STRANDED

IT’S BEEN SOME time since the first half season of season two of Fear the Walking Dead ended.

I’ve had some time to sit back and think about what I saw.

For starters, I think the show is getting better.

It’s not great, but it’s better.

And secondly, I’ve noticed that some of the characters on the show are like walking philosophy.

The show should be called Fear the Philosophical Dead.

No. not really. It shouldn’t.

Although some characters are philosophically interesting,

Some, mind you, not all.

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NOPE. NOT INTERESTING ON ANY LEVEL

After watching Fear the Walking Dead for a season and a half, I think the most philosophically intriguing character on the show is the wealthy, debonair, and most importantly, mysterious captain of the Abigail, Victor Strand.

I gotta admit, when Strand was introduced, I was prepared to see the character die after a few episodes. You know, because, well, people like Strand have a habit of not fairing too well in the world of The Walking Dead.

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It seemed that Victor Strand was destined to become another victim of the being-a-black-guy-in-The-Walking-Dead thing, but he was an interesting character – by far more interesting than the characters we were supposed to be most concerned about.

The reason why I think Victor Strand is so interesting is because so many of the show’s philosophical dilemmas have to do with what Strand either does or says. Victor Strand is a one man philosophical conundrum generator.

I’ve spent a season and a half of Fear the Walking Dead trying to figure out exactly where Victor Strand stands philosophically. Is Strand a Randian ethical egoist? Is he a moral nihilist? An incredibly consistent utilitarian? An all of the above?

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More than a dozen episodes into the series and I still can’t figure it out.

When we’re introduced to Victor Strand in the season one episode “Cobalt”, we see Strand is one of many detainees imprisoned by the government.

We’re never told exactly why.

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We witness Strand goading a mentally fragile man to the point of a mental breakdown. And we learn that Strand is a man who is willing to exchange goods for favors from the National Guardsmen who are guarding the detainee camp.

Strand is introduced as a man who is cool, calculating, and not encumbered by empathy for others. Strand initially displays all the traits of a classic Ayn Rand protagonist. Strand is concerned with one thing: his own interests. Rand writes:

… he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

We can imagine a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged next to Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tsu’s Art of War on Strand’s bookshelf.

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MY BOOKSHELF, AS SEEN ON BUZZFEED

However, Strand quickly realizes that fellow detainee (and main character) Nick Clark is useful -insofar as Nick can serve as a means to Strand’s ends -namely, escaping from the detainment camp.

Using others to further your ends is not a very Randian thing to do.

Ayn Rand also writes:

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…

Although Victor Strand isn’t a very good Randian, he still abides by Rand’s principle of pursuing one’s happiness as one’s supreme moral principle. Strand does not allow the misfortunes of others interfere with his main task: surviving.

colman-domingo-as-strand

 

Here are a few things that Strand says concerning his interests versus the needs of others:

 

[To Madison after she informs Strand that she sees some people at sea who need to be rescued]: I filled my mercy quota. Seven people saved to date.

Rules for Strand’s yacht, the Abigail: Please, let me explain the rules of the boat. Rule number one, it’s my boat. Rule number two, it’s my boat. And if there remains any confusion about rules one and two, I offer rule number three, it’s my goddamn boat. If I weren’t for me, you’d all be burned. You’re welcome.

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THE RULES FOR THE ABIGAIL ARE LIKE THE RULES OF FIGHT CLUB. IN THE END NO ONE PAID ATTENTION TO THEM

[Strand’s response after fellow survivors insist that the Abigail take on more passengers]: If I stop the boat, it’ll be to drop folks off, not take them on.

 

[Strand’s response when Madison insists that the Abigail take on an orphaned child]:
Children are the definition of dead weight.

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PICTURED: DEAD WEIGHT

Strand on the real danger in an undead apocalypse: You know what the real danger is on the ocean? People.

When other survivors hitch a lifeboat containing a young woman and her mortally wounded companion to the Abigail, Strand cuts them loose, reasoning that the survivors can’t risk their lives to save people who may be dangerous -especially a dying boy (who will become a zombie when he dies).

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SERIOUSLY, I WOULD HAVE CUT THEM LOOSE, TOO

Everything Strand says strikes of Ayn Rand’s clearly  (at least Any Rand influenced) ethics. Strand clearly puts no man ahead of himself.

This is why Victor Strand is a fan favorite.

And yet, Strand has considered the interests of others, and even put his life on the line to save the lives of people in his group.

Strand not only helps Nick to escape the detainee camp, he also agrees to house Nick’s family and another family (the Salazar family) in his home and on the Abigail.

Although Strand lays down the rules for admission on the Abigail, we know he isn’t just looking after himself. Strand could easily pull up anchor and abandon the group when they leave the Abigail to explore dry land.

Yet he does not.

Strand risks his life to help Nick escape from the detainee camp and in the season two midseason finale, Strand, after he’s expelled from a temporary sanctuary, risks his life to save Nick’s mother Madison.

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ONE OF THOSE GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS, WHICH ONE DO YOU WANT FIRST KIND OF CONVERSATIONS

Wait a minute. Does this mean that Strand is a secret utilitarian? Is he masquerading as a Randian while clandestinely pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number?

Perhaps.

But could is it possible that Strand has given up on all ethics? Is it possible that Strand believes that in a world without civilization all things are permitted? Strand tells Nick that the only way to survive in a mad world is to embrace the madness. Is Strand preaching moral nihilism?

In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes:

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.

Is Strand telling Nick not just to stare into the abyss but to leap headlong into it? Is Strand telling Nick to become a monster? Is Stand saying that all of the characters should become monsters?

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NICK, STARING INTO THE ABYSS

 

It’s worth noting that the first episode of season two is titled “Monster”. In the season two midseason finale, Nick Clark covers himself in zombie guts (a means of camouflage) and refuses to join his mother and Strand to safety. Nick chooses to join the horde of zombies that has overrun their sanctuary. Nick is last seen walking among the dead, one of the monsters.

Fear the Walking Dead is not a great show. Sometimes it’s not even a good TV show. But what the show lacks in quality it more than makes up for in philosophical interestingness. Victor Strand is just one of the philosophically compelling characters on the series. In a TV world dominated by reality TV it’s refreshing to find a TV show with characters that have us thinking about them and discussing a series days (sometimes months) after an episode has aired.

One can only hope that Fear the Walking Dead continues to be one of the most philosophical TV shows on television.

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

That years from now, when we talk about Fear the Walking Dead, we think of the show as more like Better Call Saul than like Joanie Loves Chachi.

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I’VE GOT MY FINGERS SO CROSSED

Why I’m Not A Socialist (Although I’m Totally Down With the 99 Percent)

IF YOU WATCH ENOUGH Fox News you’ll learn the world generally is made up of two kinds of people: God-loving Americans and Communists.

For those who don’t know the demographics, “God-loving Americans” consists of the 300 million or so citizens of the United States of America.

Minus the 11 million undocumented immigrants.

 

And Democrats.

 

democrats hate america

 

This means, of course, that the everyone else in the world is a communist.

Communists don’t love God.

Americans love God.

If you’re a God-loving American, by definition that means you’re a capitalist.

Bet you didn’t know God is a capitalist, too.

Indeed He is.

 

god bless capitalism

 

This means God is an American.

If He wasn’t, God’s only-begotten son JESUS CHRIST wouldn’t look like this:

 

jesus loves american... flags

WHEN JESUS COMES BACK HE WILL DEFEAT SATAN – AND DEMOCRATS

 

As much as Americans love God, God loves America.

That’s why America is the greatest country that ever was.

Communists can’t love America.

And just to prove how much God loves Americans, he rewards those who love him most (i.e. Americans) with boundless prosperity. That’s why American money looks like this:

in god we trust

 

Americans tend to be funny people.

The greatest comedians are all American.

That’s because God must have a heck of a sense of humor.

Even though Americans love him so, not all Americans have been blessed with prosperity and abundance. Some Americans don’t have a lot of money.

Some are positively broke.

Some joke, huh?

Still, even if you don’t have money, there’s no reason to lose faith.
Why else would we say we’re “One nation under God”?

pledge-allegiance

We know that the Almighty loves each and every American as much as he loves the private accumulation of capital, but you’re probably asking how can a God that loves Americans so much allow for any of the people that He loves to go without his blessings of prosperity?

How can God allow capitalism if capitalism is the root of so much poverty, homelessness, class tension, exploitation, and war around the world?

At least that’s what some people say it does.

First, I assume if you’re questioning God’s love of capitalism that you’re either a communist, a college student or a Democrat.

Either way, you’re probably wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt right now.

 

Che-Guevara-parody

 

Well, communist, that’s because most people don’t appreciate capitalism because they have no idea what capitalism is.

Most folks think that capitalism is all about making money.

 

capitalism-duck

 
Sure, it’s about that, but there’s more to capitalism than that.

Capitalism isn’t just about money, it’s about morality. Capitalism is a moral theory.
Capitalism isn’t meant to only enrich individuals, but to benefit society as a whole.

Although capitalism’s roots are in the feudal system, it was the 18th century Scottish moral philosopher, Adam Smith’s (1723-1790), An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), that is considered the “Bible of Capitalism”.

Smith believed that people are motivated by self-love and that the primary motivation for capitalism is self-interest, private property, and to be compensated in the market.

Smith writes

 

Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command … it is his own advantage, indeed, and not that of society, which he has in view.

 

According to Smith, we enter into exchanges with other people because we are working to our own benefit.

enjoy capitalism

 

Now, at first glance, this seems all rather selfish. A society that encourages people to only fulfill their own needs won’t endure for long.
That perception is absolutely correct.

But for Smith, there’s an ultimate benefit to pursuing one’s own self-interest – being kind of selfish is actually beneficial to society as a whole.

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Smith maintains that while we pursue our own interests, by extension we also ensure the well being of others.

Some of this has to do with the nature of the market itself.

We should keep in mind that Adam Smith was a moral philosopher. The goal of our ethics is to do what is good – in particular – to act in a way that is ethically best for society.

People, according to Smith, not only vote at the ballot, they also vote with their wallets. This is how the free market works. A business owner who has a reputation for treating his employees and/or customers poorly or produces a substandard product/service is subject to the will of the market. He may find that people don’t want to do business with a bad businessman. The businessman must realize that he bears some degree of responsibility to the pubic (his business practices must be consistent with the common good) if he wants to make money.

A good businessman must keep in mind that he is bound to operate his business subject to public demand.

Smith also maintains that capitalism encourages innovation. Innovation is based on competition and competition is the catalyst of improvement. In competing with other businesses, entrepreneurs (motivated by self-interest) create new, unique, and better products.
Individuals, like businesses, are motivated by self-interest and that we also possess the want to improve ourselves.

you

 

Milton Friedman maintains that liberty not only guarantees wealth, but that freedom is protected by capitalism. That’s because government, by nature, is coercive and hinders personal freedom. Capitalists (and capitalism) can counteract the actions of government because the free market reflects the true will of the people.

 

*The drive to improve ourselves is materially-oriented. When you add natural liberty to the drive for self-improvement you get capitalism. The outcomes are reason-based. Smith keeps in line with Enlightenment philosophers like Immanuel Kant who maintained that we are driven by reason. Our decisions are rational. This is why Smith discourages monopolies. Monopolies eliminate competition. It’s not rational for one business to dominate the market.

Because Smith believes people make rational decisions, he believes that government regulation should be minimal. The market will function as if guided by an “invisible hand”.

i see the invisible hand

 

Smith says about the Invisible Hand

By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectively than when he really intends to promote it.

That is, Smith believes when we make money for ourselves, our interactions in the marketplace (as consumers, producers, and investors) benefits other people and society as a whole.

Just in case you didn’t know, the invisible hand is a moral concept.

Adam Smith also wrote

… improvement of the lower ranks of the people to be regarded as an advantage or as an inconveniency to society? The answer seems at first sight abundantly plain. Servants, laborers, and workers make up the far greater part of every aspect of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances for the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

 

So far, capitalism sounds like a great gig, right?

billy

 

There’s a big problem with capitalism, tho.

There’s a pretty good chance that not everyone will profit equally. Not everyone will make money, Smith says. Despite the opportunity for individuals to make a F-ton of money, there will still be poor people.

f ton of money

THIS IS WHAT AN F TON OF MONEY LOOKS LIKE

 

Despite all the material fun stuff that capitalism promises, not everyone is on the capitalism bandwagon.

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Call them Socialists, Marxists, Communists, Godless America haters or folks who feel the Bern.

Some people would rather be Red than dead.

You know what that is, right?

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The most famous treatise on socialism, The Communist Manifesto written by Marx and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), maintains that capitalism determines people’s way of life (how people produce, distribute, and use goods). Life in a capitalist society alienates people, oppresses and dehumanizes people, and destroys social bonds. Workers and slaves to machines and slaves to the capitalist and the state that supports him.

This happens because everything is about making money.

According to Marx, even the rich are dehumanized by capitalism.

piece of paper

 

Fans of the theories of 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883) tend to believe:

  • Poverty and exploitation are products of capitalism (private property in particular).
    Private property leads to class division and economic inequality.
    Justice requires and end to private property.
    To abolish private ownership of capital and replace it with social (public) ownership.
    Collective ownership by the workers/public.
    Workers should choose how corporations are to be managed.
    Capital is not productive, labor is productive.
    Capitalism breeds unhealthy rivalry.
    Capitalism oppresses women.
    Markets are inherently unstable.
    Capitalism fails to provide social services.
    In a capitalist system, profits trump everything.
    Marx advocated fair wages and public education.

Now, socialism doesn’t seem so scary, does it?

Marx (and Engels) wrote:

 

…that kid of property which exploits wage labour, and which cannot increase except upon conditions of begetting a new supply of wage labour for fresh exploitation. … when, therefore, capital is converted into common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses all its class character.

 

truncated theory

 

Marx states that the class struggle resulting from the capitalist system will eventually lead to the proletariat abolishing the capitalist system and replacing it with collective (worker-owned) means of production – Communism.

Under communism, Marx explains, the workers will have a workers paradise.

 

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It’s understandable that people aren’t fans of capitalism and why they’d feel that socialism is the answer.* As an American, and a lover of dollars in my wallet, I can respect the right for others to hold different political views than I do.

As wrong as those people may be.

I’ll admit, capitalism can be pretty messed up to some people.

laughs in socialist
But, before we jump on the to-each-according-to-his-need-and-ability horse-drawn cart, we might consider how or why capitalism is so messed up.

There’s a real possibility that we’ve been doing capitalism wrong.

 

capitalism wrong

Yes, it’s possible for Americans to do something wrong.

joke

 

Here’s the thing: Americans are capitalists at heart, but our current brand of capitalism may not be the same kind of capitalism that Adam Smith wrote about.

And that might have a little something to do with this woman right here.

 

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MODERN-DAY AMERICAN CAPITALISM HAS MORE TO DO WITH THE WRITER/PHILOSOPHER/HATER OF MOOCHERS, AYN RAND, THAN IT HAS TO DO WITH ADAM SMITH

 

The Russian born, American philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982), is not only known for her novels/philosophical treatises The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and Anthem, she also almost single-handedly influenced modern American capitalism.
If anyone you know declares that they are “going Galt”, blame it on Ayn Rand.

gone galt

 

Rand is most famous for her philosophy of Objectivism, grounded in the moral principle of the “Virtue of Selfishness”. According to Rand, selfishness was acting according to one’s rational self interest. Rand states that altruism (emphasized in deontological ethical theories such as Kantian and Christian ethics) is harmful to individuals and society, and leads to immorality, injustice, and double standards.

 

Rand writes

The purpose of morality is to define man’s proper values and interests, that concern with his own interests is the essence of moral existence, and that man must be the beneficiary of his own moral actions… the Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his actions and that man must act for his own rational self-interest.

According to Rand, if you earn it, it’s yours. You are under NO moral obligation to share with or do for others.

That’s because acting with the interests in mind forces us to ignore our own…

 

rational-self-interest

 
Like Adam Smith, Rand’s moral philosophy is also applicable to economics.

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However, Randian economics holds that any attempt to regulate the economy or to influence what we do with what is ours is an infringement on an individual’s liberty and rational self-interest. If you do not do well financially, that is your problem.

No safety net. No invisible hand.

You shouldn’t expect that others will bear the responsibility of maintaining your well being.

No help for you, moocher.

 

invisible hand

NOPE.

 

Rand’s influence on American politics and economics is far-reaching.

Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, was a student of Ayn Rand.

 

greenspan and rand

PICTURED: ALAN GREENSPAN, AYN RAND, AND PRESIDENT GERALD FORD

It’s said that Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon were fans of Rand’s philosophy.

As are Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who forces, whoops, recommends that his staffers watch the film adaptation of The Fountainhead.

Former Congressman Bob Barr is a fan of Ayn Rand.

Other members of Congress who follow Rand’s objectivist philosophy include Representative Steve King (R-IA), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and Paul’s father, former Representative Rand Paul of Texas.

 

a joke

 

Former 2012 Vice-Presidential candidate and current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), stated that he handed out copies of Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to his congressional staffers as Christmas presents.

 

Paul Ryan said of Rand

You know, it doesn’t surprise me that sales of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have surged lately with the Obama Administration coming in, because it’s that kind of thinking, that kind of writing, that is sorely needed right now. And I think a lot of people would observe that we are living in an Ayn Rand novel right now, metaphorically speaking… The attack on democratic capitalism, on individualism, and freedom America is an attack on the moral foundation of America, and Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism. And this, to me, is what matters most, it’s not enough to say that President Obama’s taxes are too big, or the health care plan doesn’t work for this or that policy reason. It is the moral [aspect] of what’s occurring right now and how it offends the morality of individuals working [by] their own free will to produce, to achieve, to succeed, that is under attack. And it’s that which Ayn Rand would be commenting on, and we need that kind of comment more and more than ever.

… Although to be fair, Ryan later said that he rejected Rand’s atheism.

 

ryan-rand-hey-girl

 

To be honest, Randian capitalism-influenced economic policies work.

People make money.

And when pursuing one’s own interests, one is usually happy.

Because they have money.

3btee

 

However…

catch

 

Rand’s rational self-interest rejects Smith’s (capitalist) ethic that when we do for ourselves, we are actually acting in the interests of the common good.

And as 9 out of 10 philosophers will tell you, when we don’t act in the interests of the common good, society doesn’t fair too well.

The tenth philosopher is Ayn Rand.

She thinks giving the finger to society is ok.

 

greed
Ok, the Capitalist-Socialist divide has been going on for quite some time. Despite the fact that both theories have had the chance to prove which one is correct, all we’ve really done is proved that – well, that nobody has really gotten either theory right.
After all, both theories are over a century old. It’s a little difficult to ring up Adam Smith and ask him how capitalism is really supposed to work.

 

confused-business-man-scratching-his-head-while-reading-a-book-Stock-Photo

NOW, HOW DOES THIS CAPITALISM THING WORK AGAIN?

 

Besides, I have a feeling that Adam Smith spend all of his time on the phone taking selfies.

 

selfie

I HAVE A HORRIBLE FEELING THAT A LOT OF ADAM SMITH’S SELFIES WOULD LOOK LIKE THIS

 

The way things are, we’ve been made to think that there are only two economic theories to choose from. However, Capitalism is not without flaws.

But neither is Socialism.

‘Cause as much as I want universal health care, having a bunch of cash really isn’t that bad of an idea.

 

 

 

 

*I realize that throughout this post I have been using the terms Socialism, Communism, and Marxism interchangeably. And yes, I am aware of the differences between the three ideologies.
SOURCES:
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. 803.

Adam Smith. “Benefits of the Profit Motive”. 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. 747.

Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. 1988 [1848]. NY: Signet Classic p. 67, 70.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/richardsalsman/2012/08/21/mitt-romney-paul-ryan-and-ayn-rand-now-thats-the-ticket/#59c883357810

http://www.e-reading.club/bookreader.php/137212/Rand_-_The_Virtue_of_Selfishness.pdf

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.

 

 

 

WHAT IS KANTIAN EGOISM? (revised)

I HAD AN ethics class. The project at the end of the quarter was to choose and defend a moral theory — the moral theory that best represented our personal ethical point of view.

The aim of the project wasn’t to find (and defend) an ethical theory that struck out fancy — we were supposed to find THE True Moral Theory.

and argue why it is so.

At that time, I chose rule egoism. I picked egoism, because egoism (specifically rule egoism) was as close to how I make my moral decisions as any moral theory could get.

I believed then (and still do) that I cannot make any choice — be it moral, ontological, or epistemic — without seeing it through the prism of my own point of view. No matter where I go, there I am.

Even if I supported divine command theory, I’d still figure in there, somewhere.

But, despite my firm egoistic tendencies, I still had a problem. Rule egoism seemed a bit binding. I realized that I wasn’t always selfish when I decided what to do. Surely my moral decisions were always made through the filter of me-ism, but I wasn’t always a dedicated egoist.

I realized there are times when it’s absolutely not necessary to go Galt.

The problem was that there always were other moral theories creeping in.

Namely, I found myself more often than I had expected, running my moral choices through Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

This was disturbing to me.

I was, after all, an egoist. I had no duty to others, only duty to myself. I was told in the interest of consistency, that one cannot be an egoist and a Kantian simultaneously.

Doing so is about as possible as being both in Paris, France and Paducah, Kentucky at the same time.

And that just ain’t happening.

But somehow it was happening. My true true moral theory had me working two opposing moral theories simultaneously.

How was this possible?

It took some time (and graduating from college) before I realized that I was indeed both — I am a Kantian, but I am also an egoist.

The 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), that the moral value of an act is weighed in that action is performed from duty. We evaluate the moral value of our actions according to two principles, which Kant calls the Categorical Imperative.

Principle 1 of the Categorical Imperativr states that we act only on a maxim that we can at the same time make universal law.

Principle 2 holds that we act in such a way as not to use others as mere means for our own ends.

Kent’s Categorical Imperative is one of those ethical theories that we file under: it looks great on paper.

It doesn’t take a lot of being a Kantian in the real world to figure out that Kant’s ethics, when actually practiced, tend to cause a complication or two. We often find ourselves tweaking the rules, which is exactly what we aren’t supposed to do. The Categorical Imperative, according to Kant, is absolute and inviolable.

Kant’s theory works fantastically with hypothetical ax murderers, but it makes for trouble in the real world. Likewise, egoism also tends to, when we attempt to live as pure egoists, cause it’s fair share of real world complications.

Thomas Hobbes stated that the primary goal of all men is self-preservation. Because we don’t like self-preservation disruptive things like pain or death, we make agreements with others to cooperate with one another to create a peaceful and stable society.

Hobbes called this the social contract.

We enter into the social contract  Because we are motivated to do what works best to preserve our own interests.

Ayn Rand, the 20th century philosopher and novelist who developed Objectivism, an egoism based philosophy, wrote that men,

” 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 in life”.

For the egoist, Rand explains, our highest moral duty is when we act according to our own self-interest.

(I realize how many people out there feel about Ayn Rand, and really, I agree with all of you. But, when your trying to figure out the True Moral Theory, sometimes you gotta break eggs. Even if those eggs are shaped like a more-than-slightly misanthropic Russian novelist).

Although Ayn Rand despised Immanuel Kant and his ethics, there’s a word that is common to both ethical theories — duty.

At first glance, it may seem that these are conflicting moral systems. However, even the Kantian will admit that among our moral duties includes duties to self.

Both theories stress the role of making rational moral decisions.

Now, one may ask, how can one be an egoist, yet maintain Kant’s Categorical Imperative? The theories appear to conflict, but in fact, they do not.

At least if you’re willing to do some philosophical yoga.

At this point, I think that it’s important to clear up what we mean when we say “egoist”. Now, The antics of some Rand followers aside, an egoist is not one who is exclusively motivated by unbridled greed. Quite the contrary, an egoist is one who merely evaluates his moral choices according to how they coincide with his rational self-interest. It is possible that when someone thinks of an egoist, what he is thinking of egotism.

And the definition of egotism is:

Egotism is the drive to maintain and enhance favorable views of oneself, and generally features an inflated opinion of one’s personal features and importance. It often includes intellectual, physical, social and other overestimations. Wikipedia

The egotist is motivated purely by an over-inflated sense of self importance. For the egotistically inclined, selfishness is the manifestation of a psychological disposition. By contrast, the egoist practices an ethics of selfishness as a matter of rational, moral judgment.

An egoist isn’t so centered on his own interests that he neglects the needs of others. In fact, he may be motivated to do for others before he satisfies his own physical needs — if he sees that by serving others he ultimately serves his own rational interests.

The thing about egoism is that, egoism, like other consequentialist systems of ethics, judges the moral rightness or wrongness of an act based on outcomes — not what method we use to arrive at the best consequences.

This kind of moral reasoning is what allows us to pull the lever on the train tracks.

We’re kind of free to do whatever works — just as long as the consequences are good.

And if you’re an egoist you need only be concerned with how the consequences affect just one person: YOU.

It might do an egoist some ggood if the egoist adopted a paramount moral principle — something like this: in the pursuit of my own self-interest, I will live according to 1) do not engage in any act or act according to any maxim that I cannot also universalize, and 2) do not use others as a mere means to my own ends.

Of course, this is easily recognized as Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

Believe it or not, it actually works.

BEHOLD THE MORAL THEORY OF KANTIAN EGOISM!

I’ve been a practicing Kantian egoist for some time, and I will say since adopting an egoism lifestyle according to Kant’s  principles, I am less likely to get my ass kicked.

For some strange reason, people want to beat up egoists — especially utilitarians.

My duties to self and to others is not limited in the way that Kant’s ethics are often binding in the real world. Egoism allows me to consider consequences, in particular, consequences to myself.

My ethical position recognizes that in the real world, it is difficult to live purely according to one set of moral principles. We often find ourselves operating according to multiple theories, sometimes simultaneously. Very few people are strict utilitarians or unshakable moral relativists. We often find ourselves splitting the difference between moral theories — taking the elements from each that allows us to decide what’s the right thing to do.

Rest assured I’m not “shopping” for moral theories. Kantian egoism is about finding where seeming opposing theories cohere and allows us — me — to make rational moral decisions that benefit others and (more importantly) benefit myself.

My TRUE MORAL THEORY simply finds the workable parts of Kantian ethics and egoism and binds them together into a more real world-ready theory.

So, I declare with absolutely no philosophical trepidation whatsoever, I am a Kantian egoist.

Or an egoist with a Kantian view of the good…

Or an egoist with Kantian tendencies…Or whatever.

Now that I’m thinking about it, this all stinks of intuitionism.