Wizardly Wisdom Guest Spot #3

Howdy.  I promise I’m still around and working on content.  I just also happen to be doing a lot of client work on the side and helping my family as my gradfather passes away.  Also, did you guys catch the shenanigans at the Unite the Right rally?  Exciting times, to be sure.

Anyway, here’s my recent guest spot on the Wizardly Wisdom Podcast:

Carpe Veritas

Wizardly Wisdom Guest Spot #2!

Hello all,

Here’s another bit of audio-only content.  I did another guest spot on Wizardly Wisdom Podcast.  The first one was a blast, but this one is about 20% more awesome.  We spoke about the philosophical underpinnings of the libertarian movement, some historical context for different positions people hold to be “the libertarian position”, and why discourse about this discourse is important.

You’ll have to forgive my rough audio, we had some technical difficulties, but I think the content more than makes up for a little echo and click.

 

Cryptocurrency for Catholics

Here’s another impromptu conversation post with a new friend of mine from Facebook.  We talk about the fundamentals of cryptocurrencies, currency in general, certain economic issues related to cryptocurrency and then the Catholic Church’s relationship to cryptocurrencies and possible options for it to navigate the current political and economic climate.  All the really meaty material starts at the 13:10 mark.

The Role of Philosophy in Daily Life

One might read the previous chapter and question whether philosophy is more than esoteric navel-gazing.  Admittedly, I didn’t do a very good job of presenting it in a manner that would appeal to “Plumber Joe”.  Why should one concern oneself with trying to figure out all the little details about how the universe operates and why?  Shouldn’t it be sufficient to figure out how these more concrete tools at my disposal can contribute to my quality of life?  I can make more money, get better employee benefits, and have more self-satisfaction if I simply tend my garden[1] and work on much more real things.  Besides: lifting weights, buying cars, and playing guitar are easier activities than questioning fundamental assumptions about reality and considerably increase my value in the sexual market by comparison.

I, myself, feed my growing family by way of more practical considerations than discussing the specific ontological status of contracts.  I’m a facilities manager by trade and a philosopher by vocation.  Given that practical considerations generally have more market value than philosophical ones, why would one choose to engage philosophy?  There are a number of answers that, cumulatively, make a compelling case for such activity.  For now, I will focus on the more practical aspects and save the more psychological and ephemeral ones for later in this book.

One of the key aspects of the philosophical exercise is epistemology.  What epistemology effectively boils down to is the study of knowledge: what it means to know something and by what mechanism one comes to know something.  At first, it may seem like a dumb line of inquiry.  One knows something if they believe something and it happens to be true; they know these things because experience leads them to believe such things with accuracy.

As anyone who has had experience with mind-altering substances, mental illness, or living with a pathological liar, will attest, sometimes knowing things isn’t as easy as people initially think.  This has been the case throughout history, as well.  If I see an omen or an angel comes down and tells me something will happen at an appointed time, could that belief rightly be called knowledge?  What if an authority figure tells me something?  Hell, even my senses are suspect; how many times has someone looked at an object and misjudged its size or distance, witnessed a mirage, heard or felt something that didn’t correspond to anyone else’s experience, or any number of other illusions?

Descartes[2] wondered if he was the only mind in existence and that there may be a spirit of some sort causing him to have a vision of all the other phenomena he experienced.  This line of reasoning is called solipsism[3].  This solipsistic reasoning has been extended to “Matrix”-like brain-in-a-vat thought experiments and universe-simulation theories.  One doesn’t need to get as involved as Descartes, though, a quick trip on drugs or mental instability will give one sufficient experience of “seeing things that aren’t really there” to begin doubting one’s senses.

Epistemic problems don’t even need to be that far-reaching, either.  For example, inexplicably, there are a growing number of people that believe the Earth is flat, that crystals have magic healing powers, that children should be encouraged to undergo irreversible unhealthy and life-altering plastic surgery, and so many more absurdities.  Just yesterday, I was led to believe that I had to be somewhere at a certain time… and both the time and location were incorrect.

Understanding the nature of knowledge in a deeper and more reflective manner has, however, been quite useful in preventing situations such as the one that occurred yesterday.  For example, exploring common occurrences of human fallibility in theory helps to identify instances in reality and navigate people through them.  When attempting to coordinate multiple contractors, administrators, and customers, heightened awareness of epistemic difficulties and solutions has been invaluable.

Something related to epistemology and equal in utility is the study of ontology.  Ontology is the study of existence, things that exist, and in what manner.  Again, this may seem to be as obviously superfluous as epistemology at first, and one could just as easily be surprised.  The earlier epistemic examples of “experiencing things that aren’t really there apply to ontology as well, of course.  But what if I told you that a great many things we take for granted as existants[4] are of dubious ontological status?

There’s the obvious things like God, space aliens, astrological energies, political authority, true love… and some less obvious things like consciousness, free will, fundamental particles, or that fortune that Nigerian prince still owes you[5].  One can’t be certain of the existence (or non-existence) of these things if one doesn’t have a firm grasp on one’s methods of knowing things but, even then, it can be difficult to prove or disprove the existence such things.

This is where the bottom-up approach of philosophy
I mentioned in the previous chapter becomes pertinent.  If one can secure knowledge of or, at least, confidence in the existence of some things, it becomes easier to bring other things into that sphere of knowledge by way of understanding the relationships between the two.  Since Descartes’s famous cogito[6], philosophers have largely attempted to prove their own existence or the existence of the phenomena experienced by themselves and used that as a starting place by which to prove the existence of the other furniture of the world that we all take for granted.

I’m sure that this doesn’t seem practical just yet.  “I know I’m hungry because I feel hungry and I know that this bacon cheeseburger I’m about to eat is real because I can see, smell, touch, and taste it.”  Fair enough.  But what if there is a God and he hates people who eat cheeseburgers?  Alternatively, what if that meat isn’t real meat but is some science experiment grown in a vat and happens to be riddled with prions[7]?  Knowing either of those circumstances may give one sufficient reason to modify one’s behavior.

The same goes for whether or not the cow and pig that were, ostensibly, butchered to produce one’s meal possess consciousness and are capable of experiencing meaningful mental events.  If one were convinced that were the case, one would likely become a vegetarian, posthaste.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t one eat baby-burgers with dolphin sauce?

That took a dark turn, but the question still stands.  There is a great deal of human suffering that one can witness and, assuming one believes that other humans exist and are capable of comparable mental faculties to oneself.  A good portion of this suffering is, directly or indirectly, a result of epistemic or ontological mistakes made by either those that are suffering or by others who have those unfortunate individuals within their sphere of influence.

This is why ethics is the oldest and most-engaged field of study throughout the history of philosophy.  The pre-Socratics[8] were primarily concerned with “how does one live the good life” and secondarily concerned with “how does the world work?”  Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had similar priorities.  Medieval thinkers in Europe and the Middle East alike were also primarily concerned with “How does one be holy?” and secondarily concerned with “How does God work?”.  Enlightenment-era and modern thinkers have been primarily concerned with “what is justice?” and secondarily concerned with political institutions such as monarchy and various forms of socialism (such as democracy, republicanism, communism, etc.).  Only recently has postmodernism shifted the focus from “how does one live the good life?” to “how can we best undermine all of the institutions which were built by Europeans of bygone eras?” with living the good life becoming a secondary philosophical pursuit.

Of course, one can’t know how one ought to act without first knowing at least a little bit about the world one is trying to navigate, hence my initial focus on epistemology and ontology.  For example, one cannot determine that one ought to act to minimize the suffering of others if one does not first establish that there are others who can suffer and that suffering is undesirable.  The same dilemma applies when determining that one ought to live by the prescriptions of a book written thousands of years ago or refraining from eating a delicious and juicy steak.

A quick survey of ethical theories will present so many varieties of premises and conclusions that one is liable to despair at the outset of such an investigation.  Do not worry; I hope that, by the end of this book, you will have a firm enough grasp of philosophical methodology and (possibly) the reality of the matter which philosophy engages that you will be well on your way to making sense of ethics.

For now, I think it should suffice to say that ethics is the most practically applicable area of philosophy because its primary focus is influencing how one acts.  Ethics takes into account the various circumstances an actor finds himself in and applies a rubric by which he can or should act.  As the ancient Greeks phrased it, the problem is “how does one live the good life?”  Such an inquiry is obviously directed at happiness and, hey, who doesn’t like being genuinely happy?

Admittedly, this rubric must take into account objective facts about the world, such as what things exist and in what manner as well as subjective matters such as the objective of the individual actor, and that process is where things get hairy.  The methodology one uses to sort through the furniture of the world and the subjective goals of the individual actor is the source of the plethora of divergent ethical theories[9].

Ultimately, this introduction to the basics of philosophy is directed at establishing in your mind the plausibility of philosophy having practical utility in daily life.  I do not know you, the reader, personally but I am confident that it is a rare exception to find an individual completely lacking in ethical awareness.  How often does one encounter phrases like “that’s just wrong,” “people should just,” “such-and-such are as bad as Hitler,” “you really should go vegan/to church/vote/to college” or other variations of statements directed at modifying or justifying one’s behavior?  Whether those claims relate to a consistent and expansive network of ethical calculations and value judgements or not, those are ethical frameworks in action.

Even if one isn’t aware of the genealogy of those ethical compunctions, I can guarantee that they are derived from some philosophical work or another.  It is important to be aware of that genealogy, though; without the ability to critically examine the consistency of ethical claims one can fall victim to con artists and well-meaning do-gooders alike.  How many political campaigns have stemmed from undeserved patriotism or lies generating outrage?  How many people donate money to charities that simply show a sad image and ask for money, only to line the pockets of fraudsters?  Philosophy can help prevent such things.

[1] This is a barely-veiled allusion to “Candide” by Voltaire.  It’s an exceptional work of scathing philosophical satire.  It’s not as much fun if one hasn’t familiarized oneself with Leibnitz’ optimism.

[2] Rene Descartes: French philosopher from the turn of the 17th century; began a series of inquiries in modern philosophy named “Cartesian” which center on mind-body dualism and problems of knowledge.

[3] Solipsism: The belief that one’s self is the only thing that can be known to exist as such.

[4] Existants (n): Things that exist.

[5] If you don’t get the reference, just look up “Nigerian Prince scam” on the internet.

[6] “Cogito ergo sum.” translated as “I think, therefore I am.”

[7] A prion is a unique vector of disease wherein mutated proteins migrate through a host organism and reproduce, much like a virus.

[8] Pre-Socratics (n): The philosophers who lived in the Mediterranean region before the time of Socrates (the end of the 5th century BC).

[9] This dilemma is made strikingly clear by the observation of David Hume in “A Treatise of Human Nature” wherein he indicates that moral obligation is a concept of a different category than facts about the world.  This is commonly called the is-ought divide.  I will address this particular issue in the chapter on human action.

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.

Wizardly Wisdom Guest Spot

This week, I had the pleasure of being invited on the Wizardly Wisdom podcast.

We discussed a decently broad array of subjects, mostly centered around philosophy and libertarianism.  I’m about 70% happy with my performance this time around, so I guess I should apologize for not bringing my “A” game.  Still, I think this is an episode worth listening to, and the show over at Kenny the Wizard’s feed is worth listening to, as well.

If you liked this discussion, you’d love the 2016 anthology book, especially the book-exclusive chapter on “late stage anarchism”.

Language Barrier

Pod-and-blog-fade seems to be running rampant in the post-election libertarian and philosophy circles. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a combination of political hangover and something like a sigh of relief as certain existential threats have been postponed. Everywhere else, lefty entertainment and philosophy podcasts and blogs have begun their four-to-eight year pity-party, wherein they cry about the president to the exclusion of any other form of content. Technically, that’s why I voted for Trump, was to make these people cry… but I’ve got a bit of buyers’ remorse, now.

Anyway, I’m back on the content-producing bandwagon. Today, I’m talking about words.

 

I expect most of my readers will be well aware of the rules of grammar and have a decently expansive vocabulary. I’m not going to make a “top ten” list of fun punctuation marks… I mean, who hasn’t heard of an interrobang I’m not going to share my fun story about arguing about ancient Greek grammar with Jehova’s Witnesses (subject-object relationships are more important when you haven’t discovered punctuation yet). Instead, I’m discussing the philosophy of language in broad strokes.

As far as I can tell, most people haven’t critically examined the relationship between language and the world around them (unless they’ve smoked a lot of weed or have suffered severe concussions). As such, most people have intuitively just assumed one of two paradigms concerning the operation of language. If this describes you, Understand I’m not talking-down to you, as this is something esoteric enough in the realm of philosophy so as to be compared to particle physics or studying neolithic attitudes towards one’s in-laws. It is, however, an important issue to address when engaging in philosophical discussions.

Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, what are these two paradigms of language people assume? The first is that of what could be called “linguistic realism”: it’s a belief that words and sentences directly correlate to reality (in some cases, one could even say that words and reality are commensurate). In the case of thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, the word “justice” is an actual expression of some form or concept. When a poor soul makes the mistake of using the word “justice” near Socrates, Socrates assumes that the man must know the platonic form of justice so thoroughly so as to be able to utter the word, itself. Aristotle is a little more grounded, but he still assumes a sort of direct correlation between the word “justice” and manifestations in meatspace of someone “giving that which is owed”. In the modern age, that attitude is usually expressed by people who really enjoy Rhonda Byrne, people who think that bad words are bad words due to some innate quality of the word itself, and people who deride the idea of words changing meaning over time as well as the creation of new words. I used to be a linguistic realist.

The second paradigm of language could be called “postmodern nominalism” or “naive nominalism”. This position holds that words have very little correlation to reality; as a matter of fact, the best way to describe the position would be “the belief that words exist as nothing more than a game between individuals wherein rules are made up concerning the meaning and use of words, with little to no relation to the world outside of said game.” In the case of thinkers like Peter Abelard and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the meaning of a word depends on something along the lines of social consensus and common usage. When I say “tree”, it only means “that thing growing out of the ground, made out of wood, and bearing leaves” if I am speaking to someone who comprehends English and understands the botanical context of the statement. In a different context, the term “tree” could refer to a shape, such as that of a propane tree, a family tree, or a decision tree. To a non-English-speaker, it may as well be any other set of phonemes: it’s pure gibberish. In the modern age, that attitude is usually expressed by people who really enjoy saying “a rose by any other name…”, people who think that bad words are bad because of some historical or class-related context, and people who live-tweet their netflix-and-chill experience with their cis-gendered binary life-partner.

One of the clearest ways to delineate between these two positions is to inquire as to the nature of dictionaries. For example, if I hear or read a word I do not recognize, I obviously go to the dictionary… well… to google’s dictionary, at least. When I read the definition of the word, I am reading one of two things: I’m either reading the common context for the use of the particular term at the time of publication, or I am reading the “actual meaning” of the word. For example, if I were given the word “obacerate”, I would obviously have to google it or look it up in a century-old edition of the OED. When I get the definition “to interrupt one’s speech”, is that what the word means in some innate sense, or is that simply a description of how the word has been used in the past? If I were to begin using the word in colloquial conversation, would it mean “to interrupt one’s speech”, or could it take on a new meaning based on the context in which I use it or the context in which others understand it? If I only ever used the word “obacerate” when referencing covering someone’s mouth or punching them in the jaw, could the word take on that connotation?

If one says “the word means what the word means, regardless of context” one is likely a linguistic realist. If one says “the word hasn’t been used for almost a hundred years, it can mean whatever society begins to use it as” one is likely a naive nominalist. A more apparent, but less cut-and-dried example would be the use of words like “tweet”, wherein it could either be onomatopoeia for bird sounds or an activity which takes place on the website, twitter. If the word were to fall out of common parlance concerning birds, would the meaning of the word have changed once Webster cuts out the atavistic use of the word?

As is typically the case, I get the feeling that most people who bother to read this far are asking themselves “Why do I care about this hair-splitting over words?” If you are, you are right to do so. In day-to-day conversation, words just mean what they mean. If there is a misunderstanding, we need merely exchange one word for a synonym or offer a definition to contextualize the use of a particular word. In philosophy (and, therefore, any sufficiently advanced field of thought), though, these sorts of distinctions become important.

For example, if I assume that words have innate meanings and are either direct representations of something or are a sort of manifestation of the thing, itself, then when I start talking about something like colors, thoughts, phenomena, property norms… you know, abstractions, it can get hairy if I’m speaking to someone from a different set of preconceptions about language. I’m a sort of compatibilist nominalist. I greatly appreciate Peter Abelard’s contributions to the philosophy of language and I’m a recovering linguistic realist. As I will eventually get to in the 95 Theses, and I have already covered in the Patreon subscribers-only content, the human experience appears to be one which takes place entirely within one’s mind.

Whoah. Hit the brakes. That likely seems either patently obvious or totally insane, depending on who’s reading it. It’s either obvious that one has a consciousness which navigates a never-ending stream of sense-data and never grasps a “thing-in-itself” beyond those sense-inputs, or it’s insane to start talking like a Cartesian or Kantian solipsist: of course one sees, touches, tastes, smells, and hears the world around them and discusses these things with others…

…Which is a similar divide as the one between the linguistic realists and the postmodern nominalists. As far as I’m concerned, though, my mind is locked away from the world and only sees it as mediated through sense organs, nerve connections, chemical emulsions, brain wrinkles, and more. The only way I can make sense of all those inputs is to pick out regularities and assign concepts to those regularities. Through this systematic approach to those sense inputs, one can create a noetic and epistemic framework by which one can interact (albeit though similar mediation as the senses) with the world outside of one’s mind.

After all that fancy noesis and epistemology is underway, it becomes useful to apply language to this framework. If I consistently see a woody creature growing from the earth and bearing leaves and fruit, and I wish to express that set of concepts to someone else (who is obviously a similar set of sense perceptions, but I assume to be someone like myself), it helps to have a name, a sound, a mark, etc. to signify that set of concepts. And the basis for the word “tree” is created. The intuitive concepts such as causality, correlation, etc. also exist in that bundle of sense inputs and later receive names. If trees, causality, or even a world beyond the phenomena don’t actually exist, the sense inputs I have mistaken for these things still do. The reason I bring up abstractions of relationships, such as causality, is because they seem to relate to certain aspects of grammar. For example, subject-object relationships and prepositions seem to presuppose these causal and abstracted relationships.

Now, of course, there’s hundreds of years of philosophy of language at work and I couldn’t hope to go through even a thorough examination of my particular flavor of philosophy of language. The reason I tried to give this 2,000-word summary of the idea is twofold. First, I think that this is an issue that underlies a lot of misunderstandings and disagreements on the more superficial levels of human interaction. From the comical dilemmas over who’s allowed to say “faggot” or “nigger” to the more fundamental issues of whether or not “rights” or “norms” exist and in what manner, these conflicting theories of language are at play. The 95 Theses will go into the idea more in-depth and if the Patreon subscribers demand it, I’ll explore the idea further.

Second, I want to announce the upcoming glossary page on the website. I am often accused of mutilating language or using words in a way that only I can understand them. Less often, I’m accused of using too many technical words for people to keep up. I hope to remedy some of these issues by providing a cheat sheet of sorts to help people keep up with me and to understand what I am saying when I use words in a more precise way than they are commonly presented in dictionary definitions and colloquial use. Of course, I need feedback on which words should go in said glossary so, please, do comment on this post and send me emails about my abuses of language.

TL;DR: Philosophy of language is a very involved field of study, but nearly everyone is a philosopher of language, provided they speak a language. Even if one hasn’t critically analyzed their understanding of how language relates to the world, they are walking around with a bundle of assumptions as to what they mean when they speak certain words, and whether or not those words have some innate quality to them or whether they are just some sort of social game being played with other speakers of that same dialect. Most of those assumptions can be categorized as being that of “linguistic realism” (words are directly related to things and act as an avatar of the things they relate) or that of “postmodern nominalism” (words don’t mean anything in and of themselves and only vaguely gesture at socially agreed upon concepts). There are other, more nuanced positions that people can hold, but usually only as a result of actively engaging in the philosophy of language, an exercise I strongly recommend for those that are able.

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

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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.

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Chapter 3: Orders of Knowledge

Chapter 3: Orders of Knowledge

We have thus far introduced ratio and intellectus. As a quick refresher, intellectus (or intellect) is the inborn faculty which experiences the self and the predecessor to reason, and reason or ratio is the development of said faculty. However, in addressing the human epistemic experience and briefly examining the manner in which our mind operates, we have completely overlooked the primary concern of modern epistemology. Knowledge, in all of its complexity, still haunts our exploration of our epistemic assumptions.

While the exact definition and importance of knowledge is hotly contested in this postmodern environment, one definition tends to maintain its resilience. Knowledge, in my mind, is limited to what is called “propositional knowledge”. The experiential basis of propositional knowledge we have already discussed ought to simply be called “experience”. I define propositional knowledge as “justified true belief”. Now, as the contentious discussion that rages on will demonstrate, this definition is not flawless and self-sufficient, but that should not overshadow the usefulness or accuracy of this definition.

A brief examination of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s page on knowledge1 illustrates the key issues with the above definition, drawing on the works of those such as Gettier. No mater how complex and detailed the discussion becomes, the utility of the above definition is undeniable. Much like Russel’s discussion of our knowledge of universals,2 we already have an intuitive understanding of what knowledge is. As a matter of fact, we use that intuitive understanding to critique our proposed definitions, the chief example of this is the Gettier problems. A brief explanation of the Gettier problems is in order; the Gettier problems are a series of hypothetical instances contrived such that the definitive requirements for knowledge are met, but the conclusion flies in the face of our intuitive understanding of knowledge. A workable solution to such a dilemma is simple: we must accommodate for such an intuitive element in our definition. For now, “a justified true belief in which the justification is factual and sufficiently related to the truth at hand” will suffice. As that is, more or less, our intuitive understanding (ignoring the verbosity of the definition) of knowledge. “Justified true belief” is a good shorthand for this definition. More work clearly ought to be done to develop a rigorous and categorical definition for knowledge, but that is not the intent of this work. Besides, I am confident that whatever rigorous categorical definition is found will simply be a more detailed and explicit form of the one I have given.

Now why, at the beginning of chapter three, do I suddenly launch into definitions, qualifications, and disclaimers with nary a mention of the next thesis in the sequence of ninety-five? Simply put, the next several theses operate with this definition of knowledge in mind and the mere definition of a word does not justify the use of a thesis when I am limited to a mere ninety five. One more minor but crucial point must first be made, however; our intuitive use for knowledge is the formation of a reliable worldview, predicated on the reliability of the mind. As with my explanation of experiential knowledge, man is a habitual creature: our understanding, use of, and reliance on propositional knowledge is no exception. With this tedium out of the way, we may now proceed.

Thesis #7: One gains first-order knowledge by the exploration of logic as pertains to “self-apparent” principles and facts…

As I explicated in the first two chapters, “self-apparent” principles and facts are experiential in nature. Even the existence of a “self” is derived from the experience of reflecting on one’s experiences; this knowledge is not inherent to the mind, brain, man, whatever. Even the definitive and logical truths we find to be “self-apparent” are derived from a more primary experience. The easiest example of which would be that of a triangle. A triangle is a closed two-dimensional polygon with three angles and sides, the angles of which total one hundred eighty degrees. We can identify triangles by these factors, but before we could discover these attributes of triangles, we must first have an experiential knowledge of spatial relationships and basic math/geometry before we can identify or express these characteristics.

In the last chapter, we established certain epistemic tools through our mental experiences. While it is quite productive and enlightening to turn these tools on themselves in a manner similar to which Hegel discusses in his Introduction to the Philosophical Encyclopedia3, it is not required in order to begin observing and acknowledging the world at large. We can establish undeniable matters of truth and fact using syllogistic reasoning coupled with experience (most especially self-apparent facts). Our definitions of knowledge and triangles are prime examples of such a practice. This method is simple enough; one first states a definitive fact derived from experience, then through the use of the PNC explores the implications of such a fact, so long as nothing is self-contradictory or contrary to experience it can be assumed to be first-order knowledge (or, knowledge proper). If the logical exploration results in a contradiction, one must first check their logic before throwing out the initial premise. This work is, itself, an example of such a practice; our first chapter begins with three assumptions made due to their self-apparent nature, and here we are, two chapters later, still exploring the logical ramifications of such assumptions.

My current experience, aside from self apparent principles, is my only source of immediate knowledge. If our friend Mike, from the first chapter, is experiencing a particular event, say the fateful day he shot himself in the leg, he has a whole array of experiential facts at his disposal as well as deductive reasoning to assist him in knowing certain facts. He has the experience of a raw coldness in his thigh as well as a ringing in his ears which are undeniable. Mike calls such an experience “pain” or “injury”. Also, he experiences recalling memories of having dropped the handgun and attempting to recover it on its descent.4 Deductive reasoning may not be able to establish with certainty who or what is at fault for his current circumstance, but it is sufficient in analyzing the circumstance itself. Which, to be frank, is far more important when faced with a circumstance such as:

  • I am experiencing phenomena congruent with severe injury

  • If one wishes not to die, when faced with serious injury, one ought to pursue medical assistance

  • I do not want to die

  • I should seek out medical assistance

rather than to pursue the line of inquiry consistent with “why?”

Syllogistic, or deductive, reasoning is ultimately a practice in exploring the ramifications of the PNC as it applies to a particular claim. In the above example, it pertains to one’s particular experiences of pains and desires. As an astute logician will note, the above syllogism cleverly cheated; it introduced a non-immediate experience or a non-deductive inference. The premise, “if one wishes not to die, when faced with serious injury, one ought to pursue medical assistance,” is not necessarily an experiential fact or a deductively ascertained claim. However, herein lies two details which require attention: intuition and second-order knowledge. The latter will be discussed soon, all we need note now is that one can make legitimate first-order claims which are informed by second-order knowledge, so long as one is cognizant that they are doing so and verify its congruence with the paradigm5 established by one’s first-order knowledge. The case of intuition, though, is slightly more complex. As discussed earlier6, there is a distinctly observable reality that the human mind inherently possesses certain faculties, the ones addressed so far being intelligence and instinct. As far as what the exact cause of these inherent faculties is, is beside our current line of investigation. We will simply play the pragmatist for now; we will treat intuition as a brute fact and discuss its causes and specifics later. In the case of Mike, he would likely have an intuitive response to his gun wound to attempt to staunch the blood flow and such, a shorthand for these series of responses would be, “to pursue medical assistance”.

…it is highly falsifiable, and applies to physical and metaphysical fact as well as matters of truth

The above is a particular instance of what is essentially the only true type of knowledge: the only circumstance of a “justified true belief”. Anything beyond the definitive and falsifiable justification of immediate experience and deductive reasoning cannot provide certainty to a greater degree. This certainty is not, however, absolute. It qualifies to be called certain due to its immediacy and falsifiability. Falsifiability is the circumstance and burden of proof one would have in disproving a particular claim.7

Karl Popper, having posited falsifiability as crucial to epistemological study and having built an entire body of work on such a principle, is a valuable asset to one such as myself. Anchoring an entire philosophical worldview on a few epistemic assumptions, I must be diligent in exploring these assumptions and securing them as best I can. Unfortunately for me, Popper is simultaneously more pessimistic and optimistic than myself; making use of his work will require diligence. We both agree that knowledge is always suspect. It is always subject to criticism and correction. In his ardent desire to avoid supporting authoritarianism8, he seems to fall into a trap of epistemological absurdity in which “all knowledge is human… it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes… all we can do is grope for truth even though it be beyond our reach.”9 As the previous chapters10 show, I agree that our knowledge is limited and influenced by the human condition but to assert (unfalsifiably, I might add) that truth in unobtainable due to that reality undermines the very premise of such a claim. Besides, to strive for the admittedly impossible is to waste one’s time. One’s energy would be better spent, at a minimum, on more practical asymptotic activities instead (like curing disease or pursuing pleasure or enlightenment).

With how jealously I withhold the title of “knowledge”, the degree of confidence one can have in their beliefs hinges on falsifiability. In order to claim something as knowledge11, one must be making a claim which is immediately apparent and clearly falsifiable. Falsification of this (and every other) form of knowledge is, in truth, a good thing. Falsification provides an opportunity for better refinement and correction of an otherwise flawed worldview.12 One should always open themselves to rational and rigorous criticisms, so as to avoid becoming a relic-bearer of Lady-Philosophy’s garment.13

This isn’t to say that the first time something unpredictable or inconsistent emerges one ought to throw out their entire worldview and sequester themselves in a mire of Cartesian doubt. Quite the opposite is the case, one ought to defend such a claim until such a time as it is sufficiently disproven or falsified. We will explore this more later. For now, it will suffice to point out that single incidents of inaccuracy in one’s beliefs may in fact be flukes, only cumulative or consistent error is sufficient cause for radical reevaluation.

Now, many may mistake this epistemic framework for some Kantian a-priori reasoning or some assertion of continental brute facts. Neither of these is the case at hand. These self-apparent facts are, in fact, theory-laden. Even the most fundamental facts one can select, such as the Cartesian cogito,14 still contain some degree of implicit theory. In the case of the cogito there is at least the predicate assumption that there is a causal relationship between actions and existants (that the experience of thought must be attributed to a thinker) and that the PNC obtains. The issue is not one of selecting a brute fact or discovering an a-priori truth, but rather to find a sufficient fact on which to vest one’s philosophy because all self-apparent facts are, without exception, theory-laden.15

Of all the things we have allowed into our ontology thus far, this theory-ladenness itself must either be a form of brute fact, an inherent fact that there is no fundamental starting-place to understanding the world,16 or must be an inextricable attribute of man’s mind. I am in favor of both of the proposed options, actually. I believe that the universe is an elegant and logically constituted entity which has no one logical predicate on which all else hinges, but rather is an intricate and interdependent network of logically constituted laws in which the absence of any one equally would cause a total collapse. Because of that holistic nature of reality, our minds are equally constituted as such in order to accurately form a conception of the universe. This inherent holisticism, then, is an aspect of one’s intellect.

As mentioned, this knowledge pertains to physical and metaphysical fact, as well as truth claims. So far, in this work, the most prominent first order claim pertaining to physical fact I have made is that one has embodied experiences. Falsifying such a claim may be somewhat difficult to do experientially with our current technological limitations. However, it could be quite easy to locate a logical inconsistency with the claim. For example, one could at least cast doubt on such a claim by finding an inconsistency between the epistemic claim that one is capable of abstract thought while insisting the primacy of material senses. I clearly have not found one, lest I would have asserted otherwise, but the purpose of publishing a work as such is to allow others to double-check my claims.

In similar fashion, we have made first-order metaphysical claims. Chief among them would be that one’s understanding dictates one’s behavior. Rather, a more specific case in that assertion would be that man operates with an intermediary function between stimulus and response. The easiest manner in which one could falsify such a claim, as far as I can tell, would be to demonstrate that it is superfluous to forming a sufficient paradigm for all second and third order reasoning. I have not yet addressed the framework in which one would do so, but we will get to it shortly.

This naturally brings us to truth claims. Technically, either everything or nothing we have discussed thus far qualifies as a truth claim, given the common usage of the term “truth claim”. As far as I am concerned, a “truth claim” is distinguished from a factual claim (such as the two we discussed above) with regards to its subject matter. A factual claim has to do with a state of affairs in specific or categorical situations whereas a truth claim regards a matter of transcendental realities. This will be addressed in more detail in the next chapter, but for now, we can refer to the PNC as one such claim. While I believe it to be impossible, one can falsify the PNC simply by illustrating a logically cogent circumstance in which something both is and is not in the same mode at the same time.

Thesis # 8: Through the marrying of multiple first-order concepts and further introduction of experience, one gains second-order knowledge…

As the thesis indicates, second-order knowledge17 is predicated on first-order knowledge. The sum total of one’s first-order knowledge creates a paradigm on which one’s second-order knowledge can be built. Having already shown themselves to be self-apparent, rationally cogent, and non-contradictory, first-order claims can be relied upon to fact check one’s second-order claims. In such a circumstance that one encounters or forms a second-order claim, they must critically assess its validity against the paradigm in which they are operating.

Through the application of deductive reasoning, one takes self-apparent logical principles and analyzes their relationships. By analyzing the relationships between their conclusions, they remove themselves from the self-apparent by a minor degree. This line of reasoning has few applications outside of mathematics without the added element of experience. Practically speaking, the marrying of multiple first order concepts and adding experiential data is fairly straightforward.

Mike, now medically stabilized, can effortlessly begin to assess what happened from the perspective of strong belief. He has already ascertained that he is injured and that he dropped a loaded gun. By drawing from experience, he knows it is incredibly likely that, in fumbling to catch the gun, he may have pulled the trigger. He also has a strong belief that the other two people who had possession of a handgun at the time were executing proper gun safety and were not in such a position so as to fire a gun at an angle corresponding to his wound. All of this evidence along with the deductive arsenal provided by his first-order paradigm can (rightly) lead him to the conclusion that he did, in fact, shoot himself in the leg.

The belief he has that his companions were executing proper gun safety is primarily due to experience and collaboration. He has witnessed them demonstrate their skill, knowledgeably, and contentiousness many times before while shooting. Additionally, they are responsible for his knowledge of the rules and basics of gun safety and use. Adding to his certainty that he did in fact shoot himself would be one of his companions serving as a witness to the event, “Dude, you just shot yourself!” In their own way, collaboration and communication are a form of experience which are useable in the development of second-order knowledge. Any one stranger can present a claim to another; without a well-developed discourse between the two, in addition to the critical thinking skills required to assess that discourse, such an interaction is meaningless. If some stranger (or even a friend) simply walks up to you and makes a claim, anything from “the sky is blue” to “Elvis lives”, and leaves promptly thereafter, there was no opportunity to expand one’s knowledge base. However, as will be explored later in this chapter and especially in the next chapter, someone can make an argument for a second-order belief and that allows for the opportunity to expand one’s knowledge base or at least reassess one’s existing knowledge base.

To one familiar with logic, this thesis essentially concerns itself with induction. While Russell explores induction quite thoroughly in chapter six of his “Problems of Philosophy”, he fails to provide a concise definition for quick reference. I will suggest a definition and then recommend that the more ambitious of my readers read Russel for more detail. I would define induction as, “the rational function by which one forms a strong belief by repeated experience and logical inference.”

Clearly, the study of physics18 lands solidly in this category. The empirical and observational study of the world which makes use of logic, mathematics, and repeated experimentation has been developed with the intent and end19 of forming a cohesive and reliable framework of second-order knowledge. Physics has proven invaluable in expanding our knowledge and providing for vast improvements in our quality of life and shows no signs of slowing in pursuit of that end. However, some have fallen victim to the ideology of scientism, believing that this material study of the world must be predicated on a purely material ontology and is the alpha and omega of knowledge. As I have already illustrated, science is predicated on a first-order paradigm and is part of a larger framework of philosophy. I am reminded again of Russell:

“The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life as last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken”20

As an aside that my broader ideology and disposition will not allow me to leave unaddressed, who is crazier, the chicken who distrusts the farmer and awaits and prepares for such a time that the common belief in the farmer’s benevolence is falsified, or the chickens who are content with the utility of daily meals?

… this order of knowledge is less falsifiable than the first.

Like first order claims, second order claims cannot contradict each other. In the popular case of science, it is easy to make a claim that this is not the case. For example, Newtonian gravity is still used universally for most every day-to-day practical application of physics, such as architecture or demolition while Einstein’s theories on relativity have effectively falsified newton’s theories. That claim, though, is naive; certain aspects of Newtonian mechanics have been shown inaccurate and ineffective, but that does not mean that there were not accurate observations, predictions, and knowledge claims contained therein.21 In less esoteric knowledge bases, this reality is more evident. One cannot simultaneously claim that the sun will rise tomorrow and claim that it will not. Mike can not claim that he had shot himself in the leg and that he did not, nor can the chicken claim that the farmer will wring their necks and that he will refrain from doing so.

In reality, if any two second-order claims are found be contradictory, they are likely inconsistent with the first order paradigm one established prior to making such second-order claims. This is because no second-order claim can be made without first assuming the accuracy of one’s first-order paradigm and verifying that second order claim against it. In such a circumstance that there is a true contradiction between two second-order claims (as opposed to a merely apparent contradiction) which are both supported or necessitated by one’s first-order paradigm, one must reassess their first-order paradigm in order to ensure that some mistake was not made which would result in such a contradiction.

If there is no flaw in the first-order paradigm, one must move on to pitting the contradictory strong beliefs against each other and attempt to falsify them. In most cases, second-order claims are experientially falsifiable. Induction, as its primary use, makes predictions about the world and about certain logical results. In these cases, one needs only to seek out instances in which the predictions made are consistently or severely inaccurate.

Thesis # 9: Through the extension of trends in the aforementioned orders of knowledge and the marrying of multiple second-order concepts, one can gain third-order knowledge: this order is rarely falsifiable by any means other than proving logical inconsistencies concerning the first-and-second-order paradigms and between third-order knowledge claims

While it may not be clear, in what I have written thus far, I have attempted to remain as politically correct and uncontroversial as possible while still saying what is necessary to convey my point. Unfortunately, this is the point at which I must descend into touchy material. Mike may have a weak belief that he shot himself because of karma or divine punishment. He may believe that he was predestined to shoot himself or that the CIA had implanted a microchip in his ass that made him do so. Any or all of these beliefs may be true. So long as they do not contradict the paradigms established by the first-and-second-order knowledge sets or each other, it is justifiable to believe such things22. Those examples are clearly a bit extreme, but it wouldn’t be out of line to say that Mike’s justifications for these claims may be more well reasoned and defensible than many claims at people at large take to be determined matters of fact. We will address that in the next section of this chapter.

Typically, third-order knowledge claims reside in realm of such things as esoteric sciences, religious discussions, conspiracy theories, and (especially) politics. Not always are these realms populated solely by third-order claims, but they do tend towards that in the common man’s mind. Other than by showing a logical inconsistency with the pre-existing paradigms, it is difficult to establish a falsifying element in third-order claims, which is likely to be part of the reason why the average man tends to vest so much of their mental narrative in the realm of weak beliefs, because they have the illusion of being bulletproof to the logically illiterate.

This is not a dismissal of weak belief. While this type of knowledge is frequently abused, it does have its utility. Sufficient practical reliability and utility can secure third-order concepts against ridicule. Many times throughout history, some person or organization has made a third-order claim which, by way of abductive reasoning or by advances in the rational or technological tools at man’s disposal, has since established itself as second-order knowledge. Abductive reasoning can best be described as an appeal to a compelling explanation for an otherwise unintelligible or gratuitous circumstance. In the words of C.S. Peirce, “The surprising fact, C, is observed. But if A were true, C would e a matter of course. Hence, there is reason to suspect that A is true.”23 This abductive reasoning is easily third-order knowledge, and can even see itself promoted to the second order, given sufficient supporting evidence.

In the case of scientific and religious discussion, one ought to be diligent in first securing their claims well within the realm of second-order knowledge. Many times, a great deal of cultural upheaval and unnecessary suffering result from people aggressively supporting and advancing weak beliefs in such a way so as to make them mandatory for all. Two easy, controversial, opposed, and equally ridiculous examples are those of six-day-creationism and Neo-Darwinism. Both stand on weak paradigms and contradict matters of scientific and metaphysical fact which are quite cemented as second-order knowledge. It is acceptable to hold religious or scientific beliefs which are third-order, but only so long as one remembers that they are beholden to the standards established by their preceding paradigms.

Thesis# 10: Through the collaboration of certain philosophers (and philosophy’s constituents) throughout history, there have been established a series of compelling arguments and traditions as apply to the truth and meaning of the universe; one must be willing to adopt certain elements from these traditions, but not without first assessing the validity of and categorizing such elements

All of this chapter thus far likely appears to be a matter of stating the obvious. It is possible that one or another of my readers will claim that this model in no way resembles the actual process of knowing and knowledge. I challenge such a reader to provide a more practical, reliable, and accurate model so that I may adopt it. For now, I will extoll the cash value24 of this model.

An interesting concept introduced by the sophists in the “new atheism” movement is meme theory.25 A grossly oversimplified view of meme theory is simple: individuals create and transmit memes betwixt one another much like viruses, only instead of deadly illness, they are ideas held in the mind. The memes that survive are those which provide the most utility or are in some other way given opportunity to spread. This theory was created with the express purpose of attempting to discredit religions as some sort of “meme engineering scheme” in which religious leaders, over the course of centuries and millennia, create and finely tune memes which grant the leaders control over those infected by the memes. If true, this would make religions some sort of mental terrorist organizations.

All sentient creatures, in communicating, are meme engineers. When I form a thought and pass it on to another, I am a meme engineer. When taking ideas in and deciding which to share, which to disregard, and which to modify, I am also participating in meme engineering. All of philosophy, including science and theology both, is party to meme engineering. This does not mean that philosophy is some evil organization creating zombies from a careful application of a trade milennia old, but rather the opposite. While there are bad actors which do attempt to abuse ideology and reason to bend the weak-minded to their devices26, meme engineering is the primary engine of progress.

It is important to note that memes are more like sound bytes than full-fledged ideas. Certain images, affectations, or catchphrases are good representations of memes. Where one can easily remember, recite, or recognize a phrase like, “Form follows function,” they may have no concept of it’s point of origin or even what it means. Only through some form of learning or education does one come to know that it is a principle that is key to the architectural field, and too often forgotten.

Many people, for any number of possible reasons, do not critically assess their belief structures. Our culture has engendered a distinctly emotional and anti-reason attitude. Many insist that, “people need to learn to think” when what they really mean is that, “they ought to learn to think like me.” Social understanding of the term, “critical thought” has been switched to dogmatic neoliberal belief. Our political, religious, educational, and economic landscape clearly illustrates this attitude. Additionally, a popular activity that has emerged is asking elementary questions concerning these subjects of a random selection of people off the street and sharing their absolutely incoherent answers.

Ultimately, this unwillingness to critically assess one’s beliefs in the manner I have thus far outlined has become so widespread for so long that many cultures of intolerance to reason have developed. It is, quite literally, impossible to speak cogently, intelligently, and civilly with a large swath of the population. Neoliberalism, fundamentalism, scientism, fideism, and any number more “-ism”s have evolved from their origins as mere theories or rubrics for action into monstrous, insular, intolerant, and aggressive codes of dogma which cannot coexist in a world with rational actors capable of critical thought. This does not mean that all that ascribe to “-ism”s are mindless warrior drones ever ready to jihad in the name of science, faith, or civil rights; some are quite intelligent, if mistaken. Likewise, some number of “-ism”s have managed to maintain their proper mindset, application, and scope in an otherwise irrational environment.

If one is careful to examine both their own and others’ belief structures, one can inoculate themselves against bad memes and avoid being misdirected. Nearly every individual is rational to some degree. As a result, even the most unintelligent or mistaken individual tends to utter claims which bear some degree of truth. I hope that, though this work and those to follow, I may be successful in distilling said truths from the many, many ideologies and theories to which I have been exposed and arrange them in such a fashion so as to be accurate enough to piss absolutely everyone off. I believe that with proper education or training in logical thought, many will be able to make use of this model of knowing and believing in such a way that, even if they are unsuccessful in forming an accurate worldview, they may at least be able to behave and discuss in a civil and intelligent manner.

As can be inferred from the discussion of this framework, the order in which a particular piece of knowledge falls is contingent on the knower, not the meme (or claim). The argument to the concept establishes its order, not the idea itself. A clear example would be in the realm of ethics, in which one can make a particular claim (murder is wrong), and depending on one’s method of determining the claim can land it in any particular category. Kant can claim “Murder is wrong because blah, blah, categorical imperative, blah, blah,” and it would at least qualify as a strong belief. “Murder is wrong,” says the local minister, “because I have a strong abductive argument for the existence of God and the Bible as a moral authority,” and his claim would be, at a minimum, third-order knowledge. When you ask the first person you see at the super market (as I have) and get the response, “Murder is wrong because… what are you, a psycho? It just is!” you have just encountered a claim with no knowledge content worth consideration.

One cannot possibly double-check every claim that they encounter, especially in this era of information overload. Categorization of ideas can help. Our current society sees an instinctive application of this solution; when presenting an idea (especially concerning a political issue) to one’s acquaintances, one is frequently faced with a dismissive response coupled with a particular categorization (“Oh, this is just that liberal/republican crap”). This can be done in a conscious and responsible manner. After assessing a claim one encounters, they can categorize the claim based on premises, subject matter, the stances that others tend to take on issues other than the claim at hand. In doing this, the next time one encounters the same or related claims, they can expediently determine whether said claims operate in an acceptable and cogent framework. Admittedly, this process can result in one overlooking valuable information due to the manner in which it is presented. For this reason, I find that it would be ideal for one to maintain a stoic agnosticism when overwhelmed and explore one claim at a time, remembering always the larger picture.

The necessity and importance of collaboration cannot be overshadowed by the pitfalls of the human condition. In interacting with others in the philosophical space, one is able to expand their knowledge base, refine and correct mistakes, and increase the number of creative minds working on any given problem. Also, this interaction tends to leave a record. Once upon a time, letters, books, and diaries left a record for later philosophers to engage. In today’s era, those technologies certainly persist, but we have the additional technologies of the internet and all it has to offer. Most notable of which is the permanence and accessibility of data, which are attributes that will likely increase in scope as cryptography and open-source technologies become a cultural mainstay.

Many ideas which have survived the ravages of human history have been passed down generationally, being improved, corrected, reassessed, with each passing century. Not all, but likely some of these ideas and worldviews contain a series of compelling arguments and methodological traditions, hence their survival. It would be a missed opportunity if one did not make an earnest attempt to analyze and selectively accept the accurate and useful from these traditions. As long as one’s first order claims are factual and true, it ultimately doesn’t matter which first-order claims are made, a properly formed reason has the capacity to derive the type of worldview pursued by the philosophers: one that is internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable and universal, possessing ethical agency, utility, and Truth.

95 Theses

1 http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/knowledge-analysis/

2“Problems of Philosophy” Chapter 9

3Hegel, Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences p10

4Gun safety protip: don’t do that.

5 Which will be discussed later in this chapter as well

6Ch 2: The Embodied Mind

7Falsifiability is a concept I have shamelessly stolen from Karl Popper and turned to my own uses. I will point the curious reader to hes “Conjectures and Refutations”.

8A desire I share as an anarchist.

9Karl Popper Conjectures and Refutations p39

10As well as thesis 95

11First-order knowledge

12Popper p35

13Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy p2

14Descartes “Meditations on first Philosophy” Chapter 2

15An idea that, while appearing to be simple, contains implicit meanings and beliefs within it.

16Holistic theory of knowledge

17Also called “strong belief”

18 The branch of philosophy which concerns itself with what our modern culture calls science, namely, a study of the material world

19Greek: telos. “That for the sake of which”

20Russell “Problems of Philosophy” Chapter 6

21For a more thorough exploration of both this specific example, and the principles which underlay it, I reference the reader to Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions”.

22 I seriously wonder what paradigms he would have to establish in order to simultaneously believe all four claims. If he has reliable second-order knowledge to base his accusations against the CIA, I want to hear it

23Groothuis “Christian Apologetics” p434

24The practical results of embracing a particular idea

25Richard Dawkins “The Selfish Gene”

26We will call these people “sophists” or “government officials”.

Logical Anarchy Guest Spot!

Today, I have another guest spot I’d like to present.  I feel much better about my performance on this episode than the previous guest spot I had, and I’d like my readers/listeners to check out the work that they do over at Logical Anarchy.

Carpe veritas



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Podcast List 2016

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

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

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

Podcasts I no longer listen to:

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

Podcasts that have been discontinued:

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

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No Treason: Lysander Spooner

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expression Theory vs Realism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Scratch 4.2 Background and name

Thus Spake Zarathustra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

Chapter 1: Epistemic Assumptions

Chapter 1: Epistemic Assumptions

Thesis #1: One is solely informed by experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

95 Theses

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

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

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

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

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

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

7The next chapter will explore this concept more fully.

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

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

10“Problems of Philosophy” Bertrand Russell ch.5

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

12In Chapter 2: “The Embodied Mind”

13epistemology

14phenomenology

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

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

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

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

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

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

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

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Life and Death: A Meditation

A good number of important intellectuals, famous artists, and people I know personally have died or come pretty close in the last couple years. This phenomena is nothing new to me; even in the heart of Empire, humans are subject to the human condition no less than those in Empire’s killing fields. I’ve been faced with this reality a little more than I have grown accustomed to of late and felt I could share my musings here a little more long-form from the offhand remarks I’ve been getting in trouble over.

Before discussing death outright, it would likely be prudent to address that which immediately precedes it: life. As will be addressed in my 95 Theses, there exist two possible ontological realities concerning life. It can either be teleologically directed or it can be a mere gratuitous happenstance. In the absence of what amounts to some purpose and afterlife beyond this one, life is nothing more than a complex chemical reaction that eventually exhausts itself; one’s phenomenological experiences are nothing more than a freak occurrence of matter briefly knowing itself before once again becoming deaf and dumb.

Alternatively, if the Catholics, Buddhists, animists, or adherents of some other religion turn out to be correct, the purpose of this life is directed towards what occurs afterwards. I don’t know how deeply I ought to follow this line of thought for the sake of this post; I think the absurd caricatures most people have concerning heaven and hell or reincarnation are sufficient.

In the case of life being gratuitous, death is equally so. Not even the individual who may be dying has much cause for emotion. In a few moments, there will be nothing left, and there will be nothing left to observe that absence; the universe is (phenomenologically) extinguished in death. Other than waxing poetic or discussing the epistemic impossibility of comprehending such a reality, there isn’t anything more that needs to be said. I guess I could mention that, in a universe in which life and death are gratuitous, moral principles are meaningless, even a prohibition on murder, as the “victim” has nothing to lose by such an incident. In the words of Albert Camus: “There is a passion of the absurd. The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusion and without resignation either. The absurd man asserts himself by revolting. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the ‘divine irresponsibility’ of the condemned man. Since God does not exist and man dies, everything is permissible.”

In the case of life having a telos, specifically one that motivates human action, then death may yet achieve some meaning alongside life. Death then, depending on the nature of the afterlife, could be a blessing or a curse, contingent on the relation the dying has with said afterlife. Given that the existence or absence of any sort of afterlife is yet unknown by any reliable measure, it would likely be the most prudent course of action to err on the side of rational caution, whatever that may be.

Either way, one type of comment that has gotten me in trouble is speaking of suicide in what some consider to be unaffected or positive ways. I’m no stranger to suicide, having seriously encountered that spectre in my life by way of both experiencing the temptation myself and having friends and family succumb to it. Observing suicide from the clinically detached position of praxeology can provide some insight as to the nature of such a choice. In the language of praxeology, suicide is a result of one of two possible functions: extreme time preference or cost/benefit analysis.

Speaking from personal experience, it can be quite easy to make ill-informed decisions when one has a very high time preference. Ultimately, that which differentiates human action from animal movement is the deliberative and deferred function of rationality. Where a dog will eat whatever activates their appetite, a man can choose to abstain or to eat something different from that which activates his appetites. Each individual has a different capacity for such deliberation. For example, one could usually pass up one bitcoin today if it ensured receiving two bitcoins tomorrow… but if one were to win the powerball, the would likely take half of the prize up-front, rather than taking the full prize divided into several annuities.

How does such a time preference influence the choice to kill oneself? The easy example is that of adolescents killing themselves over the inhospitable nature of school as an environment or bullying from their peers and adults. School may be a 25,000 hour system of dehumanization, but one is typically expected to live for forty to eighty years after emerging from that abuse engine. Bullies and environments come and go, but death is permanent. The decision, then, to kill oneself when still so young is demonstrative of a time preference by which one would rather permanently obliterate oneself (or face eternal damnation, same idea) than suffer the ennui of being a slave for what amounts to a relatively brief time.

A different, but functionally equivalent, example is one I have faced more than once. I have always had a very contracted time preference, and certain bouts of what could appropriately be called ennui could have been fatal for me in the past. In the saving words of Camus (again): “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.” Technically, that question is an open one for me. The only reason I still live is that of a Sisyphean dare: “There is the possibility, however, slim, that tomorrow could be better than today… wouldn’t it be a sick stoic joke if I gave up just before it’s too late? I dare tomorrow to be worse though…” By and large, the number of better tomorrows has outweighed the worse ones.

After spending so many words on time preference, cost/benefit analysis doesn’t warrant much expenditure. Where suicide as a function of extreme time preference is typically the result of a flawed cost/benefit analysis, one which weighs immediate discomfort far more heavily than expected future gains, suicide as a function of cost/benefit analysis is simply one that is better informed. If someone is over a century old and is diagnosed with an inoperable and advanced form of cancer, odds are there will quickly arrive a day beyond which each day will be worse. In an act of stoic virtue, one may make an analysis of one affairs and choose to die on one’s own timeline, rather than that of one’s cancer. There are a great number of historical and literary examples which parallel this one.

This sort of deliberation has, historically, been rejected and discouraged by Christian thinkers and preachers even though, despite argumentation to the contrary, Thomism will defend my position, utilizing the myth of “double effect”. The most prominent basis for such a rejection has been that suicide is an act of despair and despair is the opposite of faith; to reach a conclusion that each day will be worse than the any preceding day and today is the lowest threshold of desirability is to despair in God’s ability/willingness to perform miracles. This is, of course, derived from a naive interpretation of Thomist theology. God has an equal capacity to miraculously improve one’s life tomorrow as He does to do so the moment before one pulls the trigger.

The other argument presented most often from the Christian camp is some variation of “Your body is not your own, it’s God’s; to kill your body would be to steal from God.” While such rhetoric could be eminently useful as a shorthand ethical device (“Would God rather I pursue physical and intellectual virtue with this body, or let it become a shiftless mass of wasted resources?”), the metaphysics of such a claim is either non-actionable or absurd, depending on the formulation. That is not to say that I am opposed to the idea that suicide may be a sin, but it certainly is not a crime.

Of course, when discussing faith and suicide, I would be remiss in not at least mentioning martyrdom. Allowing or intentionally causing oneself to be killed for the sake of furthering an agenda, especially in the case of “Christ’s Kingdom”, is typically what one means when one refers to a martyr in the literal sense. In other words, martyrdom is typically an instance of “suicide by cop/barbarian/jihadi/etc.” whereby one has allowed themselves to fall victim of an ideologue of an opposing faction. I intend to dedicate a full post to martyrdom some other time, but it suffices to say in this context that, if suicide is impermissible for any consistent reason, martyrdom must also be avoided at any cost (possibly other than apostasy or suicide) and a great many “martyrs’ may just be suicides by any reasonable definition. Having faith in God, the afterlife, or the righteousness of one’s cause is insufficient to differentiate between suicide and martyrdom, as suicide is an attempt to escape this life for whatever comes after (and is therefore more appropriately characterized as an act of faith in the afterlife, be it nothingness, reincarnation, whatever) and the only difference is whether one kills themselves by way of their own hand, or the inevitable reactions of others.

From a anthropological perspective, death is the driving motive behind human progress. Every human action is directed towards maximizing either quantity or quality to one’s life, even if that action may be misinformed. It follows, then, that the avoidance of death is what lies, fundamentally, behind the creation of internet, smart phones, cotton underpants, indoor plumbing, drugs/medicine, and whatever other white-bread modern inventions you enjoy. In addition to being a motivating factor, it is also an inter-generational biological process. Human strains that have existed for tens of thousands of years in a particular environment have been naturally selected to exhibit different characteristics due to that environment. Said factors have played a smaller, but more significant, factor in this selective process. Yes, I’m speaking of human evolution.

Human ingenuity has largely mitigated these natural selective processes in the last couple thousand years. One of the few factors which still contributes to beneficial selective processes is the individual detrimental effects of extreme time preference, which can largely only be mitigated by the actions of the individual in question who has such a time preference. As a result, suicide is, in effect, one of the few natural processes which contribute to beneficial breeding selection. This isn’t to say that suicide is a good thing, but it is one of the few factors in human environments that contributes to genetic hygiene.

One other circumstance in human environments which contributes to beneficial selective processes is the adverse consequences of crime and vice. Criminals place themselves in situations where lethal force may be used against them. If not immediate lethal force, social forces tend to reduce one’s ability to reproduce after the fact. Despite the best efforts of progressivism and the state to mitigate the consequences of crimes (such as theft) and vices (using poorly-designed drugs like krokodil or adderal), they have not totally succeeded. The violent death rate in progressive cities such as Chicago is one such data point to illustrate this.

In the absence of the state, these beneficial consequences will become more pronounced: rather than relying on welfare to purchase food so as to subsidize one’s drug addiction, a drug-user will be forced to choose between starvation or sobriety. Those with the capacity for virtue will eschew dependence on externalities and become a valuable member of a community and those without said capacity will not be passing on their genes. A similar paradigm emerges in the case of crime. In the absence of a politically-motivated and violent monopoly on security, jurisprudence, and welfare (such as prisons), criminals will be faced with more immediate and dire consequences. Without getting into specifics, as volumes have already been written about the plethora of options in LibPar, criminals will be faced with the prospect of a more vigilant and aware set of potential victims coupled with the likelihood of death or exile if caught. It is more likely, by orders of magnitude, that those capable of basic risk-assessment and cost/benefit analysis will refrain from making ill-advised decisions while those that are incapable are not likely to reproduce.

This post, thus far, has been largely descriptive: simply observing the ontological state of affairs without making a value judgment as to whether such things are “good” or “bad”. If you, the reader, have found yourself disagreeing with the facts as I’ve laid them out or if your aesthetic tastes have been put off by my sterile approach and you are still reading this, I first want to thank you and second would like your feedback. For the reminder of this already over-sized post, I want to delve into my personal aesthetics and, perhaps, some prescriptive writing.

Life, for me, exclusively finds its meaning in death. If there were no prospect that my existence as such would ever terminate, there would be no impetus for action outside of immediate carnal itches. Even the two deepest passions in my life (my family and philosophy) would likely lack the immediacy which makes me passionate. Rather than investing so much time and effort into relationships or reading, arguing, and writing, there would certainly be an attitude of , “I’ve got time… I’ll do that right after I eat this ten-pound steak and sleep it off.” Rather than frantically devouring philosophical texts or taking on the lifetime (and, in this hypothetical, therefore eternal) commitment of marriage and siring of children, a more causal and haphazard perusal of earthly delights would be in order. I believe I can at least understand why J.R.R. Tolkien, in the Silmarillion, would have the supreme creator of the world grant Man the the “gift” of being able to die, since Man was incapable of experiencing and appreciating the supreme beauty of the gods, as could the elves.

Given my awareness of mortality (having touched death a few times, unintentionally, and having lost friends, loved ones, and acquaintances), I have spent no small amount of time dwelling on the realities expressed above as well as much more that remains unaddressed in this post. Ultimately, as far as I can tell, death is no more or less significant that one’s birth, puberty, bowel movements, or meals. Circumstances of such an event, coupled with the aesthetic preferences of those involved can imbue the event with a subjective emotional quality (happy, sad, etc.) but an objective observer could identify certain facts about the event which may be lost to others blinded by personal preferences.

Regardless of whether life and death are gratuitous or teleologically significant, the reality remains that one’s emotional and aesthetic response to a death is what it is, and bears no moral value whether it be indifference, joy, or anguish. Ethically speaking, how one chooses to express or act upon one’s reaction is purely a matter of goal acquisition. If one wants to maintain relationships with one’s extended family, it may be ill-advised to shout for joy at grandpa’s funeral, for example.

If life and death are gratuitous, the deaths of your friends are to be mourned while those of your enemies are to be celebrated (if you care at all). If life and death are teleological in nature, it all depends on the telos; to a Muslim, animist, Buddhist, shamanist, or Jew, the circumstance of the death of either friend or foe is the determining factor as to whether it is cause for happiness or dismay. Christianity, being a uniquely optimistic worldview, presents a compelling case (and resultant mystery/paradox) that every life and inevitable death is cause for celebration. The resultant mystery is such that human beings are created with the innate and ineradicable desire to add quality and quantity to their lives, while also celebrating the extreme absence thereof. This apparent paradox is resolved by a more diligent exploration of ontological matters, which I will engage in the 95 Theses.

TL;DR: As this post is as concise as I could make it and it is still 50% larger than expected, I don’t know if an abbreviated version is responsible. The general moral that can be inferred from this post, I would hope, is that one should first focus on the categorical and ontological realities of life and death in an honest and descriptive manner before entertaining emotions, preferences, and prescriptions concerning specific cases. I spent so much time addressing this moral, though, that I never got to address the three or so statements I have made recently, revolving around this topic, which raised the ire of people less philosophically involved which motivated this post.

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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.

Rant 1: Taxes Are Not Repayment for Services Rendered

I’m doing something new, we’ll see how popular it becomes.  I’m just recording low-quality rants when I feel like it and posting them when recorded.  I figure I type all this crap into Facebook while yelling it in real time, so I might as well put is someplace a little more accessible and permanent than a Facebook or NSA (same thing) server.

One of the most common and most ignorant arguments I see in favor of taxes, I think, is a direct result of shitty parents.
“Taxes aren’t theft, they are you paying for use of things like roads or benefiting from the government’s activities indirectly.”
The roads have already been paid for, and whatever government activity is involuntary. If I were to buy you a car and just give it to you (regardless of whether you wanted it), I would be insane, but doing nothing more than giving you a gift. Nothing would be owed to me for that gift. If I were to buy you a car and afterwards demand that you pay me for it (especially at a 65%-400% markup), I would simply be insane. You didn’t want the car (or else you would have bought it, why am I making decisions for you?) and I have no right to demand payment for a gift that is already paid for.
If I were to rob you at gunpoint and use a portion (or all) of the money I stole from you to buy you a car, I still stole that money from you, as a car is less liquid an asset than cash and IF YOU WANTED A GODDAMNED CAR, YOU WOULD HAVE BOUGHT ONE!

Taxes are not “your fair payment for services rendered”, but is instead highway robbery of the highest order, with the added insult of the highwayman saying “I’m doing this for your own good.”  If you believe this rhetoric, you were likely abused as a child (if not physically, emotionally). Go get your issues sorted out before perpetuating your abuse on others.

“The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life…The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side 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…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.” Lysander Spooner