Veganism, Christianity, and Capitalism

It’s great if you can be totally vegan. But, these are the facts: 84% of vegans and vegetarians return to meat. We live in a society that is built on cheap meat, factory farming, labor exploitation, etc. An individual can only do so much to alter such structural issues. This is why I actually think a utilitarian model of veganism is more effective than “animal rights.” Rights are derived from Enlightenment thinkers like Kant and Locke, who echo their Christian upbringing. Christianity, by this point, was shaped and molded by capitalism. They already had a conception of being “on time,” of the bureaucracy, and of the factory. There were “rules” that needed to be enforced, and they were “absolutely inviolable.” A recipe for disaster. Hannah Arendt rightfully pointed out the critical flaws of “rights” with regards to the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, I don’t think utilitarianism is the answer. There is no clear answer. This is a political and ethical issue. We require a radical departure from ordinary diet, which cannot be fully mapped out and imagined in the present. We are not going back to hunter-gatherer societies — or a vegan utopia that strangely resembles the present with capitalism and all that (I mean, they’re asking us to fight capitalism with capitalist consumption!) Just like our need to radically depart from capitalism, the patriarchy, and white supremacy, the future is uncertain and beyond our myopic imagination. It is not our fault that we have a stunted imagination. Neoliberalism did this to us. We were conditioned to be nostalgic over the future that never happened. We were conditioned to find the present fatalistic. It robbed of us our ability to imagine the future. Yet, it is up to us to dream and imagine. To live and eat differently. So different that it is unrecognizable, unintuitive. To this aim, we should merely use relics of the past like rights or utilitarianism as mere tools, rather than as ends in and of themselves.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animals-and-us/201412/84-vegetarians-and-vegans-return-meat-why

After Virtue

We are in a moral crisis. The unending arguments over abortion, health care, and gun control are symptoms of the flaws of modernity according to the philosopher Alasdair McIntyre. Modernity is a fragmented version of Aristotelian ethics; it demands an individualist worldview, despite the fact that our culture and vocabulary reflect a communitarian heritage. What this means is that our endless arguments stem from the fact that we lack a shared conception of the good; in other words, our moral systems are incommensurable. For instance, the central conflict between Kantianism and Utilitarianism is not that either is logically inconsistent; rather, it stems from the fact that each theory has a different conception of the good.

Both theories, in their best versions, follow logically from their stated premises; the problem is that these premises are merely stated. After realizing the heterogeneity of pleasures, the great utilitarian Henry Sidgwick concluded that moral beliefs couldn’t be argued and must be merely accepted —just trust your intuitions! Immanuel Kant argued that a rational agent is logically committed to the rules of morality in virtue of their rationality; in order to practice reason, one must possess the freedom and well being necessary for rational agency. This led Kant to the conclusion that one is entitled to such freedom and well being. Although it is logically necessary to possess such freedom and well being to practice reason, it does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that one is entitled to them. This is merely asserted by Kant. According to MacIntyre, Utilitarianism and Kantianism’s fundamental premises are merely stated in this way. This is why the arguments between the two are endless: they are fundamentally incommensurable.

After Virtue is primarily a diagnosis of this moral crisis. It analyzes various aspects of our culture, language, and society to demonstrate that modernity is indeed a fragmented version of Aristotelian ethics; furthermore, it argues that the inventions of modernity such as emotivism and individualism are the root causes of our moral predicament. One of the most striking features of the book is its analysis of modern social roles. The defining character of modernity is that of a bureaucratic manager. A manager pretends to be effective and morally neutral; a manager adjusts the means to ends in the most economically efficient manner. Plus, managerial expertise requires a set of law-like generalizations to justify the manager. Unsurprisingly, one can easily spot the manager: Liberalism pretends to be effective and morally neutral, Liberalism privileges economic methodologies and conceptions, and the Enlightenment fetishizes law-like generalizations. The most interesting aspect of the manager, in my opinion, is McIntyre’s discussion on the fetishization of law-like generalizations.

This fetish is particularly apparent in the social sciences; they present themselves as providing law-like generalizations, despite the lack of evidence and predictability that is characteristic of those fields. Unlike most scientists who follow the Enlightenment, McIntyre contends that the worth of a scientific discipline is not determined by its predictive power. He believes that this is the wrong criterion by which to judge the success of the social sciences, because their subject is vastly more complicated and unpredictable: language, groups of persons, entire nations, and the global market. They cannot make predictions and generalizations that are nearly as strong as those made by Physics or Biology; even the strongest arguments have counter-examples.

For example, two of the most famous studies in sociology do not follow the Popperian model of falsification. First, James C. Davies’s famous thesis in 1962 generalizes Tocqueville’s observation that the French Revolution occurred when a period of rising and, to some degree, gratified expectations was followed by a period of set-back when expectations continued to rise and were sharply disappointed.  Second, Rosalind and Ivo Feierabend (1966) generalized that the most and least modernized societies are the most stable and least violent, whereas those at midpoint in the approach to modernity are most liable to instability and political violence. There exist many counter-examples to both: Russian and Chinese Revolutions to Davies, and Political Violence in Latin America to Feierabend’s. Nonetheless, such counter-examples do not refute their status as salient generalizations in Sociology. There exist no counter-factuals that ultimately refute a generalization.

This is not a fact that cheapens these disciplines. It merely reflects just how complicated human beings are. We are intentional beings that can choose one act over another. Choice creates unpredictability. All of this is then further complicated by the fact that we are social and linguistic beings. We have to figure out how complex beings interact with each other unpredictably in complex structures like the market, the state, and language. It would be impudent of Social Scientists to expect the law-like generalizations one encounters in Science. This is why McIntyre argues that it is wrong to expect law-like generalizations regarding sociology, politics, and so on.

Why is it then that we fetishize such law-like generalizations? As I briefly mentioned above, it is tied to the philosophical framework assumed by modernity; that is, modernity’s attachment to the ideal of the bureaucratic manager. Under the bureaucracy of modernity, moral beliefs are treated as inconvenient features of persons that function far better when they are managed by an “efficient” and “economically practical” bureaucracy. The manager justifies their position by insisting that they have law-like generalizations regarding human nature and social institutions; furthermore, they boast that they can provide an efficient governing of a pluralist society without privileging one good over another. However, modernity does, in fact, assume a set of goods that are disguised as morally neutral; the philosopher Michael Sandel lays out a number of such goods in his great book, What Money Can’t Buy.

Modernity cannot make law-like generalizations, yet we obey its tenets without much argument; we argue within the confines of modernity that were designed to be endless. McIntyre suggests that we look to the past for answers to our problems. Across several chapters, McIntyre sketches the moral framework of past societies ranging from the Greeks to Medieval Christians. What they all had in common was a shared conception of the good. Such goods like prudence, justice, and courage were achieved through the virtues that are human qualities acquired through practice. Furthermore, they recognized that a person is embedded in a social context: I am a son, a citizen, and a musician. Personal identity is a narrative that unifies one’s life from past to present, and my narrative is embedded in other narrative such as family, school, and friendship.

The problem of modernity is not only that it brings about endless arguments, but also that it is incompatible with our ordinary intuitions. We come from a past, in which our obligations and personal identity are constituted by the social context to which we belong. My community consumes most of my actions and thoughts; I act and think as a student and a family member, rather than a rational agent with his or her individual interests. When we judge a person’s character, we judge them by, more or less, a table of virtues, rather than whether they follow the categorical imperative or whether they pass the utilitarian calculus. The project of modernity is doomed to fail, because it cannot dissipate our communitarian past with its endless arguments and managerial fetish.

After Virtue turned out to be far more damning in its criticism than I anticipated. For the numerous Kantians and Utilitarians out there, this will be a group of pointed criticisms; one will not only find attacks on Kant and Sidgwick, but also criticisms of Rawls and Nozick. Indeed, this book is highly political; it analyzes Marx and Weber within the framework of the book’s communitarian argument. For my Marxist friends, this is not an easy read. Despite McIntyre’s admiration of Marx, he believes that Marx and his followers ultimately fall under the same moral framework that he takes down in this book. This is very much true in my own experience. Marxists have great criticisms of the managerial and bureaucratic aspects of Capitalism and Liberalism; yet, their solutions to Capitalism always end up Kantian or Utilitarian. It is either to follow an abstract principle of universality, or “to achieve communism by any means necessary.” What this suggests is that the faults of Capitalism and Liberalism are not merely economic and political: the error is modernity itself. By rejecting the Aristotelian system of virtues, any project is destined to fail no matter what social or economic structure they adopt. Undoubtedly, this is McIntyre’s deadliest gesture, because it indicates a deep pessimism about the project of modernity as a whole. As he discusses Trotsky’s later writings and his pessimism towards a communist future, McIntyre asks us to not fall into pessimism —it does not logically follow that we have no way out! But, the reader comes away with a dreadful feeling that we might never resolve the moral crisis; Aristotle has been dead for thousands of years.

 

The Ethics of Psycho Pass

Psycho Pass references a slew of literature ranging from the bible to poststructuralism. Its characters, similarly, embody a variety of philosophies as well.

SIBYL represents transhumanism and utilitarianism. They believe technology will transcend humanity to greater beings, and that the net aggregate happiness of the population is more important than protecting rights of every individual.

Masaoka represents a Rousseauian view of human nature. As referenced by his life choices and his reference to Rousseau, he is skeptical of the Enlightenment project to better humanity through reason and science. He is skeptical of the absolutism with which SIBYL judges its dissidents. He believes it is wrong for a machine to make such decisions with no human insight. Accordingly, he often relies on intuition rather than the deductive powers of machines. He is wary of technology’s corrosive nature, yet he sees value in his son’s desire to fit into this system. He guides him through the series to not make the mistakes he made, and he sacrifices his life for his son. He was a complicated romantic who could not let go of his communitarian values, such as the ties and obligations to his son.

Makishima, like Masaoka, also rejects the Enlightenment project. Yet, instead of merely criticizing the system like Masaoka, Makishima wishes to deconstruct it. He lays bare the inconsistencies and flaws inherent within the system, similar to Derrida’s project of deconstructing logocentrism. He shows how the system’s own method of discerning unstable indivudals produces monsters like him. However, unlike Deconstructionists, Makishima practices an affirmative type of philosophy: he wants you to become authentic. Analogous to Sartre’s view of authenticity and freedom, he wants to see the “splendor of people’s souls” when they are making decisions for their lives themselves. This sounds very Kantian, but Makishima isn’t interested in Kant’s maxims, as demonstrated by his willingness to murder and slaughter for this goal. To Makishima, ethical standards that tell what one ought to do contradict such radical freedom.

The most interesting philosophy amongst the characters from Psycho Pass is Akane Tsunemori’s. She seems to firmly believe in the Kantian notion of intrinsic human dignity and the values of democracy: she prevents Kogami from murdering Makishima and she boldly tells the SIBYL system that humanity will create a better society based on democratic values. Nonetheless, she accepts the utilitarian argument that the SIBYL system is generally doing good by keeping most of the population happy and satisfied. Despite its flaws that directly contradict her democratic and kantian values, she decides to let the SIBYL system continue until she and the rest of humanity can find a better system. She sees value in working within the system.

How can this be so? Well, that’s because Akane is human. Human beings do not make ethical judgments based on a single ethical theory. Akane cannot bring herself to let Kogami disrespect another rational being, even if that person is Makishima. She cannot let those who benefit from the SIBYL system suffer; she cannot let her life’s story become one that abandons her friends and millions of people. She believes that the telos of a society bids its citizens to come together and decide on what is right. The same can be said about us. We are sometimes Kantian, sometimes Utilitarian, and sometimes Aristotelian. We like to be respected, we like to be happy, and we care about our characters and how the story of our lives will unfold. We are byzantine creatures, and perhaps this is why Akane resonates with us so much.

Are Trump supporters morally inferior? Are Asians savages?

What does it mean to be morally superior? I think people usually mean that they hold good moral beliefs – for leftists, it could be supporting gay marriage, universal healthcare, the wrongness of islamophobia, and so on. Now if these were truly moral, then that would mean the leftist possess certain moral beliefs that Trump supporter do not.

Okay. Let’s suppose this is true. How does it make the leftist more moral? Holding certain moral beliefs doesn’t necessarily make one a more moral person, because it doesn’t guarantee the practice of moral actions based on those beliefs. A Trump supporter could hold certain truly good moral beliefs that the leftist doesn’t – for example, the leftist could be a terrible friend and the Trump supporter could possess the belief that one ought to be kind to her friends and acts according to that belief.

Now, let’s not only suppose that the leftist holds certain moral beliefs that Trump supporters do not, but also that the leftist holds more good beliefs and practices ethical actions more often than Trump supporters. That would surely make one a more ethical person, but how does that make one morally superior? It would make one a good person, because the leftist would practice moral actions more often. But, how does being a good person or performing good actions more frequently put someone in a different status or rank?

There is a moral theory that fits this kind of reasoning and it’s called the theory of Desert –one deserves more well-being if he or she is a virtuous person. This mode of thought isn’t very counter-intuitive, since we already judge others based on their virtue. For instance, if one could save Hitler or Gandhi, the answer is pretty clear. Gandhi is more virtuous; thus, he deserves more well-being. So, it isn’t controversial or strange for people to use this reasoning to condemn Trump supporters.

What bothers me is that many leftists are moral relativists – or at least they claim to be so. If one were truly a moral relativist, how can one rank a person’s virtue? How can you say that the culture of Trump supporters is inferior to that of left-wing millennial’s? If one truly believes that Trump supporters are morally inferior, then one has to subscribe to a kind of ethical framework that allows such a system of ranking. Moral relativism cannot say which culture is morally superior to another. If one truly wishes to hold onto the belief that Trump supporters are morally inferior, then one must be prepared to abandon moral relativism. This would mean opening up for discussion whether Islamic culture or Asian culture is morally inferior to Western culture. This would mean opening up for discussion the objectivity of ethics, and many things millennials hate.

I’m not a moral relativist, yet I detest discussions like, “Is Western culture superior to Islamic culture or Asian culture?” I think this kind of discussion very often carves up space for racism and bigotry. Nevertheless, I cannot see how being a moral relativist makes it any better. It just makes one avoid the discussion and hold onto an incoherent ethical framework. Gandhi is clearly more virtuous than Hitler, and I have to be able to ask the same of cultures.

I tried to appease my conscience by gazing at these cultures from an impersonal standpoint. Then, I saw that all cultures have had their periods of fortune – they all had their Golden Ages when the arts, the sciences, and philosophy proliferated. Some cultures are not able to live up to their potential due to misfortune, imperialism, and other complications. The impersonal gaze allows me to see that affluent cultures – the West – commit such horrible crimes that gay marriage and women’s suffrage appear as meager improvements. The impersonal gaze shows me how difficult it is to say which is better than the other as a whole. How can you quantify goods and atrocities?

I am glad that I cannot deem Islamic or Asian culture as inferior, but I did not get to this conclusion merrilly. By giving up moral relativism, I had to reason with the assumption that it is possible for a culture to be morally inferior. Ethics is hard, and critical thinking is unsettling. However, if one wishes to include truths or logical coherence in their ethical or epistemological frameworks, then one must bite the bullet. As Immanuel Kant once said, one must be afflicted by the restlessness of reason.

The Possibility of Altruism

A few months ago, I promised to read Thomas Nagel’s the Possibility of Altruism. Since then, I read most of the book in Argentina and finished it a few weeks ago in Boston. I could not get myself to write an in-depth analysis of the book due to personal reasons; but alas, here I am:

The main argument of the book is that one can objectively justify and motivate someone to perform an ethical act. Nagel argues for this by 1) showing how the opposing position – that actions can only be justified and motivated subjectively –leads to paradoxical consequences in prudential actions, and 2) showing a parallel between prudence and morality. I will summarize these two points in two parts and then analyze the book’s implications in my conclusion.

What motivates me? Desires or rationality?

There are two types of views on moral motivation. The first is internalism which is the view that motivation is so tied to the truth of ethical statements that when person X has a reason to do Y, X must have a motivation for doing Y. The latter is externalism which is the notion that in order for person X to do Y, one needs something external to ethics – Psychology, etc. Nagel first presents Hume and Hobbes as two different versions of the externalist view – for Hobbes, self-preservation motivated X to do Y; for Hume, sympathy (and later general benevolence) buttressed by self-interest motivated X to do Y. This externalist view –especially Hume’s version – is the position that Nagel opposes and he explains them away for us to have a concrete grasp of them since they will be constantly mentioned from here on out.

Nagel then moves onto Kant’s internalism: “what makes the requirements valid for us must itself determine the capacity of our motivational structure to yield corresponding action.” (p. 12) And Nagel, unsurprisingly, reveals that this is his position: “On this view the possibility of appropriate motivation must be guaranteed by the truth of the moral claim itself.” (p. 13) So why does Nagel find internalism more sound than externalism?

Because Nagel believes that Hume was wrong when he said “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” (T 2.3.3 p. 415), Nagel subscribes to Kant’s view as described below:

“Kant observed that rational motivation is unique among systems of causation because any explanation of action in terms of the theory refers essentially to the application of its principles by individuals to themselves in the determination of their actions.” (p. 22).

In other words, I apply the principles of a particular theory to my actions when I am motivated rationally, and it is a unique motivation. Such rational motivation is unique, because as Aristotle pointed out, it does not assail us like some desires –for example, appetite. Furthermore, rational motivation does not need a desire to have a reason to perform an act: If an action is motivated by the desire to perform Y based on X reasons, and if X stems from external factors, then the desire is not necessary for the existence of X.

Not only do we not need desires to have reasons to do X in a rational case, those reasons also transmit their influence over the relation between ends and means. For instance, if I have a reason to do X and Y is the means to do X, then I must do Y in order to do X. This is true even in peculiar cases. For instance, if a deranged person hits person A, then it’s because of a deranged reason rather than love or self-preservation. Let’s go to another example to help us think about the ways in which reasons transmit their influence over the relation between ends and means. If I’m thirsty and I put a dime in a vending machine, does that mean I desired the means to my end (soda)? What makes me do this?  I see a reason to do X (put a dime in the vending machine) in order to do Y (to acquire the soda). Such reason-spotting is a general feature of motivation.

Given that rational cases do not need desires to motivate one and that reason-spotting is essential to motivation, Nagel moves the arena to prudence –the effect of present action or beliefs on my future interests. If one were to take up the Humean view – I have a reason to further future interests because I have a present desire to do so– then A) one “does not allow the expectation of a future reason to provide a reason for present action.” (p. 38) B) “allows present desire for a future object to provide a reason for present action in pursuit of that object.” (p. 38) These implications are problematic because 1) we regularly allow future reasons to provide a reason for present action –I have a reason to go to college to get a job; thus, I pursue college. 2) allowing B leads to paradoxical results –even if I knew I would have desire to do X in the future, I would not pursue X because I do not have that desire right now. This is paradoxical because it argues as if only my present desires are my interests. My future interests are also my interests, because my present self is merely one among many person stages throughout my life.

Such dissociation of one’s present self from her other person stages –her future and past selves– is a critical flaw of the Humean view. When owe observe the formal structure of how we see our present and past selves, we see that we have the capacity to impersonally regard our present self as one among many person-stages. This is a rational, impersonal process because the person is not feeling the desire right now so she cannot be motivated by her desires. It has to be from the rational recognition that reasons are timeless and tenseless. For instance, if there is a reason to be kind to one’s lover, then it does not matter whether it is Donald Trump or James Brown. A person –any person– has to a reason to do so. In the same way, it does not matter whether Rick James is in the year 500 BC or the year 2069. There is always a reason to be kind to one’s lover. Formally expressed it goes like this:

“Every reason is a predicate R such that for all persons and events A, if is true of A, then has prima facie reason to promote A.” (p. 47)

This is why Hume’s account of motivation is flawed, because it ignores this capacity of human beings. It ignores our ability to impersonally spot timeless reasons and apply them to ourselves. Not only does it ignore this ability, it also gives too much influence to desires in motivating our actions. As Nagel has shown, the Humean view of motivation from desire –particularly present desires because we can’t feel past or future desires – fails in prudential actions. As G.E.M. Anscombe once succinctly said, “no one wants anything in the future… without a reason derived from the expectation of a reason.” (p. 44)

I am one among many

Reasons are timeless and tenseless. This means that even practical moral judgments –judgments regarding what to one ought (because it is moral) to do or ought to practice – reasons are tenseless. If one accepts the tenselessness of reasons, then one would be opposed to Ethical Egoism. What is Egoism? Let me give you a thought experiment to ethical spot Egoism and see difference between it and Nagel’s tenseless view. Suppose that Arnold Schwarzenegger is extremely ill and I am the doctor who has to decide whether or not to perform a surgery that will surely save his life. Commonly, if one were to express this practical reason impersonally, one would say, “anyone must perform the act that will prolong his life.” However, there are actually three possible ways formulating this sentence.

Anyone must perform:

a) the act that will prolong Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life
b) the act that will prolong his life
c) the act that will prolong someone’s life

These may look identical, but they are in fact different. For instance, b) is subjective and is representative of Ethical Egoism. This is so, because anyone ought to prolong his life. All such actions are for him -the egotistical agent. Ethical Egoism rejects the tenselessness of reasons and believes that all reasons only apply to the interest of each individual. Egoists, in fact, are convinced by the notion that there are only subjective ends. Nevertheless, Nagel points out that not all subjective reasons are egotistical. For instance, “everyone must defend his country,” requires extreme sacrifice. Furthermore, if one were to make sure that all subjective reasons were egotistical, then one would have to inevitably make an objective value judgment that all agents and circumstances must be manipulated to satisfy the interest of him. This is a strong blow to the common sense belief that–especially after the advent of postmodernism and American libertarianism–that morality is subjective and that each person must do all to satisfy his needs. But, one cannot be a subjectivist, which includes altruistic subjective actions as well as egotistical, and be an egoist at the same time. “It must be emphasized that such an egoist cannot even assign objective value to the circumstance in which everyone behaves in accordance with his favored principle, for that would immediately let in objective, non-egotistic reasons to promote that desirable state of affairs, and he would no longer be a pure egoist.” (p. 96) Egoism is indeed incoherent. It yearns to be subjectivist as well as an objective egoist. However, this is not the only problem with Egoism.

Another problem of Ethical Egoism is that if it insists upon defending its position by claiming that one cannot formulate sentences that are tenseless –since all human beings can only be selfish; and thus all altruistic actions are self-interested –this effectively turns into ethical solipsism. This is obviously false, because we can formulate tenseless sentences. Even a sentence like “Alfred Yun should do what will keep him alive,” does not necessarily depend on whether the agent is Alfred Yun or not. One could be deluded into thinking that he is Alfred Yun, but it still matters whether Alfred Yun lives or not; and ultimately, one can formulate such a sentence. Moreover, we have already established that prudential actions can be formulated impersonally. This means that one can think of oneself tenselessly, and in this case, one can think of oneself as one among many.

Earlier in the book, Nagel asserted that “altruism itself depends on a recognition of the reality of other persons, and on the equivalent capacity to regard oneself as merely one individual among many,” (p. 1) and that “[altruism] is not a feeling.” (p. 1) By recognizing that reasons are timeless and tenseless, one can conceive of the statement, “I ought to help prolong my life,”as, “anyone ought to help prolong someone’s life.” This allows one to step outside one’s subjective concerns and recognize that everyone has a reason to perform certain acts; and it allows one to regard oneself as merely one among many agents who ought to or has reason to perform such acts.

Conclusion

What are the implications of this theory? First and foremost, rational motivation is possible. Second, moral motivation can be objective. And finally, there is another argument for rational moral motivation one must read to absorb to one’s moral framework for the purpose of assimilation or refutation. A few months ago, I pointed out from reading the Wikipedia description that this theory does not sketch a fully spelled-out ethical theory with little to no room for disagreement. In fact, it is compatible with quite a lot of ethical theories. Parts of Nagel’s arguments have been used to buttress utilitarianism and Nagel himself has used his theory to argue for his own version of Kantian ethics in his later books. So, even after reading this book, I cannot see how this theory will help bridge the gaps between competing ethical theories.

Nonetheless, I learned much from this book. It was my first experience reading a book full of dense, high-level, professional philosophy. I’ve read difficult articles, but 10-20 pages of such writing and 200 pages were as different as chalk and cheese. It was also my first experience reading an in-depth analysis of moral motivation, and I learned a great deal of the different positions and arguments discussed in this topic.

One part of the book that really interested me was Nagel’s insistence that he was not a Platonist. “The account which I shall propose… is a metaphysical one. This is not to be taken in a Platonic sense; I do not suggest that the objectivity of altruistic or prudential requirements could be guaranteed by the contents of a super-sensible realm… The metaphysics to which I shall appeal is a metaphysics of the person, and it will support the objective validity of prudential constraints by interpreting them as the practical expression of an awareness that one persists over time.” (p. 58) How the veracity of objective reasons is grounded does not matter much in this book, so he obviously glossed over that aspect; and I wish he had further developed on what he thought was the foundation of truth and knowledge.

I have been watching and taking notes from online lectures on epistemology; and I think it’s time for me to delve further into that topic. For a philosopher, how truth is grounded is an essential question and one cannot just read small articles here and there if one wishes to be a serious philosopher. Massimo Pigliucci and many other philosophers have claimed that Everything Must Go by James Ladyman argues for a scientifically respectable version of Platonism. I believe it is time for me to soon move onto epistemology after finishing my current books on consciousness (Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained and Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach) and the philosophy of science (Massimo Pigliucci’s Nonsense on stilts: How to tell Science from Bunk and Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea).

I also own two books I have yet to read: Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons and Shelly Kagan’s The Geometry of Desert, both of which are concerned with Ethics. Ethics is how i first encountered Philosophy and what made me fall in love with Philosophy. It is my home base. It is the field of which I’m most knowledgeable and which I find supremely fascinating. Hence, I feel a bit guilty as I plan to venture further into other areas of Philosophy rather than using my brain, which is probably at the peak of its intellectual capacity, for the topic to which I owe much of my life’s passion. However, I have an objective reason to pursue these other topics: a philosopher must have a coherent web of belief and ethics is only one branch. Plus, reading other fields of philosophy may help me become a more skilled reader of philosophy so that even if my brain is less capable in the future I can read higher-level works with more ease than I do now. Therefore, I will keep pursuing all of my passions with zeal and wonder.

Moral Realism: Manifolds Part 1

In the Possibility of Altruism, Thomas Nagel argues that the self can be divided into the first-person and the third-person. In the same way, our actions can be divided into first-person and third-person actions. According to Nagel, subjective reasons (first- persons reasons) are agent-relative: “the content of the reason makes essential reference back to the agent for whom it is a reason.” For example, “Anyone has a reason to honor his or her parents.” On the other hand, objective reasons are agent-netural: “the content of the reason does not make any essential reference back to the person for whom it is a reason.” For instance, “Anyone has a reason to promote the good of parenthood.” Such a distinction makes it possible to have objective reasons to be good.

What is striking about agent-neutral reasons is that it is a variant of universalization within Kant’s categorial imperative. This is a move even Derek Parfit has been said to make in his recent, weighty tome, On What Matters. This move is indeed very attractive, since it pulls morality out of the rabbit hole of subjectivism, and grounds it in impersonal objectivity.

Despite his simple and beautiful distinction between subjective and objective reasons, Nagel doesn’t seem to be very clear on how to deal with disagreements. He claims that “when one thinks reflectively about ethics, one comes to see that every other agent’s standpoint on value has to be taken as seriously as his, since his perspective is just his take on an inter-subjective whole, so that which one took to be his personal set of reasons is swamped by the objective reasons of all others.” Does this mean that an objective reason backed up by a majority is how we ought to tackle disagreements? Or, does this mean that these objective reasons have been epistemically justified, while the personal view has not? What happens when two objective reasons clash? Shouldn’t there be a way to discern which one is always true?

As someone who has only read available excerpts of the Possibility of Altruism, I will assume that Nagel has already answered my questions in the book. Unfortunately, I do not have much money at this moment; thus, I cannot afford the book. Since I am highly interested in meta-ethics, this is a topic of great importance. Therefore, if you’ve already noticed (the title is Moral Realism: Manifolds Part 1), I will continue to write on this topic. I will read more related literature, such as the whole of the Possibility of Altruism, Russ Shafer-Landau’s Moral Realism: a defense, Derek Parfit’s On What Matters, Shelly Kagan’s The Geometry of Desert and the Limits of Morality. Hopefully, I will get onto reading these ASAP, but don’t count on it. I will be traveling to South Korea, Japan, and Argentina for the next two months, so I will be pretty busy. Nonetheless, I promise myself and to you that I will dive further into the ocean of meta-ethics.


 

P.S.  I will soon be posting my thoughts on the current book I’m reading: Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. This book is concerned with Strong AI, consciousness, functionalism, mathematics, and logic. It is a delightful read, and I hope you will one day read the book or my analyses as well.

The One

Socrates portrayed Sisyphean truth
That knowledge begets ample ignorance
Like curious eyes inspecting a luth-
ier, as Kant affects a severance
Of the synthetic and analytic.
But all such feats, to him, seem comedic
Thou must be the One who weaves Stars n’ Suns
Whose sword called forth great walls against the Huns


Dedicated to the sexual prowess of Stephen Osika, hallowed as singular and irresistible.

New Year’s day; Last day in Paris

Today’s my last day in Paris. It’s been a good trip. Lots of food, reading, wine, and critical examinations. I’ll be spending most of my time airborne on New Years day, so I’d like to quickly commemorate my personal heroes and the goals of my future before my internet dissipates into thin air. Furthermore, in order to help myself become prudent, it’s helpful to celebrate it through a ritual called “my blog”. As Ellen Dissanayake once said, “making special” is an instinct with evolutionary merits, and the chief instinct behind our affinity towards creativity and Art. I’d like to encourage others who admire prudence and the arts to partake in this activity as well.

For the upcoming year, I’d like to finish the books I have not yet finished to expand my knowledge and broaden my horizons. These books are:

1) The Better Angles of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker http://www.amazon.com/The-Better-Angels-Our-Nature/dp/1491518243 (This book has helped me understand the merits of the Enlightenment, and the sociological/psychological/biological/anthropological/historical evidence for the decline of violence. A splendid book. Should be required to read in schools.)

2) Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter http://www.amazon.com/Gödel-Escher-Bach-Eternal-Golden/dp/0465026567 (This book allows me to understand Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and its implications better, as well as presenting an interesting explanation for consciousness.)

3) Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont http://www.amazon.com/Fashionable-Nonsense-Postmodern-Intellectuals-Science/dp/0312204078 (The title explains it all. This must be a required read for all universities.)

4) People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2767.A_People_s_History_of_the_United_States (A must read. It should be essential for students to imagine history from the perspective of the minorities as early as grade school.)

5) Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett http://www.amazon.com/DARWINS-DANGEROUS-IDEA-EVOLUTION-MEANINGS/dp/068482471X (Recommended for any philosophers who deny the potency and importance of Darwin’s contributions to practically all fields of knowledge.)

6) The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker http://www.amazon.com/The-Blank-Slate-Modern-Denial/dp/0142003344 (An excellent book that dispels any Tabula rasa nonsense.)

7) Liberalism and the limits of Justice by Michael Sandel. http://www.cambridge.org/fr/academic/subjects/philosophy/political-philosophy/liberalism-and-limits-justice-2nd-edition (An astounding criticism of Rawls’ view of personhood from a communitarian standpoint.)

8) Merchants of Doubt by by Naomi Oreskes http://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Obscured/dp/1608193942 (This is a book not only for students but the rest of humanity has to read. It is obliged as citizens and as victims of the merchants of doubts to read about those who’ve destroyed the climate with lies and propaganda.)

On top of finishing these books, I’m going to read a collection of poems by Yeats and Baudelaire to further my poetic knowledge and skill. I wish I could read Patricia Churchland’s Braintrust and Touching a nerve, as well as Dawkins’ Selfish Gene. When it comes to music, it’s essential for me to practice piano, and study jazz harmony to improve my chops. I must check up on how to better use DAW’s and production programs as well. Wait. There’s also my senior paper in French…

Now that I’ve established my upcoming plans, I’d like talk about my heroes. These are individuals who’ve deeply influenced my life, and it’s appropriate for me to honor their contributions to my life. Furthermore, I’ll be able to see where I stand intellectually and artistically to better analyze my works.

1) Serge Gainsbourg. His witty lyrics, extravagant wordplay, poetic prowess, and unrelenting spirit as a provocateur have deeply influenced my works. In fact, I’m writing my senior paper on his oeuvre and artistry. He is the reason I’m in Paris, and my interest in poetry. His rebellious spirit and controversial attitude have shaped my outlook of the arts, distancing myself from candy pop. I live to emulate Serge.

2) Noam Chomsky. Although I’ve recently renounced my affiliation with anarchism, I cannot bring myself to call Libertarian socialism an idiotic belief. Some of it is founded on assumptions of Human Nature that I do not find Darwinian (Chomsky is cited for describing creativity as a phenomenon somewhat independent from natural selection, whereas I believe it is highly related to natural selection), but its goals are neither selfish nor savage like its Libertarian counterpart in the Right. I could not denounce Chomsky’s character and relentless activism shown throughout his long career. I’ve personally been highly influenced by his politics. He guided me through my upbringing as a political thinker and a philosopher. Although we’ve parted ways concerning human nature and certain political stances, our view of morality and the role of an intellectual match better than ever.

3) Steven Pinker. Pinker has deeply influenced my view of violence and the Enlightenment with his ground-breaking book I’ve mentioned above. He has helped me venture into my newfound interest in cognitive science with clarity and encouragement. His clear prose and abundant knowledge astounds me every day.

4) John Rawls. No one has ever triumphed in moral philosophy in the way, I believe, John Rawls has in the last century. He has provided a philosophical basis for the Welfare state, and a formidable counter-argument against Libertarian /Laissez-faire ideologies. He is one of my heaviest moral influences.

5) Michael Sandel. Even before I’ve known any of the aforementioned heroes, Michael Sandel has guided me through the obscurity of ignorance with a luminance of knowledge and curiosity. He was the first person who exposed me to Philosophy, prompting me to read the works of Kant and Rawls. His thoughts still rest as foundational to my moral outlooks, due to the brilliance of his communitarian criticism of Rawls. I recently gave my girlfriend a copy of his newest book, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets”

6) Patricia Churchland. Possibly one of the most exciting living philosophers I know. I’ve never met anyone so nifty and knowledgeable in two dense fields, Philosophy and Neuroscience. She has clarified my stance on physicalism, morality, Free Will many times. It’s incredible how she continues to research and postulate philosophical foundations of Philosophy of mind. Her works should be read by more young students.

7) Hong Suk Chun (홍석천). The only openly gay celebrity in South Korea. He’s been through unspeakable trials, yet he uses his fame and influence to help out other sexual minorities to fair better. His radiant presence on screen despite the prejudices of his society is praiseworthy.

8) Peter Singer. He’s changed my repulsive habit of indulgence and lack of moral deliverance. Singer has allowed me to not only think about morality, but also take it into action. I plan to donate to charities more regularly, though I’ve been doing it sparsely for awhile. I also give birthday presents to some close ones with a donation under their name, saving dozens of lives. Singer has shown me the cogency of utilitarianism by actively decreasing suffering.

9) Brooksley Born. The former chairperson of CFTC. She was the only person who tried to save our economy by fighting against the likes of Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Alan Greesnpan. Her legacy and bravery depicted in the Inside Job lasts with me to this very day, sharpening my criticism against Wall Street and Laissez-faire savagery.

10) Albert Camus. He was a rare flower in a garden of weeds, surrounded by Maoist scums like Sartre. His earnest and moving book, La Peste, has left a profound impression on my views towards solidarity and collectivism. His innocent and exemplary adoption of pacifism allows me to divorce him from the existential nonsense he wet his feet in. Camus is a radiant beam of pacifism and solidarity in the literary world.

It’s nice to see my heroes and their accomplishments laid out in front of me. It gives me hope for humanity. I’m sure I’ve left out some heroes I could’ve included. If I think of more, I’ll either comment on this post or create another post. I hope I could push myself to enjoy this miraculous rarity called life to the fullest.  It’s been a good year.