The Downfall Episode 28

This week, I’ve got a treat for you guys.  I was a guest on The Downfall with Jared and Dave!  I wrote briefly about them before, and it was an honor being welcomed onto their show.  I gave them about a week to get all their regular views before posting it here, just so that they could get credit for their quality production, first.

Also, if you’ve somehow missed the repeated announcements, we’re on Patreon!  Please consider incentivizing the production of more Mad Philosopher content; big donors get neat prizes and the ability to influence the direction of the show and if we hit certain goals, the project can expand.

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Howdy? I’m the your Mad Philosopher in residence. What makes me mad? Well… a great many things… but the short answer is that the way mankind has been living since long before my lifetime is deeply, unsettlingly, incomplete.

There is a tension in our lives. We all feel it, but none of us really grasp it, understand it. In the first world, in the 21st century, the poorest among us have access to technologies, foods, levels of education, and forms of entertainment that, by and large, surpass even the wildest dreams of the kings and emperors that lived even a few centuries ago. At the same time, we have been divorced from all that gave meaning to our actions. It’s the existential nightmare Nietzsche, Camus and Kafka were gesturing towards: a world in which one can literally accomplish anything, but the demands and absurdities of one’s lessers almost force one into choosing to accomplish nothing.

If you’re like me, the motivational talk on people’s email signatures, cubicle walls, and facebook posts seem more like excuses to celebrate mediocrity and attempts to be at peace with an unfulfilling life.

I may just be an angsty millennial, but having read philosophy non-stop for twenty years, I’m pretty confident that I’m not alone today, and I’m certainly not alone in history. I want to have a public conversation centered on this reality.

In the past, there were certain prerequisites for doing philosophy. The biggest example is that of patronage. If one was a wealthy slave-owner, one would have the leisure time to think about how awesome life is and write about how everyone (except slaves) should be able to just hang out and do philosophy all the time. If one wasn’t a wealthy slave owner, one would have to turn to the kings and bishops for patronage… and those philosophers would inevitably write about how awesome the kings and bishops are and how everyone was lucky to be ruled over by such beneficent stewards.

In today’s society, those that are able to produce value to others have access to disposable income. While I would love to do philosophy all the time, I’m too busy providing value to others in order to feed my family. If you find this conversation valuable, I can provide it for you; I do ask for your patronage, though, as today’s rulers are less than happy to hear what I have to say about them. Every little bit helps.

Carpe Veritas, and have a great time.

Just Another Friendly Argument #2: Contracts and the NAP

If you couldn’t tell, I came into this conversation with a little bit of a cavalier attitude.  James, however, was very well-prepared and had a number of notes he was going to send me in an email, but we both thought it would be more fun to do an argument episode of the podcast.

We discuss property rights, contracts, and the NAP.  I was already coming into a newer and more nuanced position on contracts since the last conversation James and I had concerning the matter, so this episode was less an argument than it was an interview, but we had a lot of fun and I think listeners can get a lot of good material from it.

 

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Coffee and Capitalism

This post is actually brought to you by a sponsor! Coffee By Gillespie is a great site for meeting your coffee needs. If you use Coupon Code “madphilosopher”, you can get 10% off, and it sure beats Starbucks.

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For all of my “complaining” about our sorry state of affairs in today’s statist and war-driven global society, I really wouldn’t choose to live in any other time in history. I kinda’ brought this up in my post righting Robert Reich’s horrifying mistakes and propaganda, but it bears repeating. Just today, I rode my personal self-powered chariot to my climate-controlled workplace, pooped indoors, performed ancient and arcane rituals off of printed media while wearing fine silks, ate foods imported from around the world, listened to several academicians and musicians performing for my satisfaction, and now I’m sipping on a beverage that 10th century kings murdered people over (and my version is infinitely better-tasting than theirs could ever hope to be). In just one day, I’ve accomplished nearly everything that King Louis the 14th had in his entire life… and I managed to do it on a shoestring budget.

That’s right, this post is another love-letter to capitalism. But this one, in particular, is brought to you by that most popular of drugs: coffee. Those of you familiar with the Tuttle Twins or Leonard Read will likely recognize what I’m about to say about this most amazing beverage.

As far as I can tell, coffee has the same origin story most of my favorite foods has: some people were hungry and decided to eat something they probably shouldn’t have… and after a few tries, found a way to eat it that didn’t result in a painful and sudden death. In this case, burning the seeds of a certain berry tree and making a tea out of the burned seeds. Between the caffeine in the seeds, the appetite-suppressing qualities of the beverage, and the fact that it tastes better than the nasty water and ales that the people of the time had to drink, it caught on pretty quickly. I can’t blame them.

Of course, unless you lived in Ethiopia at the time, you’d have to buy coffee from merchants who had the foresight to bring something like burned seeds up to Europe or wherever you happened to live at the time. That type of service would take a long time and it was fairly expensive. Ultimately, only the aristocracy had the ability to pony up the cash to buy the beverage, and only those with the social connections to the proper merchants even had access to a supply of these burned seeds. The workers (peasants) were relegated to drinking the fermented sewage which passed as ale at the time and had very little variety in what was available. This wasn’t a failure of capitalism, mind you, it was merely the stage of development Europe was at in it’s long, slow, climb out of the natural state of man (that is to say, abject poverty).

Of course, if someone wants something and someone else has it, a deal can always be struck. In this case, the demand for coffee was realized as quickly as something could be realized with old-school trade caravans. The fact that certain “brands” of coffee were in higher demand than others, as well as the fact that the demand of coffee relative to other commodities, encouraged farmers in areas able to grow coffee to make more and better coffee. Due to the profit margin associated with the supply and demand, people produce more and better coffee and, as it begins to meet the needs of foreign consumers, the price of this precious beverage actually decreases… until, in the 20th century, the phrase “that and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee” became commonplace. If that phrase doesn’t make sense or if you’re too young to remember it, it means that the “that” being referred to is worthless. Oh, and coffee is super cheap.

Of course, the coffee that was typically priced at a nickel was the cheap American swill that companies like Folgers produced. As a matter of fact, when American soldiers were in Europe during the World War, the coffee makers in Europe were astounded when the soldiers would take their delicious Turkish espresso and add a bunch of water and cream to it to essentially ruin the coffee to the point that it resembled the stuff they were used to back home. With the sudden boom in consumer communication technology following the fall of Berlin, the markets became much more efficient, and Europeans began drinking American swill and Americans began drinking espresso.

In my lifetime, this intercommunication of markets and shifting demands has created what I consider to be one of the “seven (consumer) wonders of the market”. The beverage I’m contentedly and lovingly sipping while writing this post is not your granddaddy’s coffee, just like the weed your stoner cousin is smoking isn’t your granddaddy’s weed. The market has produced a wide array of incredibly potent and delicious (mostly) harmless drugs at a reasonably affordable price, due entirely to the price-finding mechanisms and consumer demand. If it weren’t for capitalism, none of us would have tasted coffee, let alone, created the awesome stuff I’m drinking right now.

As anyone familiar with the marketplace will tell you, there’s always certain trade-offs one can (and even must) make when making an exchange. In this case, if you want convenience, you go to Starbucks (or the state-monopolized dispensary if you’re looking for weed) and pay a convenience premium. If you want the good stuff, you have to know the right people, whether it be the hole-in-the-wall coffee shop or that one stoner who sells pot out of the back entrance of a warehouse, which is a little less convenient, but it’s got much better bang for the buck.

After drinking Coffee By Gillespie and taking a look at their website, I’m comfortable claiming that this is a place that you can get both the convenience (and trustworthiness) of a Starbucks and the quality of that hard-to-find word-of-mouth shop without paying a premium. So far, my favorite roast/source is the “Tanzania Mbeya Highlands Peaberry”, but I haven’t tried all of the samples yet. Of course, my favorite type of coffee is the high-altitude, wet-washed, dark roasts, so this is likely to be my favorite of all the samples, anyway. It’s not as dark as some of the other roasts I like, but it’s got a certain sweetness and acidity to it that you can’t get in a darker roast.

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Anyway, now that I’ve got my coffee-snobbishness out of my system, I want to encourage you to support yourself, the economy, the coffea arabica, and this site all at once by going to Coffee By Gillespie and ordering your own bag of ecstasy (the sensation, not the drug) and using coupon code “madphilosopher” at checkout.

Before I let you go, though, I want to just do a quick rundown of the process by which this coffee gets to your door, because it’s a miracle of the market. There’s a guy in Tanzania or Ethiopia, or some other high-altitude tropical region who gets hired to tend some plants and harvest their fruits periodically. The guy paying him has also hired some people to soak the berries in water or lay them out in the sun until the seeds are easily removed. This guy then sells the seeds to a different guy. The guys growing and washing the coffee beans don’t need to know where the seeds are going or why, all they need is to ply their trade and get paid in order to elevate themselves out of poverty.

The guy who buys the seeds hires a crew to roast the seeds. Again, the employees don’t have to know all the intricacies of the market, only that they are getting paid to roast the beans. Then the guy with the roaster sells the beans to a distributor in a first-world country, somewhere. In order to get the beans from the opposite side of the globe, this distributor pays someone else to ship the beans from one side of the planet to the other. Then the distributor distributes the beans either directly to the customer or to a retail outfit. Either way, you then pay the distributor for these irreplaceable beans and consume them.

Looking at that long chain of laborers, and how much money it cost to get it from the dirt in Ethiopia to your stomach, it’s a wonder that it’s only about twenty bucks. Think about the shipping alone! $20 of gas can get my Prizm from one end of the state to the other on a good day… but this giant-ass ship gets your beans across the ocean for far less. It’s like magic! I’ll get into how that can be the case, later. For now, I want to explore even more intricacies. For example, the tools that the coffee farmers use are produced via similar means: from raw materials to finished product, the tool passes through several stages of laborers and exchanges. And the tools used by the roasters, and the shippers, and the distributors. It’s literally impossible, with the current tools at mankind’s’ disposal, to map out every single one of these relationships required to get coffee beans into your stomach and that caffeine into your blood… and that same complexity applies to just about everything else you use and consume, as well.

So, if no one can map out all of these relationships, how can it even happen? Well, that requires us to backtrack through that entire chain I indicated before. You pay a distributor for a particular batch of coffee, whether it be a $7 bucket of Folgers or a $16 package of “Ethiopia Organic Tencho Cooperative” deliciousness (10% off if you use my link and code). This sends a market signal (along with everyone else making these purchases) that there is money to be made in importing these products for less than that price per unit. Someone with enough money to purchase the roasted beans and pay for importation can then make such an investment. Making that investment sends a market signal to the roaster that there is money to be made in buying and roasting the beans for less than the distributor will pay per unit. Again, the roaster and grower see similar signals. At this stage, the grower needs employees. This sends a market signal to employees that there is a certain amount of money to be made for investing the time and work required to grow the beans, which may be a better option than what else is on the employment market.

As before, it’s not just a single channel of communication through the market, either. All the previously mentioned complexity still applies. Either the grower or his employer must purchase tools, which send those signals all they way back to the miners and lumberjacks, for example. This is where entrepreneurs, such as Coffee by Gillespie come in. What an entrepreneur is, at his heart, is someone who sees different resources available on the market and finds a way to mix them together in a new way that provides more value to others than the individual parts would. To (mis)quote Aristotle: “This whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

All this is only possible, specifically the bag of coffee for $20 despite all of the costs associated with making it and transporting it across the globe, due to economies of scale. It would be impossible to make only one bag of coffee and get it across the globe for less than $2,000, let alone $20. Fortunately, one laborer’s worth of beans produces several hundred bags of coffee and one set of tools can be used by multiple laborers. Ships can carry millions of bags of coffee, and if there isn’t enough coffee to fill the ship, they can fill up the space with other products from other distributors. This profitable sharing of resources is something that’s also too complex to leave up to one central plan or map, it can only happen by individual shipping companies looking at market signals and making the choices that are most profitable for themselves. It just so happens that the efficiency of everyone making such decisions with such information results in all of the amazing products we have at our disposal every day. And the best part is, that guy in Ethiopia whom you’ve never met and never will, would likely have been left to starve to death in the highlands, but has now found employment and a method of survival due to your desire to drink coffee.

I could write and talk all day about all the little details involved in this process, and I sometimes do. I don’t think I’m crazy for that, though, seeing as how Rothabrd and many others have lived their entire lives doing little else than studying and admiring this phenomenon.

Vivat Forum! and Carpe Veritas.

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Podcast List 2016

About one year ago, on the old site, I posted an extensive list and brief set of reviews concerning the podcasts I was listening to.  People still periodically ask me what I listen to, but the old list is out-of-date.  This week, I’m listing my current podcast list and some recommendations for others to listen to.

Podcasts I continue to listen to (in order of importance):

  1. Mad Philosopher Podcast: Yeah, yeah… I know… I listen to my own show, I’m such a dork and a narcissist.  I listen to it the day I upload in order to catch major quality-control issues with the show.  I’ve already caught and re-uploaded several, so the process works.  I recommend everyone listen to what I have to say, too (as any narcissist would).
  2. Very Bad Wizards:  My favorite Philosophy podcast, these two guys are hilarious and relaxed.  Their content is always fresh and informative.  They just discuss issues in ethics and philosophy at random.
  3. Sex and Science Hour:  Brian Sovryn and Stephanie Murphy are back, and they’re better than ever.  It’s really just Sovryn Tech, but with more banter.
  4. Sovryn Tech:  A tech and culture podcast with another paradigm anarchist.  A little thick/left sometimes, but always well-reasoned and intellectual, I think Brian Sovryn has done more for liberty than any politician has, ever.
  5. Primal Blueprint:  I will be discussing this one soon in a full blog post, but over the last few months I’ve made a lot of health decisions, as has my wife, and this podcast is an interesting source of information.
  6. Radical Agenda:  With more passion and rage than even I can muster, the well-read and ever-grounded Cantwell reads the news and gets “triggered”.  Lately, he’s been forced into a corner concerning racism and right-wing politics, but I very rarely disagree with him on anything more than tactics.  He will also occasionally record a stand-alone rant which always has something important to tell someone.
  7. School Sucks Show:  Usually randomly updated, but with long episodes, School Sucks is a show devoted to education and intellectual self-defense.  Parents and educators ought to listen to this show, as well as anyone who wishes to be intellectually literate.  The host keeps it really fun and very level-headed.
  8. DH Unplugged: A weekly discussion of the financial markets by Dvorak and Horowitz.  Very informative about what’s going on in the world, even if one has no skin in the markets.  With these two, I know more about what’s going on than even listening to Cantwell or Sovryn.
  9. Tom Woods Show:  Updated every weekday, I make it a point to keep up-to-date with this show.  Tom is one of the most respectable and most influential anarchists alive today.  Every day he has something new and important to share with the world.  Everyone, regardless of what they believe, should probably listen to his show.  He covers the surface of nearly every topic even tangentially related to liberty and periodically goes super-deep.  I also listen to Contra Krugman, Woods’ other show, wherein he and Bob Murphy teach economics by tearing arch-Keynesian Paul Krugman’s works to shreds.  It’s not a podcast, but since it’s a product by Tom Woods and it far surpasses either show, the Tom Woods Liberty Classroom needs a mention here.  It’ll get you a PhD-level education in history and economics and it’s an excellent tool for figuring the world out.  If you use my link, I get a little piece of the action and it helps keep the lights on over here.
  10. Catholic Stuff you Should Know:  A podcast currently hosted by my former assistant pastor and my current pastor, they cover a wide variety of subjects, all of which are important to living a full faith life.  Lots of fun banter and jokes, lots of educational stuff.  It’s exceptionally fun for a Catholic in the process of switching rites, as my former assistant pastor is a Roman Rite priest and my current pastor is a Byzantine priest.
  11. Personal Profitability Podcast:  This is a podcast put on by a former co-worker of mine from Summer Camp.  It reminds me a lot of “The Art of Manliness” but with more useful ideas about money and less soldier worshiping.  He’s a direct descendant of Baal Shem Tov… which is mostly just an interesting sidebar, but also an indicator that he knows his money, (if you know what I mean).
  12. Philosophize This:  A fun exploration of concepts in philosophy, seemingly chosen at random.  The host has a cleverness about him and a solid grasp of the concepts and contexts he covers.  It’s another great show for beginners, as well as a way to fill in the gaps for more well-read listeners.
  13. The Incomparable: After listening to Robot or Not for a year, they finally sold me on listening to their actual show, and it’s a lot of fun.
  14. The Cracked Podcast:  Just like the Cracked website, but in audio format.  Hilarious, informative, and a little too lefty to be taken seriously.  I have fun and learn a lot of trivia.
  15. No State Project:  I only started listening a couple weeks ago, but it’s a great exploration of the Socratic method and its applicability in the kangaroo courts of ‘Murica.
  16. History of Philosophy Without any Gaps: A weekly podcast that has been methodically plodding through the history of philosophy from the pre-socratics through today.  Each episode is short, easy to understand, and like the name says, has no gaps.  Excellent for both beginners and people who know it all.  I also listen to the corollary podcast History of Philosophy In India which, ironically, fills some gaps left by the preceding podcast.
  17. Partially Examined Life:  The first podcasts I listened to, the Partially Examined life is a monthly exploration of a small group of texts in philosophy.  With a healthy balance of irreverence, humor, and knowledgeably, this show is usually a lot of fun, and teaches me stuff I didn’t know in a field in which I’m generally very knowledgeable.  They approach the text much the same way a seminar class would in college, but with less authorities around.  Since they’ve become the name in philosophy podcasts, they’ve kinda gotten corporate and are trying a little too hard to be “inclusive” in their approach, but they’re still a great listen.
  18. Anime World Order:The snobby older brother to Anime Pulse, AWO updates rarely and sporadically, but I very much enjoy their discussions of older anime, especially since they tend to share similar opinions to my own and expose me to things I’ve missed.  They’ve got an older and more refined taste than a lot of anime commentators out there.  I grew up on 80s and 90s anime, so that’s still where my preferences lie.
  19. Robot or Not: Five minute episodes in which the hosts determine whether or not a specific piece of technology is a robot.  Fun, short, funny.  I disagree with their conditions for being a robot, but that doesn’t take away from the fun.
  20. Rationally Speaking:  An atheist podcast that focuses primarily on cognitive biases, science, and ethics.  On rare occasion they’ll bring Neil DeGrasse Tyson (or some other popular “scientist”) on to shit all over philosophy and religion, but they are usually very nice and even-handed.  One of the main hosts left a year ago, but the remaining host has carried along nicely.
  21. Revolutions:  A podcast that goes very in-depth discussing the history of drifferent revolutions.  I listened to it upon a reader’s suggestion after my post on slave rebellions.
  22. History on Fire:  A podcast from Daniele Bolelli (of Drunken Taoist fame).  He recounts interesting and often-ignored chunks of history from an amusing angle.  The history lessons being my favorite part of the Drunken Taoist, this podcast is pretty awesome.
  23. Downfall with Jared Howe:  Technically part of a larger group of shows (seeds of liberty), Downfall is hosted by a guy I met on facebook who is an absolute genius.  I finally got convinced by a mutual friend of ours to listen to his show, and I like it.
  24. Samurai Archives Podcast: Exactly what it sounds like.  A historical survey of Japanese culture, samurai, bushido, etc.  A must-listen for samurai fans.
  25. The Ex-Worker:  An AnCom production about AnComs.  I still listen to it, even though I’ve had an anti-communist awakening over the last year (alongside Cantwell’s racist awakening).  I am still encouraged by their ability to get out and fuck shit up, even if they are fighting the wrong enemy half the time.
  26. Revolutionary Parent:  Formerly “Powerful Parenting”, this show is almost never updated anymore, as they’ve moved to a new content method.  Their rare piece of content is still worth it, though, as the host coaches people through the methods of peaceful parenting, which is really just NVC applied to children.
  27. Radiolab:  This show (still) keeps just barely making the cut.  Overproduced, frenetic, and excessively liberal, the only thing that keeps me coming back is the fact that every three episodes or so presents me with something I hadn’t known about previously.
  28. Manga Pulse:  A subsidiary of Anime Pulse, a podcast that’s really gone down the tubes since management changed.  Manga Pulse is hosted by a couple guys that live in my hometown of Denver and tend to be a lot of fun whenever they actually upload a show.
  29. Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt:  This show is great for me, as I did a lot of reading about Egypt when I was in high school and never had a chance since.  I don’t know if the show’s been cancelled or not, as I haven’t heard much from them since the school the titular “Eric” works at got shot up by a drugged-up leftard.

Podcasts I no longer listen to:

  • Drunken Taoist:  the podcast started getting more and more lefty as I was getting less and less lefty.  With History on Fire being several hours at a time, I couldn’t do both.
  • Rebel Love Show:  Degenerate druggies discussing degeneracy and whining about cops.  Where Cantwell’s technical roughness is easily compensated for his actual content, the technical roughness of the rebel love show has nothing to hold onto for support.
  • Lets Talk Bitcoin:  As I became less enthusiastic about the inanity of the cryptocurrency “communities”, I lost interest in the daily shows about the inanity of the crypto-space.  Still love Bitcoin and still love MaidSafe, but I don’t want to listen to podcasts about regulators regulating what should be free.
  • East Meets West:  I just got bored with them and the other podcasts have overwhelmed my playlist.
  • Art of Manliness:  They started re-treading old roads and shows like School Sucks and Personal Profitability cover a lot of the same material.  The soldier-worship started getting intolerable, too.
  • Matt Walsh:  Since I put him on last year’s list, all he’s done is cry about Donald Trump and about how republicans aren’t warmonger-y enough.  I’d rather just listen to Cantwell.
  • Freedom Feens:  It used to be fun, but MK Lordes really started getting a lot more time (obnoxious feminist), and the program became the 24-hour “Michael Deen slowly dies on-mike while everyone strawmans Cantwell” show.  Ultimately, the daily two-hour shows were just way too much time and way too little content.
  • Anarchast:  Jeff Berwick is a scammy guy and I stopped listening a few episodes after he was seriously entertaining flat-earthers.

Podcasts that have been discontinued:

  • Superego
  • Atlas MD (never officially canceled, but I haven’t seen an episode in a very long time)

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An UnBoxing Video of the Book

Nothing too fancy today, just an unboxing video of my book (submitted by a guy I know from college).  Y’all should get it.  It’s cheap and it’s got some cleaned up blog posts in it as well as some book-exclusive chapters.

Also, a reader submitted this encouraging screenshot:

And I had to confirm it:

Moving up in the world.

Democracy: The God That Failed

Back in college, when Bitcoin was brand new, I was still a techno-optimist trotskyite, and I was only just halfway through Human Action for the first time, I had a weird conversation with an upperclassman.

I was arguing about Aristotelianism and its contributions to communism with a classmate when this upperclassman interrupted and began building a case for restoring a Catholic monarchy. Needless to say, I was neither surprised nor impressed… at least at first. Then, he started using the terminology used in Human Action and really got my attention.

At the end of our conversation, I was far from sold on his case for monarchy but I was willing to read the book he offered me off the shelf in the school library: Democracy: The God That Failed. I read the book and it changed my understanding of the world irrevocably. As a matter of fact, I went back and read the first half of Human Action again, and actually understood it. I wasn’t an immediate convert, though; it would be another two years before I dropped real communism in favor of communism light: republican conservatism.

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Why all the autobiography in a book review? I wanted people to know the reluctance with which I engaged the ideas in this book and the profound change it had on my philosophical moorings.

In this book, Hans Hermann Hoppe begins by exploring the historio-economic history of the rise of democracy, explores econ 101 as could only be taught by an Austrian economist who studied directly under Rothbard, and proceeds to describe the economics behind democracy, monarchy, and natural order. Of course, he makes the same case all Austrians do: “Value is subjective, so I’m not going to tell you what to value, but I am going to show you the relationships between various causes and effects so that you can act on those values efficaciously. So, if you value human flourishing…”

The primary focus of Hoppe is the nature of economics and the incentives that emerge under different political arrangements, specifically monarchy, democracy, and anarchy. I couldn’t do the work justice without approaching a page count comparable to the book, but I do want to give you a preview of what’s in store.

In the case of anarchy, economic incentives parallel the Darwinian reality of nature and, where many argue that is a flaw of anarchy, it is inescapable no matter what social structure one builds on top of that state of nature. For example, survival of those best conditioned to live in a particular environment is one such reality. The way this plays out in the absence of the state is that those better suited to delay gratification, cooperate with others, and defend private property are more likely to benefit from a division of labor, specialization of skills, and technological advancement than those who are less suited to such activities.

In the absence of criminal or political elements which undermine these activities, there will be a natural selective process by which those who have these abilities amass more wealth, social capital, and mating opportunities than those who do not. On a long enough timeline, this will create evolutionary side-effects but even in the short-run, market forces naturally puts wealth in the hands of those best suited to invest it in a beneficial manner. Hoppe notes that this process is, both a-priori and historically, the origin of monarchies.

Any given region with sufficient selective processes will eventually have the most well-adapted stock in charge of all or nearly all the land or other resources in the region, making the entire region one large landlord/renter arrangement. Given that this individual in-charge acquired this position by way of making wise investments and mutually-advantageous exchanges, there would be no reason to cease doing so at this point; this means that the de-facto king will continue making decisions directed at improving the value of his assets which, in turn, increases the quality of life of his tenants.

This means that those in service of the king do so by way of voluntary employment: knights, soldiers, constables, etc. provide for the security and management of the king’s assets in exchange for what amounts to wages and employee discounts/benefits. If, at any point, a tenant or employee is unable or unwilling to abide by the rules of the landlord, they can emigrate or be exiled.

It is this liberty which is at the heart of all the incentives for a healthy economy in a monarchy.  The king, in order to maintain or increase the value of his property, must strive to make it worth the cost of rent for his existing and potential productive tenants to remain and the tenants must make it worth the king’s time to invest in their quality of life. At the point in time the king no longer allows individuals to leave or otherwise undermines their ability to function within the bounds of private property, he invalidates his rightful claim to the property he is leasing to his tenants and becomes something more like a tyrant or warlord.

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With that transition, the people are incentivized to undermine the king’s property value while building their own investments. This leads to “black markets”, political graft, treason, and invitations to foreign kings or barbarians to invade. Such a transition is a death knell for that particular region’s economy and culture. By and large, this is the story of the collapse of the British Crown and Empire. Of course, what came next was less than preferable: the rise of democracy.

In much the same way as when a king becomes a criminal, when a democratic social order is imposed on a people, the economic incentives get turned upside-down. Whereas a king owns the kingdom and has both the natural inclination as well as economic incentive to manage it for the sake of long-term gains, a president does not own the state. Instead, a president has near-unlimited access and control over the criminal apparatus of the state designed for expropriation and market manipulation for a limited amount of time. In such a circumstance, a president is incentivized to raise taxes, secure long-term benefits for himself at the expense of future taxpayers and presidents, and to funnel value into the assets he actually owns and that his friends own.

It’s not just the politicians who are corrupted either. Whereas anarchy and de-facto anarchistic monarchy are naturally eugenic, selecting for those most able to cooperate and produce value for others, democracy is a dysgenic process, selecting for those best able to rile the masses into demanding benefits at the expense of those producing the taxed revenue, those best suited to criminal activity, and actually incentivizing all of the behaviors witnessed in the seediest inner-city slums.

The majority of the text is spent on exploring all off the perverse and dysgenic economic incentives which democracy installs over and above, and in direct contradiction to, the natural order. Given that HHH is the economist and I am not and that he spends about 150 pages on the subject, I’ll leave the rest to him. In the meantime, I want to move on to the final portion of his text.

The final portion of the text is focused on where one could be expected to go in a post-democracy world. Barring a wholesale collapse of western civilization a-la the fall of Rome which preceded the rise of free-market monarchies, it is unlikely that the state will find an appropriate method by which to auction off its properties to the people in such a way so as to undo the undue gains of the corporate entities which have grafted themselves onto the political machine. Instead, modern economic technologies such as mutual and voluntary associations and risk-pools (such as HOAs and insurance companies) can simply begin to compete with the political apparatuses and, due to the nature of voluntary markets, outperform the state and put them out of business, so long as they secure their ability to defend against the states’ violence.

This scenario seems to have a fair amount of potential behind it, given HHH’s economic arguments to the efficiency and efficacy of such a transition. While the arguments are very involved and well-argued, the general theme of the argument is that “The state provides for (or at least, doesn’t wholly disallow) various services, such as the roads, education, security, risk pooling, etc. because there is a demand for it, and in the absence of the state, there would still be a demand for what amounts to our current status quo. He explores the economic incentives that would be in place wile fulfilling those market demands in the absence of the states’ direct influence and the social order that is likely to come about as a result of those demands and incentives.

From what I know of Hoppe’s other works, I think that he finds the outcome he presents to be most preferable. While I have a more traditionalist and rugged individualist bias, which I think would be sustainable in a free-market environment, I find his proposed option infinitely preferable to what we have today. Essentially, we would have all the bourgeois amenities such as grocery stores, roads, internets, common currencies, military defenses etc. without any of the current fallout such as poorly-planned roads, wars of foreign aggression, taxation, and perverted markets.

He makes a compelling case for why competitive insurance agencies would actually manage to provide the services that government cannot in a manner consistent with property rights and individual liberties, all economically-based, of course. The first time I read this book, I was very off-put by his apparent love for insurance companies, but the second time around I realized that he’s not talking about your dad’s insurance companies, the ones twisted and maligned by intimate relationships with state violence and regulations, but real risk-mitigation and risk-sharing pools owned and managed by the people best suited to managing such affairs in a competitive market.

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His cases for what ought to come next seem fairly abstract, and he has been called out on that abstractedness by many other authors. To which he responded with a supplementary essay titled “What Must be Done”, wherein he outlines, step-by-step, what he believes to be the most direct and moral route from here to there in modern-day-America. Seeing as how this essay is far more controverial than Democracy: The God That Failed , this is an appropriate place to bring up the most controversial parts of the book (as if advocating the case for monarchy over democracy and anarchy over monarchy isn’t counter-cultural enough). There is a quote of his, from the middle of the book which has become quite popular in my circles on facebook:

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He also makes the case that a free market will naturally select for what has been the traditional family and lifestyle structure in the West. It’s not too unreasonable to think this, seeing as how that traditional family structure necessarily emerged from the selective pressures extant at the time (pre-feudal Europe) and still seem to have the most economically sound incentive structures built into them, from the a-priori angle. Where it gets controversial is when he argues that insurance companies (in their free-market iteration) will act to mitigate moral hazard rather than promote it and, that mitigation of moral hazard is likely to result in (justified) discrimination against those individuals choosing alternative lifestyles, such as homosexuality, polygamy/andry, extreme drug use, and other things that the cultural “right” views as deviant. This discrimination could be as benign as increased premiums or as intense as a denial of coverage which, in Hoppe’s propertarian conception, would result in physical exile from certain communities. As I’ve covered in my post on LibPar, this does not necessarily mean the end of the homosexual lifestyle or culture, it merely means that communities would have to form around such lifestyle choices and they would have to either be isolationist or able to compete in the marketplace against their more conservative neighbors.

The book is incredibly well-researched and annotated. There are footnotes on every page, some taking up entire pages in their own right. They are drawn from all sorts of references, not just Austrians; Hoppe calls upon historians of every political persuasion, mainstream econometricians, Austrian economists, sociologists, and more. There are a few texts that he referenced enough times that they have been put on my reading list.

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TL;DR: Democracy: The God That Failed is one of the books that, if there were a canon of AnCap literature, would be in said canon. When I first read the book, it neither converted me from my communist ways, nor did it convince me to become a Catholic monarchist as was the intent of the guy that told me to read it. In hindsight, though, it was the only way that I could begin to understand what AnCaps on facebook were saying and gave me something to argue against. As is typical, though, a few years later I could recall the things I had argued against, but had changed my position on all of them. I decided to re-read the book and discovered that, on all the key points at least, I agree with HHH. There are some minor side details and some expressed preferences that I hold contrary views on, but I think this book is a Must-Read, right after Human Action.

It’s Been A While…

Howdy, Y’all?

It’s been a while since Mad Philosopher has had an update; for that, I apologize.  I feel that I should give the readers an update on my life and why the blog has slowed down so dramatically in recent weeks.

In the later part of May, I started a new job, moving from a grunt-level facilities position at one church to being a facilities supervisor at a different, larger church/school.  The workload at this new position is somewhat overwhelming as I try to get the facility up to code, deal with the State’s regulations, and try to get properly staffed.  Hopefully, this overwhelming nature of work will be temporary and, as I make progress in these exercises, it does seem that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.  Unfortunately, my life has largely been consumed by this workload, making it difficult to find time to get content produced in a timely manner.  Since May, all the content that has been produced was mostly completed before I started my new Job and all I had to do was tidy it up and post it.  This is why the audio portion of the blog has stopped entirely: audio work takes a lot of time, especially after the recording is completed.

What time has not been consumed by work as been directed at activities a little more close-to-home with more immediate results than the blog seems to have produced, recently.

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Supporting local bands, founded by AnCaps and featuring songs like “Prohibition Sucks”.

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Making time for father-daughter time, like designing and building a desk/bookshelf with as little guidance as possible.

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Starting a mens’ group with my dad, after he begged and pleaded with me to help him out. (It’s odd, we hang out all the time, but the only photos of the two of us together are from Independence Day celebrations.)

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I have also been hosting my philosophy club sessions with a fair degree of consistency.  Of course the awesomeness of between three and twenty people getting together to drink, eat, and discuss the fundamental nature of reality is to much for mortal eyes, and so no pictures have ever been taken.

I’ve also been doing quite a lot in the category of personal health and fitness, psychological strengthening, family development, and a couple minor entrepreneurial experiments.  I hope to be able to make the time to write about each of these other activities in more detail in coming weeks, but we’ll see what happens.  For now, I just want to let the readers know I haven’t died or gotten arrested yet, and to thank those who are still around for their patience.  In the mean time, you can all watch the raw video of an upcoming “Friendly Argument” segment that I’m still working on getting the audio cleaned up for release:

 

Carpe Veritas,
Mad Philosopher

Contracts and the NAP

A while back, I mentioned that I think contracts are bullshit. Some day, I hope to get into a full ontology of contracts, but I doubt many of my readers really have much interest in such things. Instead, I’m going to Start a conversation with a few people I know in real life concerning the nuances of the NAP with regards to contracts.

 

Would breach of contract be a violation of the non aggression principle? What about scheduled payments in the future, non-compete, and nondisclosure agreements?

Given that I think contracts are bullshit, I bet most people would assume that the answer I have is simple and straightforward: “no”. Of course, I can never let something be simple. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll just assume the definition I expect to use for the full post on the ontology of contracts and say, “a contract is merely an external explication of an agreement between two or more parties”. In other words, Bruce and Alfred come to an agreement concerning their affairs, say a nondisclosure agreement. That agreement exists as a relationship between the two but, for the sake of clarity (given the human condition), they decide to write the entire thing down and, content that the written document explicates the agreement sufficiently, sign the document to signify their provisional assent to the agreement and the accuracy of the document written to reflect that agreement. Then Bruce and Alfred put the document somewhere where it can be referenced but not altered by either Bruce or Alfred.

That’s a contract, right? It sounds pretty similar to a previous discussion we’ve had. So, lets say the agreement is that Bruce will pay Alfred for services rendered at a certain rate so long as Alfred does not let anyone know some secret Bruce is trying to keep, either by actively communicating that information to someone or letting them figure it out on their own through some form of neglect. Would Alfred be aggressing against Bruce by telling the secret? We can certainly agree that doing so would be dishonorable and vicious, but would it be criminal? Another way to ask would be to say “Can Bruce justifiably kill Alfred if he does so?”

I haven’t gone into that issue in full detail yet, either, but the easy way to put it is I stand by Cantwell’s philosophy of paperclips; It is theoretically justifiable to shoot someone over stealing a paperclip. Admittedly, the odds of encountering someone who would both steal a paperclip and allow the situation to escalate to the point of lethal force are statistically negligible and the odds of encountering someone who values the sanctity of one’s ownership of paperclips over the exorbitant cost of a bullet are equally negligible. However, the moral reasoning remains sound, even if the tactical choice would be tolerance.

Why am I talking about lethal force and paperclips when I should be talking about contracts? Well, is Alfred committing a crime against Bruce if he violates the contract? Can Bruce justifiably kill Alfred for doing so? Surely, the cost of the secret is greater than that of a paperclip. Even so, I argue that the secret is of a different category than that of the paperclip. Whereas a paperclip is property, a secret is nothing more than an abstraction of an individual’s ideas. The primary historical role of contracts such as nondisclosure agreements is an attempt to use the law to transmute mental things into material things, which can then be treated as property. So, even though Alfred may be dishonorable and breach his agreement with Bruce, he isn’t “stealing” anything from him.

What recourse would Bruce have in such a circumstance? Under the legal fictions currently in place, contracts are largely treated as laws are: if one violates a contract and then continues to refuse to play by the rules of the contract concerning breach of contract, eventually the issue would escalate to an encounter with law enforcement, which if the dishonorable man still refuses to comply, will be killed by law enforcement. Because of this, the current state of contract law is every contract follows the formula “We agree to do these things. If we don’t do these things, someone’s gonna fucking die.” Just like a law.

The same is the case if Bruce does not pay Alfred for his services, just for the sake of clarification.

I am obviously not impressed with this formula. As such, I have been exploring contract theories and trying to figure out the exact relationship between the ontology of contracts and the nature of the NAP. Thus far, I have found two possible answers to the question above, and they are mutually exclusive. As such, I’m presenting this post as a conversation-starter (as is the custom at this point).

Option #1: Contracts are 100% bullshit. In this case, the reality of the situation is straightforward: caveat emptor. If Bruce and Alfred make an agreement that Alfred will do butler stuff and Bruce will pay him at the end of the month and either one fails to do so, it renders the agreement void. If Alfred fails to do butler stuff, Bruce doesn’t have to pay him and if Bruce doesn’t pay Alfred, he doesn’t have to do butler stuff. The reality is that all that exists is the agreement between the two with their honor and social standing at stake.

While this solution is simple, it does have some complications. For example, the agreement is temporal in nature: Alfred spends a month of his life performing a service for Bruce before not receiving payment or, if paid in advance, Bruce pays a month’s salary before not receiving the agreed upon service. There are a few technologies which can be employed to prevent such instances, but in the words of Sov Tsu: “If you create a technology to solve a moral problem, you didn’t actually solve the problem.” So, instead, I will simply point out the obvious circumstance surrounding contract-violators: if one is living in a society of a reasonable size, there will be little opportunity to violate agreements without destroying one’s reputation and being dishonored or declared an outlaw. These extenuating circumstances are enough to keep a majority of potential frauds at bay, even in our overpopulated cities and towns.

Of the technologies available to increase the effectiveness of social accountability is that of reputation systems (which I generally dislike); one can have an Angie’s list or a yelp which operates much like a credit score: if one doesn’t have enough honor points, you probably don’t want to get into a contract with them. Another is that of outlaw status; if someone violates fundamental social mores, they can be declared an outlaw by the offended parties, which basically puts them outside of the general functioning of society: you breach a contract without making proper amends, you are refused service at many businesses and won’t be defended if someone were to try to rob or kill you.

Or, alternatively, we can look to the free (black) markets that have existed outside of normal contract law since forever and see what technologies exist there. The one that comes to mind right away is that of escrow holdings: Bruce puts Alfred’s payment into an escrow account at the start of the month, to be paid out to Alfred after a month of service, and they place a third party in charge of that account. Another free market device is that of word-of-mouth; someone trusted would have to vouch for the trustworthiness of each party. In this case, Thomas, Bruce’s father, vouched for Alfred and so Bruce trusts him (and vice versa).

There is opportunity for abuse in this resolution, as with any. Reputation systems can be gamed, are open to corruption, and can become oppressive forms of governance as opposed to useful tools for self-actualization. Public shaming is only as effective as a society is homogeneous, culturally speaking. Escrow services work great for payment plans and such, but do nothing with regards to agreements which do not concern direct exchange of goods. This is why self-empowerment, social cohesion, and populations within the Bunbar number are crucial to a truly prosperous society: the natural market functions of such a society drastically mitigate the harm caused by fraudsters and indolence without resorting to the criminal activities of the state.

Option #2: Contracts have a social function and are therefore not 100% bullshit. In this formulation, contracts have impetus insofar as they can be enforced without violation of the NAP. So, unlike laws, I don’t think one could pretend a contract is valid if it were enforced with the same mechanism (“do X, or we’ll fucking kill you.”). If one agrees to arbitration by a third party and consequences for breach-of-contract as part of the agreement, it is conceivable that polycentric legal systems could manage to serve as a lubricant for commerce in societies, both big and small.

This polycentric system of agreed upon contractual obligations (and punishments) and arbitrators is certainly preferable to the monopolized and criminal system currently in-place throughout the developed world. Between the competitive nature of the market for “justice” and the voluntary nature of contracts (in theory, at least), this system would likely produce something resembling courts which maintains a reasonably high level of satisfaction with legal arbitration. Given the versatility of anarcho-capitalist theory concerning polycentric law, I imagine that such competition would demonstrate the forms of contract theory which produce the most utility over time, independent of their truth-value, of course. If I were to venture a guess, of what that would look like, I’m guessing that the theories of Stephan Kinsella will likely produce the most utility as well as most closely reflect the facts of the matter, even if he has more faith in contracts than I do.

There are two problems I see with this position, though. First, the issue of honor still plays an inescapable role in this dilemma: a dishonorable person who will not honor an agreement will be equally unlikely to honor the specific clause concerning retribution or the presumed authority of the courts. Ultimately, then, we find ourselves in the initial situation presented in option #1. Second, I believe the harm-reduction and forward-thinking provided by standard financial and interpersonal practices far outperform any sort of contract and arbitration service beyond that which is contained in standard interpersonal and fiscal practices. What I mean is putting lenders in-charge of their own interest rates and application process will enable market functions to weed out the honorable and dishonorable, as does actually knowing one’s customers, etc.

This obviously didn’t cover all the nuances of contracts and such, but it is a starting place for a discussion. I need to do more research into the old tort systems and read more Stephan Kinsella. For the meanwhile, I propose that contracts are bullshit and one ought to strive to be honorable and surround oneself with honorable people. It couldn’t hurt to keep records of one’s agreements and obligations, though. Really, the approach one ought to take to contracts is the same as one ought to take to any service that is currently monopolized by government: ask “can this service be provided without the intrinsic threat of murder AND does this service have any necessity in a free society?

TL;DR: Contracts are bullshit, but they are still an important area of discussion to AnCaps and normies, alike. Insofar as that discussion applies to my project, I guess I’m halfway obligated to write about them. Contracts really seem to simply exist as an external point of reference for agreements, which are relational between two or more parties. As such, whether or not violating a contract or agreement (fraud, essentially) is a violation of the NAP is what is really at the heart of the discussion. I argue that most, if not all, cases of fraud are not actually violations of the NAP and that the old adage of “caveat emptor” ought to be kept in mind. As such, the initiation of force against a fraudster is, itself, a violation of the NAP. However, all the finer points of contract theory are currently beyond my expertise and from what I know of Stephan Kinsella, he would be the guy to read for ideas.

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No Treason: Lysander Spooner

This month’s Lucaf Fits meeting (that’s my philosophy club) is centered on the nature of freedom. I did my best to try and separate my apolitical proclivities from the philosophy club, as I wanted to be a little more culturally ecumenical with the group’s prospective members, but the group demanded it. The difficulty with finding literature for such a discussion is that You have statist bullshit on one side and high-level praxeological works by anarchists on the other side, with a little bit of lefty garbage scattered between the two. However, there is a gem hidden in that grey zone between the two extremes: Lysander Spooner‘s “No Treason: The constitution of No Authority”.

 

As always, a bit of historical context is in order. Spooner was born at the beginning of the 19th century in America. He was a natural-born anarchist/agorist. He set up a law firm in Massachusetts and quickly became recognized as one of the best lawyers available, despite not having the required government permits to do so. He made a compelling legal case against licensure, but that cost him potential clients, as the government did everything in their power to keep him from acquiring new clients. After business dried up, he tried a few unsuccessful entrepreneurial efforts and eventually decided to set up a post office as an act of defiance against the violent monopoly that the US government held on postal services, and quickly outperformed his criminal competitors. Of course, that didn’t last very long, as the government violently shut him down. From that point on, he was a one-man publishing company, writing almost as much as Rothbard, himself, much to the same effect as Rothbard.

One can’t discuss a lawyer, activist, or political commentator in 19th century America without addressing slavery. Spooner was one of the many activists in the 19th century that has been stricken from the mainstream historical record for the heinous crime of not fitting the ex-post-facto justification for the war of northern aggression. He was a die-hard abolitionist AND he was a defender of the Confederacy’s right to secede from the Union and tend their own affairs. He wasn’t alone, but he is certainly one of the more prominent members of that elite group.

No Treason was actually written as a response to the war of northern aggression, pointing out how the lies written and perpetuated by the Federalists had lost any of their legitimacy when Lincoln (at the behest of criminal bankers) purportedly abolished chattel slavery by way of actively enslaving half of the inhabited continent of America by way of military conquest. In many ways, Spooner is the godfather of the sovereign citizen movement, using common law practices and contract law to point out the reality that the existing government is not only criminal but is, in fact, illegal. He met a similar fate as many Sovereign Citizens, as well… he was mostly ignored into obscurity.

That obscurity is unwarranted, though. In “No Treason”, Spooner presents a compelling case using common law and the contract law of his day, demonstrating the Constitution to be neither a legal document nor a reasonable declaration of intent. He attacks the rationale behind the “Social Contract” argument, demonstrating that the Constitution meets no necessary or sufficient conditions for being a legally-binding contract and that, even if it did, “We know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now… And the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them.”

He also demonstrates that the secret ballot undermines the legality of the contract and reveals the true nature of the government under the Constitution:
“What is the motive to the secret ballot? This, and only this: Like other confederates in crime, those who use it are not friends, but enemies; and they are afraid to be known, and to have their individual doings known, even to each other… In fact, they are engaged quite as much in schemes for plundering each other, as in plundering those who are not of them. And it is perfectly well understood among them that the strongest party among them will, in certain contingencies, murder each other by the hundreds of thousands (as they lately did do) to accomplish their purposes against each other. Hence they dare not be known, and have their individual doings known, even to each other. And this is avowedly the only reason for the ballot: for a secret government; a government by secret bands of robbers and murderers. And we are insane enough to call this liberty! To be a member of this secret band of robbers and murderers is esteemed a privilege and an honor! Without this privilege, a man is considered a slave; but with it a free man! With it he is considered a free man, because he has the same power to secretly (by secret ballot) procure the robbery, enslavement, and murder of another man, and that other man has to procure his robbery, enslavement, and murder. And this they call equal rights!”

He also consistently argues against the possibility that most, or even any, individuals consent to be governed under the Constitution. Citing the involuntary nature of taxation, the demonstrated propensity for the government to initiate violence to get its way, the illegality of putting a small group of unaccountable oligarchs in charge of a violent apparatus of coercion and theft, and so on. He also points out that, even though the government consists entirely of criminals, they are not even preferable to common criminals, because:
“The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.
The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.
The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.
The proceedings of those robbers and murderers, who call themselves “the government,” are directly the opposite of these of the single highwayman.
In the first place, they do not, like him, make themselves individually known; or, consequently, take upon themselves personally the responsibility of their acts. On the contrary, they secretly (by secret ballot) designate some one of their number to commit the robbery in their behalf, while they keep themselves practically concealed.”

Even if people consented to being enslaved by the government and found it preferable to the possibility of falling prey to common highwaymen, Spooner argues that there is no mechanism, physical, metaphysical, legal, or otherwise, by which one could accomplish such an end. Ignoring the performative contradiction of such an activity, Spooner argues: “If I go upon Boston Common, and in the presence of a hundred thousand people, men, women and children, with whom I have no contract upon the subject, take an oath that I will enforce upon them the laws of Moses, of Lycurgus, of Solon, of Justinian, or of Alfred, that oath is, on general principles of law and reason, of no obligation. It is of no obligation, not merely because it is intrinsically a criminal one, but also because it is given to nobody, and consequently pledges my faith to nobody. It is merely given to the winds.” This is a result of the secret ballot, the non-contractual nature of the Constitution, and the manner in which the Constitution is inflicted on those who do not assent and have never assented to be party to the contract.

Lysander Spooner writes with a command of both legal theory and language in a way so as to make slightly-complex legal concepts accessible to the reader while also maintaining a level of entertainment-value which allows one to read through the entire work. It is only about 75 pages long, so one can get through it in an afternoon if one really applies oneself. He touches on other ideas that are central to libertarian discourse, such as the idea of “voting in self defense” and the economic realities inflicted on the peasantry by international banking cartels. I argue that this work, like several others mentioned on the blog, ought to be on everyone’s reading list.

TL;DR: I’ll put the TL;DR version here, in Spooner’s own words:
“Inasmuch as the Constitution was never signed, nor agreed to, by anybody, as a contract, and therefore never bound anybody, and is now binding upon nobody; and is, moreover, such an one as no people can ever hereafter be expected to consent to, except as they may be forced to do so at the point of the bayonet, it is perhaps of no importance what its true legal meaning, as a contract, is. Nevertheless, the writer thinks it proper to say that, in his opinion, the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally been assumed to be; but that by false interpretations, and naked usurpations, the government has been made in practice a very widely, and almost wholly, different thing from what the Constitution itself purports to authorize. He has heretofore written much, and could write much more, to prove that such is the truth. But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”

Also, here’s a silly video from the Free Thought Project to a similar effect:
https://www.facebook.com/thefreethoughtprojectcom/videos/1765770890309837/

Expression Theory vs Realism

About a month ago, I came to a realization concerning something that has been confusing me for years. As is typically the case, I have no easy way to express it in terms most people can understand. In the easy, precise technical terminology I use, the barrier to communication between me and most “normal” people about crime and punishment is that I’ve been assuming people are reductive realists when they are, in fact, expressivists.

According to expression theory, feelings and ideas can exist independent of the mind experiencing them, which allows for direct communication of ideas and feelings. One largely-known application of expression theory is Leo Tolstoy’s expression theory of art, which I will use as a paradigm example of expression theory at large. Tolstoy argues that the definitive quality of art is the communication of feeling from the artist to the audience. The ontology (and/or metaphysics) that is built around such a definition is the concept that an idea or feeling can exist independent of an agent which could be called a knower or a feeler.

In order for such an ontology to exist, it would require an even more intense version of substance dualism/pluralism than that to which I ascribe. Where I have argued that there must be a substance independent of the material substance which constitutes one’s brain (or anything else that physics looks at) which could be called a “mental substance”, that argument is limited to the existence of a “knowing/thinking thing” which is not fully explained by the interaction of matter with itself. An expressivist must allow for the existence of such a mental substance, but must also argue that the thing known is, itself made up of that substance, independent from any mind that may be knowing it. In essence, to an expressivist, the idea of expressivism is somehow currently contained in this set of black and white pixels on your computer screen.

In such a case, a painting or song could be imbued with the artist’s sadness or joy. When one hears the Haffner Symphony and feels happiness, that’s because Mozart imbued his sheet music with his happiness, and every copy of that sheet music made and, later, the orchestra’s playing from that sheet music have all been imbued with that happiness secondhand. So when one listens to said symphony and feels happy, it’s actually Mozart’s happiness infecting the listener. (Example shamelessly lifted from Douglas Groothuis.) I promise I tried to make that example sound as charitable as I could…

What this means, in the case of “crime and punishment”, is that an expressivist, on some level, believes that a criminal is expressing “crime” by committing said crime. They are imbuing the scene of the crime with “criminality” which may infect the minds of others (causing them to commit crimes, as well). “Society’s” response to that crime, then, will also express a response to the crime, imbuing “Society’s” environment with whatever that response is communicating, which will also possibly infect others.

It took me far to long to realize that this is what people meant when they say such absurd things as “We can’t rehabilitate drug offenders with medical science, we must lock them in rape cages… we don’t want to send the wrong message!” What such an individual believes is that a criminal is infected with an idea of criminality which could have been transmitted to them by another individual, by coming into contact with a thing imbued with “criminality” or by a criminal idea that simply happened to float by at that given moment. I’m not certain whether the belief is that the criminal lacks any free will, such that they are merely the slave to whichever ideas and feelings they are exposed to or if one would have free will, but only insofar as one could fight off the infection of an idea or feeling in the same way one fights off a cold or flu virus… the literature is murky in that regard.

If I had to venture a guess, though, I would point out that Toltsoy is a proto-Marxist and sympathetic to anarcho-communism. Because of this, I think his cultural influences would lead him to argue that individuals only have free will insofar as they can overcome the influence of capitalist marketing and join something akin to the communist revolution, which would mean that most people are merely slaves to the ideas foisted upon them and only the great men of history can rise above mere servitude. In full disclosure though, Tolstoy was not a fan of revolution, he was too much a fan of Buddhism for that. For example:

“The anarchists are right in everything: in the rejection of the current state of affairs and in the assertion that under contemporary moral conditions there can be nothing worse than governmental violence. However, they are profoundly mistaken in believing that anarchy can be established through a revolution. Anarchy can only be established by the process of people becoming less and less reliant upon governmental authority and by people becoming more and more ashamed of participating in this authority.”

To get back on subject, though, I am convinced that despite Toltsoy’s positive contributions to philosophy and culture, expression theory is riddled with absurdities which could not be reconciled with any ideology other than a naive platonic idealism, one which claims that the only thing that exists are ideas that exist independent of any particular media which may contain said idea… that everything which exists is nothing more than a perception of some ideal divine form beyond direct human apprehension. This is, conceivably, self-consistent, but requires an incredibly complex ontological and metaphysical framework to be constructed around each individual aspect of the human experience which could more elegantly and directly be explained by simply allowing the material things with which one interacts to be real. Instead of reifying (making real) ideas and feelings, instead of making them exist as non-contingent and independent entities, would it not make more sense to apply Occam’s Razor and ask if ideas and feelings are not merely phenomenological experiences contingent upon the sense-perceptions and brain-states of the experiencer?

A (reductive) realist will restrain their ontology to only include that which must necessarily exist and/or observably exists. To such a realist, ideas and emotions are phenomenological events confined to individual minds, derived from stimuli. Meanwhile, a realist will look at actions, incentives, and outcomes with regards to individual actors, or “communities” by way of statistical aggregate. So, a criminal, then, is choosing to commit crime, based on whatever phenomenological event is occurring within her own mind, and expressing nothing. Subsequently, any individual/institution punishing a criminal is not expressing anything, but merely attempting to accomplish an end by physical means (reform, punishment, removal from the general population, sending a market signal that “crime doesn’t pay”…) What little explanative power the expressionists have concerning crime or social stigma being “contagious” can better be accounted for by what amounts to “market signals”.

For clarification, what a signal amounts to is a discrete physical phenomena (such as black and white pixels on the screen) which lend themselves to individuals observing and constructing an idea from that stimuli, which then informs their action (such as decoding the sentence constructed from these pixels and understanding, to some degree, the idea in my head). In the case of market signals, prior events provide stimuli for constructing ideas which inform market functions such as risk-assessment, cost-benefit, and value acquisition.

I didn’t really set out on this blog post to argue with Tolstoy and his unknowing inheritors, though. I am writing this post to bring attention to a language barrier I’ve discovered between myself and a great number of people. I believe this language barrier is derived from a distinctly separate and unaddressed ontology. This post is really just a call for feedback so that I can come to a better understanding of how my audience sees the world and to increase the dialogue between me and my readers. This issue, I think, is surprisingly central to all of the disagreements between statists and anarchists as well as between AnComs and AnCaps, and I therefore feel I need to come to a better understanding of all sides of the issue… if for no other reason than to secure my paradigmatic awareness for future discussions.

TL;DR: This post is short enough that I don’t think it really needs a “too long; didn’t read” section. Instead, I want to take this portion of the post to express my gratitude to those of you readers that have provided support for this project by way of donations, getting things from amazon wish list, using my affiliate links, and sharing this content on social media. I also want to give the readers/listeners an update. A few of you have noticed that the site has been getting a little less attention of late, with a lack of podcast episodes and the timing of blog post releases. I’m honored that you noticed and felt that yo should let me know. I recently switched jobs, moving from a low-level grunt to management. My new workload and schedule precludes being able to write blog posts while at work, and we are still trying to get family life back into a regimen we can survive with the new schedule. Hopefully, but the end of this month we will be operating at full-capacity again. Thank you.

From Scratch 4.2 Background and name

Thus Spake Zarathustra

This weekend, I hosted one of my philosophy club sessions for the summer. The discussion was on Nietzsche’s magnum opus: Thus Spake Zarathustra. A reader of this blog was recently kind enough to purchase a copy of the text for me from my wishlist, and I couldn’t let that act of charity go unpunished. Today, I am doing a “teaching from the text” post.

For a bit of context, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born in the mid-19th century. He was a very clever Prussian/German child, quickly grasping academics and rising through the social and official ranks in university. His main focus was that of a cultural critic and philologist, both of which naturally lend themselves to philosophical activity as well. When he was relatively young, he started to suffer from a mental illness which has never been fully diagnosed. Many believe it to be Syphilis, but there is considerable reason to doubt that diagnosis.

During his time as a productive member of the continental philosophical culture, the western world was reveling in it’s own greatness. Between the ongoing rise of industry, the new form of nationalism that was emerging, and the social fallout from the enlightenment era, mainstream culture was very self-satisfied. Nietzsche, however, was largely unimpressed. He found the post-enlightenment culture to be hypocritical and could sense the looming prospect of the century of total war to come.

His philosophical writings themselves, due to the political climate in his later life and after his death in conjunction with his continental style of writing, generally serve as a sort of ink-blot test for his readers; a punky young college freshman will read “Beyond Good and Evil” and immediately become a Nihilist, whereas a more well-read individual may read “The Gay Science” and hold a deep discussion with someone over the nature of science and the indispensable role of levity and partying in one’s pursuit of virtue. Many who have been educated in modern American colleges and universities, when they read “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, see Nazi propaganda and elitist nonsense…

Fortunately, enough scholarship has been done on the original writings of Nietzsche and the later editions and translations such that one can actually see beyond the veil of history and get to know the actual philosophy of the man… with a little bit of effort. An important historical fact that puts things into context is that Nietzsche is the Aristotle to Schopenhauer’s Plato. Arthur Schopenhauer was a German idealist from the early 19th century who had a very distinct philosophy. He drew heavily on the material available from eastern philosophy, most especially Buddhism, and mixed it with German Idealism as well as his own curmudgeonly intuitions. The most famous of his works, and the basis of his ontology, is “The world as Will and Representation”; spanning three volumes, Schopenhauer builds a world that consists of a creative force which simply swells up out of nothingness, namely, will.

Nietzsche discovered philosophy through reading Schopenhauer, but he spent a good portion of his time arguing against things that Schopenhauer had said. Most especially that of the universe as will; Nietzsche argued that will alone is inert and that it must be coupled with power, the ability to execute one’s will, and the world would therefore have to at least be the “will to power”. This will to power is at the heart of the rest of Nietzsche’s project, and it’s one that I, myself, am sympathetic to.

Thus Spake Zarathustra is a sort of novel wherein the main character preaches Nietzsche’s worldview to the masses of modernists in the German countryside, to varying effect. Zarathustra is, at the same time, both an avatar for the author as well as a manifestation of his philosophy. The general plot is fairly straightforward: Zarathustra lives alone on top of a mountain, generally being awesome and waiting for the coming of the Ubermench (Superman), he then decides to go down from the mountain to preach to the peasants of Germany. While down there, he preaches “the truth” and some people start following him, but most would rather mock and avoid him. So, Zarathustra takes on a few disciples, leaving “the rabble” to their own devices. After a while, he can’t stand being around lesser men anymore and he returns to the mountaintop.

A while later, he has a vision which tells him that people are perverting and ruining his teachings, so Zarathustra has to condescend again to the rabble and try to sort things out. He makes a couple more friends and preaches some more, sings some songs, goes to some parties, laments that he is so awesome he can’t help it and bemoans how he can’t help but bestow his awesomeness on everyone else… Then he starts showing everyone how to really have a good time and cut loose. All and all, for all of Zarathustra’s solemnity when dealing with the rabble and the false prophets (that is, all of them) of the modern world, his exhortation is always that to be joyous and celebratory, because that’s all that there is that makes life worthwhile in a world wherein God is dead for grief of his love of man.

Despite how reductionist and flippant I am when describing the plot of the story, there is a lot of great fodder for discussion and examination in the text. Zarathustra’s words and actions are pointed and weighty; he brings to bear a striking series of accusations against the hypocrisy of post-enlightenment culture, the solemnity with which people address the absurd (in a pre-existentialist way), the futility of attempting to enjoy a life divorced from one’s own personal virtue. Zarathustra takes social conventions, such as friendships, and professes that everyone has the idea backwards. Where modern culture would insist that a friend is one who will support you in every endeavor and turn against those who do not, Zarathustra reminds his audience that one can only become greater than they are by being made aware of one’s faults and weaknesses. One can only achieve power by way of keeping those close who would remind one of one’s errors and shortcomings. A true friendship, one rooted in will to power, is one wherein a friend desires greatness for his friends, even at his own expense. For example: “If a friend doeth thee wrong, then say: ‘I forgiveth thee what thou hast done unto me; that thou has done it to thyself, however, I could not forgive that!” because in doing ill to one’s friend, one is behaving viciously and injuring oneself.

Ideas like solidarity in the state are also turned upside-down.

“Somewhere there are still peoples and herds, but not with us, my brethren: here there are states.
A state? What is that? Well! open now your ears unto me, for now will I say unto you my word concerning the death of peoples.
A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.”
It is a lie! Creators were they who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life.
Destroyers, are they who lay snares for many, and call it the state: they hang a sword and a hundred cravings over them.
Where there is still a people, there the state is not understood, but hated as the evil eye, and as sin against laws and customs… This sign I give unto you: every people speaketh its language of good and evil: this its neighbour understandeth not. Its language hath it devised for itself in laws and customs.
But the state lieth in all languages of good and evil; and whatever it saith it lieth; and whatever it hath it hath stolen.
False is everything in it; with stolen teeth it biteth, the biting one. False are even its bowels… Everything will it give you, if ye worship it, the new idol: thus it purchaseth the lustre of your virtue, and the glance of your proud eyes… The state, I call it, where all are poison-drinkers, the good and the bad: the state, where all lose themselves, the good and the bad: the state, where the slow suicide of all—is called “life.”…
Do go out of the way of the bad odour! Withdraw from the idolatry of the superfluous!
Do go out of the way of the bad odour! Withdraw from the steam of these human sacrifices!
Open still remaineth the earth for great souls. Empty are still many sites for lone ones and twain ones, around which floateth the odour of tranquil seas.
Open still remaineth a free life for great souls. Verily, he who possesseth little is so much the less possessed: blessed be moderate poverty!
There, where the state ceaseth—there only commenceth the man who is not superfluous: there commenceth the song of the necessary ones, the single and irreplaceable melody.
There, where the state ceaseth—pray look thither, my brethren! Do ye not see it, the rainbow and the bridges of the Superman?”

He has harsher words, still, for those he calls “tarantulas”.

Welcome, tarantula! Black on thy back is thy triangle and symbol; and I know also what is in thy soul…
Revenge is in thy soul: wherever thou bitest, there ariseth black scab; with revenge, thy poison maketh the soul giddy!
Thus do I speak unto you in parable, ye who make the soul giddy, ye preachers of equality! Tarantulas are ye unto me, and secretly revengeful ones!
Therefore do I tear at your web, that your rage may lure you out of your den of lies, and that your revenge may leap forth from behind your word “justice.”
Because, for man to be redeemed from revenge—that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms…
Ye preachers of equality, the tyrant-frenzy of impotence crieth thus in you for “equality”: your most secret tyrant-longings disguise themselves thus in virtue-words!
But thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!
They are people of bad race and lineage; out of their countenances peer the hangman and the sleuth-hound.
And when they call themselves “the good and just,” forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but—power!
My friends, I will not be mixed up and confounded with others.
There are those who preach my doctrine of life, and are at the same time preachers of equality, and tarantulas…
With these preachers of equality will I not be mixed up and confounded. For thus speaketh justice unto me: “Men are not equal.”
And neither shall they become so! What would be my love to the Superman, if I spake otherwise?”

If you couldn’t tell by the couple selections I chose to share with you, there are at least a few things Nietzsche has to say to which I am very sympathetic. I used to bristle when people would call him an elitist, because that word was a pejorative in my Marxist vocabulary. As time has gone on, though, I’ve learned that, in fact, both Nietzsche and myself are elitists of a sort: those who can be great ought to do so, and not everyone has that ability or will bother to follow through with such an exercise. In that way, both Zarathustra and myself have a certain attitude: “Not to the people is Zarathustra to speak, but to companions!… I am not to be a herdsman or a grave-digger. Not any more will I discourse unto the people; for the last time have I spoken to the dead.” This wasn’t always my attitude and, reading Nietzsche’s works in chronological order, I get the feeling that wasn’t his original attitude, either.

There is a lot in Zarathustra that certainly isn’t as truthful or as poignant as the other parts… his discourses on the nature of women and religious sentiments themselves somewhat miss the mark, but still ought to be read, so as to better inform one’s position nonetheless. There are a fair number of people that one will run into in the course of daily life, at work, school, the grocery store parking lot, etc. who are unwitting disciples of halfwit Nietzschean professors. So, when someone cuts you off in the parking lot screaming racist obscenities before getting out of his car and sauntering up to the water-cooler next to your cubicle and going on-and-on about how women’s sole virtue is their love of men, you can understand “Oh, this guy must have had a Nietzschean professor back in college and he never grew out of being a frat boy…” and you can decide whether to lay some real Nietzsche on him or to smugly await the superman with the knowledge that rabble like your coworker will soon be obsolete.

Some translations of the work are better than others, as well. There are some that are so far removed from the original German so as to render a totally different ideology from that originally espoused in the text. That is why my favorite edition of the text is the JiaHu Books German/English edition; the translation is pretty solid and the original German is on full display so one can double-check the translators’ work if one so desired.

This work only barely didn’t make my Suggested Reading Lists, but it is an excellent companion to either of the Nietzsche works that did make the lists, as it explores them in a more poetic and novel way.

Zarathustra_big

From Scratch 4.2 Background and name

Chapter 2: The Embodied Mind

Chapter 2: The Embodied Mind

Thesis #5: One’s experience is phenomenological in nature and derived from the senses; the development of the mind and our understanding of the universe is therefore derived from sense experience and interpretation of said experience

In the previous chapter1, I established that all knowledge is experiential. Even matters of “divine revelation”, ESP, or any other alleged spontaneous acquisitions of knowledge are still experiential in nature, as one is still experiencing such an event within their own mind, regardless of whether or not it is actually happening in a manner consistent with how one perceives it taking place. When we first addressed this state of affairs, it was in the context of one being solely informed by experience. In this instance, we are approaching it from an incrementally more nuanced position: that one’s experience is phenomenological in nature and derived from the senses.

Man has an inborn faculty of intellect. The intellect is a complex and frustratingly mysterious thing; I will describe it in as concrete and simple terms as possible. In the words of medieval philosophers, the intellect is the capacity to which matters of fact make themselves apparent, “like a landscape to the eye”2. This is the primary faculty by which one experiences the world, providing man with direct apprehension of the things around him. Essentially, intellect is the seed containing the mind, the ratio3 within man. This is seen in an infant as he begins to focus on various elements within his environment and as he gathers rudimentary sense data.

With sufficient time and experience, the capacity (seed) of intellectus can grow into the faculty of reason. Again, using the medieval scholars, “Ratio is the power of discursive, logical thought, of examination, of definition and drawing conclusions.”4 A more modern and specific definition would be, possessing the qualities of, or capacities for, self-awareness and a fundamental potential to learn and think logically”. The manner in which the intellect receives those experiences is sensational5; an infant may have a very basic set of instinctual “programs” by which they “know” how to feed, breathe, cry, and squirm, but they do not even have control over the movements of their own limbs, let alone any cognitive faculties. The intellect allows the infant to begin gaining control of their movements through the repeated cycle of stimulus and response in each of its limbs. Through prolonged exposure to patterns in environmental stimuli, the infant begins to expect the patters to continue in the same manner: the first fledgeling sparks of reason.

Before continuing to analyze the relationship between intellect and reason, it would be prudent to expand on thesis number two. “Reason dictates one’s understanding of the universe.” Reason, or the ratio we defined above, is a uniquely human experience. As mentioned previously, animal “experience” is nothing more than a perpetual cycle of stimulus and response. Conversely, humans have the experience of experiencing; or rather, the intellect serves as an intermediary step between stimulus and response. The intellect, as it develops into reason, begins to identify apparent patterns and categories. This pattern recognition is not infallible6, but is the basis of all human experience. While reluctant to abandon his skepticism, Bertrand Russell expresses a very similar and more detailed opinion as this in his Problems of Philosophy7. His term for this process, which I will borrow, is “induction”.

Following induction, both Russell and I approach “deduction”. Deductive reasoning, also called syllogistic reasoning, are matters of logical calculation. Through induction, one can begin to assume patterns, and can even express them syllogistically. “If the stove top is red, it is hot” is a simple premise, which can be derived from simple experiences. Upon witnessing that the stove top is in fact red, one can assert, “if the stove is red, it is hot. The stove is red. Therefore it is hot.”. This is an assertion which is derived from a combination of experience and reason. However, no degree of experience can account for the initial element of reason that dictates that such a syllogism is possible, let alone reliable. Modern research into early human development, though, has discovered that there are strong indications of innate mathematical reasoning within infants. I assert that these mathematical operations are an example of that very intellectus earlier mentioned. Ultimately, mathematics is an expression of logic in it’s purest form8, meaning that logic is something more than just a mere brute fact9: it is a faculty inherent to man.

Deduction can express hypotheses beyond the realm of immediate experience. While our first example was purely experiential and practical, a brief survey of the philosophical tradition will show that deductive reasoning can be (and is) applied to every imaginable circumstance. The accuracy of these deductions is wholly contingent on two virtues, the accuracy of premises as they relate to reality and its adherence to what Russell calls the”Laws of Thought”10. They are as follows:

  • The law of identity: ‘Whatever is, is.’
  • The law of contradiction: ‘Nothing can both be and not be.’
  • The law of excluded middle: ‘Everything must either be or not be.’

In other words, the “Laws of Thought” is another manner of describing the principle of non-contradiction. The best formulation I have seen of the PNC to-date is, “The logical principle that something cannot both be and not be in the same mode at the same time.”

We are fortunate that we are inherently conditioned such that these principles are immediately apparent to us as they are, themselves, unprovable. Our experiences can serve to reinforce these principles and, through their applications, prove their utility even if one cannot prove them in themselves. Through experiences of particular instances, we can come to a greater understanding of the nuances of such a simple and self-apparent set of principles. All the laws of reason, which will be explained and elaborated as they become pertinent in this work, are simply expressions of the particular nuances of the PNC.

The more abstract or complex lines of deductive and inductive thought are no doubt somewhat removed from immediate experience, either by way of their conceptual nature setting them apart from the physical world or by speaking of physical events that are not within a proximate vicinity to the one deducing. This does not make the reasoning any more or less valid. For example, one can engage in mathematical exercises concerning triangles without referring to any actually existing instances of a triangle. Another instance would be a deduction that determines all kangaroos are mammals, even if one has never seen one before (and isn’t likely to… how many people go to Australia, really?). Both of which are valid regardless of whether the one doing the deducing is immediately experientially present to the subject matter or not.

These rules of logic and their applications obtain in such a manner that renders relativism (in all but its softest forms) impossible. Something is said to “obtain” if it is necessarily true in every instance, such as triangles having three sides or the PNC. I say that these obtain in such a way so as to render relativism impossible because relativism is, fundamentally, a denial of objective truth. Extreme relativism denies all objective truths whereas softer forms only deny particular categories of truth such as moral truths. This denial necessarily results in violations or denials of the PNC. Any instance in which one says, “there is no objective truth,” is an instance in which they are categorically denying categorical statements. This is an age-old objection to relativist thinking11 which has simply been hand-waved by the proponents of relativism. Admittedly, there are more refined and delicate relativist arguments, but they all fall prey to this fallacy at some point or another.

Thesis #6: The mind is an embodied entity; all language and imagining is clearly based in bodily experience and all imaginable entities outside the immediate physical world are conceptualized in a sensational metaphor.

This experiential and embodied basis of our knowledge is clearly evident in our language. Every aspect of our imagination physical in nature. It is fitting that, when discussing material circumstances, one should use material language. For instance, “that dog is sitting under the tree.” That statement can be a literal expression of a matter of fact. However, while it may feel intuitive, the same material language is used to express abstract concepts. For instance, “The prospect of war weighs heavy on my heart.” In this case, “the prospect of war” is immaterial and possesses no weight as a result. Additionally, one’s heart is unaffected by some immaterial state of affairs external to the person in whose chest it resides. I do not mean to claim that the above statement is devoid of meaning or veracity, but wish to illustrate the metaphorical nature in which we express immaterial concepts. While I lack the space and attention span to enumerate the various metaphorical uses of material language in the style of Wittgenstein, I contend that there is no instance of using language in a literal and comprehensible manner when expressing an immaterial state of affairs.

Upon brief inspection, I see three common uses of embodied language as referencing phenomena metaphorically. Firstly, it is used with regards to invisible material things, many of which we see the effects of but never the things themselves. Secondly, it is used with regards to metaphysical or spiritual12 entities. Thirdly, we employ embodied language with regards to ontological, or divine, concepts13. It would be prudent to, at least exemplify each of these categories and the relationships between them.

Many will object to me asserting that we use embodied language with regards to material objects metaphorically. “Of course we use material language when speaking of material things!” they say, “why would it be a metaphorical use?” With some invisible material things, like most gasses or electrical currents, metaphorical language in unnecessary; it is literally the case that air can push, pull, heat, or cool things as well as electric currents14 and the like. However, in the case of more esoteric fields such as particle physics or quantum mechanics, we do use physical language metaphorically. A couple easy examples would be the “color” of quarks or the “spin” of particles. Quarks are too small to be directly perceived by way of light and color, but the choice of “colors” provide certain useful conceptual assumptions based on our knowledge of actual colors. The same type of metaphor applies to the “spin” of particles, providing those that study and discuss these things with applicable and comprehendable language to do so even if the terms are literally meaningless is such a context.

Admittedly, I have not yet allowed metaphysical or ontological existants15 into this framework but that doesn’t disallow this analysis of language to enter into our discussion. Even if such immaterial things do not actually exist, we still speak of them and the manner in which we speak of them is indicative of the point I am making presently. Metaphysical entities, such as the principles of logic which were discussed earlier or the fundamental laws of physics, are frequently discussed in the language of math or logic; however, they are frequently expressed in physical language in order to make it practically useful. In the case of a particle’s “spin”, quantum particles travel along vectors as if they have angular momentum, like a spinning object, despite not necessarily spinning. Additionally, in the case of non physical narratives, whether fictional or real, such as dreams, out-of-body experiences, revelations, ghosts, angels, etc. are expressed in physical metaphor. An easy example would be the common narrative which occurs in reports of out-of-body experiences, “I was outside my body, kind of floating above it. I was there, but I wasn’t; I could see everything, but not like one does with their eyes. I was also in the next room over and still inside my body at the same time. I could see a long, dark tunnel, but it wasn’t really there, with a light at the end.” The only intelligible manner in which we embodied creatures can describe a circumstance which was clearly non-spatial and non-bodily is by use of spatial and visual language in an approximate metaphor.

Before we discuss ontolocal language, we must first define “ontology”. Ontology, as it is frequently used, is typically assumed to mean “the philosophy of hierarchy” or “the study of existants”. In my usage, ontology is best defined as “the philosophy of that which precedes physics and metaphysics”. This means that there are ontological commitments inherent within the fields of physics and metaphysics which, themselves, require investigation. These commitments typically involve the status of things as either existing or not, the relationships and nature of substances and logical principles.

As one can assume from the above definition, ontological language tends to be complex and ambiguous at times. This area of study tends to involve exclusively mathematical concepts, the nature of eternity/infinity, discussions pertaining to God, and ideas16. Not one of the things on that list are material or sensual things. Typically, in the case of God, anthropomorphic language has become so prevalent so as to make caricatures of the actual concepts themselves (ie. God is a bearded angry old man in the sky who smites people for petty acts of impoliteness.) Not one of those terms are easily applicable to ontology, let alone accurate metaphorical language for ontological concepts. However, this gross abuse of language does not detract from the fact that the only way a human can grasp such concepts as infinity, especially when attempting to avoid instantiating an infinite17, is through metaphorical use of embodied language.

Additionally, we, as (apparently) willing creatures, tend to use mindful language to express the behavior of non-willing and/or necessary beings. Where we may have refined our language in physics since Empedocles, “Things fall because like things desire to be proximate to like things,”18 we certainly still fall into this trap. Again, it is most common in the more esoteric areas of physics and in ontological discussions, such as particles “seeking out each other” or being “entangled” despite lacking a will or an actual entangling medium. That doesn’t change he fact that we use a language that is limited to embodied experience as a metaphor for more advanced concepts.

There is yet another likely mistake that one can make in reading this chapter. That mistake would be assuming that I am conflating the mind with the body (or the brain). I will not make a case to either materialism, idealism, or substance dualism here. Instead, I intend to explore the manner in which we express such concepts linguistically.

One of the most interesting cases of language operating in an unexpected manner is with regards to the self. For example, phrases commonly used are “my body”, “my mind”, “my soul”, and “my self”. We speak of certain aspects of ourselves in the same manner we would speak of our property; “my car”, “my robot slave”, etc. This linguistic phenomenon implies two things. Firstly, it implies that one’s mind, body, soul, self, and property are each distinct entities which are not reducible to one or the other. Additionally, it implies that what exactly an individual is is either an amalgamation of the above listed possessives, or something radically distinct from them.

We will address the question of what exact relationship the mind and body have, whether they are the same thing, one reduced to the other, or as two distinct and intermarried elements, later in this book19. The additional question of what, precisely, the individual is will be addressed briefly, but it will require far more space and time in order to reach a meaningful answer than I have available in this work. It will also require more intermediary steps than the mere twenty needed to discuss the mind-body problem. For now, it will suffice to merely express the manner in which our mind is embodied, practically speaking.

For fear of being accused of making the same mistake that Nietzsche made,20 I feel compelled to leave a disclaimer at the end of this chapter. I recognize that being a young American, my sole focus in this chapter is the way an individual thinks and speaks in American English. However, I believe, based on my limited grasp of Latin and Japanese as well as my exposure to Hebrew, Greek, and Spanish, this argument still obtains in some manner or another in every human language, with some slight modifications.

95 Theses

1Ch1, “Epistemic Assumptions”

2 Pieper pg 139

3Reason

4 Pieper 139

Also, Thesis #22

5Pertaining to the senses

6A state of epistemic affairs where one in incapable of being wrong

7Russell, Problems of Philosophy chapter 6

8 citation

9Something that simply exists without the possibility of explanation

10Russell ch 7

11The discussion between Thrasymachus and Socrates in Plato’s Republic (Book one, Chapter one) is an easy example.

12 I am not equivocating the two, mind you

13 In this case, the two may at times be equivocated

14Also, electromagnetism

15Simply defined, “a thing which exists”

16 Not to mention imaginary things like unicorns and free national healthcare

17For an introductory example of this type of reasoning, I recommend reading “The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy”.

18Aristotle attributes such a claim to Empedocles in his work De Anima

19 Chapters 8 & 9

20Namely, being a philologist instead of something a little more… real.

Philosophy Reading Lists

Intro To Philosophy Reading List

A few people have asked me to compile some sort of list of philosophical texts directed at teaching philosophy to someone who has had little or no exposure to philosophy, academic or otherwise. Some of the requests were for a list that would teach someone how to do philosophy, while the other request was directed less at learning how to do philosophy and more directed at simply getting a survey of the ideas that were out there. As such, I’ve created two lists which, admittedly, are very similar. Each one has twelve entries so that one could, theoretically, complete the list in one year. Some of the texts are definitely longer than a month’s worth of reading, though, and a few are shorter than what one could conceivably read in one month, so it’s more a game of averages and desires than it is any hard-and-fast rules.

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Method List:

This list is directed at learning the methods and tool-set of philosophy. I arranged the texts in an order such that they build on each other, so I suggest moving through them in sequential order. All of the links below will send you to amazon to purchase a hardcopy of the book, but nearly every one of these books can be found in some format or another for free on the internet. I prefer to have a physical copy when reading philosophy, so I can highlight text, make annotations in the margins and mark pages with sticky notes. It’s a much more visceral experience that way, and I find it easier to review old notes when using a physical copy than a softcopy.

  1. Philosophy in 7 Sentences ~ Douglas Groothuis: This book, as you will see, is the only piece of secondary literature on the list (Except for maybe the Kreeft book, it gets fuzzy when one is discussing the Bible). I largely dislike reading secondary literature first. I prefer to read the original text and then secondary literature if I need assistance in interpreting the context of meaning of the original text.
    In the case of Groothuis’ book, though, I really feel that it gives an excellent overview of the history of philosophy and the methods of doing philosophy while not trying to encompass everything. It’s an excellent work to cut one’s philosophical teeth on and prepare them for the labor that is to come next.
  2. Prior Analytics ~ Aristotle: Aristotle, in my mind, is really the first systematic philosopher. Sure, Socrates, Plato, and their contemporaries did philosophy, but none did as well as Aristotle in building an entire systematized methodology which encompassed just about every area of the intellectual life of man. In most cases, he was tragically ill-informed but, regardless, he is the one that got systematic philosophy off the ground.
    One of the areas that he was largely correct in, though, was his approach to what the medieval philosophers called the Trivium. In reading the Prior Analytics, one should get a feel for both how dense and dry philosophical texts can be while also getting a solid basis in the methods of reason. Don’t worry, Aristotle will be, by far and away, the most difficult read on this list, so it’s all downhill from here.
  3. Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences ~ Rene Descartes: Usually, people just call it “Discourse on the Method”. Most Philosophy 101 classes will read Descartes’ Meditations, which isn’t a bad idea; it’s a fun read and it has both an argument for the existence of God in it as well as a general exercise in the methods of skepticism. However, the Meditations draw nearly all of it’s ability to perform heavy-lifting from Descartes’ Discourse on the Method. Since this list is designed to turn you into a philosopher in about a year or so, it would make sense to go for the meatier text and let you read Meditations on your own time, for aesthetic enjoyment.
  4. Problems of Philosophy ~ Bertrand Russell: This book is another one that can be a bit dense. Russel is largely credited with the creation of modern logic and, upon reading his works, it’s easy to see why. In “Problems of Philosophy”, he addresses certain issues with logic and epistemology which still bother modern philosophers. It made the list because it further demonstrates the methods of philosophy while also giving the reader some things to think about and ponder while away from one’s books.
  5. Conjectures and Refutations ~ Karl Popper: This is the biggest book on the list so far, and if one is crunched for time, it may work out to confine oneself to secondary or tertiary sources on the material… such as podcast episodes or something akin to a sparks notes. The book was dedicated to F.A von Hayek, who only barely didn’t make the list, being usurped by his students, it’s no wonder, then, that this book should make the list; about 500 pages long, it covers a wide swath of epistemology and philosophy of science in a way that is categorically applicable to philosophy as a whole. It was a strong influence in my understanding of both the scientific method as well as the general methods of reason. It was also a key stepping stone in my road to liberty, despite things like liberty being little more than a side-note to the general thrust of the text.
  6. Symposium ~ Plato: After so much epistemology and logic, not to mention the density of the texts presented, it may be a relief to read something a little less involved and more entertaining. Plato’s Symposium explores a fun scene in which a bunch of Athenian celebrities get together, drink heavily, and discuss the nature of love. While there are some wild theories and mythologies presented in the story, the characters are clearly doing two things in the story. Firstly, they are showing the “right ways” and “wrong ways” of doing philosophy, as well as showing what type of personality is like to emerge from what philosophy (or vice versa). There are a lot of good secondary sources and a lot of bad secondary sources. I recommend reading the text first and, if one is interested in learning all the little nuances in the text, traveling down the rabbit-hole of secondary sources.
  7. An Absurd Reasoning and The Myth of Sisyphus ~ Albert Camus: Almost as fun as the Symposium, we now explore existentialist philosophy. Camus really was the arch-existentialist, and the two texts that seem to have the most philosophical eight to them would be An Absurd Reasoning and The Myth of Sisyphus. While there were some great novels and plays written by existentialists and I recommend reading them, this list is intended to give my reader tools with which to do philosophy on her own. I think these two essays most effectively encapsulate existentialism in as small a package as possible.
  8. Genealogy of Morals ~ Nietzsche: While not as widely read as other works by Nietzsche, the Genealogy of Morals serves as both a historical work as well as an account for ethics in philosophy and culture. If you haven’t had your feathers ruffled yet, I doubt this text will be as controversial to you as many people seem to expect it to be. Also of note: this, coupled with the above mentioned existentialist text, is a good example of what is known as “Continental Philosophy”, which stands in contrast to Russel, Descartes, Popper, and Groothuis who are members of “Analytic Philosophy”. If one enjoys the rigor and argumentation of the Analytics more, one is probably an analytic. If one enjoys the more narrative and freewheeling style of the Continentals, one is likely a continental. Of course, I write and think like an Analytic, but I enjoy reading continental philosophy much more than I do the Analytics.
  9. Enchiridion (Manual of Epictetus) ~ Epictetus: Back to the Ancients, we explore stoic philosophy, which I think demonstrates both the practical applications of philosophy in daily life as well as giving any individual a useful tool-set for conducting one’s affairs. The main two reasons for this text winding up on the list is because 1) the name is awesome and 2) Stoicism is one of the longest-lived philosophical traditions which is consistently applied to daily life.
  10. Book One of Science of Logic ~ Georg Hegel: I would suggest reading the entire work, but it far surpasses even that of Popper in page count. Most modern continental philosophers are some variation of Hegelian or Marxist philosopher. This is because Hegel was a key figure to the systematization of Continental philosophy in addition to being prolific and provocative. Marx was indirectly taught be Hegel and nearly all of his ideas were lifted directly from Hegel. So, rather than suggesting the Communist Manifesto or some other derivative work, I wanted to go straight to the source. Especially since Hegel’s conception of Being and Nothingness is quite novel and interesting to entertain, I recommend reading the first book of The Science of Logic which covers the nature of Being and Nothing.
  11. Human Action ~ Ludvig Von Mises OR Man Economy and State ~ Murray Rothbard: I proffered both texts, because they each have something to offer. I find Human Action to be more detailed and better arranged, in the spirit of Analytic Philosophy. Man, Economy, and State is just as long, but it is written in a manner that makes it a quicker read and it has been updated to include some more modern discoveries in the field of praxeology (the study of human action). Both Mises and Rothbard were students of Hayek, and they both present a profound understanding of the human condition and the emergent properties of individual human actions in society at large. I know these books are about 900 pages long, but they will so radically alter the way you see the world that there will be no going back. This is the proverbial Red Pill; it’s hard to swallow, but once you do, you’ll become enlightened. Really, all the other texts on this list are simply there to help the reader develop the appropriate tool-set and methodology to be able to fully comprehend either of these texts.
  12. Three Philosophies of Life ~ Peter Kreeft: After such a beast as Human Action, I thought a nice little book that’s totally unrelated to praxeology or analytic philosophy would be in order. Instead, this is a short work which applies certain hermeneutical tools to the Bible, demonstrating how one could appropriately apply the philosophical mindset to issues such as faith and spirituality. It serves as a nice bookend to a list that starts with Groothuis, another modern religious philosopher.
  13. Extra Credit Mad Philosopher 2015: I doubt this book needs much more introduction than it has already had.

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Survey List:

This list clearly got less attention than the above one when it comes to explaining the selections of the text. As above, you can probably find these texts for free on the internet, but it would likely be better to get them from Amazon. If you choose to do so, please use my link, as I get a few pennies for every purchase made through my link. I use those funds to pay for the site hosting and such. This list is directed at giving someone a general knowledge of the philosophical ideas that have been floating around throughout history in a manner that is important to understanding modern culture.

  1. Plato’s Republic

  2. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

  3. Abelard’s “Ethics” and “Dialogue Between Philosopher, a Jew and a Christian”

  4. Descartes’ Meditations

  5. Hobbes’ Leviathan

  6. Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

  7. Marx’ Das Kapital

  8. Russel’s History of Philosophy

  9. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (OR Phenomenology of Spirit)

  10. Neitzche’s The Gay Science

  11. Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State

  12. Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations

Just Another Friendly Argument 1: Dan

 

Discussing:

Water rights, the tragedy of the commons, cost-benefit analysis,(im)migration, how I may very well be incorrect, muh roads/highways, competition between railroads and highways, ethics vs economic utility and government vs individuals, cardinal vs ordinal values, ethics vs. morals and “thou shalt not murder”, evolutionary biology/psychology, Sustainability in human action, Zomia and the nature of History, Transgender restrooms and democracy, the psychology of voting, the housing crisis, Keynesian economics and my communist roots, Trump-flavored cancer, mass extinction, labor prices and economic growth, minimum wage and education.

This is an audio-only post, and I expect that (provided this becomes a recurring segment) it will remain audio-only.  It’s a little bit longer than most podcasts, but I hope you enjoy it.  As always, I crave feedback, so let me know what you think, so I can do a better job.

Carpe Veritas,

Mad Philosopher

Chapter 1: Epistemic Assumptions

Chapter 1: Epistemic Assumptions

Thesis #1: One is solely informed by experience

“We must, as in all other cases, set the apparent facts before us and, after first discussing the difficulties, go on to prove, if possible, the truth of all the common opinions about these affections of the mind, or, failing this, of the grater number and the most authoritative; for if we resolve both the difficulties and leave the common opinions undisturbed, we shall have proved the case sufficiently.”1 As a read through the canon of philosophy2 will evidence, there is a long-standing tradition of beginning with and stating atomic, self-apparent, facts followed by exploring the ramifications of accepting those facts. While some philosophers may begin with assumptions more apparent and verifiable than others, it remains the case that all worldviews are predicated on basic assertions which are made by the one (or group) which crafted said worldview.

This assertion is, itself, a self-apparent truth. There is no real way to prove that all reason is derived from immediate facts, only to disprove it. The principle of non-contradiction is one such principle: a thing cannot both be and not be in the same mode at the same time3. There is no way to conclusively prove this to be the case, but it is the foundation of all our reasoning. I assert that any example that could be presented contrary to this claim is either simply a convoluted example of my assertion or is an exercise in irrationality and absurdity4. I will choose to arbitrarily select one out of all the available examples of a beginning paradigm which attempts to circumvent this reality. A common line of reason in modern American society is the claim that “There exist, among men, a large percentage of bad actors who harm others. We wish to be protected from bad actors. Therefore we must place men in positions of authority over other men in order to protect them from bad actors.”5. Of course, in this case, there will undoubtedly be bad actors introduced into the aforementioned positions of authority, amplifying rather than mitigating the negative effects of bad actors in society.6 This is one of innumerable examples which demonstrate the impossibility of escaping the paradigm I have presented.

As can be assumed, these self-apparent facts are apparent only through the experience of the one to which the fact is apparent. Each of these (and all subsequent) experiential facts are, themselves, informed solely by experience. Even the most extremely outlandish claims to the reception of knowledge, like divine revelation or telepathy, are in their own way experiential. Ignoring whether or not it is possible or likely that one can have a vision or spontaneously altered awareness which is factual or true, what is guaranteed to be the case is that those who honestly make this claim have had an experience of such which has informed their worldview.

Reason, then, as the faculty by which one can analyze and make judgments about one’s environment, is ultimately derived from experience7. The experience of fundamental principles, like the PNC, allows one to generate the praxis8 of reason. By using the tools and flexing the muscles of the mind, one can begin to develop the faculty of reason.

Thesis #2: Reason dictates one’s understanding of the universe

One without reason, like an animal, exists in a perpetual cycle of stimulus and response. No different than a complex computer program, the sum of all an animal’s behaviors is dictated by a genetic, instinctual, rubric by which an animal eats when it is hungry, mates when it is fertile, and flees predators when threatened. Every nuance in their behavior is simply a property of their programming. This can lead to amusing circumstances when an animal’s conditioning is no longer appropriate for their environment, such as dogs refusing to walk through doorways due to certain cues which lead them to believe the door is closed or Andrew Jackson’s parrot swearing so profusely it must be removed from its owner’s funeral9. These amusing behaviors, though, are prime indicators as to the lack of a key characteristic which makes man unique from the animals: reason.

Both man and animals have experiences: certain events as perceived through the senses. However, man has the unique experience of experiencing that he is experiencing. In other words, “We are not only aware of things, but we are often aware of being aware of them. When I see the sun, I am often aware of my seeing the sun; thus ‘my seeing the sun’ is an object with which I have acquaintance.”10 Experience, itself, is clearly not sufficient, then, to be considered reason or a source of reason. Experience, as the animals have it (animal experience as I will refer to it), is little more than a sensational input to an organic calculator which produces a result. That result, even, is no more than an action of the body which, in turn, generates further sensational input. This cycle simply repeats itself thousands of times per minute, millions of minutes in succession, until the animal dies. The experience of man (or just “experience”, as I will call it), however, is different.

Man still experiences via the senses, but there is a slightly more complex process in operation after that initial sense experience. If a man is still in his infancy, is drunk, caught sufficiently off-guard, is mentally disabled, or is one of my critics (or is any combination of the above), it is incredibly likely that they will have a form of animal experience by which reason doesn’t enter the picture until some time after an instinctual and automatic response takes place. Even though that may be the case, there will be an opportunity later to reflect on the experience and interpret it as one wishes (though, at times, that opportunity is ignored). More commonly, an individual has the opportunity to process sense perceptions with a rational mindset, deliberating whether he should say a particular sentence or another while on a date, for example.

In this example of a date, one, we will name him Mike, can draw on experiences from the past to inform the present choice. Upon reflecting how poorly his last date went, Mike may opt to avoid describing in graphic detail what it feels like to shoot oneself in the leg over a veal entree… at least on the first date. This is an example of how one’s understanding is a direct result of one’s internal narrative. After experiencing the horror and disappointment of a first date ending abruptly and with no prospects of a second, Mike would have the rational faculty to reminisce over the experience in order to find a way to succeed in the future. Having reached an understanding that such behavior is not conducive to a successful date, he can choose to avoid that behavior in the future. This applies in all circumstances besides the aforementioned date. If, say, Mike were to decide to read this book, after reading a miserable and arrogant introduction, he may come to an understanding that this book is not worth it and return to watching football never to read philosophy again (that sorry bastard).

Of course, it is possible that one’s interpretation of an experience can be flawed. In the case of Mike, it’s possible that his earlier failed date had less to do with his choice of conversation and more to do with the fact that his would-be girlfriend was a vegan with a touch of Ebola. In the case of his current date, it is distinctly possible that his current would-be girlfriend is a red-blooded anarchist meat-eater who listens to Cannibal Corpse songs when she eats dinner at home. By misinterpreting previous experiences, Mike is going to spoil his chances with a real keeper. For this reason, I find it necessary to delineate between one’s subjective understanding of particular instances, which may or may not be inaccurate, and one’s faculty of understanding.

Thesis #3: One’s understanding of the universe dictates one’s behavior

As we addressed when discussing the differences between animal experience and actual experience, man behaves in a manner distinct from animals. Due to man’s faculty of reason, understanding and justification are elements which interject themselves between the phenomena of stimulus and response. In any instance of stimulus, a man must choose to assent to the stimulus and choose to respond. In the case of Mike, while reading my book, he would be exposed to the stimuli of mind-expansion, intellectual challenge, existential intrigue, and more. Being unaccustomed to such stimuli, our example, while incredulous of the stimuli, assents and then chooses to cease to read and retreat to the comforts of the familiar simulated manhood of football. In the case of a dog, however, whatever new stimuli it is exposed to are immediately either perceived through the filter of instinct or disregarded outright, much like a blind man being the recipient of a silent and rude gesture. As that stimuli is perceived, the dog’s instinct causes it to behave in one manner or another. For instance, being of domesticated genetic stock and trained to assist his blind owner in particular ways, he may maul the one performing the rude gesture, with no rational process involved, merely organic calculation.

This difference, however, does not mean that man is devoid of animal experience or instinct. As mentioned before, under certain circumstances, man can behave in a manner consistent with animal experience. As a matter of fact, it is the case that instinct may play, at a minimum, as much as half of the role in man’s experience and understanding. Man is clearly not the “tabula rasa” of Avicenna and Locke11. As I have asserted, the faculty of reason is inborn. Evidence exists to support my claim in that infants instinctively act on stimuli in order to feed, cry, swim, and flail their limbs; there are also contemporary scientific claims that the brain operates as an organic calculator, the evidence of this also exists in the behavior and brain structure of infants. Additionally, evolutionary psychologists have observed similar phenomena in grown adults concerning phobias, pain reactions, sexual attraction and many other areas of the human experience. As will be addressed later in this book, it is even possible that this rational faculty my argument hinges so heavily on is, in fact, nothing more than a uniquely complex form of animal experience12. Until such a time that I do address such claims, though, we will continue to operate under the belief that rationality exists per se.

Understanding and habituation, then, drastically impact one’s behavior because they are the medium by which one’s experience informs and dictates one’s behavior. Through experience of particular sensations, and the application of reason to those sensations, man can come to understand his environment. Through application of reason to any given circumstance of stimuli, he can then choose an action understood to be most appropriate in any circumstance. Habituation, additionally, impacts man through the instinctual inclination to maintain a certain consistency in one’s actions. In the case of Mike, this would result in choosing to watch sports over reading philosophy.

Thesis #4: The epistemic and phenomenological endeavors of philosophy (and, by extension, certain areas of physics which pertain to the human experience) are crucial to one’s understanding of the universe and one’s resultant behavior.

In choosing to watch sports rather than read philosophy, Mike is attempting to avoid the discomfort of a new experience for which he is ill-equipped. However, in avoiding that experience, Mike is attempting to shirk his need to engage in public discourse and exposure to culture. Whether or not he succeeds in such an endeavor is less important to us now than what such an experience represents. The experiences of public discourse and culture are key experiences which inform one’s understanding and behavior. Our example in the introduction to this book concerning the need for communication and language is a prime example of the fundamentals of public discourse and culture. “This mushroom bad,” clearly establishes certain cultural norms as well as informing one’s attitudes towards certain concepts. In the case of Mike, it could be a friend coaching him with dating advice or beer commercials during the football game altering his expectations of his date. If he had read my book, Mike would be more likely to succeed in his date, having better equipped himself with a tool set for working with the human condition.

These tools have been graciously provided for us through the long-standing traditions of philosophy, most notable in this instance would be epistemology and phenomenology. Through the study of knowledge and how man acquires knowledge13 and experiences and how man feels what he does,14 philosophy can aid significantly in one’s quest for understanding what and how he knows what he does and how to influence those around him. Most of what has been written in this chapter is lifted directly from discussions I have had regarding various works in epistemology and phenomenology. In this regard, I believe this work is a paradigm example of the assertion made, that one of the most crucial kinds of experience for the formation of one’s understanding is one of a social and philosophical nature.

A strong cultural and public formation of one’s understanding is crucial because a well-informed understanding can ultimately provide maximal utility to an individual and society15 whereas a poorly-informed understanding can effectively cripple one’s ability to develop their rational faculties or provide much utility to themselves or others. As was mentioned earlier, one’s subjective, personal understanding can be flawed. Some merely make a small error in their reasoning while others may be mentally disabled by either material means or due to a cripplingly misinformed understanding. The strongest influence to both the possibilities of an accurate understanding or mental disability is that public influence on the individual. As discussed in the intro, when done correctly, philosophy creates the circumstances most conducive to a well-informed worldview.

In this way, we see that one is solely informed by personal experience. That experience allows one do develop inherent faculties such as reason. Reason, in turn, allows one to analyze one’s experiences and engage one’s culture. This analysis generates an understanding and worldview within the individual, which also has a bearing on one’s habits as well. This understanding is the premise on which one makes a decision regarding how to behave in any given circumstance. As forming an accurate worldview is crucial to one’s successes, philosophy (the strongest candidate in this regard) is crucial to forming said worldview.

95 Theses

1Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Oxford World’s Classics) p.118

2The widely accepted list of “most significant philosophers to-date”.

3We will explore the Principle of Non-Contradiction, or the PNC, more thoroughly in chapter 3: Orders of Knowledge.

4A claim which is logically self defeating, whose conclusions deny the very premises on which it is built.

5This is an example of how Philosophies written in the mid-17th century (Hobbes’ Leviathan) have percolated though the social consciousness for centuries and are no longer questioned.

6Additional examples and further exploration of absurdity can be found in Hobbes’ Leviathan, chapter 5.

7The next chapter will explore this concept more fully.

8The method by which one, through either experience or theoretical knowledge (“knowledge that”), can develop practical, active knowledge (“knowledge how”).

9 Volume 3 of Samuel G. Heiskell’s Andrew Jackson and Early Tennessee History

10“Problems of Philosophy” Bertrand Russell ch.5

11“Tabula rasa” refers to a “scraped tablet” or “blank slate”, evoking a description of the mind in which there is initially no knowledge or activity whatsoever.

12In Chapter 2: “The Embodied Mind”

13epistemology

14phenomenology

15In this case, I’m using the term “utility” in a very loose way. The best definition of “utility”, though, would be, “the capacity for a thing to provide or contribute to one’s flourishing.”

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

In 1969, two significant libertarians wrote articles for the Libertarian Forum Volume 1. One Karl Hess published a list of questions he felt needed concrete answers from the libertarian community and Murray Rothbard dutifully stepped up to the plate and answered those questions from a principled, pragmatic, and economically-minded stance. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, though, this work of Rothbard’s has been excised from the libertarian consciousness and left to the AnComs to champion.

Rothbard is widely recognized as the arch-AnCap and rightly so. Without too much geeking out, I want it to be known that Rothbard, with nothing but a pen, brain, and lectures, has done more for humanity’s sake than nearly any other individual. Of course, he used that brain, pen, and lecturing gig towards such an end for fifty-or-so years and, understandably, made some mistakes along the way. The most significant of those mistakes, which he admitted to being an unmitigated disaster , was the time he spent on the political left.

Between the left-friendly rhetoric and the apparent inability for most to contextualize and dispassionately read material, “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle” has gone overlooked despite its presentation of what amounts to, simultaneously, the most principled and most actionable solution concerning the problem of de-socializing state property. Admittedly, this is not entirely Rothbard’s fault, as he was answering the questions of Mr. Hess, a bleeding-heart liberal lacking any solid grasp of libertarianism’s philosophical commitments. Instead of shredding Hess’ article for it’s numerous errors, though, Rothbard attempted to address it on its own terms.

Hess was clearly unaware of the inherent “right-wing” nature of libertarianism/anarchism, openly denigrating “the right” in favor for “left-libertarian” (AKA Marxist) presumptions. The most philosophically criminal of which being his overturning of the ontological hierarchy of human activities, claiming that conceptions of rights and property are derived from some goal of human activity as opposed to the other way around. Such an argument is nothing short of a performative contradiction. Additionally, he lifts openly Marxist revolutionary rhetoric and terminology while also demanding that specifics be given concerning environmental agendas, the revolutionary takeover of General Motors, and egalitarian nonsense such as racially-motivated “reparations” programs in the context of libertarianism.

Given the stage of development Rothbard was at and the stage set by Hess, it isn’t surprising how Marxist Rothbard’s response sounds. Despite all the garbage concerning answers to Hess’ stupid questions, Rothbard still produced a gem which demands legitimate attention. Instead of doing what Rothbard ought to have done and devoting my energy to destroying Hess, what I want to do here is mine out the gem Rothbard created using his later, more AnCap material to inform this activity.

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

It can be taken for granted in anarchist circles that the dichotomy most central to libertarian discourse is that between the state (socialists) and the individual (anarchists). Another, less equivocal, way to name that dichotomy would be that between the criminal (outlaw) and the non-criminal. In order to appropriately understand this dichotomy, one must first come to an appropriate, if basic, understanding of property.

In the tradition of John Locke, property comes into being by way of homesteading. The simplest conception of homesteading is that unowned property enters into private ownership by virtue of an individual investing one’s own property into it, whether it be labor or materials or by way of occupying or otherwise adding value to it. After a certain property is homesteaded, it can easily pass from one owner to another by way of voluntary trade or donation. This is the basis of all forms of human interaction and that which is commonly referred to as “rights”.

For the sake of clarity, a definition of “property” ought to be proffered here. I use the term to mean “any discrete object to which one has access, control over, and a legitimate claim by virtue of homestead or acquisition from the previous owner with the owner’s assent”. Incidentally, I’ve also addressed the concept of “theft” as applies to property before, and recommend that others read the post centered on the issue. In lieu of reading the whole post, one should at least be aware that theft, in this conception, is the unauthorized use, consumption, or acquisition of another’s property.

In such a case that one steals another’s property, one is engaged in crime and is, therefore, deserving of the title and status of “outlaw”. The unfortunate etymology of the term notwithstanding, all it means is that one such individual is not likely to be welcome in polite, cooperative society, so much so that they are likely to, themselves, have property taken from them and be the recipient of violence. Ideally, this circumstance would lead to the outlaw seeking reconciliation with his victims, making the victim whole. Even if reconciliation is impossible, it would still be morally and economically preferable for the outlaw’s stolen property to be confiscated by literally any private individual who can invest it back into cooperative society. Not only should the stolen property be re-appropriated by the market, but also any (formerly) legitimate property belonging to the outlaw which was utilized for that theft.

The clear example of this principle would be a back-alley mugging. Say I take a shortcut down the wrong alley in Denver and find myself held at gunpoint. My assailant demands my wallet. For the sake of discussion, I either hand over my wallet or have it forced from me. It would clearly be justified if I were to promptly re-appropriate my wallet from him. Not only would it be tactically sound, but it would also be morally justified for me to confiscate his firearm and maybe even his getaway vehicle as well. If I am overpowered and some honorable bystander witnesses this event, he would be equally justified in intervening and doing so on my behalf.

This action is preferable and just for three reasons. Firstly, it makes the victim of a crime closer to being made whole and increases the opportunity for justice to take place. Secondly, it decreases the opportunity of the outlaw to continue committing crimes. Thirdly, it sends a market signal that there are externalities and risks associated with committing crimes, thereby reducing the likelihood of others taking such a course of action.

A crime which has only recently been acknowledged as such, historically speaking, is that of slavery. Ultimately, slavery is little more than institutionalized coercion and theft. The (largely fictional) account of slavery in the American South is an easy example of this reality: individuals compelled by the use of force to perform tasks and refrain from others while also being robbed of the fruits of their labor. This description may sound reductionist, but no one could argue that it is not the heart of the matter. The only change that may be warranted would be the addition of some description of scale, but that is superfluous to this discussion.

Given the above description of homesteading, theft, and confiscation along with the popular sentiment concerning slavery, I imagine it would be largely non-controversial to claim that a slave rebellion in such a climate would be morally justified. At a minimum, one who believes the American Revolution was justified would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of a slave rebellion in the South.

Such a fictional rebellion could take several forms. One, unfortunately impractical, instance would be an entire plantation or county witnessing its slave populations simply standing tall and walking off the plantation. I imagine most can see why that would be impossible; given the surrounding environment, it would likely turn out much like emancipation really did. More likely to succeed and more in-line with the first part of this post would be the confiscation or re-homestead of the plantations. Rather than remaining complicit with their slavery (horizontal enforcement, complying with orders, etc.), the slaves could act in self-defense, thereby exiling or executing their masters and confiscating or re-homesteading the products of their forced labor and the instruments by which that theft occurred.

This is where Rothbard’s application of the homestead principle comes into play. How ought the slave re-appropriate the plantation? What options are available? By way of the nature of homesteading, each slave who remains on the plantation and continues to work would naturally come into ownership of his tools and the immediate fruits of his labor. While the theory is simple and broad, the application could be messy and case-specific.

One possibility would be an extreme individualist approach, whereby the individual plants on the plantation would be divided among the farmhands while the individual household appliances and rooms would be divided among the house servants and a micro-economy could emerge whereby the cooks could prepare meals in exchange for the fruits of the field and as rent for staying in the house… but this solution is likely to result in friction: petty squabbles over bits and pieces of the plantation and personal disputes.

An other option would be to collectivize ownership of the plantation whereby a communist micro-state could be formed. Each former slave would continue doing the very things they were before the rebellion, only replacing the masters’ directions with weekly meetings to determine how the plantation ought to be run. Presumably, these meetings would also serve to manage how wealth ought to be distributed amongst the former slaves who choose to stay. Of course, this solution looks far too similar to an Orwell novel and is likely to go as well as the Bolshevik revolution.

A more likely to succeed option would be a sort of middle-ground by which the confiscated plantation would be incorporated, for lack of a more accurate term. It would take a certain degree of commitment and foresight, but the former slaves could divide the plantation into a number of shares equal to the number of remaining former slaves, essentially granting virtual ownership of the plantation to those who re-homesteaded it. This creates an economic incentive to remain and invest labor and play nice with others in order to increase the value of the shares one owns in the plantation. Such activities would increase the dividends and resale value of the share as well as increasing the security of one’s livelihood. However, if one desired to leave, they could, using the dividends or resale of the share to serve as compensation for one’s participation in the labor and rebellion preceding his departure.

Admittedly, this is all hypothetical. To my knowledge, no such rebellion occurred in actual history, which leads me to believe that slavery, writ large, wasn’t as bad as I was told in elementary school. Even so, I only presented three out of a literal infinitude of resolutions of a slave rebellion. Given my more pessimistic views of human genetics, the most likely outcome would be something similar to that which exists in sub-Saharan Africa as opposed to Iceland. However, this hypothetical would be far more likely to end well in the following example.

Before moving further, it is important to draw attention to the basics of this hypothetical. The justification for and the means of achieving this slave rebellion is a combination of self-defense and confiscation in conjunction with the homestead principle, as indicated at the beginning of this post. Self-defense from criminal acts is eminently justifiable, this applies to theft and coercion and, therefore, to slavery. In the case of self-defense, confiscation of the implements of crime-in-progress as well as stolen property is justified as well. Stolen property is, in practice, unowned due to the outlaw effect and the lack of legitimate claim in conjunction with access to the property. Even if that weren’t the case, an executed or exiled criminal’s former property (legitimate or otherwise) is effectively unowned and, therefore, open to homestead.

With this argument in mind, we turn our attention to other instances of slavery. Most widespread, historically and today, is the case of slavery known as the state. By way of regulation, taxation, enforcement, and other euphemistically-named criminal activities, the state coerces specific behaviors, steals and destroys property, and engages in all manner of murderous, coercive, and thieving activities. It is impossible to define slavery in a manner consistent with its historical referents while excluding government in a manner consistent with its historical referents. In Rothbard’s words, “The state is a giant gang of organized criminals, who live off the theft called ‘taxation’ and use the proceeds to kill, enslave, and generally push people around.”

In the case of state-slavery “All taxpayers, all draftees, all victims of the State have been mulcted… Any person or group who liberates such property, who confiscates or appropriates it from the State, is performing a virtuous act and a signal service to the cause of liberty.” In the spirit of the earlier example, “How to go about returning all this property to the taxpayers? What proportions should be used in this terrific tangle of robbery and injustice that we have all suffered at the hands of the State? Often, the most practical method of de-statizing is simply to grant the moral right of ownership on the person or group who seizes the property from the State. Of this group, the most morally deserving are the ones who are already using the property but who have no moral complicity in the State’s act of aggression. These people then become the “homesteaders” of the stolen property and hence the rightful owners.”

The specific examples are largely straightforward: police can take their armor, guns, and vehicles home and take advantage of a sudden demand for private security personnel in the absence of the state. Lawyers and judges can establish arbitration firms. Educators can take control of the facilities and implements of education and continue to teach in a competitive market. Those currently providing non-marketable “services”, such as DMV employees, bureaucrats, union thugs, and military will likely have to find a way to re-brand their respective talents of race poverty. Of course, the slave-holders themselves, the politicians, executive officers, representatives, and lobbyists will face exile or execution. Unfortunately, not everything is that straightforward. What of corporatist entities? General Motors, Haliburton, Koch, MSNBC, the Post Office, and “private” colleges are wholly indistinguishable from the state, itself.

“As a result of zealous lobbying on behalf of the recipient… The same principle applies… they deserve a similar fate of virtuous homesteading and confiscation.” In the case of corporations and organizations that receive half or more of their funds though government institutions, they are effectively inseparable from the state and must suffer the same fate. The military industrial complex, especially, ought to be confiscated from the criminal band known as the state, not only for its complicity in theft but also its open endorsement of globalized murder. Important note: this is a wholly different issue that the legal abuse suffered by firearms and alcohol manufacturers and distributors when their products are abused.

Speaking of these absurdly regulated industries, many of a communist persuasion will argue that all industry is a beneficiary of government and ought to be re-homesteaded. I disagree. Whereas Haliburton is a direct recipient of welfare, most other corporations are merely indirect beneficiaries of the state’s criminal activities by way of limited competition, externalized expenses, and coercing purchase of goods and services. These corporations will be forced, in the absence of the state, to either adapt to the ensuing market correction or fold and sell their assets. Besides, it is morally suspect and quite inefficient to try and homestead every regulated industry. Those that manage to adapt to market correction were clearly sufficiently virtuous enough to deserve protection from re-homestead, whereas those that fold and sell out were vicious enough to deserve such a fate and homesteading becomes superfluous, as those entities are peaceably re-introduced into the free market.

TL;DR: What is required to de-socialize the state and appropriately pursue the abolition of slavery is nothing short of a slave rebellion. Such a slave rebellion must be conducted in accordance with the moral principles of self-defense, confiscation, and homestead. Otherwise, such activities are likely to end in the establishment of an even-less preferable state of affairs, such as that of communism. In the words of Rothbard, “Libertarians have misled themselves by making their main dichotomy “government” vs. “private” with the former bad and the latter good. Government, [Alan Milchman] pointed out, is after all not a mystical entity but a group of individuals, “private” individuals if you will, acting in the manner of an organized criminal gang. But this means that there may also be “private” criminals as well as people directly affiliated with the government. What we libertarians object to, then, is not government per se but crime, what we object to is unjust or criminal property titles; what we are for is not “private” property per se but just, innocent, non-criminal private property. It is justice vs. injustice, innocence vs. criminality that must be our major libertarian focus.”

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AnComs in Action and AnCaps’ Inaction

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On Facebook last week, I (largely) inadvertently changed both my cover photo and profile picture to the black-and-yellow Anarcho-Capitalist theme for the first time. This week, of course, small businesses and police cars were torched by Anarcho-Communists around the world in celebration of “May Day”, a Marxist holy day. I figure that now would be the most pertinent time to discuss AnComs in action and AnCaps’ inaction. It’s long-overdue and today is likely the last day I can pretend to be an objective outsider.

Now, I’m going to offend absolutely everyone today, so don’t stop reading when I hurt your feelings… your nemeses will get theirs, too. If I’m going to offend, I may as well start big. I admire two aspects of the AnComs I know and have heard of: they are mutually supportive of everyone even loosely affiliated with anarchism and they are willing to fuck shit up and make a scene.

When one is willing to chain oneself to a tree in Russia as an attempt to prevent the creation of a pit-mining operation, especially if it is likely to end in imprisonment or death, I can infer one or two possibilities. Either, one has nothing to lose, or one is willing to sacrifice everything in order to cause even a modicum of discomfort to one’s enemies. In addition to the dozens or hundreds of AnCom hippies disrupting business as usual, there are thousands publicizing and supporting those radicals.

Many times, even though different factions have incompatible goals, they still promote solidarity between each other. For example, the eco-feminists may protest the petroleum industry and advocate “green” energy in order to smash the patriarchy while also sending money, literature, and publicity to the anti-capitalists destroying the mining equipment used to acquire the lithium for said “green” energies. Obviously, this policy is unsustainable, the moment one group makes actual advances, it will be at the expense of a competing group’s success.

This is where the AnCom appeal to “change everything” comes into play. If Proudhon’s shade were to appear and imbue CrimethInc with phenomenal cosmic powers, they would change everything simultaneously. The eco-feminists and the anti-capitalists would both get what they want; the entire planet would murder all straight men and cease using fossil fuels and the anti-capitalists could establish communist ownership of the lithium mines in order to find far less efficient but more eco-friendly ways of extracting it by hand. Ignoring the inherent coercion and violence in such a solution, it looks vaguely similar to my conception of LibPar.

Unfortunately, the AnComs would not stop at this already impossible set of changes. Communists by default find reality, itself, oppressive. It’s no wonder, though: the very ontology of the universe conspires against many, if not all, of the factions within the big umbrella of Anarcho-Communism. As such, the very operating system of the universe would have to be altered to the point of unrecognizability and absurdity. This state of affairs was once hidden from me in my Marxist days, but came into focus the more philosophically literate I became. This lack of philosophical grounding, though, doesn’t slow down the AnComs one bit.

Conventions and desert gatherings abound. Kurdish feminist AnComs have established themselves as the most effective enemy of ISIS. Unowned and abandoned property around the globe are occupied by AnCom squats. Random communist holy days are punctuated with violent retaliations against state actors. Occupy Whatever finds itself in mainstream media headlines. Anonymous gets pedophiles, terrorists, and legitimate business owners arrested or exiled. Industrial centers burn to the ground. It is no mistake that when average statists hear “anarchist” they think of molotov-wielding college kids; all of this is done at the hands of AnComs, daily, around the globe.

It’s truly unfortunate that these people can be so committed so as to flood prison mailboxes with support of those that get captured by the state and wreak so much damage while also battling the very ontological structure of reality. Imagine if they focused all that undirected fury at their actual oppressors. Instead, the AnComs are relegated to inefficacy and complaining about their successes.

While real AnComs are either in jail or can name several dozen people killed or imprisoned as a result of anti-state activity, I genuinely doubt an AnCap could do more than gesture at Irwin Shiff, Ross Ulbrict, John McAfee, and Derrik J… and only one person on that list really counts. Instead of taking direct action, AnCaps prefer to shout the good news of anarchism on Facebook, iTunes, and YouTube. They write books, give lectures, and look for tax loopholes. They try to teach complicated and abstract concepts to the intellectually crippled masses but, most of all, they argue amongst themselves.

Is the Earth round or flat? Is voting necessary or morally wicked? Is this hypothetical society preferable to that hypothetical society? Is 9mm or .45 cal better personal defense ammo? Is it more effective towards the goal of anarchy to shoot cops or to fuck your wife?

This discussion goes much deeper, though. Without such discussions, we wouldn’t have economics, praxeology, or any accurate sense of ontology. These bases of logic, facts, and evidence provide AnCaps with a cornucopia of toolsets with which to combat the flawed ideologies of both the enemies of freedom as well its misguided defenders. It is this philosophical acuity and epistemic rectitude which has drawn me inexorably nearer and nearer to the ideology of Anarcho-Capitalism, despite my aesthetic distaste for a greater portion of its adherents and agendas.

Why do I find Anarcho-Capitalism aesthetically distasteful (ignoring the clearly superior color choice of the AnComs)? Any reader of this blog will know that I love Woods, Hoppe, Mises, and Rothbard. Those familiar with the literature and politics popular in anarchist circles will note that I’ve drifted closer and closer to Spooner, Molyneux, Cantwell, and Block as time has gone on, even if I still have key disagreements with them. So, it’s clearly not the philosophy or ideology I dislike. It is the lack of action, direct or otherwise. All of us want to be Rothbard, but none of us wants to be Gavrilo Princip, me included. Rather than absolutely every Ancap producing a blog, podcast, merchandise, and peaceful kids and then calling it a day, why not actually engage in capitalism?

Why do so few AnCaps produce an actual service or good? Why do so few AnCaps “spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats”? Why do so few AnCaps actively support those that actually do these things? Why do so few AnCaps engage in Hoppe-style propertarianism? Why, with so many enlightened capitalists acting in a globalized marketplace, is there so little economics cooperation? How do the Anarcho-COMMUNISTS better invest material resources and garner greater victories in the war against the state?

The answer is, I ironically, praxeological in nature. I suppose AnCaps, being productive and cooperative members of society, actually have wealth and offspring at risk, whereas voluntarily sterilized squatters and moochers have nothing to lose. I suppose the cost of actually forming a militia or geographically localizing presents inferior or temporally distant gains as opposed to simply working a job, paying one’s oppressors what is demanded, and bickering over whether HOAs or insurance companies ought to replace the state.

Look who’s talking.”

I'm such a screwball

Me, dying my hair red and black for May Day while posing in front of an AnCap background.

Yeah, yeah, I’m fully aware of the apparent hypocrisy I’m engaged in. So, what am I going to do? What direct action will I engage in and advocate? Other than the usual boring agorist fare I’m already doing: growing my own food, working odd jobs under the table, using bitcoin, etc…. I have a couple ideas. Firstly, I’m self-investing so as to store enough wealth to, someday, abscond to a developing nation and cease paying Empire. Of course, that’s pretty far off… So, in the here and now, I am engaged in producing certain products directed outside of typical AnCap culture as well as marketing certain projects to AnCaps themselves. I prefer to try and be the first on the market, so I will announce said products as they are realized. The proceeds of said projects will, undoubtedly, be invested in successful AnCap activities as well as my own children. (I’m also engaged in direct action… but don’t want to call down legal recourse upon myself.)

There is an idea I am ill-equipped and not geographically positioned to accomplish but really want to spread to those better situated to enact. Those knowing the lore behind my logo may expect me to call for some sort of ecumenical meeting of all anarchists wherein we discover and build commonalities between the AnComs and AnCaps, and I may have done so in the past… but what I want is for AnCap militias and security firms to set up in Seattle, St. Louis, Baltimore, etc. and beat the AnComs at their own game. Protect private property; keep the “protesters” confined to public property and ensure that their fires and violence are directed solely at the state and its enforcers, fly the yellow-and-black flags over the safe properties and stoically bear witness to the carnage between the AnComs and the regular communists. Begin winning the war of ideas by showing the statist hordes what freedom looks like. If it can get results for the KKK, where they simply show up and save private property “because we’re racist against those looters”, how much more success would the AnCaps have doing the same thing “because private property trumps everything”?

TL;DR: Anarcho-Communists like to start fires, break things, and find ways to influence public discourse. It’s too bad that all that direct action is directed at accomplishing disparate and reality-detached goals. Conversely, Anarcho-Capitalists have a pretty good philosophical grounding, probably the best available in all of human history. It’s too bad that all that knowledge results in little more than theory and tax-producing jobs. Typically, this is where I would have said AnCaps should educate AnComs on economics and AnComs should educate AnCaps on how to take direct action. Instead, I want AnCaps to simply demonstrate the utility inherent to Hoppe’s virtues: defend private property at AnCom or BLM riots, buy out undervalued chunks of land and actually start a Galt’s Gulch, and (sure) sell some books or lapel pins along the way.

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.

front cover

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.

Rant_zdzislaw_beksinski

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.

Existentialism is a Humanism

Jean-Paul Sartre was born at the dawn of the century of total war and lived seventy-five years. An existentialist philosopher and novelist, he was awarded (and declined) a Nobel Prize in literature. Today, I’m just focusing on his lecture presented in 1945 Paris: Existentialism is a Humanism.

Today’s post is not going to be some university-level lecture on Sartre, or even on this lecture. Instead, I’m going to give a quick overview and pick out a few of the things I’ve highlighted in my copy. Really, what I want is for everyone to buy the book and read it. There are enough youtube lectures and sparks notes out there, but nothing compares to the text, itself.

So, a quick overview… Enlightenment era philosophy and culture, by way of it’s rabid anti-clericalism, effectively “killed God”. It didn’t kill religion, spirituality, or morality, but it killed that which served as the foundation for such human activities. This is, essentially, what Nietzsche’s entire project consisted of: pointing out the hypocrisy of using the tools, traditions, and philosophies of Christianity after having announced a total divorce from it. This attitude, largely led to the humanist movement.

Ultimately, humanism along with other political, historical, and moral philosophies created during and after the enlightenment and fostered until the 20th century resulted in the sudden violent expansion of state power, resulting in the World War… which effectively continues to this very day. As the second chapter of the world war raged on throughout Europe, a certain philosophy began to emerge in France. Existentialism, fundamentally, is a philosophy of trying to pick up the pieces after humanism, progressivism, and scientism resulted in Nazi and American concentration camps, the wholesale slaughter of millions of soldiers, the UK and American militaries firebombing civilians throughout Europe and the Pacific as well as irradiating entire cities. Unsurprisingly, there was a bit of a culture-wide existential crisis, a collective ennui, and existentialism is searching for solutions, largely by way of doubling-down on Nietzsche.

Sartre, a huge fan of Camus (the arch-existentialist), was an indomitable philosophical figure himself. He was enamored with Marxism, but the Marxists were not impressed.. At the same time, other ideological and political factions were not happy with his communist sympathies or his supposedly amoral philosophy. This lecture, Existentialism is a Humanism, was an answer to his critics, to try and distill his entire project and present it in a manner such so as to make friends with the post-progressives and the commies, simultaneously. I chose this text as my first “Teaching from philosophical texts” post, as it’s one that I’ve recently re-read and it is an excellent primer or overview of existentialism.

There is a large camp in philosophy which agrees, to some degree or another, that existentialism is, fundamentally, nihilism. I am actually in that camp, despite my love for existential writers and texts. Sartre disagrees, though: “It would appear that existentialism is associated with something ugly, which is why some call us naturalists. If we are, it is strange that we should frighten or shock people far more than naturalism per se frightens or offends them… Those that find solace in the wisdom of the people -which is a sad, depressing thing- find us even sadder… However, since it is the very same people who are forever spouting dreary old proverbs -the ones who say ‘It is so human!’ whenever some repugnant act is pointed out to them… who also accuse existentialism of being too gloomy, it makes me wonder if what they are really annoyed about is not its pessimism, but rather its optimism. When all is said and done, it could be what frightens them about the doctrine is that it offers man the possibility of individual choice?”

That supposed optimism is the result of coming to grips with a reality in which man is abandoned. “Man is condemned to be free: condemned because he did not create himself, yet nonetheless free, because once cast into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” This is a form of condemnation because, “Existentialists [unlike the secular materialists] find it extremely disturbing that God no longer exists, for along with his disappearance goes the possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There could no longer be any a priori good, since there would be no infinite and perfect consciousness to conceive of it.”

That doesn’t sound too optimistic, does it? Maybe you’re an atheist libertine, and this sounds great already… Well, for better or worse, when man finds himself abandoned by God, he is still faced with a reality that sounds an awful lot like Kant’s categorical imperative. “When we say that man chooses for himself, not only do we mean that each of us much choose himself, but also that in choosing himself, he is choosing for all men. In fact, in creating the man each of us wills ourselves to be, there is not a single one of our actions that does not at the same time create an image of man as we think he ought to be… I am therefore responsible for myself and for everyone else, and I am fashioning a certain image of man as I choose him to be. In choosing myself, I choose man.”

Despite the overt mentions of God’s nonexistence, the general theme here seems to parallel common Christianity. Most Christians, by far, do not have routine two-way conversations with God; it tends to be a strange relationship by which one writes letters to an estranged Father and only periodically receives checks in the mail. This is the “abandonment” which is so popular in existentialism and explicitly outlined in Existentialism is a Humanism. Because of this abandonment, one bears full responsibility for one’s actions, as I’ve already brought up. This burden of responsibility is often referred to as “anguish”, which makes sense given the extreme weight of that burden, choosing the nature of mankind though one’s actions.

Of course, a philosophy as moody as existentialism, one built around “abandonment” and “anguish” would be incomplete without “despair”. Despite the novelty of the name and the extremely poetic method of presentation, despair (as formulated by Sartre) is actually an ancient idea. Interestingly enough, Sartre’s “despair” is one of stoic philosophy’s basic tenets: one ought to concern oneself exclusively with that which one can control and one ought to divorce oneself from the expected results of one’s actions. That divorce from the hope and expectation of getting the desired result is where “despair” gets its name. One may instinctively recoil at such a suggestion, but the results of one’s actions are largely contingent on the quality of information available to the actor, the innumerable facts outside one’s control, and the actions of others… why place hope and faith in such fickle and pernicious things?

With an entire metaphysics built around human action and choice, it’s also no wonder that “The doctrine [Sartre is] presenting to you is precisely the opposite of quietism, since it declares that reality exists only in action… Man is nothing other than his own project. He exists only to the extent that he realizes himself, therefore he is nothing more than the sum of his actions, nothing more than his life.” What he means is something quite akin to Aristotle, that there is no virtue that is not inextricably bound to the virtuous act and no vice that is not inextricably bound to the vicious act. Relationships, character, ideas, and power are not “things” which one possesses but are, instead, performative: they are things that an individual does or exercises. For such things, there is no existence outside of that actuality.

It is this performative nature of being which, I think, gives rise to Sartre’s exuberance for freedom. I dare say Sartre cares more about freedom as an end in itself than I do, and I’m an anarchist. “When I affirm that freedom, under any circumstance, can have no other aim than itself, and once a man realizes, in his state of abandonment, that it is he who imposes values, he can will but one thing: freedom as the foundation of all values… Therefore, in the name of will to freedom, implied by freedom itself, I can pass judgment on those who seek to conceal from themselves the complete arbitrariness of their existence, and their total freedom, under the guise of solemnity, or by making determinist excuses, I shall call cowards. Others, who try to prove their existence is necessary, when man’s appearance on earth is merely contingent, I will call bastards.”

There is far more contained in the book than the handful of quotes I’ve haphazardly thrown at you, most notable of which is Sartre’s commentary on the work of Camus. If this post elicited any reaction, positive or negative, I recommend reading the book. Sartre does a better job of explicating his position. So, if you like what you’ve read here, you’ll definitely enjoy reading the source material; conversely, if I have said anything that has upset you or that you find disagreeable, you could possibly find a better interpretation in the actual text or find more material with which to construct a counter-argument.

TL;DR: I really enjoy reading existentialist texts; the pathos and prose of even the more procedural works is artistically skillful, a perfect compliment to the rich intellectualism of the content. I don’t ascribe to existentialism as a philosophical commitment (Sartre would take some degree of pleasure in calling me a coward and a bastard), but it has certainly influenced my philosophy and life choices. I feel that Existentialism is a Humanism is the best introductory work to the philosophy of existentialism, and everyone ought to read it.