Friday, December 28, 2012

A Single Post for December

Just to maintain a sliver of activity, I'll throw up this post.

Presently I'm working on a story, so most of my creativity and mental energy is going toward the book instead of blog posts.

Plus I'm coming off a pretty nasty stomach flu.

I have nothing of substance to share.

So I'll put this up instead.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

So Much Repetition

Sometimes you'll find a thought, a fantasy, or a project large enough to capture every free thought that you have. Your mind will seem to be constantly playing thoughts with the same flavor; you can savor the productivity and the love that's involved in that kind of single-minded pursuit, but at the same time it is easy to begin wanting change for change's own sake.

Especially because at some point the thought will creep into your head whether or not the thing you are focused on actually deserves that much attention. It is here that you have to be cautious - there's going to be an impulse that says it's best to cut your losses and find new mental territory to dwell in for awhile. As with most impulses, there's no clear correct response. Shifting up focus keeps you well-rounded, but staying the course allows for the possibility of reaching an emotional height.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Self vs. Other

I imagine my body and I imagine the surrounding landscape. I observe the sensations of the body, but the landscape I observe only through the impressions it leaves on my senses. The body I call Self - the landscape I call Other.

Go back further. I imagine my mind and I imagine my body. I apprehend the thoughts of the mind directly, but the sensations of the body must be made conscious for me to apprehend them. The mind I call Self - the body I call Other.

Deeper still, the thoughts come when they want. The mind works, what is conscious becomes conscious without any input of mine, and the thoughts pop up. The mind I call Other - what then is the Self? Only the perception.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wonka the Individualist Ideal and Wonka the Broken Recluse

The fundamental difference between Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka and Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka is their relation to the rest of humanity. 

Gene Wilder's character has attained a kind of superiority, has ascended to a height compared to the rest of us. He acts with full understanding, nothing occurs that is outside of his control or too overwhelming to deal with (see: the Slugworth subplot), and the o

ther characters act to prove themselves to Wonka. The disasters that befall the children are indications that they fail to live up to what Wonka needs in a replacement; when they leave Wonka hints that they may be a little wiser, that is, their encounter with the factory improves them as people. Charlie is only given the factory when he demonstrates that he would not harm Wonka even when it would benefit his family.

Wonka is an individualistic ideal. He shuts himself off from humanity and becomes someone great. He is at no disadvantage, his quirkiness is a manifestation of the fact that he is satisfied in being himself and feels no need to conform to whatever might be expected of a business of his stature or a man of his age.

Johnny Depp on the other hand is a broken man. Depp stands apart from the rest of us, but at a disadvantage. He is different from the rest of us, but his difference is a result of his estrangement from his father, there is no indication that he could have lived as a normal man and instead chose to remake himself. His quirkiness arises from not understanding himself or the world around him. He is a great chocolateer, but in almost every other area he is broken.

The children in Depp's factory are being subjected to punishment because Depp does not trust them and expects them to fail (as Charlie pointed out, the Oompa Loompas seemed to have practiced the songs that correspond to each child's catastrophe), Depp.merely wants whichever one is the least worst to be his heir. The children do not leave Wonka in any way improved - two of them walk away disfigured. When Charlie chooses his family over Wonka, it shatters Depp's perception of the world; Charlie is the teacher rather than Wonka. He had no understanding of his importance or the extent to which he and his craft are valued. Depp in fact needs Charlie to show him that his individualistic existence and his art as a chocolateer do not fully satisfy him - he must be reconciled with his father and he must find a family (which he finds with the Bucket family).

Happiness Tethered to Desire

If we imagine a man who wants nothing, do we imagine a happy man? Or if not a happy man, a man capable of happiness? What is happiness apart from a man's desire?

Of course we can define happiness in different ways, which means that there are possible definitions of happiness that do not require desire. Instead, lets focus on our gut understanding of happiness, the kind we inherit from culture and biology prior to reflection.

With that foggy notion of happiness, is it possible without desire? Is it possible without wanting something? I do not think I can conceive of it.

It may be pointed out that if we conceive of happiness this way, then we can conceive of a negative happiness as well, what would probably be called suffering. Suffering that would also depend upon desire. By wanting and having our desires frustrated we would experience pain.

To opt out of the game and try to quiet one's desires so that all suffering is manageable would also be to deny ourselves happiness. Happiness, under this conception, carries the risk of greater suffering. Is there a way around this? Would we really be better off escaping the risk of suffering? 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Best of Christianity and the Bible

Just as a general impression, it seems to me that the things most lovable about Christian thought are things that one has difficulty finding in the Bible. I could point to C. S. Lewis as a possible embodiment of this: his ideas make the world a very exciting place while also providing us a fear and a comfort in God. But when you read Lewis you have to wonder what his ideas are rooted in. Surely scripture is a part of it, as well as Anglican tradition, but, again as a general impression, it seems as though most of Lewis's thought is based upon what keeps Lewis comfortable and engaged.

But, then, it is just convention and tradition that elevates the Bible so high that we regard it as the only appropriate foundation for Christian thought.

How can we regard the Christian thinker, then? I suppose we must regard him as any other thinker. His work is an amalgamation of what he finds beautiful, what he finds useful, what he finds necessary to support the former, what appeals to his biases, what draws him out of himself, what he was educated into, what he must rebel against, what makes him feel strong, what makes him feel safe, in short, what he can live according to.

But what then is Christian thought? Orthodoxy can only exist in a relative sense. Define "good thought" and then you can compare your definition to whatever someone offers for consideration. But then, they can merely reject your definition. Sound doctrine, orthodox thinking, this is merely the attempt to align one's thoughts with an arbitrarily grasped form of truth.

Which is probably why the best Christian thought seems to depart so far from what we could reasonably derive from the verses that inspire the thought - because the scripture is a trigger, but the individual and the totality of his life provides the content.

As an atheist, I say that this shows the unreliability of all religious orthodoxy. As one who is and probably always shall be interested in becoming a theist, I say that this, coupled with a kind of determinism, is the nature of revelation.

Friday, November 9, 2012

They Come and Go

Just try keeping track of all the little observations and questions that pop into your head in the course of a given day, particularly if you keep any kind of blog. Little ideas pop up, and if you don't feed them, they fade right back into the obscurity of your mind. 999 times out of 1000 they are completely mundane ideas that interest no one except yourself and yourself only because of a self-interested bias, but the question is should you go out of your way to feed them or only let the useful ones - the ones that regular recollection and employment ensure are not forgotten - occupy head space?

I keep this blog specifically because I like feeding those ideas, but I would not necessarily recommend it to everyone else.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Conception of Despair

If we conceive of human beings as lacking unity, of having a divided nature that may or may not be united in its ends, if we conceive of value as consisting of whatever individual humans happen to love and desire, and if we conceive of happiness as a kind of satisfaction or indulgence of our loves and desires, then I propose a conception of despair.

Despair is the state one gets into where one or more deep fragments of one's nature desires what conflicts with one or more deep fragments of one's nature. The result is that harmony and satisfaction becomes impossible: every indulgence is simultaneously a wound and every satisfaction simultaneously a poisoning. Happiness eludes a person in such a state because their loves and desires cannot be altogether taken care of.

What hope would there be in such a situation? So far as I can see, only a self-recreation could save such a person. They would require a new nature so that they would love differently.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Atheism and Nihilism

Atheism does not imply nihilism. Nihilism does not imply atheism. The two are distinct, but there is a popular perception that the two are tethered together. Why does this perception arise?

The first reason would be the historical one, which is that in Christendom morality was rooted in theism, so a rejection of God implies a rejection of morality. This is less interesting, since I wonder why the perception arises still today. You can say that it is a holdover from the past, or you can say that the perception only arises among those who still root their morality in their theism, but I think there is an epistemological reason.

We do not need a God for true, objective morality to exist. Perhaps it is just there. Perhaps moral imperatives are just natural facts. Yet, if we reject God on the basis that it does not satisfy the intellect to believe on such scant evidence, would we not also have to reject any kind of external morality for the same reason? It is the standpoint of doubt that causes trepidation: if your doubt causes you to reject this picture of reality, what else is missing from your picture?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Art, Possibility, and the World

Every so often you will think of some work of art that you like, and then you will imagine another, then you imagine the whole gamut of different works between those two, and then you will image all the art outside of them. You swell up contemplating the sheer possibility that art allows for: poetry, books, movies, video games, comics, painting, what have you.

When you contemplating all the possibility, for a brief moment you will feel as though you have found a meaning of life. You will feel as though art is something that you could live for: both consumption and creation.

In these moments, remind yourself that art is only capable of reflecting the world, not transcending the world. Perhaps you say it is unfair to expect it to do otherwise, or perhaps you think it is meaningless to talk of transcending the world, all the same place the limitation on art and you (if your experience is the same as mine) will find the feeling of having found something worth living for evaporate.

I say two things. The first is that art only reflects what is in the world, so why live our earthly lives for shadows when we can also live for the genuine articles? Take them both, why exclude one? The second is that it is the concept of infinite possibility that gets our heart pounding.


There are times when you find yourself passionately motivated to do something, but you find yourself intellectually doubting its worth. That is, you know that your emotions and your will are what cause you to find something worth your time or not, but you also develop an intellectual picture of yourself and your goals and what kind of things you value. You may find yourself feeling that something is worthwhile, but uncertain if it fits in with the rest of your desires and values. It is the intellect that moderates once the emotions have had their say.

In such a situation you have three options. First, reject the thing that captivated you, you were captivated only in a moment of weakness. Perhaps this is true in some cases, but more often than not it would seem to me that this is direction chosen by someone who does not want to see that their nature is more complex than their initially thought. Second, accept that perhaps your nature is more complex than you thought, but choose not to feed into those impulses. Choose to live up to the image of yourself you already have by refusing to indulge any additional desires or impulses until they atrophy as much as possible. This seems to be a noble choice, it takes responsibility for shaping one's own nature insofar as such a thing is possible, but it also seems potentially stifling and could turn someone into a caricature of a human being if they starve too many dimensions of their nature. Third, accept that your nature is more complex than you thought, and change your life to reflect that. This can be a dangerous option, as there are often parts of our nature we do not want to see influencing us, but can also be fulfilling if we find some deep desire that we had previously been neglecting to indulge.

The first option seems dishonest, and is essentially self-deception. I personally do not respect it. The other two we should alternate between on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the extent to which social norms, personal standards, and expediency in attaining other goals drives us to expand or not expand our list of goals, desires, and loves.

Sometimes, though, you cannot shake the feeling that the thing you really want to do might turn out to be a colossal waste of time. In my case at the moment, I have spent the last month dreaming up a Batman story that, according to my (very) early estimation would be around 252000 words at completion. That is a long ass time, that is a lot of effort, that is something that is very likely to not be finished. And even if I do finish it, it's a Batman story, it ain't getting published. At best it entertains people online. Having considered the certainty that the best I can hope for is creating something that maybe people like online, I still feel compelled to try it.

If nothing else, it will be the most ambitious project added to my list of abandoned projects. Or, who knows, maybe I'll follow through.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sacrifice of Time and the Importance of Variation Revisited

In July of 2009 I wrote two blogs entitled Sacrifice of Time and The Importance of Variation. Sacrifice of Time used sacrifices as a metaphor for the fact that every activity we want to do in life requires that we give up moments of our lives that can never be retrieved or respent. The Importance of Variation comments that excessive free time makes it impossible to spend our moments productively because we always feel as though there is always more moments we can spend and therefore there is no urgency that compels us to expend energy right now.

That was over three years ago. At that time I had almost unlimited free time. At this point I tend to feel as though I get only wisps of free time here and there (I feel that way, but of course a busier man would say that I have plenty of free time. To try to look at it objectively, I am probably not that occupied at all, compared to the rest of productive society), which caused me to think back to these blogs. They seem all the more true when seen from the other side.

Whereas boredom defined my existence back then, it has all but been erased from my existence now. There is always more to be done than time to do it in. It is always a scramble to cobble free minutes together to put toward some goal or project I have. For the first time I can experience the resentment that people tend to feel when someone has wasted or is wasting their time. For the first time the Sacrifice of Time carries urgency for me; when I have to choose what to spend my free time on, I am aware of the fact that I am spending moments that I will never get back and moments that can only be spent on one thing.

I find that the danger in such a situation is diversity in desire. Desire itself is not the problem, in fact, desire is very much the thing keeping you alive. Rather it is diversity in desire, wanting too many things that have to compete for the same moments to be a part of your life. Pursuing one goal allows you to chase with all your energy and focus; pursuing two allows you to chase your primary goal with most of your energy while refreshing yourself chasing after the other; any more than that and you begin spreading yourself so thin that all you are doing is being interested in various hobbies. You never reach any kind of height.

The other danger is the danger of obligation and responsibility. When one has the structure of obligation to dictate most of the time you spend in a given week, it becomes tempting to just give up doing anything difficult with one's free time. You drift and allow obligation to make its demands upon you, the rest of your time is spent escaping challenge. This is very tempting, but unsatisfying, at least initially; I imagine it does not take very long to quiet that impulse that compels you to try to accomplish something outside of your obligations.

In a way, though, I suppose this was just a long way of explaining why I only had two blogs posted in October.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Speculative Moment

Note: this is what I call Philosophical Fiction. It's speculation, it is fun, but it is not to be taken as a sincere search for the way things are, just a fun contemplation on the way things might be.

If there is a meaning to life, I do not think that it would be a meaning for us. We create hammers for a purpose so they have a purpose for us, but not for themselves. Computers are created to serve certain purposes for us, but they themselves have nothing to aspire to. Likewise, given the lack of a clear meaning for our lives, I should think that if there is a meaning to life it is not for us, not something that we aspire to, but something that we fulfill simply in the course of doing what we naturally do.

And if there should be a meaning to life, I would think that it lies in our diversity of experience and natures. Life produces a multitude of unique characters. Life can be thought of as a kind of arthouse, producing unique natures.

I think that the most persuasive theodicy I have ever encountered is the Irenaean theodicy. Making pain a part of the design is more effective than making pain a flaw in the design since the former does not force us to imagine an incompetent designer.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Religion, Even if True, May Not Be so Important

One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.
-C. S. Lewis
-Comment Sections Everywhere

Suppose we were to be contacted by angels tomorrow. Spiritual beings would manifest themselves in physical form, call a press conference, and reveal the mysteries of the universe. They would tell us that religious claims (or at least some religious claims) were correct. There is a God. And they would consent to all manner of rigorous scientific examination to show that their bodies were composed of matter that could not be accounted for by the known universe, and then they would toss out some mind-blowing version of the Ontological Argument that made God's existence indisputable.

What would the world look like?

Over a year ago, I argued that it may be necessary for God - if there is a God - to obscure himself in order to keep the mundane realities of everyday life looking necessary for human beings. I still, for the most part, agree with what I wrote there: if God appeared in all his glory he would shatter our ability to be concerned about our own lives. However, if God himself did not appear, but his presence became a fact on par with any scientific hypothesis that we regularly rely upon, what would the world look like?

And my answer would be, not very different.

After the initial shock of having God's existence proven, we would have to realign our thinking a bit. The atheism movement would fragment between those who would become theists and those who would redefine atheism on moral grounds. The perceived enmity between science and religion would fade. But then, what?

Our lives are busy, our situations diverse, and our mental power limited. Most people will spend most of their time not particularly worried about God; they may give God a portion of their time and energy but they will also give a portion to family, work, sex, entertainment, sports, finances, maintenance, and personal hygiene. Even those we might consider intellectuals or reflective people will have to devote their mental energies to economics, chemistry, political science, cultural criticism, and the proper implementation of web standards. Indeed, even if God were a fact, he would be a fact that a great many people find useless given their own, limited projects. God will hardly capture everyone's heart simply because he has claimed territory in everyone's mind.

Human nature is diverse. Even if we remove the question of God's existence, not all human beings will react to God's existence the same way. Frankly, a lot of people don't spend a lot of time worried about God or spiritual matters at all. God occupies a place in nearly every person's mind, we all have moments where theistic questions seem significant to us, but for many of us these moments are fleeting. We have an entire life to live, only some of us are so inclined to grow obsessed over this one aspect of life.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

In Praise of William James, with Constant Reference to Myself

When I heard of William James' paper The Will to Believe I thought to myself, "well, that sounds like something my perspectivist ass could gush all over," and it was! I did a quick read through of an HTML copy I found through Google tonight, I will probably have to read through it a few more times. Thus far it seems the paper can help my vocabulary immensely, serve as a recurring source of inspiration, and help to keep my focus aligned by comparing my approaches to his. He did differ from me in important areas, the chief one I am thinking of being when he most strongly endorsed his pragmatism.

But please observe, now, that when as empiricists we give up the doctrine of objective certitude, we do not thereby give up the quest or hope of truth itself. We still pin our faith on its existence, and still believe that we gain an ever better position towards it by systematically continuing to roll up experiences and think. Our great difference from the scholastic lies in the way we face. The strength of his system lies in the principles, the origin, the terminus a quo [the beginning point] of his thought; for us the strength is in the outcome, the upshot, the terminus ad quem [the end result]. Not where it comes from but what it leads to is to decide. It matters not to an empiricist from what quarter an hypothesis may come to him: he may have acquired it by fair means or by foul; passion may have whispered or accident suggested it; but if the total drift of thinking continues to confirm it, that is what he means by its being true.

James clarifies that he has not given up on the quest or hope of truth. I, on the other hand, basically have. I am here talking of a kind of privileged truth: statements that are qualitatively better than all other statements that can be made on the relevant subject. Instead I rely on Geography of Thought, the idea that there are a collection of statements that can be made on a subject that all derive a legitimacy from the initial axioms and preferences that lend them comprehensibility. That is, James is willing to think according to his preferences and therefore is able to conceive of progress in thought, whereas I continue to fixate on the arbitrariness of my preferences and therefore cannot imagine our thoughts getting better, only different.

It should be noted, though, that James's thought approached human history in a far more active way than mine does. He was a psychologist, it is essential that he be able to say that his theories and ideas are in some way advancing the human condition. I, on the other hand, have chosen to stay nestled safely in my philosophical corner trying to understand the framework of propositions and human claims to knowledge. If I were to one day step into a science, I too would need a standpoint from which I could say that my scientific work were advancing human knowledge; for the moment, though, I can happily point out the futility of setting up any method of reasoning as being absolutely better than any other method.

Most impressive, though, was his argument endorsing religious belief. I have mostly made an implied argument for the justification of religious belief: that rationality depends on the context of an Epistemic Lens, and therefore under some Epistemic Lenses theism will be rational and under some it will be irrational. James's argument is far more detailed, but, on the face, I think it could also be characterized as providing an example of how theism looks through different lenses. He himself makes it clear that his argument is not coercive for a non-believer, his argument serves merely to justify the belief without condemning the lack thereof as it relies on what he calls the passional nature, which I would say is roughly equivalent to what I call love or preference, which differs in different men.

I aim to post another blog unpacking his main argument at a later time.

Monday, September 24, 2012

One Cannot Just Pick What to Believe

If I see red, then I see red. No matter how much I insist that I see blue, I know that it is red. The data is readily available, and even if I say, "I am looking at a blue expanse," I will know that I am lying. If it is my will that the expanse be blue, I will continue to see red, and I will know that I am lying if I say otherwise. Even if it is critical to the preservation of the species that the expanse be blue, I will continue to see red. I cannot deny it.

We can not deny what we know to be true. This must be recognized before you can understand how Epistemic Lenses work. Someone might suppose that Epistemic Lenses are a kind of epistemological anarchy; indeed there is chaos and anarchy in them, but they are not chaos through and through. I cannot look at a red point in the visual field and honestly say that I see blue. Rather, Lenses recognize that there is a disconnect between perception and reality, and in that disconnect we have no facts to appeal to that tell us how to interpret empirical data, let alone how to make ethical, aesthetic, or religious judgments. The data itself comes from outside of us, it is beyond our control and we know that we are lying if we misrepresent it. The framework, though, the axioms and the preferences (the intuitions and the loves) do not come from out there and for that reason we are free to intuit and to love as our nature dictates.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Desire for Completion

Sometimes when you speak you begin wanting to get detailed, but when you begin getting detailed it becomes difficult to know when to stop detailing. We want what we say to have completion, we want it to touch on all of the relevant points.

Which means we have to make the subject smaller so as to be able to comment on all of it. We abstract away an enclosed system so that we can name all of its parts and their relations. In so doing, though, sometimes it will begin to look that we have created a fiction that is too simple to exist.

Those who are comfortable making abstract systems to detail - in hopes that they accurately paint a picture of some facet of reality that aid in understanding - can write essays and books.

Those who are not, just make remarks.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A More Detailed Explanation of Belief Substance

In my last blog, I wrote about what I called the "substance of belief," which I characterized as the ability for a belief to move the believer. I mentioned as examples a person who claims to believe in equality but then consistently displays racist or sexist behavior and a person who believes that he is in sin, believes that hell is horrifying, and believes that his sin warrants hell. When I had someone read that blog, they said to me, "that's not a lack of belief - that's just hypocrisy."

Rereading my blog I see where my error lied. My examples painted a narrow picture, both examples are also examples of hypocrisy, so it would be easy to suppose that I was only talking about the fact that people claim to believe one thing but live as though that belief never factored into their practical reasoning. What I really mean to say is that all beliefs have a measurable dimension - what I have arbitrarily dubbed "substance" - that shows the extent to which the believer's life is impacted by the belief.

This dimension of substance allows us to distinguish beliefs based on the influence they hold over the believer. Not merely in the case of hypocrisy, but also in the case of moral beliefs, scientific beliefs, entertaining beliefs, and what have you. I shall try to draw out this concept in greater detail now.

Binary: Believed or ~Believed
Continuum 1: Nearness of Subject Matter [Near - Far]
Continuum 2: Influence over Believer's Life (Substance) [Substantial - Insubstantial]

Because I am here concerned only with beliefs, all of these categories assume a positive belief. So for the Binary listed above, I will not be dealing with ~Believed cases.

Distant Facts

Continuum 1: Far
Continuum 2: Insubstantial

In this category I would put nearly the entirety of objective facts about the world. Not all of them, of course, and the exact proportions would vary from person to person, but every person is completely unaffected by whether or not they acknowledge the truth of most true facts about the world. Park Rangers do not change their behavior based on the latest research on the evolution of Norse Mythology; MMA fighters lead the same lives whether they believe Robin Hood was a historical or a fictional figure; almost everyone you know will behave in the same way no matter what they believe about Quantum Physics; and the fact that light can not escape a black hole does not enter into anyone's consideration of how they should spend their weekend.

Frankly, most information, even true information, just does not matter. So any beliefs pertaining to these facts will barely influence the believer's life. For that reason, I say that these beliefs lack substance, but I also qualify this by saying that there is no reason for these beliefs to have substance.

Near Facts/Beliefs

Continuum 1: Near
Continuum 2: Substantial

Of course, facts pertaining to human biology or facts pertaining to human relationships or historical facts can matter a great deal. Maybe the theory of evolution gives you a new appreciation for yourself and your species or maybe it causes you to feel worthless - either way you will behave at least a little differently. Whether or not you and your cousin get along will determine what you get her for her birthday. The fact that a neighboring country once occupied your country will probably affect your political behavior. These facts have substance because people behave differently depending on what they believe.

Included in this category are our loves, which can not possibly be distant from us, and all that make up our framework/vantage points.


Continuum 1: Near
Continuum 2: Insubstantial

Included here are all those examples I included in my last blog: cases where someone claims to believe something that should affect them greatly, but then does not actually enter into their practical reasoning. People who claim to believe in hell, but then do nothing to avoid it. People who claim to believe that health is the most important thing in life, but then eat junk food and smoke regularly. People who claim that they believe in seizing the day, but then actively maintain a blog.

How do we determine when a belief should affect the believer? The believer is the the measure. The believer's claimed beliefs about his own values determines this. So if someone says, "I believe in putting health first," or says, "I think religion is very important," then we can say that his beliefs regarding health and theology should affect him greatly.

If his behavior does not correspond with his beliefs, we can say that some of his beliefs must lack substance, and we can say that in these cases this is indicative of insincerity.

Beloved Details

Continuum 1: Far
Continuum 2: Substantial

Sometimes you encounter someone who really cares about some seemingly obscure fact or the proper observance of some seemingly inessential custom or rule. Now sometimes this makes sense in the larger context of their vantage point, in which case you just note that people are indeed diverse and their value systems are likewise diverse. Other times, though, you will find that someone really cares about the truth of some belief, but they can not really tell you why it matters. Maybe they even acknowledge that there is no great reason for some given belief to be put on a pedestal, but they put it there anyway.

For example, anyone who makes sure you know the exact shade of green that the woman Kirk fucked in episode 85 of the original Star Trek, or anyone who makes sure that you know that their jacket is authentic leather, or anyone who will not let you forget that time they escaped from a rampaging bear in the woods. Even in their own worldview, these people probably can acknowledge how inconsequential these details are, and yet they love them. The man with the authentic leather jacket probably knows that no one's life will be affected by the authenticity of their cowskin, but they derive joy from the fact, which alters their behavior insofar as they set aside time or resources to enjoy these beliefs or to enhance the facts of the world so as to further enjoy their corresponding beliefs.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Substance of Belief

Suppose that you claim to believe some given statement of the world and someone responds that you "don't really believe that;" is there a place for such a response? Can you dispute whether or not someone really believes something. Not as in the case of someone who is being knowingly insincere about their beliefs, but someone who believes that they are sincere in what they claim to believe.

It seems to me that the substance and weight of a belief lies in the actions of the believer. If a person claims to believe that, say, all humans are equal and then proceeds to consistently bestow more time and value on one gender or one race over another, we might say that his belief lacks substance. And if a man believes that he is sinning and believes that the consequence for sin is hell and believes that hell is a terrible horrifying place, then either he must discontinue sinning (or actively struggle against his sin, since, perhaps it is a matter of weakness rather than will) or we must say that one of his beliefs lacks substance.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Losing Yourself

What is it to "lose yourself?" I imagine it in this way.

When one is calm and self-aware, we might say that his perspective of his actions or his feelings or his will includes "I" as the subject. For example, "I am walking down the street," "I am listening to music," "I am climbing a mountain," "I am thirsty," "I need to know." Losing oneself means ceasing to experience, or perhaps having a diminished experience of, the "I" part of all this. It becomes "walk down the street," "listen to this music," "climb!" "get water!" "tell me!" Or perhaps more truthfully, language itself ceases to be a factor, the commentary discontinues and there is merely feeling and impulse, reaction to stimuli.

The ability to stand back and observe as though separate from the experience is lost, we lose the ability to evaluate our own reactions to the situation. Instead we experience only the reaction, and only later can we look back on what we felt and what we did.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Intuition and Perspective

Previously, I tended to see intuition as a kind of deception that held a privileged position. Our intuitions varied too greatly between individuals and, especially, different cultures to be any kind of accurate description of the facts. Naturally, discarding intuition makes foundationalism crumble, leading eventually to my Epistemic Lenses/Vantage Points/Perspectivism once one realizes that Coherentism and Pragmatism can only rule out very wrong ideas but not necessarily discover true ones. However, intuition cannot really be removed from the forefront; even if we deny that intuition is discovering true facts we cannot deny that in everyday life we really just use reason to bridge the gaps between new information and old intuition. Only those of us who are aware of the frailties of foundational epistemology try to get away from that method of thinking and living.

It seems to me now that perhaps there is a place for intuition if we accept the kind of pluralism suggested by Epistemic Lenses.

If one craves honesty, then one must admit that intuition does not discover true, objective facts. If they did, then all intuition would have to come to the same conclusion – perhaps with a handful of exceptions that we could call diseased intuition. However, we also see that science does not seem to hang on to anything – it is free floating as its foundations cannot be established with rigor, with some branches standing on especially ghostly cornerstones. This is where I tend to mention Epistemic Lenses, where the world looks different depending on what presuppositions and values one interprets the world through. Intuition, however, could also serve as an explanation of Epistemic Lenses: we intuit certain foundational beliefs that make it possible to interpret the rest of the world, but intuition varies because it proceeds from the nature of the one who intuits.

Intuition is not true, but through intuition we can come to starting beliefs that make it possible to understand the rest of the world. But the intuitions vary from person to person, making the world as seen through each person's eyes different from the world as seen through other eyes. Not so distinct that we cannot relate to one another, but distinct enough that the perceptions are not identical.

Do we intuit values? I do not think that we do. I would not use the word “intuit” here. Do I intuit that strawberry ice cream is superior to vanilla? Do I intuit that it would be better for people to be allowed to make their own decisions for their lives? Rather I would use the word “love.” I love strawberry ice cream more than vanilla. I love that people choose their own paths. We confuse “love” for “intuition” when we want others to love as we do, but once we are comfortable with the sliver of loneliness that stems from loving without the support of the nature of the world, then we see that intuition and love work in different ways to form our perspective.

But which is more basic? Which is more primary: love or intuition? We intuit the world according to what we love, and we love according to what we intuit. That is, we see the foundations of the world the way that we want to see them, but we also desire according to how we think the world is. I can not say which one has first privilege. I want to say that it is probably messy and layered, with an intuition being reevaluated by a love which leads to a new intuition and probably a new love.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Whole and the Parts

Which is the truest way of seeing the universe?

As a whole, wherein everything is interwoven together and nothing can truly be understood unless everything is understood? Abstraction being a kind of useful fiction-writing and all contemplation of anything apart from everything is the study of a shadow.

Or as a collection of simple parts which can be individually understood and whose relations to one another can be understood, the totality of these simple parts and relations being what we call "everything." Abstraction allowing us to grasp the atoms that make up what we happen to call totality.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pearls Before Swine

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."
-Matthew 7:6

I could never understand this verse within the context of Christianity, because within Christianity we regard the gospel as true and we regard it as something that must be shared, distributed, and proclaimed. I, and many others that I knew of, took this as a verse advising against sharing the holy message of the gospel with at least some kinds of people - the dogs and the swine who could not appreciate it. But if the gospel is true, then it should not be defended through secrecy, it should be capable of overcoming any presented opposition by virtue of the fact that the truth will always be able to show itself superior to falsehood in a debate. That made this verse into one of those verses that you imagine has some deeper, more mysterious meaning that you do not yet understand.

Outside of Christianity, and with a healthy skepticism about humanity's ability to come to Truth, I think I understand the passage.

Pigs were unclean, they were reprehensible to the Jews. Dogs were common, wild, traveled in packs, and could turn vicious toward humanity. Neither of them have any appreciation for pearls. But a man does; a man can love pearls, he can regard them as precious, he can value and treasure them, and he can share them with those whom he loves. But if a man shares his pearls with dogs or swine, he is sharing them with those who are incapable of regarding them as he does, and he puts both the pearls and himself in danger.

This is the meaning: only share what is or what can be commonly loved, because it is a common trait of humanity to trample what is loved by few but not loved by many. The most important and defining things in life are often private in some way - unique experiences or unique blends of emotion that one will never find in another person. In this way, the experience can not be communicated, any other person will lack the vocabulary to understand you. Some will love you for having something that they can not share, but there are many who will seek to flatten you out, many who will devalue what you love simply because it is their nature to be amused by doing so.

Whatever you love dearly can not be shared too openly. Whatever is special and particular to you must be hidden except to those that you know will have some kind of appreciation for it. Because we are social creatures, and when we see what we love being trampled it is a challenge to our love. We can not make them see that whatever it is that we value deserves to be valued - because it doesn't - we love it because it is our nature to love it but it may not be their nature to love it. But when we see what we love being mocked and ridiculed, the social aspect of our nature will want to be reconciled to those who mock and ridicule and it presents us with a prompting to abandon some of our particularity and individuality for the sake of being reconciled with the crowd. On the other hand, instead we may cling more tightly to what we love and thereby come to hate the crowd who can not appreciate it.

By keeping what is particular to ourselves away from mockers, scoffers, dogs, swine, and crowds who loathe what is not a part of themselves, we avoid this challenge altogether. We avoid the experience of having what we love trampled - and the consequent challenge to our own identity. We also avoid the prompting to shut ourselves off from people to preserve our individual character.

I can scarcely imagine a more important lesson for the internet age.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Crime and Punishment is great literature, containing beauty, truth, emotion, and a perspective on some aspect of the world. Pop Goes the Weasel is something James Patterson cranked out to keep the money train rollin', it might be fun for a few hours, but you're not really missing anything if you skip it.

I agree with both of these (very simplified) assessments, but I also know that someone told me that Crime and Punishment was great prior to me reading it. Would I have agreed that it was a great book if I didn't sit down to read it with the understanding that it was a great book? If Crime and Punishment were published today and did not have an established reputation, would I regard it as highly as I do now?

Or, suppose that Wittgenstein was never heralded as the greatest 20th century philosopher (which is certainly not a universal claim). Would I be able to see his greatness just from reading his work? Certainly not. He is too high above me, when I read him I read him to try to climb up and become better through his influence. If it weren't for the fact that I was told he was great, I might have supposed that he just had a knotty mind and a knotty way of expressing himself. I wouldn't have given him the time needed to see what was great in his work - and even now I only see dimly.

We all want to see ourselves as brave and independent thinkers, but being a brave and independent thinker is like being a father. You need to be brought up yourself before you can bring anyone else up. Independence is an excellent thing, but it must be earned by a period where you allow the established to bring you up. Of course then you run the risk of living your whole life as a disciple.

Life Goes Beyond Reason

We know that human beings are an arrangement of atoms - we have no solid evidence that human beings are anything more than that. In the realm of reason, you are correct if you say that we have no evidence indicating that there is a dimension to human beings that goes beyond physical particles and energy; you would be wrong if you said that it was a fact that human beings are just particles and energy, though. You would be wrong because it is impossible for us to ever know that that is the case, rather, what we know is that there is no evidence currently available that there is anything beyond particles and energy.

But reason, while an excellent thing, is an activity that we are capable of, not the whole of our lives. So after we reason we have to live. If you live as though humans are just matter and energy, then your life goes beyond the rules of a strict rationality. If you live as though humans are more than matter and energy, then your life goes beyond the rules of a strict rationality.

There is an asymmetry here. In the former case, all you do when you live is deny ignorance and mystery, you are living only according to what you can discover; in the latter case, you use ignorance as an excuse to become self-indulgent and live according to something that may be lovely or satisfying but which has no basis in the available evidence. For this reason, I do not endorse the second approach. Neither do I endorse the first, though, although it seems closer to what I would endorse.

I do not endorse the first because we know that there is ignorance and mystery. We know that there are limitations to what we know - possibly essential limitations, things that we may never know. To deny this is to deny what we actually see (we can still see the blind spot itself). To fill it in with whatever we like is to lie to ourselves - and who can lie to himself effectively since he would be aware of the lie?

But, then, how do we live according to mystery? How do we incorporate the fact of our ignorance into our lives? I do not know in full, but in part it consists of living as someone who knows he is living according to perception and not according to fact - always on the lookout for more perception.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Wasted Brain Time

There is something that I have discovered the last week or so - if you do not have some idea or concept that fascinates you, your brain is going to go to some stupid places for stimulation during the busy times of the day. Old browser games I'm never going to play again, situations I'm never going to encounter again, jokes I told that weren't that great even when they were fresh; I find my mind playing them over and over again. Mental masturbation.

If you imagine thought as being like a geography, then contemplating new ideas and new perspectives is like adding territory to your estate, contemplating old ideas that have not been fully explored and that continue to inform your life and philosophy is like surveying and improving your territory, contemplating old ideas that were never important is like counting tiles in your house.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

You Cannot Be Yourself all at Once

If we say that a person is courageous, what are we saying about them? Are we saying that they are courageous every moment of their lives? That if you were to snatch them up at any random moment, you would find them being courageous? What about introverts? If we call someone introverted, does that mean that they are always going to prefer to be alone or that they will always find social interaction draining? This is not to wonder if we might sometimes catch courageous men being cowardly or to wonder if we might find an introvert acting as the life of a party. This is to wonder if there are not times when we might catch someone that we call "courageous" living completely apart from the whole gradient of courage or if we might catch an introvert in a situation where his reactions to crowds do not matter.

In fact, I think it is quite obvious that we can. Whatever we might say about a person, there are certainly times when they escape the entire concept that our description of them is based upon. In fact, I might say that whatever you say about a person is essentially an abstract fiction based on a handful of events. Courageous men are men who have displayed courage a handful of times and have not been caught similarly acting to the contrary. Witty men are men who frequently have moments of wit; they also spend eight hours every night being completely outside the whole game of wit. Sharpshooters spend the better part of their lives not even holding a gun.

This is to say, we exist right now. We exist in this moment. And there is only so much that we can do in a single moment. So whatever attributes make up your character, chances are that at any given moment you are not exercising a lot of them. In what way do you still have those qualities?

You could say that they continue to reside in your nature at all times. A sharpshooter is always capable of acting as a sharpshooter, even if he is not presently holding a gun. His conditioning is different, and that persists through every moment. Witty people are those who can always come up with a quick, snarky response when the situation calls for it, and that readiness is present even when the situation is not. This I would agree with, roughly.

What I think we should take note of is deterioration. The longer you spend away from an activity, the more your conditioning deteriorates. A Greek-speaker who never speaks Greek will become a rusty-Greek-speaker and eventually a former-Greek-speaker. In this way, your self is a balancing act. An undulation. You must repeat in order to preserve your conditioning in order to preserve your nature.

But then, you are never perfectly yourself. You are always yourself in different situations. This is you cooking. This is you sleeping. This is you blogging. This is you arguing. If you never repeated the same situations, you might not have anything to keep you grounded to yourself.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tainted Faith contra Pure Faith

If there is a Pure Faith, what is its character?

First, what is a Tainted Faith? I want to say that Tainted Faith is effable. Tainted Faith is pagan, that is, comprehensible and worldly. We can make sense of a Tainted Faith, we can paint a picture of the world according to the Tainted Faith. The Tainted Faith is the ineffable collapsed into a sick science.

So then, what is the Pure Faith? The Pure Faith is that thing that is corrupted when made comprehensible. It must be incomprehensible. It must be where reason does one no good. We can not form a picture of the Pure Faith, we cannot imagine what it looks like. It is not clear, logically formed propositions. It may even appear to be nonsense, if we do not distinguish between what is beneath reason and what is above it.

But then, if it is incomprehensible, what does it have to do with us? And how could we possibly interact with it? I propose placing the Pure Faith into a Religious Body. But then, is that not tainting it?

No, because if we understand the nature of what we have done, we know that the religion is not true. That the religion acts as a mechanism by which we practice the Faith.

But if it is incomprehensible, why do we bother? I can not answer that. In fact, I would say that if you have to ask, then it is not for you. You would be happier without it, I bet. Not, mind you, that we are doing this to be happy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Enlightened Thinker

Here is someone who sees
himself in such a way.
He is not such a helper.
In Christianity - perhaps all faiths, but certainly Christianity - there repeatedly turns up the figure of the man who knows what the faith is really all about and how the rest of civilization has fallen away from the true religion. This is not too surprising, the entire religion is built upon one such figure. But there is always something discomforting about reading such a thinker.

If you are the only one - or one of the elite few - then it must be that everyone else is wrong. You must lead them, and they ignore you at their peril. But you are a particular man. You love some things more than others. You are terrified by some things and not by others. You have a body type, a skin color, a hair style, a wardrobe. How can an entire church become like you when there is no one else in the world precisely like you?

Perhaps we say that they only need to resemble him in one capacity - the capacity of faith - but men do not divide that cleanly. If he had a different upbringing, a different culture, a different nationality, a different tone of voice, a different socioeconomic status, a different hobby, a different length of penis, a different preferred style of writing or film, a different sized family, a different first crush; then the faith would be different.

I want to say that we should approach all such Enlightened Thinkers as helpers. People who have excelled at some faith game and become a certain kind of man, and who can therefore help us become certain kinds of men. Distinct from them, but great in our own way. That is what I want to say, but is it true from the Christian point of view? It certainly seems to be a rare sentiment among the Enlightened Thinkers themselves, they rarely sell their ways and methods as just another set of ways and methods.

And then I step back out of the Christian Vantage Point, and leave that question to simmer.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I Wonder....

How about this guy?
He seems pretty rigorous!
If you gave a brilliant and rigorous thinker a list of sufficiently rigorous axioms, postulates, and values, could he flesh out an entire worldview that would be perfectly rational?

I am inclined to think that he could. If he were given assigned framework, and also reassured that he would not actually have to believe in his conclusions (since presumably his axioms and values are different from the ones that he was assigned) then I think that actually fleshing out the worldview would become something like a grind. He would make the logically necessary inferences, process the available data, and make relative measurements of probability. Any bias that creeped in would, I imagine, be due to his body trying to find mental shortcuts to avoid expending too much energy, he would not need to incorporate a bias to skew the worldview toward his own values because the entire project would be understood as a hypothetical fleshing out. The inferences only stand insofar as the axioms, postulates, and values are held - he would be safe from any horrifying conclusions because he does not have to share the basic assumptions.

Of course there would be the matter of insufficient empirical data. But that would be no great matter, because he could, in accordance with his assigned assumptions, develop his own "scientific method" that would make all empirical processing just a matter of going through the steps to obtain more measurements and rules for processing the probability of all theories and explanations of empirical measurements.

In fact, our thinker could do away with "belief" altogether. Instead of asking whether or not you believe a proposition, you could turn the entire enterprise into nothing but statements of fact. Instead of asking, "do you believe that there is a city called New York in North America," and the person responding with the binary "yes, I do," or "no, I don't," instead the conversation could be conducted this way, "is there a city called New York in North America" the response would be, "there is 99.9% certainty that there is such a city." Belief and acceptance of propositions would be a necessary evil that would arise as a result of individuals not being aware of the results of probability measurements; the proper and rigorous way to talk about the world would be by talking in measured probabilities. Shades instead of binaries.

Disputes about the probabilities of of a given proposition would not arise, as there would be a clear, publicly available method of calculating probabilities in accordance with the assumed rules. Any deficiencies with the method would be corrected once it was shown that another method furthered the assumed values more fully without violating an assumed truth.

Reasonable disagreement would be impossible. All disagreement would be failure to understand the probabilities calculated by the method.

The method would take the available evidence and the available theories and calculate the extent to which each theory explained the evidence, the extent to which the theory retains unexplained ambiguities, the extent to which the theory conflicted with other available evidence; any theory that contradicted an assumption or that contradicted itself (assuming the impossibility of contradiction is one of the assumptions) would instantly be disregarded as impossible. The available theories could then be assigned numerical values that reflected how their probability stands in relation both to each other as competing theories and the entire body of theories in all disciplines.

In this way, the entire universe, insofar as human beings can perceive it, could be organized into a monolithic body of knowledge and statement of fact. All of it public, clear, and factual. All by that rigorous thinker and his assigned assumptions.

The reason that this will never happen in real life is that we do not have such assigned assumptions. Disagreement takes place at the basic level, at the area that in this little scenario was covered up by assigned assumptions. It is only for this reason that we can have belief, assent, reasonable disagreement, or any kind of diversity of thought. Because when you follow a line of reasoning back far enough, you will come to something personal. Without this, we could reduce the whole enterprise of thought to a method.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Rotten Body that Faith Resides in

Suppose that there is a God. And suppose that there is a faith that brings us into communion with Him. And suppose that this faith needs the trappings of a religion to be made intelligible.

If there existed a religion that originated in a hoax, was spread by means of deception and violence, and only among the adherents was honesty possible because all the teachers knew the falsehood of what they taught (at least initially until the first teachers died and the religion took on a life of its own), would this be a suitable religion by which we could approach God?

Or perhaps we should ask if it is possible to find a religion that was not similarly rotten?

Friday, August 17, 2012

To What Extent Am I Responsible for Motion

If you do not grow, then you are stagnant. Stagnation is basically conscious death. You go nowhere, but you continue to feel what it is like to go nowhere.

But there is a midpoint between growth and stagnation. Stillness. Basking in being what one is at this very moment instead of rushing on to become something else.

Maybe Stillness and Stagnation is the same thing - just approached with a different attitude.

All the same, I have to wonder, to what extent must I propel myself forward and to what extent will fate, my environment, and my nature carry me? Is it acceptable to just continue being what I am until some kind of motivating pain or motivating situation occurs? Or is that indicative of laziness? Reverse it all - is there something wrong in being too quick to change into something else? Is it our responsibility to spend a little time experiencing what it is like to be what we are?

All this talk of responsibility is, of course, disingenuous. Does the question make sense without that kind of talk? No, not as a question, so instead I can say it like this:

You can sit and wait for something to happen that causes you to change and evolve, or you can try to force the change yourself. Neither is correct; neither is wrong. But it is the way life is.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Effective Method?

I read, but I don't understand. My eyes scan all of the words and I flip through the pages and eventually I come to the end, but I spent the whole time skating along the surface. All of the words were read and have their opportunity to be represented in my brain, but I do not understand them. I can not explain them to you. Its okay, I did not expect to understand.

So I keep reading. I keep consuming more words, but only skating along the surface. And the depths of the writing still eludes me. I can not follow the author in twisting and stretching and exercising my mind the way he has. But I still don't get it.

And as I keep reading, slowly, I begin to notice patterns. I cannot deny the value that secondary works have in this, not because they tell you what the work means, but because they are an additional perspective that is using similar material for different ends. This makes the patterns stand out more.

And I think back to the books I have read and I realize how little I understand. I realize how the bulk of the book was lost on me. But it is different now, because knowing what I did not know implies that I am now capable of knowing it.

Is this an effective method of learning? No, probably not. It would certainly be a pisspoor way of approaching programming, biology, or history. But it is an appropriate way to approach poetry, I think. Literature as well. These should not be "learned" they are to be experienced. Repetition with minute changes - perhaps along with the occasional sudden breakthrough - this seems to be the proper way to approach literature and poetry. Skating, enjoying, absorbing as a full man instead of cramming information in like something distilled to just reason.

I think this method is an essential step in learning. Skating familiarizes you. Then at some point, you have to start digging down into the material, or all you will ever have is a skater's understanding.

What Makes a Suitable Religion?

If there did exist a Pure Faith, but we could only approach it by first placing it into a religious body, is there some way to determine a best religious body to put it in?

More to the heart of my question: there are religious bodies that seem to make historical claims. Suppose we could disregard the truth of these historical claims, would choosing a religion that made such claims be inferior to one that did not?

Could one use the Christian body for their faith if they could not bring themselves to consider the crucifixion and resurrection an historical event? Is there anything left of the body once you discard that?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What About the Non-Philosopher

On occasion I get into the tendency of seeing philosophy as very important, similar to the way that I used to (well, still do) see religion as very important. If I could not go on philosophical and religious investigations, my life would deflate, it would just be work, sleep, and aimless Googling. And sometimes I forget that this is the way the world works for me, but not for everyone.

The human species is such that anything can be lovable and anything can be loathsome to us. The human species is also such that no matter what is loved there is going to be someone else who just does not care that much. No matter what philosophical perspectives or religious heights we might pioneer, frankly, most of the world is simply not going to care.

It is best to just accept the fact that diversity dictates that your life will not fit correctly on another person's shoulders.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How to Approach Ones Conscience

What is the conscience? It is a moral feeling - a moral voice - it is moral inclination from within. It is a kind of guidance. But what is the nature of its guidance?

Does the conscience proceed from the will? Then the conscience simply beckons you to keep being yourself. To be more like yourself. To keep you to the path that you have chosen.

Does the conscience proceed from instinct? Then the conscience beckons you to live according to your nature. Your biological nature, anyway. It beckons you to be human. To live in a way determined by your genes.

Does the conscience proceed from upbringing? Then the conscience beckons you to live according to society. It tells you to be more like those around you. It tells you to shape yourself according to the lessons you have been taught.

For that matter: is the conscience constant or is it dynamic? If it is constant, then we have found something seemingly mystical, because what else about a human being's feelings and thoughts is so constant? If it is dynamic, then what kind of guide is that who tells you to do one thing and then another?

There are hypothetical ethical imperatives that can be cast as a science. There are moral intuitions and inclinations that make up our conscience. The former lend themselves well to a nihilistic view of values in the world, as well as a utilitarian approach to created value, or an approach that aims to be a certain kind of person, or an approach that aims to value and will in a certain kind of way. The latter lend themselves to what?

I want to say that we should disregard the conscience as anything but a helpful feature that does... something, but does not offer genuine guidance. But it intrigues me. The possibility that it is something deeper than my current understanding of ethics allows makes me want to look a little further. Is it possible that it offers a kind of real, individual guidance in the world? If so, we can approach ethics without bogging down the individual in universal "moral facts" that make it impossible for a man to be himself and instead tells him to be everyone, but also without doing away with imperatives apart from the hypothetical imperatives that exist only after someone has already chosen a goal or thrown his will behind a value.

For the moment, though, I have to call it intriguing, not desirable.

A Moment of Self-Doubt

I do not believe that a God's eye view of the world is possible for any human. I do not believe it is possible for any human to escape the relation between perception and perspective and somehow reach Perception. I do not believe that it is possible to grasp reality as it is, a privileged point of view that somehow stands "true" above all vantage points.

If someone were to take issue with my saying this (which there are many who would) I do not know how I would answer them. In matters of evidence, two people of good faith can take a journey down the available evidence together, wherein the conclusion becomes obvious. On this issue, I can think of no evidence I could show to someone who disagreed, nor can I think of any evidence that my opponent could give to me.

Perhaps there is only this. I can show you an entire species utilizing diverse vantage points at different times; sometimes thinking according to these rules, sometimes according to others. Can you produce a single example of a man thinking rightly?

This gets us nowhere. Because of course you can show me men thinking rightly. And then you will simply be frustrated when I say that I don't think he's free from perspective at all. Because he's thinking the way that you think is correct and free from perspective. But to me, it's just one more perspective.

Why do I see a world of diverse vantage points and an inability to transcend perspective? It is not because my concept of vantage points has proven itself; it is because I have not yet found a justice or a rationality that can show itself to be correct, except relative to certain basic values. From this, I make a leap from "all hitherto are such" to "all are such." This is, of course, still a leap.

I have no rational obligation to believe in a true perspective or a true ethic. But neither do those who believe in such things have a rational obligation to come over to my point of view. I can point to past failures, but they will just say that one of those failures was actually a success. My concept of vantage points makes it impossible for me to demonstrate the validity of my concept of vantage points.

It seems that my perspectivism gets itself into a self-referential tangle at some point. If everything is only true according to the epistemic lens that you use; then in what way is it true that we only use epistemic lenses instead of epistemic eyes?

Monday, August 13, 2012

King Theodore, Ethics, and a Question of Importance

I imagine a fantasy kingdom, wherein a fatal and easily communicated skin condition breaks out in a large village. King Theodore covertly chooses a very capable team of light infantry and sends them into the village with armor that he says will protect them from the skin disease with orders to slaughter every man, woman, and child in the city. They are told to burn the city afterward, and then strip off their armor before returning to the palace. As soon as they remove their armor, a team of archers executes them.

The disease is eradicated. Many are dead. The archers never speak a word of their mission to anyone.

What role would an ethical question play in all this? If you said that what King Theodore did was wrong, what does it matter that you say that? If you say that it was right, what does that matter? What does your opinion about King Theodore's action matter in the least?

There is only one ethical investigation that matters: King Theodore's own investigation prior to setting his plot in motion. This is the only ethical question that could have changed anything. Anything after that is impotent, insofar as the plot itself is concerned.

If you condemn him now, you are not actually affecting King Theodore, but rather you are making an ethical decision for your own life. The ethical decision to not be like King Theodore. And if you praise him, your ethics only affect yourself. Your value judgments only influence your own behavior. Your ethics hold sway only over yourself.

For this reason, I can not conceive of values apart from valuers. If it were a fact of the universe that what Theodore did was right, what would it matter? And if it were a fact of the universe that what Theodore did was wrong, what would it matter? What would change? Where is the importance of this fact?

When we praise and condemn, we are making ethical decisions for ourselves and ourselves only.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Clarification on Evolutionary Psychology

Perhaps I am wrong, considering that I am not an evolutionary psychologist, but it seems that there is a common consistent flaw in the use of language when talking about the findings of evolutionary psychology. Consider this statement:

People behave X, because it is more advantageous to reproduction and survival.

X here could be anything: "in an altruistic way," "in a promiscuous way," "in a dominant way," or you could get more specific, "Men tend toward non-monogamous behavior because this is the best way to ensure the spread of his genes."

This may be true, but the language in statements like these fails to communicate the fullness of the situation, and leads to a misunderstanding.

Suppose someone said to you that the reason you like to gossip is because your ancestors used gossip to keep track of more and more people, thereby making it possible for complex societies to develop, which in turn led to increased reproduction. This is true in one sense: the cause of your desire to gossip is that you are the latest in a long line of people inclined toward gossip and you have all those gossipy genes inside of you (disregarding environmental factors for the moment). But when you start talking about how Krissy was totally making out with Bryce even though Bryce is engaged to Melissa, well, your motivation is not to hold society together. Your motivation is a love of this kind of information.

And your ancestors were the same way. They did not gossip because they wanted to hold society together, they gossiped because they enjoyed it, they gossiped because it was their nature to gossip. It just so happened that there was also an evolutionary advantage to it, so their genes and, by extension, their preferences spread because their very nature was advantageous.

Perhaps no one else ever found that the way statements from evolutionary psychology research are presented sometimes seemed to skew that fact, but I have noticed it a time or two.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Faith Reduced to Metaphor

There are those who expect to have their faith and their rationality too by turning faith into metaphor. They rightfully say that their faith is not literally true, and they add that their faith gives them useful metaphors by which they can live their lives.

This, however, does not preserve faith. This simply kills faith peacefully so that rationality can wear its clothes without bloodsplatter. Metaphors are communicative tools; if faith were nothing more than a system of metaphors faith would be superfluous except as a means to help people understand certain rational ideas that are, for the moment, too high for them to grasp. It's a ladder to what is really of substance, nothing to be loved or sought in itself.

But then, that is not really the way we approach faith. The whole difficulty that leads to people trying to hold onto their faith in this way is that they love the faith itself.