Indian of Alaska Native, Black, African-American or Negro, White, Native Hawaiian, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, other Pacific Islander, Other Asian, and some other race. There is some degree of satisfaction that the ability to choose one’s racial identity from fifteen races is a far cry from the three race categorization (Caucasian, Asian, and Negro) that dominated racial thinking for centuries, however, having more choices hasn’t necessarily cleared up our definition of race.
The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are specified on the U.S. Census form as an ethnicity, not as a separate race. However, if asked to specify a race a person may identify himself as Latino or Hispanic, but racially he may be categorized as Caucasian, Asian, or black. …. Just in case you were wondering.

I’m not a fan of Metallica. It’s not for lack of trying. I’m not saying that their music sucks or anything like that. I appreciate the band’s role as a seminal hard rock/metal band that has influenced and continues to influence many other rock bands. And their 2009 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is well deserved. It’s just that Metallica, musically speaking, is not my cup of tea. Well, that’s only partially true. Really, it’s not even that I don’t like Metallica; I’m actually not supposed to like Metallica or any other hard rock band.

Metallica and all other musical artists who fall under the rubric “metal” is generally thought to be “white guy music” – angry white guy music – off limits to folks like me. Music, like everything else, is categorized. Or, more to the point, there’s music we’re supposed to like and music other people are supposed to like.

kanye lennon

Listen: I like the angry white guy music. I read David Sedaris books. I watched The Daily Show (and truly was heartbroken when Jon Stewart announced he’s leaving the show), and not only do I thoroughly enjoy watching The Colbert Report, I think that Stephen Colbert is sexy (in a snarky kind of way). I listen to National Public Radio. I love This American Life. I have a Liberal Arts degree. I recycle. I write a blog. I drink bottled water. I’m even a fan of Noam Chomsky.

Well, more of a fan of Chris Hedges than Noam Chomsky.

All of these traits (at least according to the website Stuff White People Like) are associated with white people.
People like this:


Not people like this:

But, if we know that race is nothing more than a social construct, the fact that Cornel West suggests that Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim is a blues man, or why Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, identifies as a black woman or why Latino kids living in East Los Angeles are some of Morrissey‘s most ardently loyal fans, and why I, being nowhere near being an angry white guy enjoys the snarky humor of The Colbert Report and am proud to say that my favorite musical artists are The Beatles, Steely Dan, The Cure, and nine inch nails.

Given my druthers, I would rather dress like this:

black goth girl

Than like this:

hip hop girl

The truth about race is that a particular frame of mind or set of characteristics is not innate and does not belong exclusively to one racial group.
W.C. Fields once said, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to”. Contrary to what Kant, Hume, and Jefferson believed, our race does not determine who we are and what we are capable of. Every individual is capable of dictating his own course in life, according to what each person determines is the path to personal happiness. For many of us, race is irrelevant when it comes to who we are. We are who we are, regardless of what we are.

…..Which brings me back to the old lady in Kmart.

I think that the elderly woman who asked me where to find the movie 12 Years A Slave was suffering from making an assumption about another individual based on hundreds of years of misguided (and often pernicious) thinking about race. She may not believe the racist ideology of Kant or Thomas Jefferson, but we’ve certainly been reared in a culture grounded in the Enlightenment philosophies of Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and the Founding Fathers. And in that way, we may believe or act upon certain beliefs and stereotypes about a particular race without ever making the conscious effort to adopt a racist world view.

So, although I could have reasonably yelled at that woman:

I also have to acknowledge the possibility that philosophers really are as influential as every philosopher bitches and moans wants them (us) to be. Many of us practice Kantian philosophy –

Just not the right kind of Kantian philosophy.

YOU MAY THINK THAT YOU’RE NOT INTO PHILOSOPHY, BUT DEEP DOWN THIS IS WHAT YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE

YOU MAY THINK THAT YOU’RE NOT INTO PHILOSOPHY, BUT DEEP DOWN THIS IS WHAT YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE

Besides, in the end, our race does not matter; what matters is that each of us finds a way to live authentically.

Well, it matters if you’re an existentialist.
Wait, Kant wasn’t an existentialist, was he?

*I’d like to state here that the philosophers that I am quoting (Kant, Hume, etc) spoke about all races, not just those of African descent. I am singling out their opinions on blacks for selfish reasons and secondly to demonstrate how wrong many well-regarded philosophers have been (and sometimes are) on the subject of race. In fact, some nationalities and ethnicities are now categorized as “white” were not only excluded from the white race, but also subject to racially-motivated stereotyping, such as Eastern Europeans (including Poles, Slavs, and Jews), natives of Southern Italy, Germans, and the Irish.
** This does not just apply to black people but to all races. According to Gooding-Williams biological race is not equivalent to cultural race.

SOURCES:

1. Census racial categories from: http://www.prb.org/Articles/2009/questionnaire.aspx.

2. Aristotle. The Politics. Trans. Carnes Lord. p.36.

3. Matthew R. Hachee. “Kant, Race, and Reason” https://www.msu.edu/~hacheema/kant2.htm.

4. Kant quote on the difference between the talent of Negroes and Asian “Indians”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism#Immanuel_Kant.

5. Hume’s essay “Of National Character”. http://www.philosophicalmisadventures.com/?p=6.

6. Thomas Jefferson. “Notes On the State of Virginia”. The Portable Thomas Jefferson. 1975. Ed. Merrill D. Peterson. NY: Penguin Books. pp.188-9.

7. Great Treasury of Western Thought: A Compendium of Important Statements of Man and His Institutions by the Great Thinkers in Western History. 1977. Eds. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren. NY: R R Bowker Company. p.756.

8. Great Treasury of Western Thought: A Compendium of Important Statements of Man and His Institutions by the Great Thinkers in Western History. 1977. Eds. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren. NY: R R Bowker Company. p. 759.

9. Voltaire quote on race is from Voltaire’s essay “The Negro” [1733]. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=666&chapter=81914&layout=html&Itemid=27.

10. “10 Questions”. Time. February 16, 2009. Vol. 173. No. 6. p.6.

11. Siri Carpenter. “Buried Prejudice: The Bigot In Your Brain”. Scientific American Mind. May 1, 2008: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=buried-prejudice-the-bigot-in-your-brain.

12. Kant’s statement on the inferiority of blacks is from “Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime” (1764) http://www.philosophicalmisadventures.com/?p=20.

13. Francis D. Adams and Barry Sanders. Alienable Rights: The Exclusion of African Americans In A White Man’s Land, 1619-2000. 2003. NY: Harper Collins Publishers. p.92.

14. Paul C. Taylor. Race: A Philosophical Introduction. 2006. Malden, MA: Polity Press. p.112.

15. Gilbert Ryle. “The Concept of Mind”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 178

On the Intentional Ending of Life

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night”.
I wouldn’t call the thought a consolation, but I think it’s safe to assume that I’m not the only person out there who has thought about suicide once…

Or twice.

Suicide is defined as the intentional (but sometimes accidental) ending of one’s own life.

Of course, that would exclude self-sacrifice or giving up one’s life to save others.

Those acts are considered heroic.

 

Sometimes encouraged.

 

 INTENTIONALLY TAKING ONE’S OWN LIFE IS ENCOURAGED HERE

INTENTIONALLY TAKING ONE’S OWN LIFE IS ENCOURAGED HERE

 

 

BUT NOT HERE

BUT NOT HERE

 

The reasons people commit suicide (acts of heroism excluded) are as varied as the individuals who (decide to) end their lives. The reasons vary from accidents to the want to end suffering or to depression.

This list of notable people who have committed suicide is long: Ernest Hemmingway, Meriwether Lewis*, Aaron Swartz, Hunter S. Thompson, Marilyn Monroe*, Sylvia Plath, Diane Arbus, Cato the Younger, Kurt Cobain, George Eastman, Peg Entwistle, Sam Gillespie, Abbie Hoffman, William Inge, Vincent van Gogh, David Foster Wallace, Richard Jeni, Elliot Smith, Ian Curtis, Virginia Woolf….

Socrates took his own life.

 

Of course his suicide wasn’t completely voluntary.

 

THE SUICIDE OF THE ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHER WAS IMMORTALIZED IN THIS PAINTING BY JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID

THE SUICIDE OF THE ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHER WAS IMMORTALIZED IN THIS PAINTING BY JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID

Many of my fellow Gen-Xers still vividly remember the news of the suicide of Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain.

 

 

 

Many people were shocked by the suicide of actor and comedian Robin Williams in August, 2014. The news media was quick to report on Williams’ struggle with substance abuse and depression. In the days that followed Williams’ suicide, cable news and the internet featured stories on suicide prevention and suicide prevention hotline numbers.

 

williams

 

There were a few who openly claimed that Robin Williams was selfish in his actions. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith called Williams a “coward” (Smith later retracted his statements) and actor Todd Bridges got himself into hot water for saying that Williams’ act was “selfish”.

 

Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS said of those who commit suicide:

Drug addicts and alcoholics are always, ‘The world is a harsh place’. My mother was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. I don’t want to hear fuck about “the world is a harsh place.” She gets up every day, smells the roses and loves life…. And for a putz, 20 year-old kid to say, ‘I’m depressed, I live in Seattle.’ Fuck you, then kill yourself.

 

Simmons continued:

I never understood, because I always call them on their bluff. I’m the guy who says “Jump!” when there’s a guy on top of a building who says, “That’s it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to jump”… Are you kidding? Why are you announcing it? Shut the fuck up, have some dignity and jump! You’ve got the crowd.

 

 

GENE SIMMONS: A LEGENDARY ROCK MUSICIAN WITH THE WISDOM OF JIGSAW

GENE SIMMONS: A LEGENDARY ROCK MUSICIAN WITH THE WISDOM OF JIGSAW

 

 

jigsaw

 

 

In the days and weeks that followed Williams’ suicide there was no shortage of professional and non-professional opinions on the issue.

 

Robin Williams’ death reignited the public debate over the ethics of suicide.
Those of us who are old enough to remember the days of the late Jack Kevorkian and his assisted suicide machine know that suicide is one of those issues that is approached with caution, at best.

 

 

JACK KEVORKIAN (1928-2011), EUTHANASIA ACTIVIST, CLAIMED TO HAVE ASSISTED IN THE SUICIDES OF AT LEAST 130 CHRONICALLY AND TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS

JACK KEVORKIAN (1928-2011), EUTHANASIA ACTIVIST, CLAIMED TO HAVE ASSISTED IN THE SUICIDES OF AT LEAST 130 CHRONICALLY AND TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS

 

The debate over suicide is often moral.

 

Ethical theories both permit and forbid the intentional taking of one’s life.

 

IF ONLY MAKING MORAL DECISIONS WERE THIS EASY

IF ONLY MAKING MORAL DECISIONS WERE THIS EASY

 

The French philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) wrote that suicide is the only truly serious philosophical problem.

 

Albert-Camus

 

Camus writes:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards.

Camus uses the myth of Sisyphus to demonstrate our struggle against the urge to commit suicide.

 

… Or rather, to demonstrate the struggle against wanting to commit suicide in the face of absurdity.

 

 

IN THE ANCIENT GREEK MYTH SISYPHUS IS CONDEMNED TO ROLL A LARGE ROCK UP A HILL FOR AN ETERNITY. WHEN SISYPHUS REACHES THE TOP OF THE PEAK THE ROCK ROLLS DOWN THE HILL AND SISYPHUS MUST ROLL THE ROCK BACK UP THE HILL AGAIN

IN THE ANCIENT GREEK MYTH SISYPHUS IS CONDEMNED TO ROLL A LARGE ROCK UP A HILL FOR AN ETERNITY. WHEN SISYPHUS REACHES THE TOP OF THE PEAK THE ROCK ROLLS DOWN THE HILL AND SISYPHUS MUST ROLL THE ROCK BACK UP THE HILL AGAIN

 

 

No matter how many times he rolls the boulder up the hill he knows the rock will roll back down and he will have to roll the it back up the hill again. The act of rolling the rock seems futile. There is no point in doing it. Sisyphus is overwhelmed by the futility of his task. In the mind of Sisyphus, his life is absurd.

 

A word about the word absurd:

 

LISTEN UP, FOLKS. A PHILOSOPHER IS ABOUT TO LEARN YOU A NEW WORD

LISTEN UP, FOLKS. A PHILOSOPHER IS ABOUT TO LEARN YOU A NEW WORD

 

 

mindy kaling GIF

 

 

When we usually say something is “absurd” we mean something is silly.

 

Something like this:

 

 

 

 

 

Although that’s silly, that’s not what philosophers mean when they use the word “Absurd’.

 

On the absurd, the great philosophical index (otherwise known as Wikipedia) says this:

In philosophy, “the Absurd” refers to the conflict between (1) the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and (2) the human inability to find any. … the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously. … the efforts of humanity to find inherent meaning will ultimately fail (and hence are absurd)…

Sisyphus can find no meaning in a task that he can never complete. And we, like Sisyphus, find that we are often tasked with duties and obligations in our lives that we cannot complete. Our lives often seem to lack meaning and have no purpose. And so we, like Sisyphus, are overwhelmed by the despair of the absurd. Overwhelmed by absurdity, we may conclude that the only way to escape absurdity is by ending our own lives.

 

 

WE MIGHT IMAGINE SISYPHUS PUSHING THE ROCK TO THE SIDE AND JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF

WE MIGHT IMAGINE SISYPHUS PUSHING THE ROCK TO THE SIDE AND JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF

 

However, Sartre (and existentialists in general) say that we must accept that despair and overcome it. We must build meaning into our lives in the face of meaninglessness.

Even Sisyphus, Sartre says, learns to be happy.

 

imagine sisyphus happy

 

 

We must also learn to be happy.

Sartre isn’t the only philosopher that says that suicide is not the solution for life’s problems.

 

Yep. Kant did, too.

 

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued that suicide wasn’t just the result of bad decision making. Killing oneself is downright wrong.

Kant declares that suicide is a violation of the Categorical Imperative.

What’s Kant’s Categorical Imperative, you say?

 

Kant’s Categorical Imperative is as follows:

First Formulation: Formulation from Universal Law
* act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law

Second Formulation: Formulation for Ends In Themselves
*  man, and in general every rational being exists as an end in himself not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will: he must in all his actions, whether they are directed to himself or to other rational beings, always be viewed at the same time as an end

 

 

categorical imperative arguments

 

What this all means is that when we perform any act we must ask ourselves a couple of questions:
1) would we want everyone else to do it, and
2) do we use or exploit anyone to get what we want?

 

Kant’s argument against suicide states:

A man who is reduced to despair by a series of evils feels a weariness with life but is still in possession of his reason sufficiently to ask whether it would not be contrary to his duty to himself to take his own life. Now he asks whether the maxim of his action could become a universal law of nature. His maxim, however is: For love of myself, I make it my principle to shorten my life when by a longer duration it threatens more evil than satisfaction. But it is questionable whether this principle of self-love could become a universal law of nature. One immediately sees a contradiction in a system of nature whose law would be to destroy life by the feeling whose special office is to impel the improvement of life. In this case it would not exist as nature hence that maxim cannot obtain as a law of nature, and thus it wholly contradicts the supreme principle of all duty.

 

Kant argues we can’t universalize suicide because the act of killing oneself is contradictory to our own self-love. Ok, wait a minute. What does Kant mean by “self love”?

Not that, you dirty bird.

You see, according to Kant, we all possess a sense of self-love.

I guess you can call it a sense of self-preservation.

Kant says we (should) love ourselves too much to intentionally take our own lives.

 

THE UPSHOT OF NARCISSISM IS THAT YOU PROBABLY WON’T VIOLATE THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

THE UPSHOT OF NARCISSISM IS THAT YOU PROBABLY WON’T VIOLATE THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

 

 

Kant also argues that it is wrong to use another as a mere means to our ends.

Ok, bear with me, here.

To use a person as a mere means to our ends is to deny a person the respect of their personhood that every human being is entitled to; to treat a person as a thing. Treating a person as a thing devalues the respect that every (rational) human being is entitled to. And so, by killing ourselves we treat ourselves as a thing, we are denying the respect that we are entitled to as rational beings. We become a mere means to an end.

 

means to an end

 

Although Kant’s philosophical mission is to get away from a religion-based ethics, we can’t help from observing that Kant’s argument parallels religious edicts in the form of divine universal law (in Kant’s case his is the inviolable universal law of nature). Like Kant’s ethics, God-based arguments against suicide are rooted in the belief that every life is sacred and that we have no (moral) authority to end any human being’s life. To do so, according to the religious view, is, in essence, playing God.

We are forbidden to usurp God’s plan for us.

We are forbidden to destroy what God has created.

In doing so we risk condemnation.
In an article that appeared on Catholic Online, Chaplain Adele M. Gill says to end one‘s life prematurely is not a courageous act. Gill says:

Because it is not. Rather it is anything but. In fact, in my mind, it is a self-destructive act of selfish cowardice to end your own life before God’s perfect timing.

 

GOD DEFINITELY IS NOT DOWN WITH FRANCINE FISHPAW’S END-OF-SUFFERING PLAN

GOD DEFINITELY IS NOT DOWN WITH FRANCINE FISHPAW’S END-OF-SUFFERING PLAN

 

Although religious-based arguments are probably the most convincing anti suicide arguments (if not just for the fact that we must weigh the utility of the cessation of pain and suffering against eternal damnation), God arguments cut both ways.

 

Especially when philosophers make them.
This is probably due, in part to the fact that an estimated 62% of philosophers are atheist.

 

TYPICAL PHILOSOPHER LISTENING TO ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

TYPICAL PHILOSOPHER LISTENING TO ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

 

In “On Suicide” the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) considers the existence of God. If there is a God, Hume asks, and everything happens according to his will, how can suicide go against the will of God?

Hume argues: if a person fights the urge to commit suicide he is fighting against the will of God.

 

… And defying the will of God gets you a one-way ticket to hellfire and eternal torment.

 

IT’S NOT ENTIRELY INCORRECT TO ASSUME THAT, DESPITE HIS PHILOSOPHICALLY PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTS, IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT AT THIS MOMENT DAVID HUME IS ROASTING IN HELL

IT’S NOT ENTIRELY INCORRECT TO ASSUME THAT, DESPITE HIS PHILOSOPHICALLY PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTS, IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT AT THIS MOMENT DAVID HUME IS ROASTING IN HELL

 

Now, some people may ask why would a philosopher find it necessary to weigh in on a subject like suicide? After all, dealing with life, death, and the hereafter is best handled by one’s personal spiritual adviser, priests, imams, and rabbis.

That might be true.

 

However, Not every suicide is the result of depression or a feeling of hopelessness.

Some people commit suicide for what they believe are completely legitimate reasons.

When we ponder the outcomes our actions have in this world and (possibly) in the next, we realize that to have an outcome we have to do something. We have to make a choice; a decision.

Decisions inevitably have ethical implications.

 

Philosophers deal in ethics.

 

I WEAR THIS SHIRT EVERYWHERE I GO. ... BECAUSE IT'S TRUE

I WEAR THIS SHIRT EVERYWHERE I GO.
… BECAUSE IT’S TRUE

 

Philosophical arguments on suicide (especially arguments in support of physician-assisted suicide) often focus on a person’s mental state (i.e. level of cognition) when we act.

Kant tells us that the use of reason separates humans from mere beasts.

 

 

kant reason

 

 

Our capacity for reason allows us to make deliberate and rational choices.

… You see, philosophers have this idea that in order to be a fully functional, autonomous human being, one must possess the capacity to make rational choices.

The recent news story of Brittany Maynard, the 29 year-old newlywed diagnosed with terminal brain cancer who opted to commit suicide rather than to go through suffering of her disease, Maynard articulated the rational argument in favor of what Dr. Jack Kevorkian called “patholysis” (literally translated, “destruction of suffering”).

 

 

brittany maynard

 

 

 

 

 

Most arguments about suicide, pro and against, tend to center on physician-assisted suicide.

Or as some supporters call it, death with dignity.

 

Although even the most ardent assisted-suicide proponent would have a difficult time defending suicide of those who are not chronically or terminally ill, there are many people who support physically healthy people who opt to commit suicide for psychological and/or philosophical reasons. Some argue that it is perfectly rational to make choose to commit suicide to prevent suffering and to have control ones life. Death, they argue, is inevitable. The terminal diagnosis has been made. The point isn’t to die, it’s to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering.

Several U.S. states and a handful of nations in Europe allow euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. The Swiss group Dignitas (based in Zurich, Switzerland) is a notable example of an organization providing terminally ill with death with dignity services.

 

 

THIS IS THE DIGNITAS FACILITY IN ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

THIS IS THE DIGNITAS FACILITY IN ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

 

Dignitas’ assisted-suicide services has been accused of promoting “suicide tourism”.

 

 

 

 

The philosophical arguments for physician-assisted suicide are compelling. Certainly a philosopher would agree that we should respect the decisions made by someone who is mentally competent and able to make full use of their capacity to think rationally. But there’s the problem we have as philosophers – we must weigh an ethic that tells us to preserve life against an ethic that tells us to respect autonomy.

Philosophers like Immanuel Kant tell us that we have a duty to help others but we also have a duty not to interfere with the actions of morally autonomous beings.

 

autonomy
However, we can still argue that suicide, despite our moral autonomy and our justifications, can’t be a rational choice.

Namely:

  • A rational choice, by necessity, has to be made when one is fully aware and knowledgeable of what they’re doing. Since no person possesses the ability to know how their death will affect others, we can‘t reasonably argue that we can calculate (all of) the consequences of a suicide.
  • If a person commits suicide they are hurting more than themselves. A person who commits suicide deprives people not only of their presence, but also of what they could have done. Especially if we end our lives before we reach our full potential.
  • Death, no matter the circumstance, is bad. Death causes us harm. Why would someone willingly do something that is harmful?
  • Someone who is mentally depressed, mentally ill or mentally impaired (by illness or medication) can not, by definition, be entirely rational and therefore is incapable of making rational choices.
  • Young people lack the mental/psychological/philosophical maturity required to make rational choices and should be strongly discouraged from committing suicide, even if the reason for doing so seems rational.
  • Given the possibility that one would burn in hell, why would someone risk an eternal punishment, even to avoid pain or to end suffering?

 

WE WOULDN’T WANT TO DISCOVER THAT THE CONSEQUENCE OF A SEEMINGLY RATIONAL ACT IS ETERNAL

WE WOULDN’T WANT TO DISCOVER THAT THE CONSEQUENCE OF A SEEMINGLY RATIONAL ACT IS ETERNAL

 

Suicide is always a tragic event. We can be certain that there will be arguments on both sides of the issue. No matter what or justification for ending our own lives may be, there will be questions that will remain unanswered: Is it always wrong to commit suicide? Are mental or chronic or terminal physical illness enough reason to commit suicide? Should doctors assist the terminally ill to end their own lives? Should we continue to struggle to against the absurdity of life and how should we escape it?

 

 

Unfortunately, neither philosophers nor the clergy have given us answers we all can agree on.

 

 

 

 

 
* if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (in the U.S.) 1-800-273-8255
Or go to the website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org

 

 

NOTE:
* It is still debated whether Meriwether Lewis and Marilyn Monroe actually committed suicide.
* For more reading on reasons why people commit suicide:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201004/the-six-reasons-people-attempt-suicide
SOURCES:
Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1997 [1785]. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 2nd Edition (Revised). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 38-39.

Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus. 1975 [1942]. Trans. Justin O’ Brien. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 11.

Fred Feldman. Confrontations With the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death. 1992. NY: Oxford University Press.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/

http://philosophynow.org/issues/61/Kant_On_Suicide

http://www.etonline.com/news/149905_gene_simmons_tells_depressed_people_to_kill_themselves/index.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/curious/201405/why-do-people-kill-themselves-new-warning-signs

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absurdism

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/19/brittany_maynards_brave_choice_why_religious_arguments_against_physician_assisted_suicide_fall_flat/

My New Year’s Resolu – Oh, Nevermind.

It’s the end of the year.

2013 is over and done. Onward to 2014!

 

i can't believe it's been a year

 

The end of the year means taking the time to assess the important things: Life. Relationships. My credit rating. Blog views.

 

You know,  the important stuff.

 

Unfortunately, being the cynic that I am, thinking about life inevitably leads to thoughts like this:

 

ending one minute at a time

 

Thanks a lot, Chuck Palahniuk.

 

And of course as the end of one year approaches, we mark the occasion by making resolutions.

Or as I call them, my annual list of unreasonable goals and broken promises.

 

stop lying resolution

 

The funny thing about New Year’s resolutions is, even though I absolutely know that I’m never going to stick to my resolution, I can’t not make them. Not making a resolution leaves me feeling like I’ve gone somewhere and left something behind. Like driving to the beach only to realize that I’ve left my towel at home.

 

You can’t go from one year to the next without making a resolution. That just ain’t American.

 

New-year-resolution-2014

 

Ok. I know that 9 out of 10 resolutions anyone makes at any time of the year are made to be broken. And to reduce my chances of failure, I’m not going to vow to lose weight or to become a better person (whatever that is),  And as a philosopher, I know that consistently making and breaking promises to myself violates Kant’s Categorical Imperative. So, I figure, in order to actually achieve my goals and to maintain any kind of philosophical integrity,  that this and all my future New Year’s resolutions shall be more realistic  – that is, accomplishable.

 

 

MAKING NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS ALWAYS MAKES ME THINK OF SISYPHUS. HE DIDN'T ACCOMPLISH HIS RESOLUTION, EITHER.

MAKING NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS ALWAYS MAKES ME THINK OF SISYPHUS. HE DIDN’T ACCOMPLISH HIS RESOLUTION, EITHER.

 

 

I’m gonna limit my list to stuff I can actually do.

 

So , without further ado, I, The Mindless Philosopher, hereby resolve to:

 

  • Stop shooting smack (I thought I’d put one at the top of my list that don’t really do, so this one should be easy).
  • Get outside more (and by “outside” I don’t mean periodically poking my head out the front door to check if the mailman has dropped off the stuff I ordered from Amazon).
  • Pick a political philosophy and stick to it.
  • Write more on epistemology and metaphysics (writing on ethics is too easy).
  • Finish writing my second book.
  • Start writing my second book.
  • Stop calling myself a sapiosexual (no one knows what that is. and it sounds pretentious, anyway).

 

sapiosexual

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THIS WORD MEANT UNTIL THIS YEAR, EITHER.

  • Read something other than true crime books.
  • And on that note, stop watching Mob Wives.
  • Get a Twitter account (No, wait, scratch that one. I’m not going to tweet anything).
  • Learn how to walk in heels.
  • Lighten up my attitude towards Aristotle (the homunculus is no reason to discredit a philosopher’s entire philosophy).
  • Get over my obsession with Morrissey.
  • Devote my Sundays to something other than watching The Walking Dead.
  • Contribute to the Pacifica Network (On second thought, I might actually break this one).
  • Stop wearing pajama pants in public.
  • Stop quoting Nietzsche out of context.
  • Actually read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
  • Admit that I don’t always have to be right.
keep calm i'm always right

WHO AM I KIDDING, I’M ALWAYS GOING TO BELIEVE I’M RIGHT

 

  • Acknowledge that Severus Snape is not a real person and that I cannot marry him.
DOES NOT HAVE A PROFILE ON MATCH.COM

DOES NOT HAVE A PROFILE ON MATCH.COM

 

And finally, stop being so cynical.

 

That last one might not happen this year. I am a philosopher, after all.

 

imnotcynicalLOGO

 

You know, I don’t know if I will break any (or all) of my resolutions by year’s end. If I’ve learned anything from David Hume, it’s that what happened yesterday can’t tell us what will happen tomorrow, next week, or even five minutes from now.  There are literally millions of reasons to break a New Year’s resolution.

No, really. If there are parallel universes the reasons are infinite.

I can imagine pajama pants sweeping the runways during New York Fashion Week. I could find a whole new reason to hate Aristotle.  Or VH-1 could give Big Ang another spin-off reality TV show…

 

Or I just might open my door one warm day in April to find Severus Snape delivering my Amazon order for  Farscape the complete series.

Ok. Probably none of that will happen.

 

But there is one resolution I know I will fulfill this year – and that’s to wish everyone a  Happy New Year.

Here’s to 2014 and a new year of happy thinking!

 

Philosophically yours,

TMP

Chick Writin’

It’s generally thought that philosophy is a man’s game.

Without even really thinking about it, I can name at least a couple dozen male philosophers. At least a couple dozen.

Every philosophy student learns the names by heart: Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Hume, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Locke, Mill, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Russell, Wittgenstein …

 

They’re the pillars of philosophy.

 

I can name more. I bet you can, too.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same about the ladies.

I mean, I know there are women philosophers. I’ve read a few. Simone de Beauvoir. Judith Butler. Ayn Rand. Hannah Arendt. Helene Cixous. Christine Korsgaard. Susan Wolf.

My list pretty much dries up there.

I’ll be damned if I can name a dozen let alone a couple dozen professional lady philosophers.

 

 

Who is this lady????

Who is this lady????

 

 

And I don’t think I’ve ever identified one by just her last name.

Everybody says they’ve read Nietzsche. When was the last time you heard anyone say they just finished reading Butler?

 

If you don’t know which Butler to whom I refer, I mean this Butler: Judith Butler. She’s a philosopher.

If you don’t know which Butler to whom I refer, I mean this Butler: Judith Butler. She’s a philosopher.

 

 

The general assumption was (and still is) that men are better at thinking than women.

You know, thinking stuff like math, logic map reading, AND philosophy.

I write about philosophy.

I guess in the broadest sense of the word that makes me a philosopher.

However, I am of the female persuasion and I write about philosophy.

 

Uh-oh. Problem.

 

The thing is, is that I don’t really think of myself as a female philosopher. When I engage in a philosophical discussion, if the opportunity conceal my gender arises, I’ll do it. Even my Facebook profile pic is a picture of a man.

This is my current Facebook profile pic.

 
don draper for profile pic

 

 

It’s not only a picture of a man, Don Draper; it’s a picture of a man from a decade when women were definitely treated like second class citizens.

 

Now, I suppose I can say my reluctance to reveal my gender has to has to do with some sort of socially-conditioned, unconscious desire to abide by the white, heterosexual, Christian male patriarchy. But to say that would be a little too obvious.

And really, I don’t think it’s that at all.

The reason why, I think, has something to do with not wanting to be just a female philosopher – that being a female philosopher means that the only philosophical writing I do is chick writing.

 

herstory

 

 

You see, when you tell everyone that you’re a woman and you like to write, it’s almost inevitable that someone will assume that all you write about is your kids, fashion, the men you’re dating, and your period.

Just occasionally pausing to write about the oppressive capitalist white male patriarchy or how lesbians are still under represented and maligned in society, political institutions, and in the media.

Well for starters, I don’t have kids. I haven’t bought a new article of clothing in over two years, and my current dating situation could be best described as Tatooine-esque.

 

The fact that I just used a Star Wars reference might be a reason why it’s so.

 

Or worse yet, being a chick writer or writing about chick issues immediately associates one with militant man-hating.

Philosophy professor Michael Levin wrote in his book, Feminism and Freedom, that feminism is an “antidemocratic, if not totalitarian ideology.”

 

feminist with scissors

 

 

Just for the record I don’t hate men.

But for the ones I do hate, my hatred is well deserved.

 

 

mink

 

Wait. I got off track.

 

I suppose Aristotle was right.

He said that women are more quarrelsome than men.

Aristotle wrote that women favor emotion over intellect. This is the reason why, Aristotle says, women are irrational. Irrationality has no place in philosophy.

 

 

feminist hammer

 

 

Still, feminist philosophy, or philosophy by or about women in general, bears the stigma of being not-quite-legitimate philosophy.
Feminist philosophy tends to focus on the interpersonal – how the individual, in particular, how women (as women) relate to and in society. Whereas male philosophers tend to emphasize the pursuit of knowledge and absolute, objective truth, female philosophers tend to examine the role of women and aspects of femininity in societal institutions (politics, economics, religion), and the relationships between cultural concepts such as womanhood, class, sexuality, sexual preference and identity, and race.
And then there’s this:

 
this is what femimism looks like

 

 

When you’re a feminist, people make cruel memes about you.

 

Unfortunately the view isn’t  that much different in philosophy.

 

That can make a lady philosopher steer clear of writing about any issue that stinks of feminism. Even if what you’re writing is philosophical.

And it really doesn’t help much when a few of those great male minds of philosophy rattle off statements like:

 

It is only males who are created directly by the gods and are given souls. Those who live rightly return to the stars, but those who are ‘cowards or [lead unrighteous lives] may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation’. This downward progress may construe through successive reincarnations unless reversed. In this situation, obviously it is only men who are complete human beings and can hope for ultimate fulfillment. The best a woman can hope for is to become a man.

 

Encouraging, right?

 

If Plato thinks I’m a soulless idiot why would I ever imagine that I could possibly have a career in philosophy?

And besides, as we all know all the important philosophers are men.

 

 

on feminism

 

 

The thing is, is that I really don’t have any problem with feminists, feminism, or female philosophers. Goodness knows that there’s more to philosophy than Socrates and Kierkegaard. I think what I’m trying to avoid writing not-really-philosophy philosophy. Even though women have contributed many brilliant ideas, theories, and schools of thought to philosophy, there’s still this thing I can’t get over – the thought that my gender necessarily obligates me to write about – my gender.

Even serious women philosophers, like Ayn Rand, are depicted like this:

 

 

sexy ayn!

 

 

Or worse yet, what they write is dismissed as just chick stuff.

Man-hating chick stuff.

 

 

i need feminism

 

 

Listen, I know I’m being a little short-sighted on the prevalence and influence of women philosophers. I well aware of the fact that women philosophers write about more than sexuality and gender issues and that women have contributed more than their feminine charm and good looks to the body philosophic. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about the Nazis. And Ayn Rand’s ethical philosophy, like it or not, is still influential.

Rand’s followers have ranged from CEOs of major corporations to former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, to the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan.

By the way, are you aware that Ryan now says that his rumored fondness for Rand’s philosophy is an urban myth?

 

 

paul ryan

 

Still, I went through the whole earning a philosophy degree process, and during the entire time I read only one female philosopher who didn’t write about lady stuff. AND during the entire time I was a philosophy student, there was only one class offered on feminist philosophy.

 

keep patriarchy

 

 

Perhaps that’s the problem, eh?

Betty Friedan wrote that she wanted women to “master the secrets of the atoms, or the stars”, and wanted women to pioneer “a new concept in government or society”.

I’m pretty sure what she wanted applies to philosophy, too.

Philosophy will continue be a man’s game so long as folks like me keep referring to themselves (myself) as “folks like me”.

I shouldn’t be so worried about being a chick writer or writing about chick stuff. Certainly philosophy has plenty to do with rational arguments and logic, but it also has to do with things like reality. And my reality is seen through my lady eyes.

 

 

 

ryan gosling hey girl meme

 

 

Whether I like it or even want to admit it, everything I write is chick writin’.
Now I don’t feel so bad writing about my period.

 

 

You can expect that post in exactly 28 days.

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

Plato. Timaeus. (90e). Available at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1572

Susan Faludi. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. 1991. NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Everyone’s A Critic (Or, 10 Good Reasons To Hate Philosophy)

I remember when I was a kid, Mr. Blackwell would put out a list of the year’s best and worst dressed celebrities.

Although the more positive thing to do would have been to talk about the best dressed list, the media seemed to anticipate the announcement of Mr. Blackwell’s worst dressed list. They treated Mr. Blackwell’s announcement like a little kid flips his lid opening up his presents on Christmas.

You’d think that Santa Claus had delivered the list.

I don’t remember too much about Mr. Blackwell’s critiques other than his proclamations  were announced in rhyming couplets.

This is Mr. Blackwell

mr blackwell

 

Mr. Blackwell is dead now.

That was Mr. Blackwell.

I guess Joan Rivers does his job these days. I don’t think she uses rhyming couplets, though.

It’d be pretty cool if Kelly Osbourne did.

 

Whether it’s cars, movies, electronic equipment, summer reads, fashion icons, or reality television shows, everyone from the editors of Entertainment Weekly to any guy or gal with a blog has got a top ten list of something. If you spend any significant amount of time doing  or paying attention to anything, you’re bound to think up a list of things about that thing you do or don’t like. You don’t have to read very many lists to see that for some things, the lists are pretty much the same.

I’ve read more than twenty  top ten lists that name Breaking Bad as the best TV show.

Nearly every list of the best music groups say that The Beatles are the greatest band ever*.

If you’re wondering who the greatest president of the United States was, eleven out of ten political scientists will tell you that America’s greatest president was Abraham Lincoln even before he was a vampire hunter.

 

But, just as everyone has a list of music groups, books, or movies, that you love, everyone also has a list of everything and anyone we just cannot stand. Everybody has a list. A THAT list. Although I have yet to hear anyone say it, I know that every philosopher, philosophy fan, and philosophy student has that list of philosophers that they feel less than a positive affinity towards. A philosophy shit list.

Although one might assume that finding a list of hate-inducing philosophers would be a challenging task, picking the list is actually quite easy. After all, it’s easy to come up with a list of philosophers we’re supposed to like: Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Kant… But let’s be honest, some philosophers practically scream out to be hated. For every great philosopher, for every great philosophical idea like the problem of induction, Gettier examples, the naturalistic fallacy, or correspondence theory of truth, there’s a Pascal’s wager or transcendental idealism. Or the homunculus.

That bad idea, by the way, was peddled by Aristotle.

 

Some philosophers were not good people. Other philosophers were/are a-holes. And some philosophers invent theories that are so wacky that you have no other reasonable choice but to hate that philosopher and everything they’ve ever written.

I promise I won’t say a thing about logical positivism or Wittgenstein.

Still, sometimes you come to hate other philosophers merely by looking at them.

I mean, it’s easy to hate a guy that looks like this:

 

ischope001p1

 

Really, the more one reads philosophy, the more one finds philosophers (and theories) worthy of a “worst of” list.

So without further ado, I present my top ten worst philosophers (aka 10 good reasons to hate philosophy):

 

1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

no you kant
Perhaps best known for his works Critique of Practical Reason (1788), Critique of Pure Reason (1781), and the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), the German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, is considered the greatest philosopher since Aristotle. Kant taught at the University at Konigsberg  (East Prussia) where he was a popular and well-regarded professor. Satisfied with neither the rationalist nor the empiricist theories of knowledge, Kant called for a “Copernican revolution” in philosophy an attempt to provide a satisfactory account for knowledge.

This all makes Kant sound like a swell guy but there’s plenty of reasons to hate him and his philosophy.

For starters, philosophers, until Immanuel Kant, weren’t exclusively academics.

Kant was.

Second, not only are Kant’s Transcendental Idealism and synthetic a priori knowledge incredibly (and annoyingly) confusing concepts, but Kant’s ethical opus, the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE, is damned-near impossible to carry out in real life.

In Kant’s first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, Kant instructs that we may never violate any moral rule, no matter what good may come about as a result of violating the rule. So, if your friend comes to your house and says to you that he’s being followed by an axe murderer and he wants to hide in your closet, according to Kant, you’re supposed to tell the axe murderer that your friend is hiding in the closet if the murderer asks you where your friend is hiding.

The reason why you gotta fink out your friend, Kant says, is because it is morally wrong to lie. Kant writes:

Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it… because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to the were admitted.

 

The act of lying undermines our pursuit of truth, Kant says.

You see, Kant says we have an inviolable duty to the axe murderer to tell the truth because if we lie, we are endorsing the act of lying, not just to save lives, but in any situation where the circumstances may work out nicely for ourselves (or anyone else for that matter). What if the axe murderer knows you’re lying, Kant asks. And because he knows you’re lying he sneaks around to the back of your house where your fried is also sneaking out the back way. The murderer kills your friend. Kant says that you’re not only morally on the hook for the lie but for the murder as well.

If you didn’t lie the murderer wouldn’t have doubted you. And if he hadn’t doubted you, he wouldn’t have sneaked around to the back door. If you had pointed to your closet and said “He’s right in there”, sure, you’re violating your friend’s trust and handing him over to a deranged killer, but, at least according to Kant, you did so with a clear moral conscience.

It doesn’t take much contemplation to figure out that this line of thinking is kind of…. wrong.

 

2. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

old fred

The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the most influential (if not most popular) philosophers ever. Besides Socrates, Friedrich Nietzsche has probably contributed more ideas and catchphrases to the popular culture than any other philosopher (eternal recurrence, the ubermensch, master/slave morality, “God is dead”, “What does not kill me makes me stronger”, “there are no facts, only interpretations”…) Nietzsche is considered one of the forerunners of existentialism and credited with founding the philosophy of nihilism.

And is the patron philosopher saint of goth kids everywhere.

That’s pretty much where the problem with Nietzsche starts.

The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is the sole genesis of more philosophical misinterpretation and wrongheaded-ness than any other philosopher in history.  Nietzsche’s misogyny, anti-Semitism, and fervent German nationalism not only inspired the malevolent philosophy of National Socialism, but we can find Nietzsche’s philosophical influence in the Satanic religious teachings of  the late Anton LaVey  to  the mass murderers at Columbine High School.

 

 

3. Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)

Gottlob_Frege

Gottlob Frege is credited with revolutionizing the study of logic, which, until Frege, was dominated by Aristotelian logic. His work, Begriffsschrift (1879) set forward a system of formal logic that overthrew Aristotle’s logic. Frege, (along with Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein) is credited with creating the groundwork of modern philosophy of language. Frege argued that logic, mathematics, and language have continuity, and that we should view language more logically for clarity and to remove confusion (in language).

Anyone who hated symbolic logic or encountered the phrases Venus is Hesperus or Venus is phosphorus has Frege to blame.

And as many philosophy students has complained, Frege’s formal logic operates too much like mathematics which is precisely the subject that many mathophobic philosophy students aim to avoid.

 

4. Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

aristotle bust

Called “The Philosopher”, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote on subjects as diverse as politics, economics, psychology, biology, physics, ethics, logic, and auto repair. Scholasticism, the school of theological thought based in part on the philosophy of Aristotle, was the official doctrine of the early Catholic church, and  Aristotle’s logic was the standard logic until Frege. Aristotle’s philosophy (which includes ideas such as the golden mean, eudemonia, and virtue ethics) is still a foundation of philosophical and political thought. Aristotle’s philosophical works are so extensive and he remains one of the world’s most influential philosophers, it’s amazing to think that it’s possible to dislike the man they called “The Philosopher”.

It is possible.

Aristotle proves that the quantity of one’s writing doesn’t necessarily correlate to the fact that everything that someone writes is correct.

A few examples:

On the subject of slavery Aristotle wrote:

… from birth certain things diverge, some towards being ruled, other towards ruling… Accordingly, those who are as different [from other men] as the soul from the body or man from beast and they are in the state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them are slaves by nature. For them its is better to be ruled with this sort of rule…

 

No, you didn’t read it wrong. Aristotle believed some people are natural slaves.

 

And On the subject of women Aristotle wrote:

Woman is more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears. At the same time, she is more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike. She is, furthermore, more prone to despondency and less hopeful than man, more devoid of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive and of more retentive memory.

 

Pretty much speaks for itself.

 

Aristotle also believed:

  • Deformed children should be put to death.
  • If people married young their children would be weak and female (Aristotle probably believed that was redundant).
  • Animals are mere tools to be used however people see fit.
  • Democracy is bad.
  • The Earth is the center of the universe.
  • Heavenly bodies float on eternal invisible spheres.
  • Some people have no souls (and therefore are fit to be used as slaves)
  • And, of course, Aristotle believed a man’s semen contains fully-developed, miniature people.

 

We expect that even the greatest philosopher may miss the mark, but when Aristotle was wrong, he wasn’t just slightly incorrect or a wee bit off track; the guy was wrong.

WRONG.

 

allistair gets slimed

 

Centuries of Aristotle’s wrong-headed philosophy dominating church doctrine not only held back the progress of science (as it was not in one’s best interest to oppose church doctrine), but Aristotle’s  truly messed up notions involving the intellectual aptitude of women and the (in)ability of average citizens to manage government are still prevalent.

If that isn’t enough, Aristotle’s political philosophy influenced neo-conservatism.

‘Nuff said.

 

5. John Rawls (1921-2002)

rawls

Veil of ignorance. Period.

6. Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

ayn rand

Best known as the author of objectivist masterpieces The Fountainhead (1943), Anthem (1938), and Atlas Shrugged (1957), Ayn Rand is only slightly less regarded by philosophers as a philosopher worth taking seriously. Rand is the founder of Objectivism, the philosophical school of thought grounded on the principle of rational self interest. Rand’s rational self interest is defined as follows:

Man every man is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

 

At first glance Rand’s philosophy makes sense. It’s difficult to argue that we shouldn’t place the achievement of our own happiness first and foremost among our life goals.

And we should wan to be happy.

The problem with Rand is that following her philosophy will turn you into a complete dick.

Anyone who has endured a soon-to-be-former-friend’s Rand-soaked rants about “moochers”, “the virtue of selfishness” or “going Galt”, knows that the mere sight of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged on a friend or prospective mate’s bookshelf spells certain doom for any relationship. The trouble with Ayn Rand is that fans of Rand often espouse Rand’s anti-helping-one’s-fellow-man sentiments, while also failing to realize, like Rand, that helping the less fortunate actually benefits society.  You see, Rand’s fans often fail to see that she wrote fiction.

That’s probably why if you ask any philosopher if he takes Ayn Rand seriously, you’ll be laughed out of the room.

Rand not only calls philosophical god Immanuel Kant “evil”, but Rand proclaimed that the Christian ethic of altruism is dangerous and harmful to society.

Which is pretty odd considering some of Rand’s biggest fans are Christian politicians.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is such a bag of mixed-up ideas that Rand’s influence can be found behind the personal philosophies of former Republican 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, who insisted all his staffers read Atlas Shrugged, and Anton LaVey, the late founder of the Church of Satan.

Rand herself decried social assistance to the poor (because it takes from the rich, who, according to Rand had all earned their money, so no poor person has a right to be helped by it) while receiving social security a social assistance program.

That’s not only mixed up. That’s being a total Dick.

 

7. Ayn Rand

Rand proves that it is possible to so despise a philosopher she’s worth mentioning twice.

 

8. Sir Bertrand Russell (1873-1970)

bertrand russell

 

Regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century and (perhaps) the greatest philosopher ever, Sir Bertrand Russell (along with Gottlob Frege and Ludwig Wittgenstein) played a major role in the development of analytic philosophy. Russell’s works includes writings on logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, epistemology, metaphysics, moral philosophy, politics, economics, religion, and Russell, with Alfred North Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13), which established the logical foundations of mathematics.

Ok. I know, I know, Bertrand Russell is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, quite possibly the greatest philosopher ever. Blah blah blah.

It’s absolutely correct that every philosophy student should know the philosophical importance of Bertrand Russell. But here’s my problem:

First: Russell’s Paradox.

Second: Unlike Leo Strauss, whose approach to writing was to be intentionally obscure, Bertrand Russell is damn-near un-understandable. I have no clue what Russell is writing about.  Read this:

The unity of the sentence is particularly obvious in the case of asymmetrical relations: ‘x precedes y’ and ‘y precedes x’ consist of the same words, arranged by the same relation of temporal succession; there is nothing whatever in their ingredients to distinguish the one from the other. The sentences differ as wholes, but not in their parts, it is this that I mean when I speak of a sentence as a unity.

 

Now, either Bertrand Russell is that brilliant or I’m that dumb.

Because I have no idea what that meant.

That’s why I hate Bertrand Russell.

9. Leo Strauss (1899-1973)

leo strauss

Known as the father of neo-conservatism, the political philosophy of  the late German-American philosopher, Leo Strauss, has created more animus between liberals and conservatives than the epic “tastes great/less filling” debate. In fact, Leo Strauss is probably the most influential modern philosopher no one has ever heard of.

Have you ever heard the name Paul Wolfowitz?

If you haven’t, I’m guessing you’re not an American.

If you are an American and you haven‘t, God help you.

What’s important to know about Paul Wolfowitz is that he was a student of Leo Strauss.  AND he was a Deputy Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. That means Paul Wolfowitz had the ear of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

No big deal, right?

Well, that would be no big deal if Leo Strauss hadn’t spent his entire philosophical career lamenting modern political theory and what he saw as modernity’s liberal, relativistic values, and “the corroding effects of mass culture.” Strauss writes:

Many people today hold the view that the standard in question is in the best case nothing but the ideal adopted by our society or our “civilization” and embodied in its way of life or its institutions. But, according to the same view, all societies have their ideals, cannibal societies no less than civilized ones. If principles are sufficiently justified by the fact that they are accepted by a society, the principles of cannibalism are as defensible or sound as those of civilized life.

 

Strauss explains that moral relativism and “the uninhibited cultivation of individuality” is “bound to lead to disastrous consequences” and nihilism.

It would be no big deal if Strauss hadn’t taught at the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1968,  allowing Strauss to influence a generation of students (they’re called “Straussians”). And it wouldn’t be a big deal that Leo Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz and influenced a generation of Straussians if Strauss hadn’t believed and taught his students that philosophy should be esoteric, and not understood by everybody, and that knowledge is something that is hidden to most people and only understood by a few individuals (namely Strauss and his students).

It wouldn’t be a problem that Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz if Strauss hadn’t taught his students that society should be structured so that the wisest should rise to the top (mind you, Strauss believed that he and his students were the wisest) and that it’s perfectly within a government’s power to lie to and ignore the will of the people.

It wouldn’t be a big deal if Straussians hadn’t been affecting American domestic and foreign policy for the last 12 years*.

It wouldn’t be a problem if Strauss’ followers didn’t go into politics and influence and entire administration to follow Strauss’ wacked-out ideas.

 

10. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

ischope001p1
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (of course he was German!) is best known for his work The World As Will (1818). Schopenhauer, along with (fellow Germans) Georg Hegel and Nietzsche introduced the concept of the will as a force in the world that makes things happen. The world, according to Schopenhauer (and later Nietzsche) is an expression of the will.

Schopenhauer believed that the Eastern philosophical tradition was better at dealing with our philosophical crises than the established European philosophy. Schopenhauer also believed that animals should be treated humanely. He even objected to animals being used for scientific research.

That makes Schopenhauer seem like a pretty cool guy, right?

Well, if you thought that you’d be wrong.

You could say Schopenhauer was the Debbie Downer of philosophy.

Schopenhauer believed that there is no such thing as friendship or happiness and since the will wants its way, we will always be subject to suffering caused by our unfulfilled desires. According to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, even if we get what we want we can never be truly satisfied. Schopenhauer says that ultimately nothing we do matters because death will eventually claim us, thus rendering all of our efforts at anything futile. Schopenhauer writes:

we blow out a soap bubble as long and as large as possible, although we know perfectly well that it will burst.

 

You don’t have to be a philosopher to know it’s kind of hard to like people like this.

Ok, you say, pessimism is forgivable. Many philosophers display more than an inkling of the dourness. But if Schopenhauer’s sunny attitude isn’t enough to turn you off, Arthur Schopenhauer was also a pretty rotten guy.

For starters, his attitude towards women sucked.

Schopenhauer’s attitude towards relationships with women was no different from his view on friendship and happiness. Schopenhauer had many romantic relationships but no permanent.   Worse yet, not only did Schopenhauer write that women are “mental myopic” with “weaker reasoning powers”, he pushed an elderly neighbor down a flight of stairs. When the woman died, Schopenhauer rejoiced that the woman’s death relieved him of his obligation to pay compensation for the injuries she sustained in the fall.

That alone places Schopenhauer second only to Ayn Rand on the dickness scale.

 

philosophy is magic

 

Alright. I know that my list sounds like I’m just bitching about philosophers without any real, substantive criticism of any philosopher of his or her philosophy. If that’s what you’re thinking, that would be an entirely correct assumption. Just as one my dislike The Beatles because of John Lennon’s nasally vocals, our reasons for disliking (or even hating) a particular philosopher, philosophical theory, or philosophical school of thought, may come down to something as trivial as the fact that that particular philosopher invented symbolic logic.

It may be un-philosophical to say so, but it’s ok if you don’t like everything. It’s even ok to really despise a philosopher or two.

As any philosopher will tell you, everybody’s got an opinion, and

haters-gonna-hate-2

 

* Although the critics are nearly unanimous in their praise of The Beatles, I think that it’s highly unlikely that the Beatles would appear at the number on spot on every best musical artists lists. To my knowledge, The Beatles have never occupied the top spot on a list of the 10 greatest hip hop artists. But then, I haven’t seen every top ten hip hop artists list, either.

 

* It’s clear that the Bush Administration’s policies have continued into the Obama Administration. The U.S. is still involved in Iraq, and U.S. troops are still active in Afghanistan. Bush era economic policies, government surveillance, and rendition of “enemy combatants” have also continued into the Obama Administration.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

1) Aristotle. The Politics. 1984. Trans. Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 40-1.

2) Aristotle. “The Inequality of Women”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  p. 525.

3) Bertrand Russell. “Sentence, Syntax, and Parts of Speech”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert Egner and Lester E. Denonn. NY: Touchstone. p. 122.

4) “Reader’s Guide to the Writings and Philosophy of Ayn Rand”. From The Fountainhead. 1952 [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet.

5) Immanuel Kant. “On A Supposed Right to Lie From Benevolent Motives”. 1797. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php?title=360&chap

6) Leo Strauss. Liberalism Ancient and Modern. 1968. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.5

7) Leo Strauss. Natural Right and History. 1950, 1953. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  pp.3, 5.

 

 

 

Fishers of Supermen

I’ve been doing this philosophy thing for a while, now. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

I’m much better at philosophizing than I am at playing basketball or Scrabble.

I think better than I dance.

I’m better at talking about Hume than I am at gourmet cooking.

I’m pretty good at doing something with minimal money-making potential.

Hurray!

That doesn’t bother me, though. You see, philosophers don’t get into philosophy for it’s money making prospects – they do it because they love it.

We are indeed lovers of wisdom.

That kind of bugs me.

 
I used to get frustrated in my philosophy classes. I read Plato and Aristotle. I read Descartes. I read Hume and Kant.

And Rousseau.

And Russell.

De Beauvoir. Marx. Locke. Mill.

They’re all dead now.

I would sit and think how distant philosophy seemed from anything contemporary. Nothing related to how the world is now. It seemed that right now didn’t matter as much as back then. How so many philosophers seemed to hold anything popular with a fair amount of contempt.

Ancient philosophers are the only ones who know how to think.

That never worked for me.

I promised myself that when I graduated, I would write the book that I always wanted to read. I thought if there was anyone out there who thought like me, we’d find each other across the internet. We’d prove that philosophical thought didn’t stop with Socrates.

We would become a movement.

We would become a new Vienna Circle.

So I wrote a book.

I started a blog and a Facebook page.

I was to be a fisher of supermen.

It’s been a few years since then. Things are pretty much the same as they were when I started. I’m not the Oprah Winfrey of philosophy.

If I’m to believe one of my former professors, it has to do with the fact that I lack proper philosophical street cred. That is to say, philosophers think that the only people qualified to speak (or at least write) about philosophy have a PhD.

Philosophers can be kind of stingy with their wisdom.

A philosophical velvet rope.

Apparently, breaking into professional philosophy is harder than getting into Studio 54.

Alvin Plantinga is the new Steve Rubell.

The thing is, there are plenty of non-professionals writing and speaking about all sorts of topics in books, on TV, and all over the internet. Some are pretty successful.

Could it be that no one is interested in philosophy?

No. that can’t be it. I refuse to believe that it’s that no one is interested in philosophy. There are still philosophy departments on college campuses and plenty of philosophy blogs out there.

Not as many blogs as the number devoted to celebrity gossip, but they’re out there.

My blog is one of them.

There’s a problem, though.

There’s no new Vienna Circle.

All I’ve accomplished is Vienna solipsism.

One thing I have noticed is that everybody else’s stuff seems to have what my stuff lacks – an opinion.
Their stuff has a point of view.
When I write, I try to be topical. I try to humorous and down-to-earth, but it’s not connecting to my an (any) audience.

I barely have 100 likes on my Facebook page.

There are pages devoted to characters from the movie Jaws that have more likes than my page.

So it can’t be that difficult to get a like or two.

See, I think my problem is that I’ve been playing things too safe. I’m stuck on that old habit of writing that one becomes accustomed to when in college.

That damned impartial writing. My writing is passive when it should be active. I write “One” instead of “I”. I say “One may conclude” instead of “I think that”.

I try to write about philosophy but I’ve been trying to do it impartially. That ultimately is impossible to do.

My writing doesn’t have a voice.

It makes for boring philosophy. A boring blog.

A boring Facebook page.

 

I know philosophy is grounded in reason and analytical but that shouldn’t exclude taking a position on anything. Kant definitely thought deontological ethics was the way to go. And there was no convincing Ayn Rand that objectivism might not work even while she collected social security.

Bertrand Russell had an ontology, but he also wrote what he thought about damn-near everything else. Russell wrote his opinions on other philosophers and other philosophical schools of thought. He wrote on topics ranging from politics, religion, international affairs, to marriage and sex.

Here I am. Trying to be analytical.

Trying to be impartial.

Trying not to offend anyone.

Because no philosopher ever did that.

Socrates never had to drink hemlock.

Life Is Brutish, Undead, and Short: On Hobbes’ State of Nature and The Walking Dead

The-Walking-Dead2

Any George A. Romero fan will tell you that zombie movies aren’t just about zombies.

Sure, Romero’s zombies are gross and nasty, and there’s plenty of blood, gore and scares.

Hence the appeal.

Sparkly vampires might get the ‘tween crowds all worked up and kissing their posters of shimmering, brooding, pout-lipped blood-suckers on their walls

Go Team Edward!

– but for some folks (in particular those folks who like a little bit of thinking served alongside their horror) zombies are definitely they way to go.

Wait, are the Twilight films even considered horror? Horrible yes, but are they horror?

Good Lord, I hope not.

If you look (not even so) closely, Romero’s zombies are always about something – civil unrest, consumerism, militarism, bureaucracy, or the war on terror…

and the sorry fact that there will always be some idiot who won’t put down his camera long enough to save his own life.

Of course, Romero’s zombie films aren’t the only place you’ll find zombie symbolism. In Max Brooks’ best-selling novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, the undead represent a global crisis: viral pandemics, environmental disasters, terrorism, economic collapse…

You name the crisis, zombies can be it.

This could be part of the reason why zombies, despite their utter grossness, are a pop culture favorite. And the ratings success of AMC’s The Walking Dead has proved that audiences are more than willing to watch a weekly television show about a world full of cannibalistic revenants. Ostensibly, the show is about a group of survivors in a zombie plague. And that works just fine – undead flesh eaters are fun to watch. But if you look a little bit closer, you’ll see that The Walking Dead, like the zombie films of George A. Romero, is actually about something.

If you ask me, I think The Walking Dead is really about the state of nature.

Although David Hume writes that the state of nature is purely hypothetical (the state of nature never actually existed at any time in human history), and writes, “‘tis utterly impossible for men to remain any considerable time in that savage condition, which precedes society…”, the state of nature is meant to explore the origin of natural law and the social contract.

In political philosophy the state of nature precedes the political community and leads to the social contract. John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Hobbes all wrote about the state of nature.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the “state of nature”, you’ve probably heard the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) famous quote in wrote in Leviathan (1651) that in the state of nature, life is “brutish, nasty, and short.”

This is what Hobbes had to say about the state of nature:

In such condition, there is no place for industry… no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (emphasis added)

Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, writes that the state of nature is the “natural condition of mankind.” Nature, according to Hobbes, has made all men equal “in the faculties of the body, and mind” and even though one person may be quicker or stronger than the other, Hobbes writes “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others…”

In the state of nature, Hobbes states, each man is left to define his own rules. Hobbes says human nature positions people to fight each other and with no authority to intervene or prevent violence human “society” is nothing more than a war of “all against all”. Hobbes writes, since self-preservation is supreme, our benevolence towards others is limited, and people are easily offended and quick to fight. Since each person operates according to their own law, our actions are influenced only by our own interests and we treat others not according to how we want to be treated, but according on how we decide to treat them. Thomas Hobbes says people are left to master others “by force or wiles… all the men he can.”

Hobbes states that the need for self-preservation is so essential that in order to save our own lives people agree to band together for mutual protection and to appoint a ruler to maintain social order. We leave the state of nature (where people possess maximum freedom) and agree to mutually binding rules. This is the social contract.

According to social contract theory, we agree that the law may restrict our freedom in order to preserve or promote freedom. For example, we agree to laws that restrict people from murdering each other in the interest of preserving the public’s right to live in peace without fear of their lives being cut short through act of violence.

Try as they might, these zombies will never enter into the social contract.

Try as they might, these zombies will never enter into the social contract.

Although it is entirely possible that the state of nature never existed, it might under the right circumstances.

– like a zombie apocalypse.

Unlike the hypothetical state of nature, where Hobbes tells us the urge for self-preservation leads us out of the state of nature and into the social contract, during the zombie apocalypse, the zombie plague infects people back into the state of nature. The zombie symbolizes untamed human nature. It is driven only by base drives; the need to consume and devour everything and everyone in its path. A zombie does not think, it does not reason. It has no desire to create or participate in civilization. Zombies do not create art. They will never participate in the social contract. Zombies will kill you without even thinking about it.

That’s because a zombie can’t think about it.

It is an all-out war between the living and the dead.

There is constant fear of violent death. And as young Sophia Peletier learns, life during the zombie apocalypse is indeed “Nasty, brutish and short”.

Alas, poor Sophia. Oh look, her shirt has a rainbow!

Alas, poor Sophia. Oh look, her shirt has a rainbow!

After watching a few episodes of The Walking Dead, it’s fairy easy to figure out that The Walking Dead isn’t merely a zombie TV show, but a morality play wherein the main characters, led by former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, struggle to hold on to what is left of their humanity following the collapse of civilized society. Civilization in The Walking Dead has returned to a state resembling Hobbes’ state of nature. Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, states that he wanted:

[to see] … how living in a world like this twists and turns things around to where morals get twisted and people’s actions that they would think are morally wrong end up being the right thing to do. And just showing how miserable it would be to live in this world.

However, in the world of The Walking Dead, it is not only the dead who threaten the survivors, but the living do as well. The series’ tagline for the third season was “fear the living”. Without law or fear of punishment, no one is trustworthy. The living are as dangerous, if not more threatening than the undead.

Given the state of lawlessness and incivility in Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse, surely Kirkman was channeling Hobbes’ state of nature war of all against all when he created The Walking Dead. It remains to be seen how civilized the civilized enclave of Woodbury will remain in the aftermath of the attack/rescue mission by Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors in which the Governor (of Woodbury) lost and eye and his daughter is re-killed. By all signs, the traumatic events have caused the Governor to let go of his grip on what remained of his humanity.

Does this mean that there is no hope for these characters to emerge from the state of nature?

I wonder how much deeper into the state of nature the characters of The Walking Dead will go?

My guess is that The Governor won’t be reading any John Rawls the second half of season three.

My guess is that The Governor won’t be reading any John Rawls the second half of season three.

SOURCES:

1. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hobbes-moral/
2. Thomas Hobbes Leviathan. 1985 [1651]. NY: Penguin Books. 184
3. David Hume A Treatise of Human Nature. 2000, 2005 [1739]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Bk. 3, Pt. 2, sec. 2)
4. “Making of The Walking Dead”. The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season. Anchor Bay Entertainment. 2011.

On Justifying Anger as a Way of Life (Philosophically)

I think I watch too much cable network news.

It’s not just because I have a thing for Rachel Maddow.

I read somewhere that people who watch a lot of cable news tend to see the world as much more dangerous and threatening than it really is. I also read that regular cable news viewers tend to be fairly angry people.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ll confess I’m a fairly angry person.

That just might be a case of the chicken and the egg.

I mean, I might be an angry person without Fox News.

Most days I feel like this guy. Even when I‘m not watching TV.

Most days I feel like this guy. Even when I‘m not watching TV.

Aside from the hypertension and occasional tension headache, being an angry person isn’t as bad as some tell me that it should be. In fact, I’d say so far as being a philosopher goes, being an angry person is a positive boon.

Schopenhauer seems like a pretty angry person.

Hegel probably wasn’t a ball of glad tidings, either.

And Nietzsche if he wasn’t an angry guy did a pretty good job of writing like one.

Yeah. This definitely looks like a guy who suffers from a persistent choleric disposition.

Yeah. This definitely looks like a guy who suffers from a persistent choleric disposition.

Being angry often gets a bad rap. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (3-65 CE) called anger “the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions”. We’re often told that anger isn’t a good thing. Anger is unproductive, even dangerous. Anger is frequently associated with irrationality and an inability to maintain self-control (and if you’re an irate driver who throws some lady’s bichon frisee into oncoming traffic, anger is the cause of “road rage”). We’re told that to feel anger is irrational and leads to rash actions and bad behavior.

And if you ask Master Yoda, hate and suffering.

So much of philosophy favors the intellect over emotions. There’s a good reason why this is so. Namely, when we feel intense emotions like anger, we tend to suspend our logical decision making. It’s not that philosophers think emotions are wrong or that we shouldn’t feel them (even Master Yoda doesn’t say that), philosophers believe that we should trust our rational judgment. When we trust our rational decision-making processes, philosophers say, we are more likely to act in a way that is productive and beneficial to everybody.

I think everyone will agree that using logic and reason is a good thing. But, sometimes rational judgments fail to give us the oomph we need to get something done. We can lay out all the rational arguments in the world but logic often leaves us without motivation.

If history is any kind of teacher, we know that two emotions get people going: fear and anger. Fear often works out pretty swell, but sometimes fear has unintended consequences.

Fear can be paralyzing.

Fearful people retreat.

Fearful people sometimes pick flight instead of fight.

Sometimes being angry is a good thing.

The Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote anger is “inherent in our very frame and constitution.”

Being angry is just as natural as dandelions and Shetland ponies.

There’s plenty to get angry about: the media, politicians, TV political pundits, people who pollute the environment, corporate CEOs who give themselves pay raises while their companies go out of business (yes, Hostess, I‘m talking about you), conservatives, liberals, reality television., terrorists, broken shoe laces, anyone who drives a Toyota Prius, people who are famous because they’re famous…

So don’t feel bad for wanting to bludgeon that guy driving the silver Toyota Prius who cut you off on the freeway this morning. You were only fulfilling your inherent nature.

No, wait put down the baseball bat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everybody should be angry at everything, or that uncontrolled and indiscriminate anger is a good thing. I’m not advocating rage. Rage is destructive.

No one wants you to get so angry that you end up here.

No one wants you to get so angry that you end up here.

I am suggesting, however, that Seneca is incorrect. Anger is neither “hideous” nor “frenzied”, nor is angry people insane or consumed by a blinding emotion.

It’s possible to be reasonably angry.

Anger, if properly exercised, can be a constructive motivator to action.

Anger not only gets people riled up

anger motivates people to do things.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that anger isn’t a bad thing. According to Aristotle, anger is the mean between two extremes.

Apathy—————————-Anger——————————-Rage

 

(for info on Aristote’s Golden Mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mean_(philosophy))

If one lacks anger, he is apathetic. If an individual is too angry, one is filled with rage. Not enough anger, you’re “The Dude”; too much you’re the Incredible Hulk. The key to being properly angry Aristotle says is knowing when and why to get angry. Aristotle writes:

He then who is angry on the right occasions and with the right persons, and also in the right manner, and at the right season, and for the right length of time…

Aristotle is no stoic. He doesn’t believe that angry people are crazy. Aristotle says, “Those who are not angered by what ought to anger them seem to be foolish.”

Well, then. If Aristotle is right, there are a lot of no-too-foolish people out there.

Our problem isn’t that we’re angry; it’s that we haven’t channeled our anger into the desire to change things for the better; to master anger getting angry at the things we should be angry about; to get angry at the right things for the right reason to master the art of Aristotelian anger.

If you’re wondering what Aristotelian anger looks like, here’s something to get you started:

 

But hey, if I’m wrong. Don’t get angry at me.

 

NOTE:

Seneca thought angry people are insane. As a stoic philosopher, Seneca believed that any worry, fear, or anger we feel over situations beyond our control (e.g. someone else’s driving) is ultimately unproductive and disruptive to our philosophical well being. Stoics believed that life’s troubles (in particular) should be met with calmed indifference. Given this point of view, anyone who is angered over a seemingly trivial matter would seem out of one’s mind.

At this time, I am developing a theory of Angryism. Angryism is a theory based on the belief not only that most people spend a significant amount of time being angry, but that anger can be a proper basis of behavior.

SOURCES:

1. David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature. 2000, 2005 [1739]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bk. 3. Pt. 3. Sec. 7

2. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004. Trans. F.H. Peters, MA. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. 86-7.