Abstract of the 95 Theses

Assumptions and their descendants:

From Aristotle1 to Zeno, every man who has claimed the title “philosopher”, has made basic assumptions from which all their later works (if rigorously done) are derived. Even those that demand a priori proof of even the most atomic basis for argumentation (such as those in the Cartesian tradition2) make assumptions somewhere, no matter how well disguised or hidden they may be. There is nothing wrong about doing so, though; being an experiential creature man can only begin to reason from some given truth of which they have experience. The pre-existent knowledge required is of two kinds. In some cases admission of the fact must be assumed, in others comprehension of the meaning of the term used, and sometimes both assumptions are essential… Recognition of a truth may in some cases contain as factors both previous knowledge and also knowledge acquired simultaneously with that recognition-knowledge, this latter, of the particulars actually falling under the universal and therein already virtually known. ”3

Because it is the case that one must begin from assumptions, it is in one’s best interest to select the most fundamental and apparent assumptions and build up from there with the assistance of reason and observation. When one follows these assumptions to their logical conclusion, then, one will likely see the errors of one’s assumptions if the results are absurd or impossible. At that point, one must select an improved set of assumptions and move forward, repeating this process as many times as is necessary. I use epistemic assumptions here, as my childhood experiences in Cartesianism have shown to me the impossibility of accurately describing the universe if one is an epistemic skeptic or nihilist.

In addition to selecting a certain type of assumption, one must be deliberate in what quantity of assumptions one makes. If too few assumptions are made, there will be insufficient material from which to derive cogent syllogisms or conclusions, trapping one in the tiny cell of skepticism. Choosing too many or too advanced assumptions will short-circuit the philosophical process of discovering where the assumptions will lead and will necessarily result in the desired (and likely incorrect) conclusions of the author. Also, too many or too complex assumptions place one’s work beyond the accessibility of critics, in that no critic can hope to verify one’s claims based on one’s assumptions if the assumptions themselves are opaque, obscurantist, or simply a secret to all but the author.

As was implied by an earlier paragraph, and would logically follow from this conversation concerning the quantity and quality of assumptions, certain enlightenment-era questions and practices ought to be bracketed4 for later discussion. If one were to be forced to synthesize their own version of the Cogito, or the world of numena, the practice of philosophy would have halted midway through the enlightenment with each new philosopher attempting to invent a square wheel. That is not so say that skepticism should not be addressed; only that it doesn’t necessarily have to be the starting point. Nor does it mean that one’s assumptions suffice on their own; they ought to result in an empirically falsifiable claim by which one could determine the validity of one’s assumptions.

The physical world and our understanding:

Why would my project run straight from epistemological assumptions into physics? The physical sciences are the first source of certitude after the basic epistemological claims are made. It is far simpler to state that we can know things and that the primary engine for any knowledge is our experience and discuss that experience as opposed to making such an epistemological claim and immediately begin attempting to discuss experience or knowledge of some transcendent or ethical claim, as their experience is often derived from some manner of physical experience to begin with.

This is because philosophy, like reason, operates from the ground up: first, building a foundation before building arguments atop that foundation. “…If a house has been built, then blocks must have been quarried and shaped. The reason is that a house having been built necessitates a foundation having been laid, and if a foundation has been laid blocks must have been shaped beforehand.”5 As our immediate experiences are derived from our bodily senses, which are confined to matters of a physical nature, so too must our immediate foundations. Even universal and unavoidable principles, like the principle of non-contradiction or many ethical principles, are made known to one by way of physical sense experience (with assistance from reason, of course). In addition to the foundation which physics provides on an experiential level, it also provides a conceptual basis. One cannot properly ask “why?” without first asking “what?” and “how?” Physics, when done properly, effectively shows one what happens in our physical universe and how it does so.

Metaphysics6, as the name would imply, can also be appropriately appealed to in this stage of development. As a counterpart to the physical studies of how our universe operates, metaphysics applies a slightly less experiential and more rational but very similar method as physics to immaterial questions regarding our experience. Metaphysics and I have had a very rocky on-again-off-again relationship throughout my life. As a confessed former adherent of scientism, for quite some time I disavowed that metaphysics could even rightly be considered to exist. I am sure that by the time my life ends, I will have left and returned to metaphysics at least once more, but each time such an event occurs, our understanding and appreciation of each other grows.

Ontology as derived from experience:

Why ontology? If ontology is to be understood as the study of existence or existants, then it would naturally follow from our study of our experience to move on to the study of the things we are experiencing, namely, that which exists. There is a question more likely to be asked by a modern readership. That is, “why theism?” I have long struggled with the discussion of theism or atheism in the realm of philosophy. Even as a “scientist”, I was agnostic as to whether there existed some being beyond the physical realm, primarily because both a positive or negative claim as to theism are empirically unfalsifiable.

However, that was at a period of time where I was still immature, both biologically and philosophically. I have come to realize (as will be discussed in the Theses)7, that one’s assumptions on which one builds one’s philosophy necessarily result in either a positive or negative claim concerning theism. In the case of any teleological philosophy, it must result in a positive claim and, conversely, in the case of any nihilist philosophy, it must result in a negative claim.

Also, after physics is able to establish an empirical validation of one’s assertions, it must be relegated to the role of double-checker, simply checking all later claims against man’s experiences, ensuring that no claims made by other fields of study run contrary to that experience. Naturally, after physics establishes what happens and how, the philosopher must ask why it happens, or another way of phrasing “why” would be, “what is the practical universal significance of such an event?”

Although the question asks for the practical universal significance, and despite the claims made by postmodernists, it is not in any way untoward or egotistical to presume that the universal significance of such an event must, in some way, be centered upon ourselves. There is a twofold reason that this is the case. Firstly, the nature of man is such that he feels a compelling need to search for meaning in his existence; any teleological philosophy would rightly assign an end to that compulsion. Secondly, our definition of philosophy is predicated on the assumption that man is capable of discerning a relevant place in the cosmos for himself. Ultimately, in this case, the absurdist is right, it matters not whether there is a significant place for man in the universal sense or not, man can always make one.

In knowing man’s role and significance in the cosmos, one possesses a tool set which one can use to determine what one ought to do. Now, many will refer to Hume at this point and will insist that “One cannot derive an ought from an is,”8 but rather than conclusively disproving my point, they merely indicate their lack of understanding of Hume. The prohibition of deriving an ought from an is assumes that the realm of “is” consists merely of objective impersonal atomic facts. If one allows value claims into their ontology, or their category of “is”, it becomes inevitable that the is/ought distinction collapses. These value claims are clearly not empirical, but that brings us to our earlier discussion about the relationship between the sciences and philosophy, the moment that certain supplementary matters of fact are allowed into the realm of discourse, such as metaphysical, psychological, teleological, or ontological assertions, it can easily stand to reason that one can derive an ought from an is.

Even in such an event that objective values do not exist, the subjective values of individuals must be informed by a proper understanding of physics, metaphysics, and ontology. If one values a particular activity or outcome, one’s ability to achieve such a result is dependent on properly navigating reality. Many would-be “oughts” are simply impossible or absurd and are beyond the human capacity for comprehension, let alone accomplishment; thus, the realm of values to which one can assent is limited by the same factors which have confined our definition of the philosophical activity thus far. Even after one assents to a rationally consistent and metaphysically possible value, the methods by which one achieves such an outcome is dependent on the nature of reality and the actor’s ability to navigate it. With these strictures in place, it is essentially actionable to claim that one can derive an “ought” from an “is”.

The problem of evil and subsequent ethical prescriptions:

All philosophers are eventually faced with the question which plagues all men: “Why does life suck?” It finds itself phrased in many different ways but, since the time of Epicurus, the problem of evil has remained central to the discourse of philosophy. The most common phrasing would be something akin to, “If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent god, how can he allow innocent people to suffer as horribly as they do?”9 Usually, there are citations of disease and natural disasters killing small children to this effect.10

Different philosophers and traditions provide different answers, some more radically different than others. Some, such as Epicurus, would say that the problem of evil is sufficient cause for a practical atheistic hedonism. Others, such as Pascal, argue quite the opposite. Not the least of the responses, while being more or less outside the theistic spectrum, would be the approach popular in the ancient East (and the answer I once held myself), “Life simply sucks”. While my answer now is slightly more refined, the practical application of it remains mostly the same. So, what to do about the problem of evil? This is, again, more clearly and articulately discussed in the Theses11 than I could hope to write here. It will suffice to say, for now, that our understanding of man’s telos must accommodate for the problem of evil.

What can one do about the problem of evil? I believe that the answer is twofold. In the case of the philosopher, one is obligated to, at least, address and accommodate for it and move on with their reasoning. Each man, however, must be able to address and accommodate for the problem in their daily lives. While the appearances between these two courses of action are very similar, I believe that each require individual attention. The problem of evil serves as a strong device for proofreading philosophical assertions; insofar as one’s philosophy can or cannot address the problem, one can quickly assess the practical viability of said philosophy. The personal approach, while strongly tied to the philosophical one, need not be as rigorous or well-reasoned as the philosophical. The great acts of kindness displayed by those such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or Saint Nicholas are no less great a response to the problem of evil because of any lack of philosophical argumentation for their actions. In this work, I hope to articulate the philosophical side of the problem, and in a later work I hope to provide practical tools for living in accordance with that philosophical approach.

As will be discussed in this work, in all reality, the problem of evil only exists in the form of a problem because of the innate desires of man. Man bears in his heart the desire and freedom to excel. Whether one is aware of it or not, a majority of his actions are caused by or strongly influenced by that desire. Despite the common formulation of the problem of evil, it is less an ontological statement of “How can this thing possibly exist?” and more a plaintive cry of “Why do I want this, if the universe conspires such that I cannot have it?” One must be able and willing to address the problem and either overcome or circumvent it in order to achieve the self-fulfillment sought after by all men.

Conclusion

My aforementioned saloon discussions have operated as a club of sorts, with the working title of Lucaf Fits, which is an acronym for “Let us create a foundation For it to stand.” As the basis of logic, reason, philosophy, and ultimately all human endeavors, a solid rational foundation is required for all meaningful discourse and progress. “Lucaf Fits” serves well as both a goal and mantra for my group and myself. With this work, I hope to begin setting forth a foundation on which my other discourses may stand.

This work, as I have already said, is to be a starting place, not an exhaustive foundation or even an introductory work like the Summa or Prolegomenon. In sharing this work, I am exposing the beginnings on my internal discourse to the harsh elements of the social world. I hope to be met with great amounts of constructive criticism and support from my peers and superiors, but I am not so confident so as to expect it.

Regardless of the social and financial success or failure of “A Philosopher’s 95 Theses”, I intend to continue this line of work, exploring and expanding the 95 Theses, following them to their logical conclusions and modify the foundation as is needed to most successfully pursue the goal of philosophy. I also hope that with sufficient time, effort and experience, I can one day move beyond such foundational types of works and move into a more practical style of discourse and argumentation. I believe that the foundations such as these outlined here will necessarily lead to the conclusions that I so frequently argue and strive to engender in social media and day-to-day life; I hope one day to have outlined from this foundation those points so that others may see the validity of my position and actions. If, however, my conclusions are invalid and do not follow from the premises I am currently laying out, then, just as well, as it will guide me to the Truth which is far more valuable to a philosopher than public affirmation.

Because such discussion is directed at the revision of one’s arguments and beliefs, I will likely revise and correct this work through time. I have already, in the writing of this introduction, revised a few of the theses contained within this book, and have since edited each one a number of times, so as to more appropriately maintain their cohesion and logical validity. While I hope that such causes for revision will appear less and less frequently until, one day, I have acquired Truth, I am skeptical that such a time or event will occur in my lifetime, or even this world at all.

The ideas contained herein are the product of nearly two decades of oral discussion12 and revision, as well as excessive reading of philosophers across time and traditions. I am simultaneously both encouraged and discouraged by the genealogy of my current position. Having run the gamut of political, economic, religious and philosophical stances in my short lifetime, I am emboldened in saying that I have recognized my own mistakes and intellectual frailty enough times now to be more willing and able to admit my own mistakes when they are made. At the same time, however, I find myself skeptical of any truth claims I do make, now, because of my long list of fallacious stances in the past.

With luck and a fair degree of self-control, God willing, I will be able to make use of another seven or eight decades in this endeavor. That, I would hope, will be sufficient time to complete the revisions to this and my later works. Perhaps, one day, my ideas will be perpetuated in the traditions of philosophy. Perhaps commentaries on my work will be required reading in some institutions.

After all, the entire tradition of philosophy consists of free ideas. I do not mean “free” as in without cost, for many of the greatest and worst of the world’s philosophies have been crafted at great price. I mean “free” in the sense that the ideas, granted an appropriate environment, will spread and flourish like wildflowers. As I mentioned before, these ideas are as much a part of the intellectual atmosphere as any other cultural trend or idea. In many cases, these ideas are so liberated from the moorings of their original author that they are falsely attributed to one who was unwittingly synthesizing an already existing work.

It is an obligation of the philosopher to give credit where it is due. One ought especially to give citations to one’s contemporaries, as they are still present to take advantage of what approbations and criticisms come their way. To only a marginally lesser degree, one ought also give credit to those who have come before and laid the foundations on which one now builds, both so that one is not falsely assumed to be the progenitor of another’s work and so that one’s readership may be able to find the primary sources for their own edification. That being said, one must not be so averse to inadvertent plagiarism so as to hinder actual progress. A healthy balance must be struck between progress and citation.

In addition to the intellectual and social coin of credit given where it is due, actual coin ought to be given as well. Being merely human, a philosopher still needs food and shelter and time. When one works full-time performing menial and self-debasing labor (as is common in this age), it can be difficult or impossible to set aside sufficient time, resources, and motivation for such an undertaking as philosophy. Even if the ideas and art of philosophy ought to be unbound by financial constraints like all other intellectual or artistic works, the one producing the work is. I can justify selling this work as opposed to making it freely available to all only because it is being sold at an affordable price and because I am willing to donate copies and excerpts to those who can and will benefit from it but cannot possibly afford it13.

I make this financial case for philosophers with a caveat: no man should solely be a philosopher. If not working some form of job at least part-time or arranging for one’s self-sufficiency to supplement both one’s wallet and mind, than one must be working in some capacity either for survival or for art. A man’s mind can stagnate on outdated and fallacious thought if he is not careful to keep both his body and his social life healthy and active. Even if one makes enough money from teaching or publication (which, I understand, is rare), one must at least volunteer for a local, personal charity in which one works with other people and worldviews.

To this effect, I intend to continue this course my life has taken and see where it leads. I hope you, my reader, are willing and able to make use of this work and to aid me in my quest for Truth.

95 Theses

1Technically, Albertus de Saxonia is alphabetically prior to Aristotle, but he is much less known.

2The philosophers who followed in Descartes’ footsteps, maintaining a skeptical stance towards all facts that are not entirely doubt-free

3Aristotle “Posterior Analytics” book one

4Set aside with the intent to more thoroughly explore at a later time, it is a technique to be used only on concepts that are not crucial to the discussion at hand.

5Aristotle “Posterior Analytics” book 2

6From Greek: “after physics”. While the name denotes only that it was the subject Aristotle would teach after physics, it can be said to deal with the non-material aspects of physical inquiry.

7Chapters 5 and 13

8Hume “A Treatise of Human Nature” book 3

9 Hospers “An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis” p310

10Dostoevsky “Brothers Karamazov” is an excellent example of such descriptions.

11Book 5

12 In this case, I consider social media as a form of oral discussion.

13 Ironically, I qualify under my own rubric for a free copy

Philosophy in Seven Sentences

I’ve previously presented a brief review of Christian Apologetics (which seems to have vanished… I will have to write a second one or re-publish it). From the same author, InterVarsity Press has recently published Philosophy in Seven Sentences. Now that I’ve read the book (twice), I feel compelled to share it with my readers.

I love teaching/tutoring, especially audiences yet uncorrupted by academic ignorance and apathy. A few years ago, I taught a series of philosophy classes to a local homeschool group. It was well-received, it payed the bills, it gave both myself and my audience a newfound appreciation for the science and art that is philosophy.

The average age of the class was somewhere in the vicinity of thirteen or fourteen years of age, so they were largely unaware of philosophy altogether (which is a shame). I had four lectures with which to cover all the bases of “Philosophy 101” in a manner amenable to a young audience. Ultimately, I decided on pulling four themes/philosophers from history and simply walking the class through a philosophical exercise of exploring those themes. Almost the entirety of my preparation time was spent choosing the four themes. Ultimately, I think I chose Plato’s (Socrates’) apology, Aristotle’s categories (basic logic), Descartes’ cogito, and Kant’s categorical imperative. Of course each philosopher served as a foil for their contemporary history of philosophy and their inheritors, thereby covering the bases of philosophy’s history. Having taken two Philosophy 101 classes (from two different schools, long story), I get a feeling this is a popular way to teach such courses.

All this dry nostalgia is to set the stage for a brief overview of “Philosophy in Seven Sentences”. Typically, this would be a full-on “teaching from the text” post, but this book is literally fresh off the presses and both you and Douglas Groothuis would be better served if you ponied up the small amount of money required to acquire the text itself. That said, I do intend to give the text its due justice.

In eight short chapters, averaging about sixteen pages each, Groothuis takes one sentence per chapter (plus a short challenge at the end) and gives an excellent introduction to both the tools and traditions of philosophy. Typically, such a text will either attempt to impress its readers with technical terms, obscure references, and complicated methods of presentation or it will be written so casually and simplistically so as to render a rich and beautiful tradition banal and empty. Groothuis manages to dance a fine line between condescension and elitism, speaking plainly and straightforwardly but also challenging even seasoned readers to step up to his level of mastery concerning the material at hand.

I genuinely enjoy reading primary sources which, I guess, makes me weird; secondary and tertiary sources are generally less appealing to me, but I read any material with a sufficient insight-to-page-count ratio. As a case-in-point, I’ve already read many of the texts referenced in “Philosophy in Seven Sentences”. Even so, Groothuis manages to take a broad array of information, presumably acquired through extensive reading, discussion, and lecturing, and distill it down to one of the highest insight-to-page-count concentrations I have seen, even for someone with reasonable familiarity with the material presented.

The seven sentences in question are well-selected: spanning history and traditions from ancient Greece with Protagoras, Socrates, and Aristotle, to the early Church with Augustine, to the enlightenment with Descartes and Pascal, to modern existentialism with Kierkegaard. While I may have selected a couple different sentences (exchanging Paschal for Nietzsche and Kierkegaard for Camus or Sartre), Groothuis tells a progressive narrative which begins, dialectically and historically, with Protagoras’ “Man is the measure of all things,” and concludes with Kierkegaard’s pointed and melancholy “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.”

Readers who have no prior exposure to philosophy proper should, at least, recognize three or more of these quotes, as they have become memes referenced and repeated throughout popular culture. “Man is the measure of all things,” “I think, therefore I am,” and “The unexamined life is not worth living,” are referenced in popular films, shows, books, and songs. Descartes’ contribution, in particular, is the subject of a great many common jokes. I once owned a t-shirt which read “I drink, therefore I am.”Groothuis does an excellent job of setting misconceptions concerning these sentences without becoming a party-pooper.

Usually, a book I enjoy reading is full of highlights, annotations, and sticky notes. Every page of Human Action and Existentialism is a Humanism has some sort of mark on it. One would expect, then, that an unmarked book would be a sign of disinterest and, typically, one would be correct. In the case of “Philosophy in Seven Sentences”, though, nearly every line would be highlighted (defeating the purpose of highlighting) and there is no need for annotating the text; it is clear, concise, and wastes no time or space in exploring, if not the history of philosophy, a powerful narrative through the tradition of philosophy.

I have never before encountered a book better suited to serve as a textbook for an intro to philosophy class. Admittedly, this book would likely be better received in a Christian institution than elsewhere but, even elsewhere, it far outstrips and conspicuously secular text as far as both demonstrating the techniques of the philosophical exercise as well as exploring the philosophical tradition. I guess I’ve been salivating over this book long enough and ought to move on to “teaching”.

The general plot of the book begins with Protagoras’ exploration of subjectivity. Given that the pre-socratics are the progenitors of western philosophy, it makes perfect sense that one would start the narrative there. With a quick glance over extant pre-socratic works, one largely has a choice between the Zenos’ contributions of stoicism and obnoxious math problems, Pythagoras’ trigonometry, Heraclitus’ almost Buddhist sense of impermanence and meaninglessness, or Protagoras’ relativism. While Zeno (either one), Pythagoras, Heraclitus, et.al. each contributed quite a lot to philosophy as a whole, Protagoras sets a particular stage for Plato and Aristotle to get the show really going.

“Man is the measure of all things,” could easily be the opening lone of a stage play concerning the history of philosophy. I know from firsthand witness that phrase has hung on the wall of many dorm rooms that have borne witness to activities often reserved for cheap motel rooms outside of town; it has also, quite contrarily, remained very near the heart of philosophical discourse for over two millennia.

Such a mentality is easy for the philosophically-minded to slip into. As the exercise of philosophizing often consists of comparing and contrasting (AKA “measuring”) experiences, narratives, and ideas, it’s a natural temptation to declare oneself (or one’s kind) “the measure of all things”. Given the absence of an immediately apparent alternative to man, as far as measuring is concerned, Protagoras can’t really be blamed for making such a claim. Groothuis does an excellent job of exploring Protagoras’ position, the rationale behind it, what such a position means, and the ultimate results of a position. I don’t have the ability or word count to do so.

Moving on, a younger and arguably more famous contemporary of Protagoras is reported to have said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Of course, if man is the measure of all things, then such an examination is likely to be very short in duration. Groothuis shows the tension between Socrates/Plato’s views on the transcendental nature of reality and Protagoras’ more materialist understanding of reality. While also setting up an opposition between Protagoras’ camp and the Socratic camp (which remains in the narrative all the way through Kierkegaard), he describes Socrates and his basis for such an extreme statement as “The unexamined life is not worth living,” in its own right as well. Admittedly, I feel that, despite explicitly addressing the key issue in interpreting Socrates (he didn’t write anything down, so all we have is other peoples’ accounts of what he said), Groothuis blurs the line between Socrates and Plato as far as their ideas are concerned.

Regardless of whether Plato or Socrates ought to get the credit allotted by Groothuis, they effectively prepare the stage for Aristotle who begins the discussion of man’s nature. Ultimately, the issue of man’s nature is what Augustine, Descartes, Pascal, and Kierkegaard are called to opine upon. Each one comes from a particular philosophical school and era in history and, therefore, has something unique to contribute to the discussion and Groothuis demonstrates a depth and breadth of knowledge on both the philosophers and their ideas.

This book is a must-read and must-have for anyone who is even fleetingly interested in matters beyond dinner, dates, and this week’s sportsball game. This goes for the engineer who did everything in his power to avoid liberal arts as well as the philosophy masters’ students who may need a reminder on the basics, a reminder of where philosophy 101 students stand, or as a textbook from which to teach. This book is one of the few secondary sources I will suggest, and I plan on snagging a few of the books listed in the bibliography for my personal extra-credit.

TL;DR; Philosophy in Seven Sentences, by Douglas Groothuis, is a paradigm example of how the more knowledgeable one is concerning a particular subject, the better one ought to be at explaining it in terms everyone can understand and, hopefully, enjoy. Derived from a popular introductory lecture style, Groothuis’ work takes seven deep, meaningful, and crucial sentences from the history of philosophy. While I may have chosen sentences from Nietzsche, Rousseau, ort Sartre instead, I would not have been even remotely capable of laying out so much information in so concise and readable a narrative. If anyone has a hard time keeping up with the terminology or argumentation in this blog, “Philosophy in Seven Sentences” is my most highly recommended starting place (followed by Liberty Classroom).

Descriptive Vs. Prescriptive Statements

A discussion I have been avoiding since starting this project is that of descriptive versus prescriptive statements. I have been avoiding doing so because awareness of such delineations is so basic and fundamental to any activity resembling intelligence that I felt readers would be offended that I would feel they could use a reminder of that reality. After so many conversations on the internet and in-person, I think more people need a reminder that would be justifiably offended.

In today’s postmodern culture, inability to compartmentalize or categorize thoughts, feelings, activities, and identities is so widespread so as to be its defining characteristic. As such, people tend to confuse their ideas with their identities, their feelings with their actions, and their descriptions with their prescriptions. This has resulted in what amounts to a culture-wide crisis of logical illiteracy. There are few greater examples of what I mean than the electoral politics currently ongoing.

Descriptions are typically pretty straightforward. With little exception, a descriptive statement is one which establishes a definition or identity. For example, a descriptive statement could be, “Dogs, by nature, are quadrupeds.” That statement describes the nature of dogs. However, it doesn’t fully describe dogs; there are many other creatures that, by nature, are quadrupeds and are also distinct from dogs. It also does not sufficiently describe dogs so as to allow for dogs that have more or fewer legs than four. Despite such shortcomings, it is not metaphysically impossible to establish a set of descriptive statements which encompass the entirety of “dog-ness”, it would just require a lot more time, effort, and linguistic exercise than anyone has yet attempted; instead, biologists and preschool teachers seem to have done enough of that work so as to cover the practically required bases of describing dogs. I don’t know what more I could say to make the idea of a descriptive statement more clear.

Prescriptive statements are only slightly less straightforward. Where descriptive statements indicate how things are, prescriptive statements indicate how things should be. For example, a descriptive statement could be, “The U.S. federal government is $250,000,000,000,000 in debt,” and a prescriptive statement is, “The U.S. Federal government should not be able to incur such debt,” or “The U.S. Federal government should declare bankruptcy.” Some prescriptive statements are more tied to descriptive statements than others; for instance, “Hilary Clinton should be president because it’s the current year!” has a little less to do with reality than the above examples. In most circumstances, a prescriptive statement could be phrased as an ethical claim, too.

As with all statements, both descriptive and prescriptive statements may or may not be factual. “Women make less money than men for the same work,” may or may not reflect reality (spoiler alert: it doesn’t at all) as may, “The voting age should be lowered to 16,” (Spoilers: it shouldn’t). In the case of descriptive statements, facticity can be more-or-less established by way of the standard epistemic process: verify logical validity, compare to empirical and experiential data, compare to alternative descriptions… This process can be more-or-less involved, depending on the complexity and immediacy of the statement in question. Prescriptive statements are usually either subjective or aesthetic in nature: “This soup needs more salt,” or an ethical statement, “If one wants an environment conducive to human flourishing, one ought to avoid hyper-inclusive mass democracy.” Aesthetic statements, while not meaningless, are largely non-actionable to anyone other than the individual expressing said preference. However, ethical statements are verifiable by means of experimentation, reason, and evidence. I’ve already addressed ethical statements before, but it bears repeating in this context.

Of course, two difficulties emerge in the hairiness of common discourse. The first, most common, issue I have seen is making descriptive statements as if they were prescriptive. Easy examples emerge in political discourse. “I’m offended,” “That’s racist/sexist/ableist/insert false pejorative,” “That’s not how the world works,” etc. all describe a circumstance (and may more may not be accurate) without any prescription attached; usually, though, they are stated as if one expects someone else to modify his behavior in some way. Regardless of the facticity of such statements, they contain nothing which warrants action, despite what demagogues and their followers may expect.

The second issue, which seems to be the second most common, is confusing the grammar of the two classes of statements. What I mean is that some very skilled rhetoricians and some clumsy conversationalists manage to hide a prescription in a descriptive statement. This is different from declaring a description as if it has prescriptive power. Unfortunately for both my readers and myself, I am not skilled enough to compose an example and my memory has not yet recovered sufficiently to recall one I have encountered in the wild. As long as one maintains an awareness of descriptive and prescriptive paradigms, though, one can pretty easily identify such an attempt.

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you may notice that most of the posts follow a “description, elaboration, prescription, opinion” format. This is technically accidental in that I did not actively choose to write in such a format. However, it is a habit I have which has been established for quite some time. Without an awareness of ontological and metaphysical reality, no one can make reasonable prescriptions. I’ve already addressed this before, in different terms. Because this is the case, I have practiced the approach of establishing an ontological context before issuing prescriptions and issuing prescriptions in the format of “if-then” statements.

More important to one’s grammar and rhetoric than identifying descriptions and prescriptions in others’ speech, more important even than being careful to make a clear delineation in one’s grammar, I have discovered, is explicitly addressing statements as such. Of course, one can’t go around and preface every statement with “This is a descriptive/prescriptive statement:” Sometimes, such pedantics are appropriate, though. I am still experimenting with this variable to see what gets the best results in the art of rhetoric.

This whole discussion of description versus prescription was brought on by repeated discussions of my favorite Hans Herman Hoppe quote:

“In a covenant…among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian [RE: propertarian] social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Taken in its context, this statement is actually a descriptive one, not a prescriptive one. This is a paradigm case of the hairiness of this distinction in common discourse. On an initial reading, outside of its context, this quote will likely sound like an advocacy of “physically removing” the enemies of freedom, so to speak. However, what Hoppe was expressing is a description of the features of propertarian societies which emerge from the underlying social foundations.

A propertarian society, one which holds property rights as paramount to all human activity, is a social order which arises spontaneously out of the chaos of nature (or capitalism, same thing). Each individual property owner is, necessarily, the arbiter of one’s own property, whether it be land, buildings, physical objects, or one’s own body; it is one of the definitive qualities of property. One may use one’s property towards whatever end one sees fit. There are a few activities for which one can use one’s property which result in performative contradiction, though. For example, one can use one’s property to undermine another’s control over his own property (violating the non-aggression principle); in doing so, though, one is acting in such a way so as to disregard the primacy of property in human action. Using property to undermine the concept of property is a performative contradiction.

The entire preceding paragraph consists entirely of descriptive statements. Any prescriptions that one reads into said paragraph are the creation of the reader himself, stemming from his own value judgments. It’s important to note that, here, as the next paragraph is also purely descriptive and if one hasn’t noticed the absence of prescriptions thus far, the significance of the next paragraph will be lost on him.

In allowing the use or trade of one’s property, one subsidizes or incentivizes particular activities. If my friend is a drug addict and he can either afford a meal or drugs, but not both and I buy him a meal I am subsidizing his purchase of drugs by externalizing the opportunity cost he faces. Similarly, if I own a patch of land or a building and allow customers/clients/acquaintances to use that property as a platform to advocate or perform activities which undermine property, such as the political activity of democracy or communism, I would be engaging in a performative contradiction. I would have to physically remove him from my property or otherwise silence him, lest I be using my property to abdicate my property. In a propertarian society, each individual actor holds property rights paramount and would have to avoid such performative contradictions, which would ultimately result in democrats and communists being physically removed from society.

Now, after a thorough exploration of the description of propertarianism with regards to communism and democracy, we get to explore a couple prescriptions. I find Hoppe’s propertarianism infinitely preferable to today’s anti-propertarian environments such as found within Empire, and I want everyone to at least consider Hoppe’s Democracy: the God that Failed. If one wishes to defend one’s bodily autonomy or private property from unscrupulous hordes of rapists and murderers, they ought to familiarize themselves with both the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive statements as well as the nature of human action and property. Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom does a great job of both.

TL;DR: Many people confuse descriptions and prescriptions. In common conversation, it isn’t usually too important a distinction. “If you consume this substance you will die,” is often taken as a prescription to avoid consuming said substance. It is technically only a description, though. If one were to wish to die, one may wish to consume the substance. This difference between description and prescription becomes fundamental when engaging in politics and culture. Without proper awareness of descriptive versus prescriptive statements and the “if-then” structure of prescriptions, one is going to be met with failure and, when the violence of the state is involved, cause incalculable damage. Oh, and you should read Hoppe and sign up for Liberty Classroom.

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Rant 7: Trial by Jury

“Trial by Jury” has always bothered me, even as a punk commie teenager… Now that I’ve had time to think about it, it makes perfect sense that “trial by jury” is so intuitively wrong to me.

The way that jurors are encouraged to show up and “do their duty” is they are threatened with violence and imprisonment. Name one person that enjoys jury duty and would do it if they were not coerced into doing so and I’ll show you someone who really, really, shouldn’t be on a jury (just ask Plato or anyone that’s run afoul of a “Grand Jury”).

The jury is supposedly selected for their objectivity. This objectivity is derived from the fact that they have absolutely nothing to do with whatever altercation is being arbitrated. Of course, being wholly outside the altercation, they have no authority to arbitrate the situation *and* they have no skin in the game, what motivation do they have to “get it right” as opposed to taking out whatever prejudices they feel like exercising in that situation or doing what makes them feel good as opposed to what is right and just?

Speaking of prejudices: if someone’s been ripped from their daily routine in which they largely engage in voluntary interactions for mutual gain and are violently coerced to sit in judgment over others and *must* violently meddle in others’ lives without their assent, how can you expect that individual to be objective? It’s generally accepted that most bullies are merely taking out abuse that they have received from somewhere else on others that are weaker than themselves. You dad smacks you or your mom around? You’ll just go to the playground and smack some underclassmen around. The state threatens to take everything you have and lock you in a cage if you don’t waste somewhere between one day to nine months of your life being shuffled around like cattle in a dreary building and listening to people complain about each other for hours on end… how are you not going to let such an environment infect your mindset when you are supposed to be objective?

Besides, there’s an interesting parallel between the state in this instance and child molesters’ MO. Typically, a child molester will get a kid to do something “naughty” with the child molester in order to skew their conscience and to use as blackmail. Before getting “romantically involved”, usually a molester will get the kid to take up smoking, shoplifting, pornography, or some other nefarious activity in order to weaken their resistance to “naughty” things in general and to threaten “If you tell anyone I’m rubbing my balls on your face, I’ll tell them you stole that candy bar from the gas station.” Given the underdeveloped cost/benefit analysis of children, it tends to work.

When the state says, “It’s your patriotic duty to violently fuck with other people’s lives, especially when we violently coerce you into doing it” it weakens your resistance to participation in other ways one uses the state to violently fuck with other peoples’ lives (like voting, calling the cops, calling congressmen, snitching…). It also makes one complicit in the criminal actions of the state, placing one in the difficult situation of having to admit guilt and hypocrisy in order to speak out against the wickedness of the state.

Only those who have a strong enough sense of justice to overcome the pride of shamelessness can speak out against trial by jury, and only those with the fortitude and piety to put up with the bile and hatred spewed by those who would rather remain married to their guilt than to face the truth can withstand the culture of death in which they live.

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Introduction to the 95 Theses

Introduction

“A Philosopher’s 95 Theses”, a silly and audacious title for a work by a college dropout with little to no substantive endorsements. What is this work even supposed to be? This work is primarily an attempt to begin a systematized and traceable discussion concerning my particular brand of philosophy. Having spoken in various public forums, from in the classroom, to hosting salon discussions (thank you, Voltaire), to water cooler discussions, to arguing on Facebook (a noble means of communication, to be sure), teaching and tutoring homeschoolers, and managing a blog, I have found that many people in my generation and social stratum lack even rudimentary exposure to true philosophy or even formal logic. This isn’t the case for everyone, but a majority. Many times, people disagree with my statements or beliefs, not because of any logical or ideological error on my part, but rather a lack of understanding of how conclusions follow from premises. Ultimately, the discussions belie no understanding of the objective material at hand, but merely emotional attachments to already-existing prejudices as well as a fundamental lack of foundation from which they are arguing. When presented with this fact, others are wont to accuse me of the same. In this work, I hope to both soundly establish a defense from such accusations as well as begin to spread a culture of “lower-class intellectualism”: a culture of self-education and intellectual progress compatible with and available to “the lower class”, economically speaking. The first step of doing so would be to make something accessible and affordable available to what I call “my social stratum”, as well as simply raising awareness of alternatives to the current institutions which are fueled by big money and political agendas.

Clearly, as a starting place, this work is merely the beginning of what I hope to be an expansive and pervasive body of work. I hope to one day move beyond this project of establishing my foundations to making these concepts concrete and practical, providing a certain utility to all that would be open to a paradigm shift from our current postmodern sensibilities. From this body of work, I intend to expand and build on these ninety-five theses using the same style and methods contained herein, as well as writing a series of philosophically weighted articles concerning how one ought to live from day to day.

As most anyone who reads this work can tell, there is nothing groundbreaking or even original in this work, other than the arrangement of these ideas pulled from the atmosphere of the philosophical tradition. As a foundational work, I would expect this piece to be fairly conventional. Besides, as one prone to taking things too far and stating the outrageous, I want to give myself a moderate baseline from which to work in order to give some credence to my more extreme assertions which I have begun to publish already, alongside this work.

Despite the conventional content, I chose a particularly evocative title, (if I do say so myself). The title “A Philosopher’s 95 Theses” is an unabashed attempt to cash in on the fairy tale of Martin Luther’s dramatic succession from the Church. There is a narrative in which Luther made official his succession through the posting of the 95 Theses on the church doors as an overt “Eff-You” to the Church. While evidential support for this re-telling of history is nonexistent, the actual format and concept of the work itself is worthy of emulation. This is certainly the case if this is to be a beginning of a break from the status-quo of contemporary philosophy.

To be honest, the suggestion for the title and style for this work was presented to me by a friend who seemed quite earnest in wanting me to write my thoughts for his own edification. The suggestion was made primarily from a religious awareness of the Theses as a work of philosophy which could be easily adapted to a social media format. The concise nature of each thesis makes it easily tweeted in ninety-five segments. He leveled a challenge to me to post ninety five philosophical theses in ninety five days on Twitter and Facebook in order to encourage me to begin writing my ideas in a codified and discussion-friendly format. After a hilariously disorganized and epistemically infuriating four months, I had ninety-five theses, a ton of notes from discussions that were sparked (by the early theses, I think many friends and loved ones lost interest around #35 or so), and a new-found energy for attempting to publish something of worth.

The name and format of the original “95 Theses” has been lifted, but much of the argumentation and content has been abandoned, as Luther and I have very different intentions and circumstances concerning our respective works. Where Luther simultaneously affirmed and protested various Church doctrines and principles of theology, I intend to do the same for the philosophical doctrines which many contemporary philosophers have confessed. As such, rather than explicitly arguing the finer points of revelation and redemption, I intend to establish a solid foundation for later arguments in the philosophical realms.

As I will address in detail later, philosophy is a historical and holistic entity. Due to the nature of philosophy, I don’t expect to have come up with any original material, even if I know not where it has been written before. In the words of Descartes, drawing on Cicero, One cannot conceive anything so strange and implausible that it has not already been said by one philosopher or another.1 The ideas and truths of philosophy are simply “in the air”, as it were. One of the marks of truth in the philosophical world is its longevity. Many ideas that emerge in these theses, as well as my other works, are strongly rooted in classical philosophy as it has survived to this day.

I borrow heavily from existing works, as all philosophers do. I give credit where I can recall or research the original source, but it would be impossible to trace the genealogy of every idea which springs from my mind. This arrangement of concepts and their relationships is likely to be original, but the ideas themselves are old and deep-rooted. It is the perennial duty of the philosopher to water, trim and tend to the tree of knowledge which is philosophy: to hold the ideas in one’s mind, to criticize and correct errors, and generally allow the Truth to become known. Not a bonsai tree, but a veritable orchard of delicious and ripe fruits.

This work, hopefully, will establish a faux a priori2 foundation from which I can assert all of my later reasoning. Now is your chance, critics. Now is the time, in this work, to correct my premises, my errors, my moments of weakness, before I attempt to plumb the depths of truth in this vessel I have cobbled together. It will be too late, I am sure, when I arrive at a premise so incomprehensible and flawed to point out that I had overlooked a basic truth here and now.

I have grandstanded long enough on what philosophy is, without giving an appropriate definition and description of it. One should not assume that one’s use of terms is identical to that of one’s readers or opponents.

What is philosophy and why bother?

I believe that all who can rightly claim to be a philosopher will recognize certain fundamental characteristics which I believe to be necessary conditions for philosophy. It must be rational, as even the most blasé and stale philosophy assumes the basic precepts of logic, non-contradiction, and the ability of the mind to grasp truth. It must be consistent, as rationality simply can not allow for the possibility that the principle of non-contradiction is invalid. Therefore, all rational things are self-consistent. It must be empirically viable, as our experiences determine our understanding of the universe and, subsequently, the truth (the theses themselves will discuss this3); we cannot hold a belief which predicts or necessitates an experience divergent from what we actually experience. It must be universal, as any truth which is contingent upon circumstance is not a truth, but merely a fact.

In addition to these necessary attributes of the practice itself, I believe it must also produce certain results, fruits if you will, lest it be nothing but a mental exercise. Without ethical agency, this exercise would have no bearing on our lives as a prescriptive measure which, in the absence of an equivalent authority for prescription, would result in aimless and irrational lives, driven simply by the reptilian and hedonistic pleasures of our own genome. Without utility, this exercise would be superfluous to any other activity man would undertake; very few (and no sane) men would choose an impotent and laborious endeavor at the expense of something enjoyable and productive. Ultimately, without truth, there would be no rhyme or reason to the philosophical endeavor; if it were to be self- consistent and pursue truth, it must actually be capable of and ultimately accomplish the task of acquiring Truth. For these reasons, I assert with a fair degree of certitude that the purpose and goal of philosophy, as well as its necessary and sufficient conditions, (and, therefore its constituent elements, such as theology, physics, etc.) is to create an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical agency, utility, and (ultimately) Truth.

As mentioned in the above definition, philosophy possesses many constituent elements and tools of which it avails itself. As a reading of Aristotle or many of the enlightenment philosophers will support, I find that it is most natural to begin the philosophical journey in the realm of epistemology or phenomenology. A definition of each is in order, I believe, before addressing the practicality of such a method. Epistemology, taken from the Greeks, can simply be considered “the philosophy of knowledge and thinking, an explanation for how one thinks and knows”. Similarly, phenomenology would be “the philosophy of experience, an explanation for how one experiences and interprets those experiences”, also from the Greeks.

An approach starting from the angle of philosophy of thought and experiences does present some inherent issues, like the infamous discussion between Kant and Hegel:

“We ought, says Kant, to become acquainted with the instrument, before we undertake the work for which it is to be employed; for if the instrument be insufficient, all our trouble will be spent in vain… But the examination of knowledge can only be carried out by an act of knowledge. To examine this so-called instrument is the same thing as to know it. But to seek to know before we know is as absurd as the wise resolution of Scholasticus, not to venture into the water until he had learned to swim.”4

Hegel presents a very pragmatic alternative approach, which was quite popular with later Hegelian philosophers, like Marx. Essentially, he asserts that one ought to simply begin thinking and doing philosophy and will learn how one learns by witnessing one’s own experiences, much like how one learns to swim. As one can see, in reading the first ten or so theses, my assumptions and their descendants take a very Hegelian approach to early epistemology.

Amongst the historical traditions of philosophy, a debate as old as the pre-Socratic philosophies rages to this day: the theists vs. the atheists. Despite the greatest attempts of the moralist atheists, though, the arguments between theism and atheism ultimately deal with a more fundamental question. Whether or not there is a God is ultimately an argument as to whether there is any Truth at all. Again, as the theses address, either the universe is nihilist (devoid of any fundamental or objective meaning and purpose) or it is teleological (purposeful and directed)5. The most common theistic argument made is one concerning teleology, “What’s the point, if there’s no point?” Conversely, the atheist makes an absurd or existential (presenting logically inconsistent facts, or asserting that the universe itself is logically inconsistent) argument, “If there is no point, I can make one.” These arguments will be addressed in the theses6.

Ultimately, all forms of science and pseudo-science (assuming that they are rational and logically rigorous) are constituent elements of philosophy. If our definition of philosophy is accurate, then all rational activities which are directed at the goal of achieving ethics, utility, or Truth are elements of the grand attempt that is philosophy. The scientific endeavors are all part of the philosophical school of physics, by which one establishes the empirical viability of any particular philosophical view. The pseudo-sciences, ranging from sociology, to psychology, to astrology, to magic (again, assuming that they are rational and logically rigorous) can sometimes be appropriated into either physics or metaphysics. Some rare cases may even wander further from physics into epistemology or phenomenology, but all intellectual pursuits are ultimately an element of philosophy. Many of the individuals which pursue these endeavors lose sight of the forest for the trees, but that does not make their work any less valuable to the philosopher.

Bertrand Russel asserts, in chapter fifteen of “Problems of Philosophy”, that science becomes science by divorcing itself from philosophy once it becomes useful. Joseph Pieper, similarly contends that scientific inquiry is capable of achieving conclusions which are resolute and unyielding, whereas the philosophical endeavor can not.7 Both Russell and Pieper have a distinctly post-enlightenment flavor to them in this regard, which is unfortunate. They both fail to see that science is but a tool and a field contained within philosophy. Science may try to distinguish itself apart from its mother, with such cultural figureheads as Neil DeGrasse Tyson outright ridiculing her, but it can never truly extricate itself from the frameworks from which it came. Instead, it would be more appropriate for the specialists to concern themselves with their specialty and the philosophers to draw on them when needed.

Above all, reason is the driving force of man and his works. Above all rational pursuits, philosophy reigns. While not all men may have the ability to be great philosophers, all men are called to be philosophers, nonetheless. If in no other way, one must examine their choices and their lives in such a manner to achieve the best outcome available. Unfortunately, in this day and age, I fear that even this minor task proves to be too much for most.

It is no surprise, really, that this task has proven too much for my generation. The heart of philosophy is discourse and my generation is illiterate and disjointed in this regard. Rather than bemoaning our state of affairs, however, I ought to concern myself presently with the discursive nature of philosophy. Whether the discussion be oral debate in the city square, essays and books written in the solitude of a cave or study, or a college dropout’s ramblings on social media, philosophy only flourishes when an idea is shared, tested, refined, and put into practice. The manner in which this discourse and implementation takes shape is varied and veiled, but it is very real, even today.

The ideas and themes in popular philosophy pervade every area of our society, especially in the United States of America. They are boiled down to aphorisms and images and spread like a plague or meme through the cultural ether. I say “especially in America” as our nation was founded on a social experiment derived from the popular philosophies of the time (social contract theory), and that is a tradition that has continued for two centuries. Those that participate in the creation and sharing of art in society play a crucial role in the spread of these ideas.

Literature has been a long-suffering companion to philosophy. As far back as Homer and Gilgamesh, we see philosophical themes and musings riddle the characters and narratives of the culture. In more modern times, with the rise of the printing press, we saw an emergence of overtly philosophical fiction and some less-overtly philosophical fiction. There was such literature before the press, to be sure, just look at the classics. However, I find it unlikely that “Candide” or “Thus Spake Zarathustra” would have lasted the way the “Iliad” or “The Divine Comedy” has in the absence of the press. Even popular works of both fiction and nonfiction, whether intentionally or not, are rife with philosophical commitments.

These commitments are equally prevalent in film. While film is a fairly recent advancement in technology, it shares a common lineage with literature. We can easily trace its heritage from screenplay to stage play to oral traditions which stand as the forebears of ancient literature. For the sake of this discussion, I will consider video games and television shows as film, as their storytelling devices and methods are more-or-less identical. In addition to the words and language used in literature, film also presents ideas and commitments through the visual medium as well, certain images or arrangements can, consciously or unconsciously, link certain ideologies and characters together. The same holds true for music, sculpture, painting, any artistic or cultural endeavor, really, even dance.

Through the public discourse and permeation of cultural works, philosophy drives a society’s zeitgeist8. Any of the uninterested or uneducated who participate in cultural events, from watching movies, going to school, being subjected to advertising, have their minds and views molded by the underlying philosophy. Through exposure and osmosis, ideas that were once held in contempt have become mainstream and vice versa. This is the natural cycle of philosophy, and it is always made possible by the liberty of the minds of true philosophers. Even if the zeitgeist demands that the world be one way or another, the free thinkers are always at liberty to pursue the truth and share that quest with others through discourse.

Philosophical Schools, the Good and the Bad

Philosophies, taken in their historical and cultural context, ultimately tend to land in two categories: that of “the man” and that of “the rebel”. Whatever cultural or institutional norm for a culture may exist, it exists because of the philosophers who have brought those concepts to light and shared them via the public discourse. Those ideas that find themselves in favor of the ruling class or establishment naturally become the driving force of a society or state. Those ideas which are newer and less conformed tend to become popular amongst the counter-culture. It is important to note: this observation does not lend any judgment to the truth value of any one or another idea, simply its cultural impetus. It is the duty of the free-thinking philosopher to sort thought these ideas, regardless of the cultural context, and to ascertain the objective truth value of each respective idea. This often makes their philosophies unpalatable by both “the man” and his reactionaries. (C’est la vie.)

This cultural presence and impetus of popular ideas is revealed in every cultural work. From little nuances in color choice, sentence structure, musical tonality, to overt themes and statements, certain ideologies become manifest to an audience. These manifestations can be analytical and conscious and others can be more insidious or subconscious. The two most prominent contemporary examples are in the mainstream news and popular film, where phrasing and imagery is specifically designed to impart a worldview and philosophy on the unwashed masses.

It is no mistake or coincidence that the more authoritarian a state becomes, the more strictly social discourse and cultural works are censored. It is always in the best interest of the establishment to engender in their subjects conformity of thought and philosophy. The most intuitive and frequently used methods towards that end are limiting the subjects of discourse and subverting the thoughts of the masses. I believe that now, like any other time in history, the people of the world are having their thoughts and philosophies subverted and censored by the social and political establishments around the globe. An easy example of this phenomena would be the blind adherence to material reductionism, Neo-Darwinism, and cultural relativism which is strictly enforced in academia as well as by societal pressure, despite the lack of compelling rational evidence to support any of the three.

It is possible, however, that the prevalence of “bad philosophy” in popular culture is less a conspiracy of idiocy and more a benign zeitgeist of an uneducated time. Regardless of whether it is intentional or incidental, there is a silver lining in this situation. Philosophy, when maligned, can be a powerful tool for subjugation, but it is also, by its fundamental nature, liberating. Philosophy, as the pursuit of truth by rational means, necessarily drives its earnest adherents to freedom. By questioning the reasoning behind the social structures and institutional norms one encounters, one comes to understand where the truth lies and liberates oneself from the lies perpetuated by a society devoid of reason. Because of this, we see a dichotomy emerge: popular culture and its discontents. Now, this doesn’t mean that philosophers cannot enjoy and partake in the fruits of popular culture; it simply means that one ought to be aware of what is being imparted upon oneself, especially when there is a surplus of material available.

Reality exists such that there are several misconceptions and maligned concepts in the realm of contemporary philosophy. One of the popular misconceptions concerning philosophy and intellectualism is that it is a domain primarily inhabited by out-of-touch nerds arguing about stupid questions. “Which would win in a skirmish, the Enterprise or the Executor?” While the answer is obvious after a short bit of reflection (Enterprise), it is a dilemma that only a specific and small demographic will ever face. It is also a question that has questionable practical significance. I have witnessed in both the media and the general public a rising belief that those that contemplate such questions are to be considered intellectual and philosophical, at the expense of those that are deserving of the titles.

Of course, those that are deserving of the title have long been plagued by equally absurd-sounding puzzles. “When removing stones from a pile of stones, at which point is it no longer a pile?” While the answer may appear to be obvious to a mathematician or engineer (the pile is a designated set, it remains a pile even if there are no units in the set), it has far-reaching implications in the way man thinks and knows, or in other words, in the realm of epistemology.

Without philosophy, man would lack a crucial tool of introspection and rationality. The very question “What is knowledge?” does not have a satisfactorily categorical answer. Through our pursuits in philosophy, man has made great strides in addressing such a fundamental question which has evolved from “What is justice?” and moving onto “How can I be certain I exist?” and now addressing a wider, more complex assortment of queries. The fact remains, we must always ask, “How do I know this?”

These questions form our culture and our ethos. Or, rather, the pursuit of answers to this class of questions drives the popular zeitgeist. Even banal entertainment, like prime time television and late night talk shows touch on the questions which plague all sentient beings. “Why am I here?”, “Why am I unhappy?”, “What’s for lunch?”9 are all questions which people are desperately trying to answer whether they are aware of it or not. Philosophy attempts to codify and rationalize the pursuit of these answers, to make it accessible to our contemporaries and future generations, not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of man as well. These attempts are frequently used to answer these questions by taking our common assumptions and putting them to the test.

In each age and culture, there are certain ideas that become popular and omnipresent. An example would be polytheism in ancient Greece, or Christianity in 13th century Europe, or social Darwinism in the early 20th century. As can be seen through the examples presented, many of the common assumptions of the time fall to the wayside as a culture’s awareness evolved. In the words of Paschal: “Whatever the weight of antiquity, truth should always have the advantage, even when newly discovered, since it is always older than every opinion men have held about it, and only ignorance of its nature could [cause one to] imagine it began to be at the time it began to be known.”10 In some cases, those changes are for the better or worse (the shift from superstition to reason or the social ideology which fostered Nazism) at the time that change occurs. However, in the long run, philosophy always allows the individual and their culture to learn from the past. Typically, though (as I indicated above), this puts the individual at odds with his culture until the culture can catch up with him. This often makes the more notable philosophers those that were considered nonconformist.

A popular postmodern mindset in the philosophical landscape today has attempted to artificially generate that notoriety through philosophical non-conformity. What I mean is, they attempt to protest even philosophy itself. This is a trend which began in the enlightenment and found its perfection in the existentialist movement. Where enlightenment philosophers tended to either decry the philosophical mindset as some form of mental illness or feel the need to announce that it isn’t a “real” science, existentialists were (and are) wont to denounce not just the rationale of philosophy, but the very existence of logic altogether.

Absurdity is, fundamentally, simply denying or violating the principle of noncontradiction: asserting that something both is and is not in the same mode at the same time. Absurdism is a whole realm of postmodern philosophy in which one, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, attempts to use the tools of philosophy without following the rule of logic. While such attempts are entertaining and mind-expanding, they are just as the name says: absurd. As the 95 Theses (like all philosophy) assumes the existence and necessity of logic and rationality, this treatment of absurdism will be short and off-handed. Even so, Sartre, Camus, and other existentialists manage to contribute observations and arguments of value to those pursuing truth. I hope, in other works, to address the good and the bad of absurdist philosophy, but not today. This will be explicitly outlined in the theses themselves11, but this will help to better prepare a novice for the oncoming vocabulary contained in this work.

Nihilism is not a new concept in philosophy, but it has recently found a surge in popularity after witnessing the World War and all of its continuations. It is tempting to deny the existence of meaning when witnessing the most inhumane behaviors being perpetrated by man. “What is the meaning in millions of men killed by other men?” can easily become “What is the meaning?” However, as a being capable of asking such a question, the answer literally precedes the question. If one is able to witness and analyze whether or not something has meaning, there is, at a minimum, the production of that question. In the case of an absurdist, he looks no further than the mind of the inquirer, asserting that the inquirer/philosopher must give meaning to an otherwise meaningless world (and ultimately violating the PNC to do so). In this way, nihilism, in using a meaningful discourse to establish that there is no meaning besides the absurd is, itself, absurd. In the case of a philosopher, one asks “from whence does that desire for meaning come?”

In order to make sense of the universe at large, philosophy must be logical. Taking the evidence available to the philosopher and arranging it into a coherent narrative which is both satisfying and capable of producing utility and accurate predictions of cosmic behavior. The fact that our minds and our philosophical endeavors exist in such a way, and the fact that it is successful as such, we conclude that the universe itself must follow a form of logic. While the human intellect may be limited to codifying and adapting a series of laws to describe the universe’s behavior distinct from that behavior itself, the universe’s behavior is quite clearly consistent and logical, regardless of our perception of it.

This, of course, brings us to the subject of relativism. Relativism, in all but its softest forms, asserts and assumes the absence of objective existence, either in the form of moral reality, or physical or ontological reality. Moral relativism and its twin, cultural relativism, asserts that, because of the diversity of contradicting perceptions of ethical truth, there can be no absolute moral truth. Naïve relativism follows this form of logic to its inevitable conclusion: anything that can have contradictory observations or beliefs concerning it does not exist objectively, therefore reality itself does not objectively exist. While, at times, some form of scientific study is used in an attempt to justify such an assertion, typically it is an extreme reaction to scientism.

As objectionable as relativism is, it is at least identifiable and easily refuted. Scientism, however, is a beast of a different nature. Scientism is a strict adherence to the scientific method predicated on the philosophy of materialism, it is a union of empirical positivism and material reductivism. Anything not immediately falsifiable12 is of no consequence and ought to be done away with. Not all elements of scientism are bad (coming from a former adherent to scientism); a strict adherence to the methods of reson and empirical observation is what has elevated the school of physics to become the driving force of modern society it is today.

In recent centuries, most noticably the twentieth, there was a sudden surge in scientific thought and progress in all of the civilized world. There were innumerable factors that contributed to this phenomenon and, thankfully, I have no intention of going into detail concerning them. At the moment, I am far more concerned with the fruits of this technological renaissance than its causes. In the nineteenth century, the perpetual swell of knowledge and increasng standards of living appeared to be infinitely sustainable. This led to an optimism in the whole of society, but most especially in philosophy and its constituent sciences.

Confidence in science’s ability to cure all of humanity’s ails was joined by a popular trend in science known as reductionism. It was widely believed that science’s messianic qualities were a result of its percieved ability to reduce the most complex psychological or biological ailments into some simple alchemical formula (female histeria and electroshock therapy come to mind) and even the darkest and most troubling metaphysical questions could be exorcized with a simple application of mystical scientific hand-waving. Reductionism isn’t a modern invention, even the pre-Socratics strove to reduce all things to one atomic principle (the world is air/water/fire/flux/love/whatever), but never before was it so widespread and influential as during the rise of modernism and postmodernism.

Unfortuntely, in all their excitement over the leaps and bounds that were being made in their discoveries, true scientists (one who studies the physical sciences) became “scientists” (those that adhere to the philosophy of scientism). Subsequently, some bad science was introduced into the realm of sceintism without sufficient criticism. A handful of non-falsifiable theories, like Neo-Darwinism and String Theory, have managed to charade their way into the cult of scientism and are now defended with a fervor and blindness rivaled only by the most rediculous of religions. While it is not currently my goal to write a full-fledged indictment of scientism and other instances of bad science, I am compelled to at least demonstrate that materialism is insufficient and direct my readers to a work that more than completely shows that materialism and Neo-Darwinism are incomplete and illogical worldviews13. In favor of misguided science, many are equally prone to jihad in favor of bad philosophy (ie. relativism and consequentialism14). Some of these people have legitimate exuses for doing so (public education and demographics of their upbringing come to mind), ultimately, their excuses can be reduced to the defense of, “I didn’t know any better.” Some despicable men, however, are quite aware of the logical fallacies they commit in the name of furthering an agenda contrary to the pursuit of Truth.

Sophists, since ancient Greece, have always profited from making defenses of the indefensible, either for the acquisition of wealth or the silencing of their own conciences. Whenever an ill-informed or malignant trend emerges in a culture, it is certain that some sophist or another will emerge from the woodwork to champion it. Unfortunately for true philosophers, most sophists find their roots in philosophy and academia. This is unfortunate because, to the unwashed, the sophists and philosophers are indistinguishable between each other, save for sophists defending the fulfillment of their base desires while the other demands intellecual rigor and consitency. These sophists were the enemy of the ancients and are the enemy of philosophy today. As certain historians through history (like Cicero) have noted, there has been a noticeable trend of cultures falling for sophistry not long before their demise. In our modern culture, we see popular philosophy dominated by sophistry and intellectual vacuity. In academic philosophy, it would appear that a certain apathy to the common man and common culture has gripped the hearts of philosophers as they discuss the impractical and esoteric. Worse, though, than the philosopher turned sophist, is the celebrity or lawyer turned “philosopher”. Lawyers are paid to play by the rules and obfuscate the truth. Celebrities are paid because they make people feel good. Both of these careers are antithetical to the pursuit of truth. In such a case that one who makes a career of pursuing personal interest (whether it be thier own or their clients’) turns their attention to announcing certain ethical, social, scientific, or really any intellectual claim, they ought to be met with close scrutiny. An example which has plagued America (and the world) in recent years is the Hollywood zeitgeist of celebrities loudly and aggressively endorsing the political ideologies of the radical left. While these endorsements ought to be recieved skeptically, we instead have seen a widespread voice of agreement in the public forum. This is no different than the phenomenon observed by historians of bygone empires and cultures.

The same cult of irresponsibility and self-promotion in both popular culture and academia that existed in ancient Athens still plauges true philosophers today. At times, given the ascetic15 nature of the philosophical disciplines, it can be incredibly temptng for one to compromise one’s integrity for the sake of wealth or popularity which a philosopher would never see otherwise. Additionally, even if one is unaware of what they are doing, it is common for one to confuse one’s ideas with one’s self, which leads one to take justified criticism poorly and leaves no room for improvement and correction of ideas. When one is more concerned as to whether they are well-liked or can turn a profit rather than engaging in a genuine loving pursuit of wisdom and truth, it can only end badly.

As Socrates is credited to have said (which is more likely a paraphrase of his entire body of work), “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In order to successfully achieve eudaemonia16 or Truth, one must be vigilant and develop the ability to accurately assess one’s self. As will be expressed in the theses, one’s experience and examination of that experience is fundamental in one’s understanding of the universe and subsequent actions. Additionally, seeing as how eudaemonia and truth are the goals of the philosopher, it is clear that any philosopher and, truly, every man must live an examined life.

Now, this is not to say that every man must so thoroughly analyze and examine every atomic facet of his life in perpetual stoic apatheia. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. While the philosopher must develop a categorical and pervasive habit of self-assessment, this could be crippling in other endeavors. Some men are simply incapable of this degree of introspection and others live in an environment which disallows such behavior. Even these men, though, can and ought to engage in what could rightly be called a “partially examined life”17: a lifestyle in which one at least routinely examines one’s conscience and actions. Training in and awareness of philosophy are invaluable tools in such an endeavor.

After all, our definition of philosophy clearly illustrates that philosophy is universally applicable. In clearly defining how the universe operates and why, as well as exploring what our actions must be in any given circumstance, philosophy establishes itself as the prime candidate to be the very center of culture and individual lives.

Through careful examination of one’s self and of the universe at large, one can come to an understanding of what one needs in order to acquire self-fulfillment. The desire for self-fulfillment is already the driving force behind culture. In developing and advancing the understanding required to achieve self-fulfillment, one contributes to the formation of a culture of self-fulfillment. This culture, informed by philosophy, would be a haven for those seeking eudaimonia.

As the centerpiece of ancient Greek culture and subsequently of philosophy, eudaimonia deserves a more thorough examination and definition. While it is alluded to in the 95 Theses, it may not get the fullest treatment it deserves. It then falls on the introduction here to give at least a high-altitude explanation with which to work. Eudaimonia as it is used here and in the theses can most easily be described as “the freedom to excel”. This means not only the presence of the mental faculties required to conceptualize and pursue excellence, but also the material and metaphysical circumstances required. In truth, I believe that this has always been the pursuit of man: to live in a culture of eudaimonia.

Philosophy: a Brief Genealogy

Regardless of which narrative one adheres to concerning the origins of man, there are certain circumstances which must have occurred at some point. While the beginnings of just such a narrative exist in the theses, I will attempt to imagine the worst-case scenario for the point I am attempting to illustrate. That point is, from the inception of the human race, philosophy has existed. With the emergence or creation of the first man, whether he was a mutated member of an ancestor race or created fully formed from the dirt by the very hand of God, his was the unique responsibility of siring the human race. While language and conceptualization may not be required in order to find a mate, it could certainly help. However, from the birth of the first progeny of man, communication and conceptualization become necessary for the continuation of the species. In order for her offspring to survive long enough to fulfill its duty to the species, our Eve must be able to express the concepts necessary for survival. Even if one is to assume that genetics supplied her offspring with instincts concerning fight-or-flight responses or aversions to creepy-crawlies that could be harmful, they would be insufficient for the task of allowing the offspring to learn, “This mushroom is bad,” or “This is how you kill a boar,” when they are one-chance circumstances which drastically impact survival.

It is clearly in the best interest of humanity’s survival to build on and diversify the material each generation inherits. “This mushroom is bad,” can only take one so far; it certainly does not place one at the top of the food chain. However, inquiry, discovery, and purpose can drive a nomadic people, scratching a meager sustenance from the earth, to ever greater achievements. I may not be able to kill a bear in hand-to-hand combat (I have never had the chance to try), but I don’t have to. By virtue of the utility of philosophy (and its constituent physical sciences), I live in an environment which is naturally repulsive to bears (though, in the instance of this region, the case was quite the opposite until recently); as added protection, though, I have many tools at my disposal, not the least of which is my Mosin–Nagant.

Aside from mere survival though, philosophy also provides mankind with an awareness of purpose and ethics which provides far more utility and impetus than survival, especially once the requirements for survival are met. In the pursuit of eudaimonia, we can imagine a genealogy of thought, moving from, “This mushroom is bad,” to, “Why is this mushroom bad?” to, “Why is?” With as many intermediary steps. Alongside this line of reasoning, we also see a diversification of material, branching from mere survival and pagan “gods of the gaps” into physics (including biology, astronomy/astrology, chemistry/alchemy, etc), metaphysics, epistemology, theology, etc.

While all these endeavors are oriented towards one end: the creation of an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical agency, utility, and (ultimately) Truth, they are sufficiently detailed and esoteric that one could spend their entire lives in devotion to one small element of a particular area of philosophy. This should not, however be used as a justification for skepticism18 as it would only serve as justification if philosophy were a solitary venture. Philosophy, by it’s nature, is collaborative. Each area of philosophy, no matter how distinct from another in focus and subject, bears at a minimum a holistic relationship to each other. In the same way that each area of study collaborates with the others, so too must individual philosophers. This relationship of the areas of study is due, in part, to their common material and practical significance; each area of philosophy informs the others and serves as a check against fallacious reasoning.

Being a human endeavor, philosophy finds itself the victim of human error quite frequently. As optimistic and teleological as my views are concerning this endeavor, I am not ignorant of the inherent shortcomings and roadblocks such an endeavor faces. I fully expect that even in the case of my own contributions, I will find myself (many years from now) arguing against the very assertions I make in this work. These shortcomings often lead to the development of dead-ends and half-truths. Some of these are quite speedily identified and handily defeated (like geocentrism) but many others are quite bothersome. Concepts which are rooted in truth or bear tangential resemblances to the truth often mislead the philosophical discourse. One need only to look as far as Epicurus’ problem of evil and subsequent resolution, or Puritanism, or the Copenhagen Interpretation, or Marxism to see what kind of damage can be done by philosophy run awry. These mistakes, as damaging as they may be, will, ultimately become a footnote in philosophy as failed experiments, as the utility of accurate reasoning becomes apparent and the march of the true philosopher continues unabated.

As the definition I am using for philosophy states, philosophy is an ongoing pursuit of truth (or, the Truth). All legitimate philosophers have, at one point or another, made a categorical assertion regarding truth. Even most faux philosophers make categorical assertions regarding truth, even if that assertion is a naive and misguided utterance of, “There is no truth.” While I do not necessarily believe that the “end of philosophy” has some metaphysical role to play in directing philosophy or that it may be attainable in this world, I do believe that the simple utility of truth allows and encourages “those who have eyes to see” to be diligent in selecting the philosophies to which they ascribe. This “natural selection” of memes will, naturally, lead towards the end of philosophy. I know this sounds quite similar to the Darwinist narrative which I have rejected mere pages before now, and it should, as there are some good ideas buried amidst the bad science. The survival of the fittest, as Herbert Spencer is credited with having formulated it, is one such concept.

Such memes as survival of the fittest are a prime contemporary example of how philosophical concepts tend to simply be a part of the atmosphere in which society functions. Most everyone has heard that phrase in one memorable context or another, even if they have no idea or a misconceived notion of what it means. In the case of philosophical culture, or rather the culture of philosophers, far more obscure and odd concepts are part of the atmosphere. In this way, a well-read and intelligent philosopher may breathe in Descartes, Scholasticus, Nietzsche, and Groothuis in order to utter forth a synthesis of these elements unique unto himself, even if it is identical to another’s work.

What utterance do I have to make? What can one such as myself bring to the banquet table of philosophy? I desire to partake of the feast about which those before me have written, but what can I do to pay admission? As will be clear to those who will bother to read these Theses, I am not yet sure, but I hope to one day have applied myself thoroughly enough to this, my vocation, so as to be worthy to touch the garment of lady philosophy.

This work, itself, is an attempt to codify my existing ideas in a format suitable for public development and critique. Philosophy, by its nature, is discursive and social by nature. I could not rightly call myself a philosopher if I were to merely wonder at the cosmos. Only if I were to share my wonder with others and argue my way to the truth alongside my companions would I be worthy of such a name. This is my first of a thousand steps towards the banquet for which I was created. I hope to bring along as many as can come with me to sing the praises of the Grand Architect of such a marvel as creation.

All I can rightly ask of philosophy and of those philosophers who would aid me in this journey would be that I contribute one more voice to this chorus as old as man: to be heard and considered by others, to have what truth I can find be perpetuated while my own shortcomings be disregarded. A lesson I have learned from Ayn Rand: to be considered sophomoric and redundant is still, at least, to be considered. If I could rightly ask more, however, I would ask that I be granted a personal fulfillment of my unslakable thirst for answers.

Hopefully, I can play an integral role in this chorus, can make an impact. I want to bring the practice of true philosophy back from the grave that enlightenment dug, existentialism filled, and postmodernism hid in the woods. The death of god19 was less a death of god and more the abortion of philosophy. I want to aid in the restoration of Lady Philosophy to her former glory, to clothe her once again in dignity and honor, and to bring her back to the common people, not as an object of rape, but of royalty. This novitiate book is the inauspicious beginning of such a daunting career choice.

95 Theses

1Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences” Pt. 2

2Self-evident and deductively reasoned

3Chapter 1: Epistemic Assumptions

4Hegel, Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences p10

5Chapter 5: Teleology?

6Also Ch 5

7“Leisure: The Basis of Culture” p110

8German: “Spirit of the times”

9“Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.” Douglas Adams

10Groothuis, On Pascal (Stamford: Thomson Learning, 2003), 202

11Chapter 5

12 a theory resulting in an empirically verifiable prediction which, if inaccurate, determines that the theory is wrong

13Groothuis “Christian Apologetics” chapter 13

14An ethical school of thought which argues that the result of an action determines the ethical quality of said action

15Self-disciplinary and abstinent

16Flourishing and fulfillment

17 A phrase that is certainly as old as the Socrates quote from before, but never better implemented than as by the people on the Partially Examined Life podcast: http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/

18 disbelief that it is possible for one to obtain truth or knowledge of the truth

19Nietzsche used the phrase “god is dead” quite frequently. Most notable of which is his parable of the madman from “The Gay Science” book three.