The Nature of Philosophy

As is the case with most cultural pursuits which hearken back into the dark recesses of history, philosophy has no universally-agreed upon definition.  Even in academic circles, the definitions of the enterprise called “philosophy” is likely to be as numerous as the number of philosophy department chairs one asks.  This is a phenomenon[1] that vexes many analytic-minded[2] philosophers, given their obsession with necessary and sufficient conditions[3].

While I write and think very much like an analytic, I do not feel that it should be absolutely crucial to assign a definition to philosophy which outlines necessary and sufficient conditions.  At the same time, however, I am not inclined to do as postmodern[4] and continental[5] thinkers tend and simply hand-wave the issue and say “it’s a family of activities that generally resemble each other”.  The only remaining option, then, is to make an attempt at crafting a heuristic[6] for identifying philosophical activities as opposed to any other activities within the scope of human intellectual experience.

Looking at the historical context of philosophy, one may get a feel for the “family resemblance” of philosophical activities.  The helps one create a genealogy of philosophy.  This genealogy begins with ancient thinkers were predominantly concerned with “living the good life” as well as understanding how the world worked.  One of the tools that was of utmost importance to the ancient thinkers and has maintained its utility (at least, up until the point where the postmodernists have taken over) is logic.  In the middle ages of Europe and comparable periods of time in locales such as India and Japan, there was a burgeoning attempt to ascertain the fundamental qualities of existence; admittedly, this was universally in a religious or theistic context of some form or another, but that does not negate the contributions made.

In the more modern eras, from the enlightenment[7] to today, the philosophical enterprise has been a predominantly directed at understanding the manner in which man interacts with reality, from the nature of sense experience to the nature of knowledge and its acquisition.  Additionally, there has been a lot of emphasis on the manner in which the individual interacts with mankind at large and how that interaction ought to be conducted.

Depending on one’s definitions and motivations for constructing a narrative, philosophy can be seen as the progenitor of, handmaid to, or companion of nearly other activity in human intellectual life.  Modern scientific methods are the product of ancient natural studies and enlightenment-era epistemology[8].  Computer science is predicated on mathematical principles and linguistic theories which have been formed through philosophical discourse.  Theology is, by and large, the application of philosophical tools to puzzles related to spiritual revelations and religious doctrines.  Economics[9] is the result of a-priori[10] reasoning in conjunction with philosophical tools of introspection and observation.  These relationships cannot be ignored, but the exact nature of these relationships is at the heart of many lively debates.

I can (and have) gone on a much more rigorous exploration of the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be considered philosophy, but that sort of exercise is better suited for a longer, more exhaustive, procedural work.  For now, I think it would be most prudent to do a quick breakdown of the etymology[11] of the word “philosophy”.  The word, itself, hails from ancient Greek and effectively means “love of wisdom”.

Of course, nothing in Greek translates so directly into English.  For example, ancient Greek has at least four words for love (arguably, there are a few more).  This particular root, “-philia”, would be most appropriately used in the context of a dispassionate desire for (non-sexual) intimacy, such as that of close friends.  Additionally, “sophos” is a Greek word the denotes a wide array of practical and virtuous skills and habits regarding wisdom, rather than just the sterile modern English concept of knowing a lot or having advanced experience.

The best I can do to describe the Greek root of the term is to say that it is “an actionable desire to develop intellectual virtue and put it into practice in the world at large”.  This takes many different forms, as demonstrated by Socrates and Diogenes relentlessly badgering their neighbors concerning how wrong their ideas of how the world worked really were, while Aristotle, Pythagoras, Epicurus and Zeno started schools and lectured ad-nauseam.  Later in history, the general attitude of a philosopher had largely homogenized into academic bookishness and the writing of essays and long-form treatises.  The exact nature of each essay and treatise may be radically divergent with regards to content, method, and end, though.

Ultimately, taking into account all these diverse enterprises and the influence of postmodern thought, I believe that any human enterprise directed at creating an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical actionability, utility, and (ultimately) Truth can be rightly considered to be “philosophy”.[12]

In order to attempt to construct a worldview that correlates to reality, there are a great many prerequisites that must first be met.  For example, there is the assumption that there is a reality to which a worldview can correlate.  Another example would be establishing the fundamentals of logic in such a way so as to be certain of their utility[13].  Yet another assumption would be that one is capable of constructing a worldview at all.

Rather than dragging my readers through the most meticulous and technical aspects of post-enlightenment thought, I’d like to discuss the general methodology of philosophy and, if my readers are so inclined so as to investigate these problems in their fullness, I can recommend some starting places.[14]  These problems of philosophy are quite significant, and I believe that these issues ought to be examined, but they are not issues for beginners or the faint of heart.

Instead, I recommend familiarizing oneself with the fundamentals of philosophical methodology and begin exploring this new way of perceiving reality, first.  Even though it has taken many different forms throughout history and our contemporary academic landscape, the fundamental methodology of philosophy has found no better expression than that of the trivium and quadrivium of the middle-ages in Europe.  Although these fields of study were crafted in a theistic environment and are, therefore, often ignored or denigrated by modern (leftist) scholars, the methodology they present are still quite valid, even if they may have been used to reach illicit conclusions.

The trivium consists of three stages of thought: the logic, the grammar, and the rhetoric.  Initially, these stages of thought were applied exclusively to language (hence their names).  The logic was the basis of linguistic thought; it contained the a priori principles such as the law of identity[15], the principle of non-contradiction[16], and the resultant laws of induction.  The grammar demonstrated the rules of language which reflected the logical principles outlined earlier; subject-object relations and other syntax relationships are important to maintaining fidelity to the logical principles underlying that communication[17].  The rhetoric refined the above skill sets so as to aid a thinker[18] in convincing others of the facts which he had uncovered through the application of logic and grammar.

Since its inception as a linguistic methodology, the trivium quickly expanded into a philosophical methodology.  This is partly due to the close relationship that language and philosophy has always held and partly due to the axiomatic nature of the trivium lending itself to the inquiries of philosophy.  In essence, a thinker must first establish the furniture of the world (the fundamental principles and objects of those principles), then explore the relationships between those objects, and then must find a means by which to express those relationships.  For example, the “Socrates is a man” syllogism I referenced in the footnote on this page contains material that isn’t merely linguistic.  For example, the categories “Socrates”, “man”, and “being” are assumed to correlate to realities in the observable world.  Additionally, the grammar of the statement establishes a relationship to those categories which are assumed to correlate to the observable world.  This trend is maintained through the rest of the syllogism:

Socrates is a man,

All men are mortal,

∴ Socrates is a mortal.

At each level of the syllogism, new categories and relationships are assumed or established.  On a linguistic level, logic serves as the structural framework for the grammar to populate with the symbols for Socrates, man, etc. and the rhetoric is the manner in which one would express this syllogism to others and defend the validity of the syllogism.  On a philosophical level, the logic serves as the source for the objects Socrates, man, etc. the grammar denotes the relationships between those symbols, and the rhetoric serves as the means by which these ideas move from my mind to the page for your mind to reassemble[19].

This quick introduction into the methodology of philosophy will be expounded upon in the next chapter, as we explore the role of philosophy in daily life or, as the ancient Greeks put it, “how does one live the good life?”

[1] Phenomenon (n): The object of a person’s perception or discussion; an event of which the senses or the mind are aware.

[2] Analytic Philosophy (n): A school or tradition of philosophical thought predominantly populated by English-speaking philosophers which emphasizes procedural methodology and strict definitions and application of logic.

[3] Necessary and Sufficient Conditions (n):  The requirements of any given subject to meet a definition; necessary qualities are qualities which, if absent, preclude subjects from being defined as such and sufficient qualities are qualities that, if present, allow a subject to be defined as such.

[4] Postmodern (adj): Relating to a school of thought which maintains certain attitudes such as indefinability, plurality of reality, and subjective narrative ontologically trumping objective reality.

[5] Continental (adj): Relating to a school or tradition of philosophical thought predominantly populated by thinkers from mainland Europe which emphasizes meta-philosophical influences on philosophy such as culture and economics.

[6] Heuristic (n): A method or system of interpreting ideas as they are presented.

[7] Enlightenment Era (n): A period in European philosophical history, commonly accepted to be from as early as the 16th century to the end of the 18th century; the era is marked by a sudden surge in scientific advance, political upheaval, and sheer number of philosophical schools of thought.

[8] Epistemology (n): The study of knowledge, the manner and mechanisms by which one knows.

[9] Austrian Economics.  This will be discussed in Chapter 4: Political Philosophy and its Discontents.

[10] A priori (adj): A logical justification for a claim based on syllogisms, moving from given premises to their necessary conclusions.  This is often set in opposition to a posteriori or “empirical” reasoning.

[11] Etymology (n): The study of the meaning of words and the changes of those meanings throughout history.

[12] There is a good amount of jargon in this proposed definition; as these terms appear later in this book, they will be defined in more detail.

[13] Utility (n): The capacity for a thing to provide or contribute to accomplishing one’s end, usually in the context of alleviating discomfort.

[14] “The problems of Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell, “Cartesian Meditations” by (((Edmund Husserl))), and (for the preeminent masochist) “Critique of Pure Reason” by Immanuel Kant

[15] Law of Identity (logic): A=A (A equals A), A≠¬A (A does not equal not-A)

[16] Principle of Non-Contradiction (logic): The logical principle that something cannot both be and not be in the same mode at the same time. (Abbreviated as PNC)

[17] For example, in the over-used case of the “Socrates is a man” syllogism, if you were to mistake the subject-object relationship, you can end up with things like “Man is a Socrates” which is not only incorrect, but it is nonsensical.

[18] i.e. The philosopher

[19] There are deeper epistemic realities hidden in this discussion of the trivium method, but those will be addressed in the coming chapters of this book.

New Year Resolutions

Belated new year’s resolutions are not uncommon. New year’s resolutions being made in mid-February are a little bit more uncommon, especially ones as uncertain as the ones I plan on presenting today.

 

I wanted to write this post at the start of January. Of course, I wanted the latest anthology book to be published at the start of January, as well. While I am involved in a great many projects, I seem to have let this domain run derelict. This is a difficult admission to make, as I have been so zealous to work on the Mad Philosopher project and I have made such progress so as to warrant actually getting Patreon subscribers and merchandise sales. Even though I technically do not owe anything to those of you that have supported the program so far by such methods, I still feel like I ought to try and do right by you.

When I started writing this post last month, I had three goals in mind. By the end of this year, I want this project to fully fund itself. As my family grows, so do my expenses; while I can justify monetary investment or investments of time and attention, I doubt I will have the ability to do both simultaneously. In order to accomplish this goal, I would need enough Patreon subscribers, book and merch sales, and donations to be able to pay for the web hosting, the soundcloud account, and the technology required for production. For the most part, I have gotten all the up-front costs out of the way and now only need to pay to maintain the subscriptions and equipment.

I also want to get more hands on deck for the Mad Philosopher project. We have already unveiled the Mad Theologian podcast, as an attempt to broaden the scope of the Mad Philosopher project and to cover more ground in our philosophical pursuit. While I’m excited at the prospect of bringing more content producers on-board and I’m excited by prospects for broadening our reach through other peoples’ channels, what I am most especially hoping to find is someone that can do the technical work for the site. While I am excited to do content production, most of my efforts have gone to audio editing, site management, account management, and site promotion; if I could either enlist one as passionate as myself or hire someone technically savvy enough and cheap enough to do so, I can devote more time and effort to content production and the broader vision of the Mad Philosopher project. This, of course, ties back to the first goal, given that hiring someone will have to be paid for.

The third goal is a little more vague. I want to get more involvement from readers, listeners, and contributors to the project. Ultimately, that goal looks like engagement by way of comments and market incentives. I want to know what the readers like, dislike, agree with, disagree with… and to have a conversation surrounding those points of engagements. I really don’t mind where that may lead us: I am equally equipped and excited to discuss the interrelationships between different schools of philosophy, the history and genealogy of philosophies, praxeology, anarcho-capitalism, or even just a unique perspective on pop culture mainstays such as music, tabletop RPGs, film, books, video games…

I think that each of these three goals supports the others, so I don’t know if any one can be pursued without also pursuing the others. Of course, this set of goals puts a larger burden on myself and the few of you currently engaged with the Mad Philosopher project than it will on those we recruit towards that end. I’m sure that, in the future, there will be certain rewards available only to those of you that contribute at this early hour of the project.

Which brings me to the next thing I want to talk about. Why has the blog run derelict for over a month? Part of it can be chalked up to my “new” job and my slowness in adapting to new time constraints. Where, before, I had time at work to write outlines for posts, read books, and discuss these ideas with others, my new job is a 40-60-hour-a-week marathon of phonecalls, emails, meetings, and clogged toilets. It’s been a great job, don’t get me wrong, but it leaves me with less time and energy available for vanity projects than my previous job had. I’ve also begun producing subscriber-only content for Patreon subscribers.

Lame excuses aside, I have been investing quite a lot of time into a few collaborative works. I am writing a book with one of our Patreon subscribers which goes through all sorts of gritty details concerning the philosophical justifications for censorship and the failures thereof. It is a work that covers medieval religious arguments, classical teleological arguments, postmodern critical theory arguments, and my own aesthetic values to boot. We’re having a lot of fun while we slowly and methodically slog though such arguments.

I’m also working on a collaborative death metal album with a friend of mine. It’s a concept album that explores the issues addressed in the 2016 anthology book-exclusive chapter “late stage anarchism” with a healthy dose of revolutionary and helicopter references, just because. We are hoping to put together a full demo album in the coming months and possibly even put together a kickstarter to get a studio band and some recording time. What we’ve got so far is like a purely-voluntary kick in the teeth. It’s as metal as you can get, and it’s been a lot of fun to work with DRFrozenfire.

I’ve also been contributing, publicly and behind the scenes, to other anarchist and philosophy productions out in the internet as well as IRL.

One final thing that I’ve been doing is hosting and participating in a lot of local discussions and events. Honestly, this blog originated as a substitute for in-person engagement which I was severely lacking. As I have had more opportunities to engage people IRL, the blog and facebook have become less of a focus. This hiatus I’ve been on, though, is one that was intended to be a chance for me to get my life in order and get a little more reading under my belt before going back out to blog content production.

With luck, I will be able to continue working on these side-projects, produce subscriber-only content, and make blog content. I am doing my best to avoid becoming a current events production, as tempting as it may be. I think that the likes of Cantwell, Molyneux, and Woods have it pretty sufficiently covered. Instead, I’m thinking I may begin to deconstruct different philosophers and discuss their ideas a little more in-between releasing some of my more original content, such as the 95 Theses. Ultimately, though, those that contribute towards the aforementioned three goals may have a direct impact on the nature of the content I choose to produce.

So, starting next week, expect some real content up on the site again. Carpe Veritas.

2016 Book Announcement!

Good news, everybody!

We’ve got another anthology book coming out in the next few days on Amazon, a Death Metal concept album in the works, a new offshoot brand from the Mad Philosopher project, and I’m starting to get my life in order so I can start working on the blog again!

Also, as always, you should head over to Patreon and get all the goodies that come with becoming a patron.

Liberty Classroom: an Invaluable Tool

If you are reading this near the end of November in 2016, you can get some major discounts and provide a great deal of support to the Mad Philosopher project by going to Tom Woods Liberty Classroom and subscribing.  If you are reading this at any other time, you can still provide a great amount of value to the project by doing so.

Tom Woods Liberty Classroom is easily one of the most undervalued resources available on the internet, as it provides a legitimate PhD-level resource on a number of crucial subjects such as history and economics.  The term “legitimate” is important, here, as what most universities provide is only half-true and full of leftist propaganda.  This resource is the closest to comprehensive and the closest to unbiased as can be found.

Click Here to get some coupon codes and subscribe.  This affiliate program is definitely one of the best ways to support the Mad Philosopher project, second only to just sending me Bitcoin directly.

 

Here’s some free samples (the best stuff is behind the paywall, obviously):

the best way to fulfill the maxim “Carpe Veritas” is to subscribe to Liberty Classroom and take advantage of everything such a subscription provides.

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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.

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/

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.

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From Scratch 4.2 Background and name

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

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).

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.

More Tuttle Twins: Bastiat

The Tuttle Twins series, by Connor Boyack, is one I cannot recommend highly enough.  I’ve previously acquired a copy of The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil and my kids love it.  Written in a style that is educational and fun (as all childrens’ books should be), it is a good read, even for adults.

Because I can’t contain my excitement about the upcoming release of a fourth Tuttle Twins book, I’ve decided that I intend to give special attention to each of the books as they become available on Amazon.  I would do so as they come out, but the eCommerce on the official Tuttle Twins site is a little wonky, and I don’t want to encourage my readers to accidentally purchase a product they didn’t intend to.

This post concerns The Tuttle Twins Learn About The Law.  Just as The Miraculous Pencil is a splendid adaptation of “I Pencil”, Learn About The Law is an adaptation of Bastiat’s “The Law”.  I believe “The Law” to be one of the few texts that ought to be “required reading” for any civic-minded individual.  I’m not a fan of voting, but passing a test on “The Law” would be required to register to vote, if I were put in charge of the electoral process.  Rather than read all 61 pages of Bastiat, though, one could get by on reading the far more digestible Tuttle Twins adaptation.

That’s all I feel compelled to write at the moment about this book, you should pick it up and read it, yourselves.  I intend to read it to my kids at the earliest convenience and I’ll probably have more to add to this post afterwards; my kids are great at picking up on things that I miss and ask all the right questions.

FREEDOM! By Willia- Adam Kokesh

I recently came into custody of a copy of Adam Kokesh’s book “FREEDOM!” on the way to a friend of mine.  I figured there would be no harm in quickly reading through the text, myself, while I was waiting for my chance to pass it along to the appropriate party.

At 97 pages, with large font and margins, it’s a pretty simple read.  It’s written in articulate prose while using a third-grade vocabulary, effectively accomplishing the stated goal of the author: to be accessible to as many people as possible, at any reasonable cost.  The book is available in every format imaginable and is free in nearly every format as well.

If someone wants to read (or wants someone they know to read) the basic concept of freedom and non-aggression in a calm, reasoned, amenable voice, this is likely the text I’d recommend.  It isn’t as philosophically or economically involved as I would prefer, but not everyone can just read Human Action over the weekend and become an AnCap; not even I, myself, was able to accomplish such a feat (I read it in two weeks and it took about a year to become an AnCap).  A compromise between the task of reading Human Action or the less-involved (and, while effective, less satisfactory) process of reading “FREEDOM!” would be to look into Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom or read My Book.

Defending the Undefendable

In the spirit of Rothbard, Walter Block presents a treatise on the relationship between crime and economic manipulation, semi-appropriate ethical indignation and the unintended consequences of using violence to try to prevent those ethically unappealing actions.
In Defending the Undefendable, Walter Block defends the heroin dealer, the speculator, the employer of child labor, and the man who screams “fire” in a crowded theater against accusations of economic perversity and harming the social order.  He does so quite effectively.  After reading this book, one who is educated in economics will have to seriously reconsider support of a minimum wage and legal prohibitions against child labor.
The introduction, written by Rothbard himself, makes it clear that while the people defended in Block’s book are heroes because of the role they play economically and the adversity they face in reducing the friction of a politically-controlled economic system, this is not a moral defense of the particular actions the people make.  For instance, a heroin dealer could very well be a boon to the market and a hero in face of the evils of government while also perpetrating an immoral or unethical act (such as selling poison to people, even if it is a voluntary interactions).
As compelling, concise, and informative as the book is as a whole, there is one chapter, however, that doesn’t seem to belong.  The defense of the “Male Chauvinist Pig” was less an economic defense of chauvinism and much more an incoherent and aggressive defense of feminist talking points, most prominent of which being the importance of abortion.  This defense of abortion is actually inconsistent with a much more compelling case he makes later on in the case of defending “The Employer of Child Labor”.
All-in-all, though, this book is a must-read for anyone who believes in the free market but hasn’t critically assessed their position on “the undefendable” as of yet, people who are genuinely interested in reducing crime and increasing the quality of life for the poor, and those that still believe that government violence can somehow improve the world.  Each chapter is a few pages long, very direct and to the point.

One can acquire the book for free in digital form from the Mises Institute, or purchase a hardcopy at Amazon.  I strongly recommend that you do so.

Engines of Domination

A book written by Mark Corske was recently made into a pseudo-documentary film that is very well-produced and well- written.  I strongly recommend that people watch the video on youtube.  It’s an hour long, but it can easily be played at 1.25X or 1.5X speeds.  It gets a little choppy at 2X speed.  It is well worth the time to anyone who has felt that “something isn’t right” about the world they live in, and it’s even thought-provoking to those who haven’t.
Reading the book would be warranted, too. However, I feel that watching the youtube video for free is much less a commitment than buying and reading the book.  There’s also the issue of market forces… there is a certain AnCom vein that runs through this work, so one’s money may be better spent on Rothbard or Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

If one hour is too long or someone doesn’t want to watch a documentary, there is a third option to the documentary and book.  Here is a 30-minute interview that covers pretty much all the same information and ideas, but without a cool soundtrack and powerful visuals.

Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Anarchast anymore, but this interview is still legit.

 

The Selling of the President 1968

A few months ago, I stumbled across this book at a thrift store.  The title was provocative enough, and my very limited knowledge of post-World War american history informed me that it was probably about Nixon.  Nixon has always intrigued me, but not enough to actually try to learn anything about him.  I decided to correct that and bought this book for less than a dollar.

Picture0720150831_1

The book describes, in detail, the experiences of the men involved in Nixon’s television campaign leading up to the election that made him President.  Why would an anarchist care about Nixon and how he became president?  To be honest, some of it is just morbid fascination with how we got to where we are.  The reason I am suggesting you read it, though, is because it serves as an excellent exposition as to how, exactly, television has altered our society as a political body and the new methods of advertising that removed any semblance of intelligence from the electoral competition.

The first half of the book is the actual story, while the second half of the book is a massive collection of the documents from the actual election team, which are even more interesting than the story, in my opinion.

14 “Hard” Questions With Easy Answers

Before any commenters speak up, I am totally aware that I plug a lot of Tom Woods on this part of the blog.  Some day, I will be plugging a lot of Rothbard and Spooner, but I need to get my priorities sorted out with them… they were very prolific writers and, while it would behove anyone and everyone to read the entirety of their works, I feel it would be prudent to focus on the highlight reel in this section.  I am doing the same with Woods, currently.

14 Hard Questions for Libertarians: Answered
is an excellent resource.  Where reading Rothbard and thinking things through from first principles (fundamental economics, the NAP, etc.) will inevitably produce the same or similar answers to those in this book, it is an amazingly simple and accessible resource for beginners, people who can’t be bothered making freshman-level arguments with detractors, and people who may have done all the heavy lifting themselves and may have a couple blind spots.

I, personally, land in all three categories.  I’m an anarchist of only about two years, and I have a lot of catching up to do, I’ve already cited and linked to this book twice on facebook in arguments with people that are intelligent but ignorant, and was surprised to find myself reassessing some of my stances on things.  Most especially my position on Prisons in a Free Society has come into question, and I’ve been inspired to do more reading in primary sources and more critical thinking about how I arrived at my position.  I expect to make a full blog post in the future, once I’m done researching and revising my position.

A Catholic Dayna Martin?

A Little Way of Homeschooling: Thirteen Families Discover Catholic Unschooling is  an interesting work.  It simultaneously provides the more rigorous and analytic exploration of unschooling that I was looking for after reading Radical Unschooling and tries to answer a question that had never crossed my mind: “Can a Catholic home/unschool?”

What Suzie Andres calls “The Little Way of unschooling”, I have been referring to as “the Tao of family life” for a while now.  The proper application of effort in the proper area of life.  Too much, and you break something, too little and nothing gets accomplished.  In the case of education and developing healthy relationships within the family, it requires a lot of focus and self-knowledge, unschooling seems to be an excellent method of discerning the proper application of effort.

I know I have been writing about primarily Catholic issues a fair amount lately, but pagan or atheist readers could easily take this book and exchange out references to trusting God to believing in the all-present life force or whatever or trusting in humanity and still get the same results.

Where I was already pretty much sold on unschooling before reading Radical Unschooling, my wife was suspicious before reading the book and then doubly so after reading that book.  In the interest of helping me out and giving my ideas a chance, she sought out this book herself at the library.  Now, she’s almost totally sold on the idea, and I have the reading list in the back of the book to help me find more resources that may be directed more towards people such as myself.

I would strongly recommend that Catholics with children should read The Little Way of Homeschooling, even if they are happy with whatever schooling situation they are currently in.  If non-Catholics are pursuing unschooling, this resource may still be useful, but they may want to read Dayna Martin (if they are of a freedom-minded persuasion) or John Holt.

Radical Unschooling: a Book Review

I guess I will start with my complaints and then write about why this is likely a valuable resource to some. Radical Unschooling by Dayna Martin suffers from self-publish-itis and was clearly not written with me in mind as the target audience. That aside, I did learn a few things and, for a little more than $10 and 145 large-print and wide margin pages, I’d have to say it was worth it.

Self-publish-itis: there are a handful of grammar and spelling errors that, while not egregious, certainly feel as if they are undermining the message of the book, seeing as how it is about education. Also, the format of the text has many of the issues seen in some self-published works, where some lines will have only two or three words separated by long spaces and similar issues.

Target audience: I get the feeling that this book is written to an audience that consists of women with the opposite myers-briggs personality type as what I have that are in a similar situation in life as myself. As such, I found myself frustrated with the content as well as the manner in which the content was presented, finding it to be, well… I don’t know a word that conveys the feeling… somewhere around dilettante with a little bit of floozy thrown in. I want everyone to know that this is in reference to the book itself and not Dayna Martin. I’ve heard her speak publicly, seen her in informal interviews, and heard her as a guest on podcasts. She, herself, is a very intelligent and conscientious individual, it just doesn’t come through very well in her book, at least to me.

Still Worth It: In reading the book, I have found many useful examples as to how NVC can be applied to a parent-child relationship. It is also very encouraging, in an emotional way, concerning the feasibility of transitioning from a traditional authoritarian parenting style to a more peaceful approach. Also, whereas I can easily speak to other I*T* personalities about the philosophy of unschooling, I now have a resource to direct E*F* personalities towards that may be able to better communicate in their language.

Dayna Martin: Back in 2013, Dayna and her family were on wife swap (I hate that show). I very much wanted to post the episode along with this review in order to give a better example of unschooling in action, but the IP mafia has made the video inaccessible everywhere I’ve looked for it. So, if you have a chance to watch Season 8, episode 4 of Wife Swap, it is the only episode I would ever recommend watching. In lieu of watching her many public appearances or that episode of Wife Swap, this book can be useful. I recommend reading it after reading NVC, so as to have a more concrete understanding about the things discussed in Radical Unschooling.

SCIENCE! and Epistemology

Today’s resource suggestion is a little more involved than previous ones.  Today’s resource suggestion is Karl Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations.  This book primarily concerns itself with the problem of doing science from an epistemic standpoint.  This may not seem to be too important to the project I have been engaged in with this blog, but to anyone who reads the book, you will likely see the connection very quickly.  My post on Paradigmatic Awareness is, essentially, a synthesis of this work and another by Thomas S Kuhn, which will likely be another resource suggestion soon enough.

While Popper was primarily interested in the philosophy of science in this book, I believe his insights apply to all of epistemology, not just the study of the material world.  As a classical liberal, Popper extends his epistemic reasoning out to his own version of social contract theory.  I think that, while he had a good basis to work off of and an amazing intellect, he made the mistake that many classical liberals made: he forgot that the institutions he advocated for would never go away; where tolerance, as he imagined it, was only supposed to be implemented so long as it was practically useful to collective flourishing, it has become the monster that it is today… inspired by his own words.

So, please read Conjectures and Refutations.  It will help broaden your understanding of how one can say that they know what they know, how science as an exercise ought to be done, and reveal a great deal of the social philosophy that has gotten the western world into the trouble that it is in now.

http://www.amazon.com/Conjectures-Refutations-Scientific-Knowledge-Routledge/dp/0415285941

NonViolent Communication

About a year ago, I read “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life — Second 2nd Edition”. I was very resistant to giving NVC a chance.  My introduction to it was some people on Free Talk Live talking about it, and it sounded like some sort of cult-y, Scientology-like, “if we all learn to pray and talk with hippie vibes, the world will be healed”.  Hearing about it from Stephan Molyneux next sealed the deal (he is a de-facto cult leader). Satya Nadella made this book required reading for Microsoft execs, which made me wonder if this was becoming a mainstream fad and made me even more resistant to the idea. Also, the name itself seemed off-putting to me.  I figured (and still do) that any language that didn’t consist of veiled or direct threats is, by default, non-violent.

Then, certain people that I don’t always agree with but always respect their opinion and degree of thought it takes for them to develop an opinion re-introduced me to the idea of NVC. Between Brian Sovryn explaining that it has less to do with non-violence, and more to do with empathy, I started to reconsider. Seeing Adam Kokesh put it to work on Christopher Cantwell, of all people, sealed the deal. I saw the way that Kokesh (someone whom I’ve always been suspicious of) managed to basically shut down the angry part of Cantwell’s brain and get a begrudging admission that NVC may be an effective tool. I still was very, very suspicious of the whole idea in general, but I knew I had to at least research it before dismissing it.

I bought the book on Amazon for something like $15 and read it in a few weeks, taking it a few pages at a time. The book is easy to read, short and sweet, and gives actionable suggestions. While the methods of NVC aren’t useful in every circumstance, (philosophical discourse, for instance), they are incredibly effective at smoothing out day-to-day interactions with people, especially adversarial people. I am, by no means, a peaceful parent, but I’m looking into that, as well. I can say this much, though, after giving NVC a shot, I’ve gotten incredible results with my middle child. It used to seem like her sole purpose in life was to antagonize me, but we’re making excellent progress in getting along, thanks to Rosenberg.

The way I understand NVC to operate is thus:
We, in our culture today, are addicted to counter-productive emotions. We have developed a habit of being outraged at things. The4 internet has proven to be instrumental in fueling this addiction to outrage, as there’s always something out there for anyone to be mad at. The way addictions work is in cycles. Stimulus, reaction, dopamine/adrenaline/etc, brain-drugs wear off, repeat. In the case of outrage, something touches on an unresolved need or desire within us, we get mad and lash out at at whoever or whatever touched on that nerve, we get a release of feel-good drugs in our brains, and we feel good about being miserable, repeat ad-infinitum. What NVC seems to do is interject itself between the stimulus and reaction and closes that loop prematurely. This is how addictions are broken, how good habits are formed, and how someone can talk down a 280 lb thug before getting their face punched in.
It is also a method of communicating that, in closing that loop prematurely, leads people into uncharted areas of their own human mental experience and opens them up to actually exploring alternative ways of seeing the world, which is useful when discussing crucial matters such as human flourishing.

As it stands now, I understand NVC in an almost entirely scholastic sense, but my early efforts at putting it into practice have already made family and work far more manageable. I recommend everyone read this book. I don’t think it’s some sort of silver-bullet to eliminating the state, as some do, but I do believe that this is a tool set that is irreplaceable if one wants to flourish in a post-state society.

 

Admittedly, the metaphysics in the book is very cloogy, but that’s to be expected.  Ignoring the metaphysics and treating the work as a rhetorical tool seems to be much more efficacious and fits well into other practices in rhetoric, such as the Trivium.

Survivor Max: Educational Zombies

A young adult fiction book about an 11-year-old surviving the zombie apocalypse with a collection of skills learned from the Porcupine Freedom Scouts (a non-statist alternative to the Boy Scouts).  It’s educational, fun, short, and sweet.  Oh, and Zombies.  These zombies are a fresh take on a very stale genre villain.

The second installment of the series was released October of 2015, and my copy is in the mail.  I’m very excited.  I also have some small degree of insider information about the next few installments of the series, the biology of the outbreak, and the inspiration for the story.  I am certain the rest of the series will not disappoint.

The best part?  You can buy it with Bitcoin, here.

Or, you can buy it on Amazon if you’re stuck in the legacy economy, here.

This series is written in a voice that’s accessible to elementary school kids, but still appealing to an adult audience, other than the default scariness and morbidity involved with zombies, I’d say this story is appropriate for all ages.

Robber Barons are your Friends

I will eventually write a full review of “How Capitalism Saved America“, but for now, I just want to encourage people to read Chapter 7 “The Truth About the ‘Robber Barons‘” as today’s resource suggestion.

There isn’t much to say, despite the length of the text I’m suggesting.  This chapter explores the revisionism applied primarily to the railroads of the pre-FED american landscape and teases apart fact from fiction.  It’s no surprise, really, that public education would try to paint capitalism as evil, even when examining one of the greatest successes of capitalism itself; it’s all a matter of financial incentives, given that “public” school is funded by the same institution that is a competitor against capitalism…